Juliana Chang ’15 has been fascinated with language and identity all her life and she expresses it best through the outlet of creative writing. Her interest comes from her dual cultural backgrounds, growing up in the San Francisco Bay area and attending middle and high school in Taipei at TAS. On Stanford’s campus, where she is a rising senior majoring in linguistics and sociology, Juliana performs slam poetry as a part of the Stanford Spoken Word Collective, and “the running joke on campus is that I only write about language, identity, and family,” she laughs.
This summer, Juliana’s writing as well as her mainstay themes of identity and language made the leap to the silver screen in her film writing and directing debut Many Names. Juliana and two Stanford friends teamed up to create the 5-minute short-film for the AT&T Create-a-thon filmmaking competition. Beating out hundreds of competitors, Juliana’s original screenplay was selected as one of sixty-four scripts to be produced this summer, and ultimately finished third in the nationwide competition. In June, Juliana and her two collaborators filmed and produced Many Names in Los Angeles, where they had the opportunity to shoot one scene at Warner Bros. Studios.
What’s in a name? Or many names?
In five minutes, Many Names explores non-Western names and what Juliana calls “the daily labor of deciding how to present yourself” through a handful of humorous scenes from the life of a young woman named Euna Kim. Depending on the audience (whether a barista, a professor, or a date), Euna’s approach to presenting herself and teaching people to say her name ends up being slightly different.
The inspiration for this screenplay came to Juliana from her personal experiences at Stanford. As a teaching assistant for a freshman seminar on bilingualism, Juliana found that many students of Latina heritage choose to pronounce their names in a Spanish or American way, depending on their audience’s background, or how they wanted to relate to that person. In Juliana’s words, “The struggle with how to present one’s own identity is universal.”
This competition presented Juliana with a unique challenge and experience. “When you write a screenplay, what you write is not the final product, so to be able to be a part of the process that turns a script into the final thing is really, really cool.”
Many Names was written and produced by Juliana and her collaborators, but received support from a wide audience, as family, friends, and acquaintances helped raise over $1,100 for the production. She explains, “When we were selected to be produced, we were really excited for two hours! Then we realized it was going to cost so much money. So many people from different parts of my life helped out.”
While they were preparing to shoot in Los Angeles, Juliana received a message from an old friend. Justin Chien ’14 was graduating from USC and about to enter the world of professional acting. He jumped at the chance to work with Juliana, taking a turn as the male lead in Many Names. “I remembered her tremendous talent as a prose and poetry writer while she was still at TAS, and I knew that if she decided to pick up screenwriting, her potential would be limitless,” recalls Justin. “She's a great example for any future storytellers out of TAS that with dedication and passion, even a first-time screenwriter can make an impactful piece of art that challenges the status quo.”
A path that began at TAS
For Juliana, screenwriting and directing are relatively new endeavors, but they grew out of her interest in creative writing and public speaking, nurtured at TAS. Juliana attended TAS from Grades 7 to 12, and her strongest memories of the school are from Student Government as well as Speech and Debate. “I mainly remember all the time I spent in school when I wasn’t technically supposed to be there!” she quips. She credits TAS teachers like Ms. Chen, US English teacher and her adviser, and Ms. Yonkey, former US Activities Coordinator, for teaching her about how to be a leader and how to manage her time. Reminiscing about high school, Juliana recalled that her first directing experience came from her Honors Theater class, where she wrote and acted in a screenplay called Blue Skin (“I hope nobody ever watches that”).
One piece of advice Juliana would give to TAS students and fellow alumni interested in writing or other creative endeavors is to “find your people.” While writing is often stereotyped as a lonely process in front of a typewriter (or blank screen), Juliana sees it as being much more rewarding as a collaborative process. “Find friends and mentors who are interested in the same thing, so they can read your poem drafts, support your interests, and ask you to enter competitions with them!” Juliana especially credits Ms. Kao, her Grade 10 English teacher, for pushing her to do creative writing outside of class. This encouragement was one factor that pushed Juliana to start the Poetry Café, now an annual event with Expression magazine.
Of her creative work in the future, Juliana says, “I want to keep making films that people would find relatable.” She and Matt Shimura, a fellow Stanford student who was one of her co-creators on Many Names, are currently working on her next project, a film for an HBO competition that will center around the messaging app LINE and how Taiwanese American families use it to stay in touch.
When she returns to Stanford in her senior year, Juliana will be working on her master’s in sociology to graduate with both her bachelor’s and master’s in June of 2019. She looks forward to enrolling at Harvard Law School in 2021, a future career in education policy and civil rights, and many more creative endeavors. Follow Juliana’s career here: www.julianachang.com.