Storytelling school

“American Made” Executive Producer Johnny Lin Lays the Foundation for Storytelling to Inspire the Next Generation

I work in the film industry, so storytelling is in my nature. There is an invaluable power to storytelling; stories allow us to connect. They are a tool that can be used to inspire others and provide them with an entirely different perspective – an ability that has always been essential, and it has become even more evident in today’s social climate. Growing up, other people’s stories made a big impact on me as a person, and through the movies, I was able to bond with my dad, Jimmy Lin. Together we threw ourselves into classics like ‘Casablanca’, ‘The Godfather’ trilogy, ‘Rocky’, ‘Eastwood Westerns’ and so on – hence my desire to share my own story.

I hope my story will impact others in the same way the stories that came before me impacted me.

I grew up in a boarding school three hours north of Wellington, New Zealand, and at 16 moved to the United States. The aspiration was to seek out new possibilities in the innovative front of American culture and modus operandi. America was the oven that baked all the new world leaders, and I told myself that if I wanted to excel, I had to be among the best to learn from the best, both academically and professionally.

Enrolling in an American high school, I realized how widespread racial segregation was and how polarizing it could be. I remember one instance, for example, when my political science teacher (who also happened to be the principal) gave a lesson on American presidents. He read a passage about the fact that no minority or woman has ever been elected president and added: “So for those of you who are not Caucasian or female, I’m sorry, but focus your aspirations elsewhere.”

A Mexican girl in my class named Norma started protesting. She tried to tell him her perspective and her story, but he wouldn’t listen.

Instead, he nonchalantly told her that the deadline to drop her course was in two weeks, and Norma immediately walked out and never came back. I developed the realization that as a minority I was an “outsider” and that there were only two ways to become an “insider”: 1) being white, or 2) having a lot of success. Since I wasn’t the first, I vouched for the second to happen.

I worked very hard and chose to align myself with people I considered to be the best in the business. I worked alongside my father and studied his work ethic, his drive, his “social” bells and whistles and his technique as he became increasingly successful as a producer in the film industry.

I was also fortunate to have a mentor in the person of Masayuki Nakamura, the former director of Tohokushinsha (a prolific film studio in Japan), former vice president of Sony Pictures TV Japan and senior executive of Kadokawa Publishing . Nakamura San not only showed me the ropes, but also endorsed my pursuit and growth in the business. With their support, finally, my hard work started to pay off.

As a distributor, we released over 2,000 films in the Pan-Asian market, and I eventually launched two separate entertainment companies, Filmula and Clandestine Laureate.

I’ve worked on several ongoing projects including a film about math genius Christopher Havens with Neil Burger and an AMC TV series called “Champagne Supernovas” about style icons Kate Moss, Marc Jacobs and Alexander McQueen with showrunners Rolin Jones and Sheila Callahan.

As I began to experience increasing success, my previous realization proved true: the more successful I became, the more I felt like an insider in society – but what about other minorities who have felt the same as me? I often think back to Norma, the girl from my high school, and how the outcome of her protest against the principal could have been very different if he had just listened to her.

And that’s what we should be doing.

By sharing and listening to each other’s stories, we connect with each other and establish the fundamental foundations needed to inspire the next generation to develop their own stories in a way that is authentic to them.

Our perspectives are beginning to align with each other. Stories are a tool that will help navigate us towards a new reality in which everyone is an insider, and everyone has an equal playing field to be whatever they want to be – even the president.

Johnny Lin is an executive producer, financier, distributor and aggregator of films in Asia and North America. He is also director of Filmula Entertainment and producer of Clandestine Laureate.

Throughout the month of May, Variety will publish essays and stories from prominent AAPI artists, artisans and entertainment personalities celebrating the impact of AAPI entertainment and artists on the world at large.

Subscribe to Variety newsletters and email alerts!