Member Lens: Su Fang Tham On Taking Risks, Writing and Chasing Opportunities
In our new Member Lens series, we’re spotlighting a cross-section of current Film Independent Members to see how they got where they are now, what they hope to do next and what being a part of Film Independent means to them.
Su Fang Tham is no stranger to taking initiative. Tham’s early love of the cinematic craft led her to vigorously pursue an interest in story development in parallel with a demanding day job as a full-time tax CPA. Tham relocated to Los Angeles, where she wasted no time in her industry networking efforts — at one point even cold-contacting over 70 different development execs to offer her script coverage services. For most, this would have been enough. But the overachieving Tham instead decided to chase a third track: freelance entertainment journalism.
It was through her passion to write about filmmaking that Tham — already a Film Independent Member at the time — first connected with Film Independent’s blog in 2016. In the years since, Tham has become one of Fi’s most prolific blog contributors, recapping a wide range of Film Independent programming as well as providing our regular Detail Oriented and Don’t-Miss Indies columns in addition to pursuing other freelance writing and script development work. She now works full-time as a freelancer, having left Fox during the 2019 Disney merger.
We recently spoke to Tham about her love of story, fascination with below-the-line craft, and how her emerging careers in film development and film journalism continue to support each other. Here’s the conversation:
SU FANG THAM
So when did you first become a Film Independent Member? What were you doing at the time and how did Film Independent sort of come to your attention?
Tham: I think I must have known about Film Independent at some point from the Spirit Awards. But I believe I started becoming a Member when I moved to L.A., in 2013. I was in my tax job but I had the intention of doing more on the creative writing front in addition to my career in tax. I was looking for an opportunity to write for more places and more outlets. And really, the idea came to me one day when I was in traffic on the 405 freeway. At the time, I was still working at Fox, and I thought, “Hey, maybe Film Independent might need someone to write movie reviews or anything along those lines.” So I contacted the Membership Director …
Ah yes, the great Evan Ward-Henninger.
Tham: Yeah! And he connected me with you [Matt Warren, Digital Content Manager]. I didn’t actually have any experience at the time writing for a website or blogging. What I did was I reviewed screenplays as part of my part-time work as a story analyst providing coverage and development notes. That was on top of my tax job. So, that was part of my experience writing about filmmaking, and thankfully, you gave me a shot when I didn’t have any experience writing for websites or magazines. I started with a column called Indie-pendent Study, which took each movie and analyzed one technical aspect of the story. For example, for the movie Eye in the Sky, which is a military drama about drone warfare, we dug into U.S. military law. Then, at the same time, I also helped cover panels at the L.A. Film Festival and screening events. And a year later, I got to take over Don’t-Miss Indies, when the original writer moved out of L.A.
Let’s take a step back. How did your love of film and your interest in Hollywood start? What brought you out to the US and Los Angeles?
Tham: I’ve always watched way too much TV [laughs]. In Asia growing up, I got hooked on soap operas like Dallas, Dynasty, Knots Landing, MacGyver — stuff like that. I’ve always found myself sitting and watching behind-the-scenes stuff and special featurettes on DVDs (remember those?). Then I got to a point, this was maybe 10-12 years ago, that for any TV show or movie that I really liked I would obsessively read the reviews and recaps on every episode. And a lot of [that writing] really went into character development and how to build a rich story world. It gave me more insight into how to bring a show or movie onto the screen.
You’ve been pursuing a career in Scripted Development. How did that, uh… develop, I guess?
Tham: I was still living in Maine and I signed up for an online class at UCLA Extension. It was an intro to feature film development and the next class I took was a 10-week course on script coverage. That led me to doing my first paid coverage with Michael Ferris (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines), who at the time had a script consulting company. From that, I went on to read scripts for screenwriting competitions at various film festivals. Then, I got my next paid gig by cold-emailing 70 random producers and execs on IMDb Pro to offer my script reading services. One of the only two people who responded back was Herrick Entertainment, so I did a lot of coverage for them and also looked at some TV development projects for them. This was all when I was moving to L.A. in 2012 and 2013.
What do you like about analyzing scripts, specifically?
Tham: It’s the chance to kind of shape or mold something into a gem, into hopefully what will become good material. You just dig into all the nitty gritty details, the whole goal is always to make the next draft better until you can go live with production. When I read a script, it’s like, “Okay, what would I be looking for [as an audience]? What would make me want to watch this movie or TV show?”
Tell me about some of the entertainment writing you’ve done outside of Film Independent? What opportunities have opened up for you as a freelancer on that front?
Tham: So far, I’ve written 80+ entries on [Film Independent’s] blog, so that’s a tremendous portfolio to have, which I’m sure has helped me get writing gigs at CineMontage, the Motion Picture Editor Guild’s magazine and website, and the Location Managers Guild magazine, The Compass. And thankfully, when I talk to folks about my story analyst work, I’ve gotten a lot of favorable comments on the fact that I also write about filmmaking and cinema. So both of them feed into each other. For instance, when I talked to the second unit director for Ford v. Ferrari or the costume designer for John Wick or the VFX folks on Jack Ryan, it just lets me get into areas that I wouldn’t really hear about unless I’m working on set.
What’s been your favorite part of being a Film Independent Member apart from working on the blog?
Tham: The access to our events, I would say. Especially in the last year, our virtual programming has just exploded. It’s nice to know that I have such a good resource at the tip of my fingers, in a way. Oh, I just thought of something else, which is a great thing to mention — Spirit Awards screeners and being able to vote on the winners of a highly regarded awards show.
People love those screeners!
Tham:I got a chance to help [Fi Senior Programmer] Jenn Wilson and [Spirit Awards Associate Director of Nominations] Setu Raval and their group screening submissions for the 2021 Spirit Awards this year! That was pretty cool to kind of be on the front lines a little bit. So, that was a great experience.
For more from Su Fang Tham please visit her author page on FilmIndependent.org. To become a Member of Film Independent—and possibly be featured in a future edition of our Member Lens series—just click here.