FORTITUDE: Jason Chau | Talk the walk. Walk the talk. And do it on a tightrope.
OMPA Board Member Jason Chau and I got together on Zoom the other day. If you don’t know him, you should — especially if you’re a director, because Jason is the kind of Producer who’ll have your back when you need it most. (Yeah, yeah, yeah — the same is true if you’re his client, but more about how he walks that tightrope later.) Anyway…
I thought this was going to be the first time I met Jason, but he reminded me that he PA’d on one of my Goodwill shoots a few years back. Ooops, that was embarrassing. But thank god, irony came to the rescue: Jason couldn’t remember the details, so I felt a little better about my own memory loss. Here’s how the convo went down:
INT. DAVID’S OFFICE — DAY
Jason and I are on Zoom. Looks like he’s in his living room. He’s as cheerful as the sun shining outside his window.
David: I’m going to have to figure out when that shoot was.
Jason: Oh my gosh, I’ll have to dig too.
David: You remember who the Producer was?
David: Well if it was Goodwill, it was either Kaja … or, uh, it was Dan.
Jason: Oh my gosh, I —
David: Or it might have been Kevin.
I’m thinking Zaloudek, Gorczyca or Lewis — three of Portland’s finest, all of whom have produced Goodwill spots for us over the years, and in whose footsteps Jason has followed.
Jason: Oh yeah, so I know Spencer Edie was the coordinator —
David: That’s, that’s —
Jason: But I don’t know who the producer was…
David: Spencer worked on a couple of my shoots, so (drifts off) …
You could just see the gears grinding in both our brains.
Jason: We’re gonna have to narrow this down.
David: I’ll find it. Maybe I can dig up the old call sheets.
Jason: I could tell you, oh my God, I still know the store that we shot at.
Jason: We were taking boxes out of the back of a van and passing it down the line…
An image crosses my mind. Cardboard boxes with “Goodwill” scrawled in felt pen…
David: Was there a Steadicam?
Jason: Oh, man, I couldn’t tell you.
David: No dogs?
Jason: Oh man, I…
Jason drifts off, shaking his head. I’ve run out of memories. So we move on.
After we sign off, I hurry to dig up the old call sheet. It was 2009. And there WAS a Steadicam (but no dog, that was in 2011). I remember now, how the production office was praising this new PA Jason, Kaja telling me, “Keep your eye on him. He’s sharp.”
(FYI: Here’s one of the results of that collaborative effort: Goodwill Facts & Figures. Cool factoid: the facts and figures written on the sides of the cardboard boxes were rotoscoped so we could change them every year, but that’s another story…)
Geez. 2009 was eleven years ago. With a pandemic at the end of it all, no less. No wonder Jason and I couldn’t remember the details. No blame!
But the real thing about this story is how Jason worked his way up from PA to where he is now — producing commercials for the likes of Facebook, Chrysler, Nike, Adidas and beyond. You might be surprised to learn that OMPA had a big hand in helping launch this stellar career. But you shouldn’t be: it’s a big part of OMPA’s mission, connecting production professionals with opportunities. Here’s how it all started in PDX for Jason:
Still in film school at USC, Jason comes up here to visit his girlfriend Alana and lands an internship at Food Chain Films. “That was a crazy experience,” he says, “it was like a crash course in what it means to be a good PA.”
“That would have been 2007 or so,” he says.
Now I’m starting to feel like we’re reminiscing about the Dark Ages, or maybe the Stone Age, with all that has changed since then. Think about it. 2007 was the year Apple introduced the very first iPhone. Remember 2G? My head is starting to spin. But I gather myself and ask, “Then what happened?” (For the record, I am always asking that.)
“So I go back to film school,” he says, “and was shocked at how much my training that summer put me a leg ahead of everybody else.”
After USC, Jason and Alana get engaged and he lands a job at DreamWorks Animation. But she lands a better job in Portland and he finds himself making the big leap — moving up here with no job, just hope — and thinking he could find work in commercials just like he did during that crazy summer at Food Chain.
But noooo, there isn’t any work to be found.
If you can’t tell, I’m an optimist to a fault. I see so much energy and momentum moving us forward now. — Jason Chau
So what does Jason do to reconnect with the PDX film biz? He volunteers for OMPA’s phone bank, helping people renew their memberships. OMPA promises him a year’s membership and directory listing in return. That was the summer of 2009. By November he was PA’ing on my Goodwill shoot, and you know, well, the rest is history.
Kaja was right, Jason is sharp.
Along the way, Jason had the opportunity to PA on a few projects helmed by impressive directors like Mark Romanek and Alejandro González Iñárritu — up here to direct spots for Chrysler and Facebook, respectively. Thinking to myself that I’d intern on one of their shoots just to see them work, I ask Jason, “What qualities in a director do you appreciate most?”
“When they go to bat for their ideas,” he says. “Everything about this business is pressure to make it faster and easier. But a director who can articulate why it needs to be harder and slower is pretty cool.”
“That’s gotta put you in a tough position as a Producer,” I say, prodding: “Agency creatives telling you to go one way while your director is going another?”
“Yeah, it’s hard,” Jason says. “I‘m like the tip of the spear when people are making decisions that squeeze the director out of their vision. So I pose it as a question: you understand the choice you’re making, right? If we take that shot out, then A, B or C happens. Is that what you want?”
Yep, Jason knows how to walk that tightrope. Take a look at some of the recent work he helped produce while doing his high wire act, like this campaign that just dropped, featuring Sabrina Ionescu (scroll to the bottom for the video), or the pilot episodes for this Amazon Recruitment campaign. Great work!
What motivated Jason to run for election to the OMPA board? That’s easy, given his history:
“It was a full circle thing,” he said. “OMPA has really been an accelerating force and I want to be part of that wave, helping grow the industry, attracting business and improving the quality of the work we do.”
When I asked him about the future after all we’ve been through, he said, “If you can’t tell, I’m an optimist to a fault. I see so much energy and momentum moving us forward now.”
Man, it feels good to see some sun shining through. Thank you, Jason!
FORTITUDE is OMPA’s column about the trials, tribulations, successes and victories of our members during these strange times — stories of true grit, creativity and resilience, written by David Poulshock and contributing guest writers.
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