February 13, 2019

Rawson Marshall Thurber & Jon M. Chu

Listen to the full  unedited conversation on The SCA Podcast Network on iTunes:
In Conversation: Jon M. Chu '03 and Rawson Marshall Thurber '99 - USC School of Cinematic Arts

Alumni directors Rawson Marshall Thurber and Jon M. Chu had very good years. With hits Crazy Rich Asians and Skyscraper, they are making big films with the critical acclaim and box office that comes with it. They are living that life that so many student filmmakers aspire to. On February 5, 2019, they came back to share their experiences with students in the packed Ray Stark Theatre at their alma mater and told our students about their journey and how students can get there themselves.

Chu and Thurber had never sat down to chat before in public but they had known about each other, and each other’s work, for a long time.

Thurber opened the evening by saying that he didn’t want his student films after Chu’s. He said that, after seeing Chu’s Step Up 2: the Streets, Thurber had a meeting where he was going on and on about how much he enjoyed the film and they recommended his student film When the Kids Are Away. Thurber watched the film and vowed to never show his student films with anyone that knew about Chu’s work.

Chu shared a story about being the first group to shoot in digital at the USC School of Cinematic Arts which got him into Slamdance, a scholarship, and into a bunch of festivals. He told the group that he launched his whole career.

“Everyone else wanted to shoot on super eight but I was into digital,” said Chu. He shot his very complicated, award winning short When the Kids Are Away and -- with the ability to keep the camera rolling, got into the Slamdance film festival. “I met a lady who is still my lawyer. I met people who I edited for after that. I had one an internship and then I got into Fox Searchlab. I made one good film and it went off of that. I made When the Kids Are Away and I got signed. After that, it got to Spielberg. Maybe you’ve heard of him. He’s the landlord here.”

Chu discussed how his career had such a meteoric rise that he had a hard time finding what his authentic voice was. His recent announcement of doing an adaptation of In the Heights he feels is his most personal story since Crazy Rich Asians.

“Working in the studio system was kind of my grad school,” said Chu. “I got so lucky and I would never take it back but I needed something creative that would really fulfill me. I had everything ready to go and In the Heights opened up. It was a celebration and it was about America and it had music and it was something I wanted to do. Lin Manuel Miranda was blowing up with Hamilton and it got together. We had a script and a pitch and it just happened.”

The conversation of Chu and Thurber was held In celebration of the 90th Anniversary of the School of Cinematic Arts. SCA alumni will be leading conversations on stage with fellow alumni whose work they admire or whose careers have inspired them.

Anniversary events will include Q&As with the audience, and on occasion, screenings of a favorite feature film, TV show, or student short.

For more information, please visit: cinema.usc.edu/events