Interview with Caryn McCann

Is the world of martial arts – more specifically, martial arts movies – a boy’s only club? Hardly – one need only look at the filmographies of Cynthia Rothrock, Michelle Yeoh, Jeeja Yanin, or Zhang Ziyi for proof of that. However, that doesn’t change the fact that in the wider world, martial arts action films are generally thought to be something that girls and women either have little interest in, or if they do, it’s not without a glass ceiling to break through.

However, Caryn McCann, founder of East Meets West Films, is out to change that, but that’s not the only barrier she aims to break down. As the name of her production company implies, Caryn hopes to create action films that serve as a bridge between the cultures of the East and West. She’s already got huge Asian stars like Sammo Hung and Simon Yam attached to various projects she has in the works, so it’s probably safe to say that the bridge is already on its way to being built.

Today, Caryn gives KFK some background her beginnings as an action filmmaker, the genesis of East Meets West Films, and what it has store for lovers of martial arts action across the globe!

Brad – Hi Caryn, it’s great to connect with you and we hope you’re keeping well. Welcome to Kung Fu Kingdom! and thanks for taking some time out to share with us.  Have you taken a look at our site and what do you think of the name?

Caryn – Yes and its great!

Prepping for the next scene

Prepping for the next scene

Sounds like my kind of place!

Great! Now let’s kick off with some basics. When and where were you born? 

I was born in Encino, California. The only age that matters is that of a good bottle of wine 🙂

What is your height and weight?

I’m 5’5″ ft. (1.65 m), 102 pounds (46.2 kg, 7.28 stone). Just yesterday I had to fight a guy who is 6 ft. and 250 pounds (all muscle). And for a writer/producer who sits at her desk all day, doing stunt training has really pushed me out of my comfort zone. Who won the fight? Let’s call it a draw…

Wow! So, how did you first get into the martial arts?  How old were you? 

I didn’t get into martial arts until I was 30 when I moved to Hong Kong.

What was the first main style you trained in and what different arts have you studied trained?

I have a second-degree black belt in taekwondo. I briefly trained in wushu while studying in China. I also trained in karate when I lived in London.

That’s awesome! So who would you credit as having most influenced you in the martial arts and who would you consider your heroes or inspirational figures in martial arts?  A top 5 perhaps? 

  1. Cynthia Rothrock.
  2. Kara Hui from “My Young Auntie”.
  3. Liam Neeson. I know he’s not a martial artist but I love the fact he reinvented himself as an action hero in his late 50’s.
  4. The kitchen fight between to 10-year boys (Storm Shadow vs Snake Eyes) from “G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra”. Those kids, Leo Howard and Brandon Soo Han, were amazing.
  5. The hilarious fight between Simon Pegg and Dylan Moran from “Run, Fat Boy Run”. I guarantee that’s not on any top fight list but I always laugh when I watch it. I’ve never forgotten it. And finding a fresh take on fight scenes is a goal for all martial arts screenwriters. 

Great choices all around! So, how did you first get started in the film industry?

I stared out as a PR intern at the American Film institute.

Lights, Camera, Action!

Lights, Camera, Action!

And you first founded your production company East Meets West films in 2010. How did it first come about?

I was living in Indonesia at the time. I wanted to create awareness for my projects by shooting a short film. I hired local talent and shot “The Kung Fu Rock Chick” in Jakarta last year. I’ve created a social media presence with a website (http://www.thekungfurockchick.com), a newsletter, Twitter, Facebook etc. My goal is to spread the word about my projects and find the right partners.

So, describe the process that goes into establishing one’s own studio or production company.

Normally you build a team that works with you on every project. Since I plan to film all over Asia, I hire local partners from that region. But I just moved back to the states a few months ago. For the first time I’m considering getting a manager who can help get the word out on my projects and bring in American partners.

Well, now that you’ve made “The Kung Fu Rock Chick”, one of your major goals with East Meets West Films is to create more opportunities for women in making action films. What are some of the difficulties that women face in making or participating in action and martial arts films, in your opinion?

Back when I lived in Hong Kong – I felt most of the roles went to 20-something beauty queens. Having a 20ish girl play the Chief of Police (and one of my friends did) didn’t seem plausible. Seeing there was a lack of roles for women in action films pushed me to write smart roles for smart women. As Bruce Lee said: “To hell with circumstances, I create opportunities.”

Words of wisdom! Another of East Meets West Films major goals is to serve as a bridge between Hollywood and the film industry of Asia. How does East Meets West Films hope to achieve this goal?

In my scripts, the Chinese stars are integral to the story. As an American woman who has worked in both the American and Chinese film business, lived in Hong Kong and China, I bring a fresh perspective to action films that will appeal to both Hollywood and China.

So, what do you think are some of the mutual benefits filmmakers in the East and the West stand to gain from the symbiotic relationship you strive to establish with East Meets West Films. 

Chinese films usually don’t travel well in the West. Hollywood knows how to make and market globally appealing movies. Bringing together the best of both worlds (Hollywood storytelling with Chinese elements) is a fantastic combination.

Fantastic! With that in mind, your coach for screen fighting is Laurent “Lohan” Buson of Z-Team Films and “Merantau” fame. Describe your first meeting and what training under Lohan is like.

Laurent is a fantastic coach. He’s patient with beginners like me. I trained in Taekwondo for a few years but film fighting is completely different. He’s also quite funny which is great. Sometimes when we spare it can be intimidating knowing how good he is and how much he has done training and career-wise. I’m glad he has a sense of humor.

Yes, he’s an amazing martial artist! So, describe how your short film “The Kung Fu Rock Chick”, which will serve as the basis for a feature film, first came about. What are some of the ways in which the feature will expand upon the short film?

KFRC combines my two passions – Kung Fu and guitar. I also wanted a hero that wasn’t the typical soldier, spy, macho guy etc. So I made her a rock chick. Actually, KFRC started out as drama but everyone kept saying it seems like it could be a comedy. So I added some hilarious homages to great fight scenes (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, “Once Upon a Time in China” etc.) where the female protagonist imagines she’s the hero with hilarious results.

Fight choreography 101

Fight choreography 101

Yes, it definitely is very reminiscent of Jackie Chan’s style of comedy and action. What are some other projects East Meets West Films has in the pipeline?

Another project is an action-crime-thriller “Dragon Hunter” and it has four stars attached. We will shoot it in South Korea. I’d also like to create a TV series for “The Kung Fu Rock Chick” so that every week we can have cameos by rock stars and kung fu stars from Asia and Hollywood. I’ve also got three other scripts with stars attached.

Yes, there are some really big names attached, such as Sammo Hung, Simon Yam, Vincent Zhao Wen-Zhuo, Louis Koo, and Sonny Chiba. Describe how big names like these first became attached to East Meets West Films.

I lived in Hong Kong for many years and got to know lots of people in the film business. Luckily my scripts were different from what these stars normally are offered. They were written by an American woman and are targeted at a female audience. So being new and different helped.

Wow, I definitely can’t wait to see everything they’ll be a part of with EMW! So, who do you most admire in the martial arts movies?  Give us your brief views on:

Bruce Lee

The philosopher

Jackie Chan

The clown

Donnie Yen

The retiree? Let’s hope he doesn’t retire anytime soon.

Mark Dacascos

Loved him on Hawaii 5-0.

Scott Adkins

Would have loved to see him in the American remake of “The Raid”

Tony Jaa

I’m not a fan of Muay Thai but this guy makes it look awesome.

Yuen Biao

The Acrobat

Sammo Hung

Great actor, fighter and director.

What are your top 10 kung-fu movies? 

  1. The Raid 1 & 2 (the fight scenes are the best I’ve seen)
  2. Kill Bill (great style and homages to classic cinema)
  3. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (best female fight scene)
  4. Shaolin – (great acting)
  5. The Matrix (loved the way they dodged bullets)
  6. G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra (great kid fight in the kitchen)
  7. Run, Fat Boy, Run (hysterical fight scene)
  8. Fist of Legend (I added a homage to this in KFRC)
  9. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (I love stories about ancient China)
  10. Cradle to the Grave (urban cool – which I hope I can emulate in my scripts – Chinese traditions with American cool).

Definitely a lot of classics there! So, which martial artists/actors would you most like to work with?

All the ones attached to my scripts. 

Caryn-trains-with-Lohan-Buson-of-Z-Team-Films

Caryn trains with Lohan Buson of Z-Team Films

Well, let’s move into training now. What is a typical workout for you?  Is it mostly martial arts and flexibility training, do you combine weights with that too?

I do stunt training with Laurent twice a week. I run on the beach about five days a week.  I spend more time running than in martial arts training. I stretch a little every day. Weight training is something I need to do more of (as Laurent keeps reminding me). I know he’s right.

What’s your favourite exercise and what specific or special training techniques do you like/really find works for you?/Brings out the best in you?

I’m a big running fan which can be a challenge since I need to get in the gym more.

So, what would you describe as the most daring stunt you’ve ever done?

I did a fight on top of a long table in “The Kung Fu Rock Chick”. I’m not good with heights it turns out. Also, if I fell off – I’d either land on the cameras or on a couple of stunt guys who were acting as my crash test dummies. (You can see them on my website under Cast & Crew/Production Photo Gallery). Either way, falling would really hurt.

Well, definitely glad that went as planned! To dovetail off of stunts, what was your most serious injury, and how did you work around it?   

I broke my arm falling down some stairs. I wore a cast for weeks. But somehow I managed to pass my second-degree black best test even with a broken arm.

Wow, now that’s dedication! So, what are some things you like to do to recover from a particularly strenuous period of physical activity?

Cross train – which is why I like running.

Caryn readies herself for the Kung Fu Rock Chick's adventures

Caryn readies herself for the Kung Fu Rock Chick’s adventures

Diversify! What do you recommend for those leading an especially physical and demanding lifestyle?

Get plenty of sleep every day. 

How about training equipment? What are a couple of your favourite pieces of gym/exercise or training equipment that you absolutely love using and would recommend to others?

A good pair of running shoes. If you have bad shoes – it will affect your entire body.

Indeed. Moving now into nutrition, what kind of diet do you follow? Which foods do you find work for you to remain at your most energetic, are the best fuel for your workouts?

Red wine and chocolate every day. I also love apples with cheese.

Do you take any supplements? Are there any that you would recommend?

I take fish oil, a daily vitamin, glucosamine and calcium.

Great suggestions! Moving now into fun and leisure, what’s one geeky thing that people don’t really know about you?

I love Downton Abbey. I also love live theater.

If you could be a superhero, who would you be and what superpower would you most like to possess?

Cypher who can easily understand many languages. I speak Mandarin but need to practice more.

That’s a useful superpower in any situation! So, what are some of your hobbies?

Playing guitar, reading, listening to podcasts.

Favourite music?

Anything with guitar. I also love Frank Sinatra.

Favourite movies? (non-martial arts)

Star Wars, Casablanca, Chinatown.

So, what are some things in life that you really:

-like?

The simple things: Dinner with my husband, runs on the beach, a good book, travel, learning and Pinterest.

-dislike?

Action movies where women are only the hero’s arm candy.

What would you say is your proudest accomplishment so far?

My short film “The Kung Fu Rock Chick”. On the first day of filming we had 60 people. 30 crew and 30 extras. It was crazy. On the last night of shooting, it started to rain. Then we were losing time and the sun was rising. We somehow managed to get the shot and finish the film.

Exactly, never let anything stand in your way! So, what are you really keen to accomplish in the next 5 years?

Get my two films into production. Launch an American/Chinese TV series to be shot in Hong Kong (“The Kung Fu Rock Chick”).

Coming soon - The Kung Fu Rock Chick!

Coming soon – The Kung Fu Rock Chick!

Well, we’ll definitely be looking out for them! On that note, what advice would you give to martial artists who aspire to use their skills on film and television?

With ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable. Never give up on your dream.

Definitely true! Jumping off of that, which warrior-wisdom quotes have shaped you up to this point, have molded you into who you are today?

The one I mentioned earlier by Bruce Lee – you need to make your own opportunities.

That’s definitely one to live by! Well, as we prepare to sign off, what special message would you like to share with Kung-fu Kingdom readers and your fans around the world?

I’d love to get ideas for crowdfunding in China for the “Kung Fu Rock Chick” feature film.

Fantastic! If people would like to find out more about you where’s the best place to go?

Twitter: Caryn McCann @KungFuRockChick or Facebook – The Kung Fu Rock Chick.

Well, thank you so much Caryn for your kind participation in this interview.  We’ll definitely keep our eyes out for everything East Meet West Films has coming up!

And thank you Kung Fu Kingdom for spotlighting East Meets West Films on your site!

LINKS

Website: The Kung Fu Rock Chick
Twitter: @KungFuRockChick
Facebook: The Kung Fu Rock Chick

From the earliest days of childhood, Brad Curran was utterly fascinated by martial arts, his passion only growing stronger after spending time living in the melting pot of Asian cultures that is Hawaii. His early exposure developed into a lifelong passion and fascination with all forms of martial arts and tremendous passion for action and martial arts films. He would go on to take a number of different martial arts forms, including Shaolin Ch'uan fa, Taekwondo, Shotokan Karate and remains a devoted student, avid and eager to continue his martial arts studies. Brad is also an aspiring writer and deeply desires to share his love for martial arts and martial arts movies with the world!

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