Paul Jun: “You’re the age you act”

The first thing is for people to understand that “indie” or “independent” doesn’t mean poor quality. That was partially true before a lot of technology improved but really, today it just means outside the studio system. There are hundreds of independent films on Netflix that aren’t perceived as independent. We have to educate ourselves on […]

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The first thing is for people to understand that “indie” or “independent” doesn’t mean poor quality. That was partially true before a lot of technology improved but really, today it just means outside the studio system. There are hundreds of independent films on Netflix that aren’t perceived as independent. We have to educate ourselves on what independent really means.

As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Jun.

Paul is a serial entrepreneur and USAF veteran. He served as an intelligence officer and upon completing his service he moved to the film industry where he worked as Director of Sales and Acquisitions at Covert Media. A UCSD and CSUF MBA alum, he co-founded Filmocracy to help democratize the imbalance of power in the entertainment industry.

Thank you so much for doing this interview with us Paul! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?

Oh wow, backstory. That’s a bit of a nonsensical journey but here goes. I studied psychology in college and realized too late that I didn’t want to be a psychologist. So I joined the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps and upon graduating I commissioned as an intelligence officer. Before you’re on active duty they instill this idea into you that you’ll be the agent of change, but once you’re in it’s very much a shut up and stay in your role environment.

Funny side story, when I was stationed in Texas I decided in my free time to build a website to help fix the officer and enlisted performance reports. Once my commander found out, I was ordered to shut it down immediately and got in heaps of trouble. So obviously the entrepreneurship bug was in me early on.

After I got out of the military, I went to get my MBA and was just about to commit to work for Honda when I realized that I have no interest in cars or climbing a corporate ladder. So I went to some job fairs until I came across a small booth that had a couple movie posters. I thought to myself, “hey, I like movies.” And I started as a 26 year old intern at a film production and sales company. I worked there for several years while also starting random side businesses (costumed go-karting around Hollywood, weight loss patches online, selling reusable bags to farmers markets) but over time I saw the shifting landscape in film. So I left my company in 2018 to build my current company, Filmocracy.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?

The most entertaining story I have was when I was in Cannes and just hanging out outside an extremely cheap restaurant that sold kebab. I noticed someone sitting at the next table and I asked him “Hey aren’t you the guy from Rookie of the Year?” And of course it’s Cannes so it was indeed Thomas Ian Nichols and he was actually super down to earth. We ended up hitting various establishments that night and I had to continuously remind myself not to talk about “hot ice”.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

I like interacting most with the emerging artists who haven’t made it yet. They’re always full of the most energy and excitement. Filmmakers like Gerard Johnstone or Scott Vickers who are mega talented but still very much normal dudes. We went to the European Film Market in Berlin a few years ago and brought Scott with us for some meetings with buyers. He was fantastic in the room and the enthusiasm was infectious. We could dive into shenanigans or the Berghain that occurred in Berlin but perhaps that’s better for a different article.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Filmocracy has a lot of festival partners and due to the pandemic, we decided we would do our best to help. So we built them a virtual festival hosting platform to integrate with our streaming service that’s unlike anything else out in the market. Every other festival that has gone virtual so far, even the big ones like Cannes and Tribeca, have been some combination of Vimeo + Zoom. But we all know that film festivals are much more than just content. If I just wanted to watch movies I could go on Netflix.

Filmocracy combines virtual conferencing with our streaming technology and integrates it into a virtual map (think Disneyland Park map) where attendees can feel a sense of space and movement. We’re all stuck in our chairs at home but even adding this little bit of movement on a map does a lot for our sanity. So just like at a real festival, you can catch a screening at the Bell Lightbox and then follow it up with a Q&A with the director at Rose Wagner Center. Most importantly the attendees will be able to network and mingle in virtual buildings with a capacity of 800 attendees spread across up to 10 virtual floors. Really exciting technology and it’s really resonating with our festival partners.

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

I don’t think there’s any excuse to be a billionaire. If you’re worth over 1 Billion dollars and you’re not shoveling that money out the door to help people who need it, there’s a sickness you’re suffering from called vanity. If I had to choose one person then it would be Andrew Carnegie, who at one point was the richest man in the world and ended up giving away more than 90% of his fortune. It’s not wrong to be ambitious, but there is little material difference between being a millionaire and a billionaire and the amount of social impact you can have at minimal affect to yourself is immeasurable. Being a billionaire is simply irresponsible.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?

Filmmaking has become more accessible than ever before. Movies were being selected by Sundance as early as 2015. We’re getting so many stories from underrepresented communities and touch on topics that didn’t have as much volume 20 years ago. At Filmocracy we’re still focused on the Black Lives Matter movement and discuss it during our bi-weekly forums while trying to figure out other ways to keep the movement alive. It’s easy to move on when the 24 hour news cycle is constantly feeding new things to get outraged over, so using Filmocracy to keep the light on BLM is something we try to do through events, highlighting films, and giving more access to black and latino filmmakers than ever before.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?

When I was working for my last company, we were struggling to package films together so I decided to take the initiative and find films we could sell internationally. I found a film called “And Then I Go”, which beautifully and tragically tells the story of a young boy who decides to shoot up his school. It was a tough subject but incredibly well made. I remember the conversation I had with my boss and he asked me and it went something like this.

Boss: Who’s in it?

Me: No one. Well, actually Justin Long. But yeah no one.

Boss: What was the budget?

Me: Low

Boss: I mean it’s good. It’s well made. But there’s no way we can sell this movie.

Me: Shouldn’t we try? This is a topic Americans care about and it does a great job of making it personal.

Boss: Yeah, no I don’t think we can take it.

That was the “Aha Moment” for me. When I realized that great and relevant films about social issues could be completely disregarded because of 2 lazy questions- what’s the budget and who’s in it.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

We have a filmmaker named Robbie Walsh on our platform who was one of the first to offer his films to us. He’s an Irish filmmaker, very talented, and driven. One day he messaged me on facebook and asked if I had a moment to chat. We hopped on a call and he began apologizing because he got an offer for exclusive distribution on two of his films that were on Filmocracy. I laughed because he wasn’t realizing that this was exactly the point! To help filmmakers get discovered and grow. I can’t say that his success was entirely up to Filmocracy but it was a nice story nonetheless. We still have many of his other films on the platform.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

The first thing is for people to understand that “indie” or “independent” doesn’t mean poor quality. That was partially true before a lot of technology improved but really, today it just means outside the studio system. There are hundreds of independent films on Netflix that aren’t perceived as independent. We have to educate ourselves on what independent really means.

The second thing is for individuals to support the arts across the board. Everyone is impacted by the culture they grow up with, and the more widely accessible we make films from independent artists, the wider perspectives future generations will grow up with. There is a recent study by USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative that showed there has been no significant statistical improvement in the representation of women, people of color, LGBT characters, or characters with disability in film over the last decade.

The third thing is for the government to support independent film. Most other countries around the world have film commissions or institutions that support the arts but in the US, it’s all about commercialization. When you’re reduced to creating film for the purpose of profit, the types of stories that make it to the masses are designed a certain way. If the government started giving grants to filmmakers based on merit in order to tell the stories they want to tell, there’s no telling what masterpieces could have been created over the last decade.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Start earlier — Everyone is going to think that their first idea is the most brilliant one they’ve ever had. Unfortunately ideas are only a multiplier and it’s the experience that will get it off the ground. And the only way to get experience is to try to execute. My first company I started was called BAGvertise, where I would produce reusable bags with ads on the side and distribute them for free at Farmers Markets. It was a brilliant idea because the plastic bag ban had just been passed. However, the execution of the business was miserable. Knocking on doors, decision makers never being present, & driving around strip malls. You don’t know what you don’t know and that’s why you have to start executing.
  2. Learn aggressively — As you succeed in your career, you’ll continuously be matched up or compared to smarter or more talented people. One of the best ways to set yourself up for success is to learn more than everyone else. Don’t stop learning just because you’re proficient at your job. Learn someone else’s job. Learn the boss’ job. Learn your customer’s jobs. This is not a common thing to do, but it’s something within your control that can really set you up for success in the future. When I worked in international sales, I spent all of my free time talking to all of my co-workers about their jobs and learning what they do. When the company began to struggle, I took over their responsibilities and they were let go. Be the person who can handle taking over the work for more expensive options.
  3. You’re the age you act — When you’re 21, you feel so much more mature than 18 year olds. When you’re 35, you realize you still feel the same as at 21. Much more mature than 18 year olds. While sometimes age will restrict you from being able to perform, being professional and on top of your game is something you should aspire for no matter how old you are. I would rather hire a mature 21 year old than a somewhat irresponsible 35 year old any day.
  4. The world is resistant to change, don’t let it stop you — Hollywood is full of an old guard. They’ve made so much money and had such influence over culture that they still cling to TV and Blockbuster. Have a vision for the future and don’t let the entrenched incumbents tell you how the world is. I knew for years that pre-sales in the independent film industry was tanking because the ridiculous DVD sales numbers were being stolen by Netflix. And yet my old company refused to adapt to the changes and ultimately failed alongside everybody else.
  5. Most people will result in deadends, that’s ok and you still need to meet them — You just never know who might become your next business partner or best friend. Your job in networking is to sort through all of the pretenders who are only talking to you to make a sale, and find the people who are real movers and shakers. Surround yourself with those people, find ways to work together, and positive things will happen. Many individuals on our team at Filmocracy were met through automated Twitter messages. I could never have expected responding to their DM could result in perfect teammates and yet here we are.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

The world is clearly not in a good place right now. You have millions of people spending quarantine making low quality dance videos for strangers instead of offering to help the homeless guy around the corner. If that’s the world you want to live in, go ahead and keep on dancing.

We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

I would have to say Hugh Jackman. Ever since I saw his interview at an awards show where the reporter was coincidentally his High School physical education student, I’ve been a great admirer. Sales form his company Laughing Man Coffee supports educational programs, community development, and social entrepreneurs around the world.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite quote is from Ben Franklin, “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing about.” It really puts into perspective how important it is to be mindful of the time we’re spending and actually inspired me to write a young adult fiction novel that I still haven’t published despite finishing it in 2017. I hope it’s actually worth reading but even if it isn’t, it was time well spent.

How can our readers follow you online?

They can visit our website to experience my soul in the form of a movie streaming platform, or they can message me on Twitter @pauljun10. I don’t know who the other 9 are.

This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!

Thank you so much for the opportunity to share!

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