Anna Jung, Owner - Creative at silentRebel on Advertising, Women in Film Chicago, & Filmmaking.
July 7, 2015
I’m originally from Woodstock, IL (home of the famed Groundhog Day…!), but have made the North Side of Chicago my home for the last 15 years.
I didn’t take a typical path into the industry - I didn’t go to school for film, advertising or production, and had absolutely no experience in any of those fields. But I was a writer - as long as I could remember, I’d been writing - poetry, commentary, essays, anything.
And when I wrote, I could see and hear what I was writing so clearly, that visual element made me want to show what I was creating in my mind, not just write it down.
I supplemented that with some acting and improv in my mid-twenties, which I think really helped inform my style as a director today.
Career wise, my first foray into the industry came through advertising. I happened to be dating a guy who worked for a small ad shop, which looked like a lot more fun than what I was doing (I worked for the Illinois Department of Revenue at the time).
So, I decided to roll the dice, quit my job and walk down the street to a temp agency. I said - “I don’t care what I'm doing, just get me into advertising.”
A week later I started at DDB, and after a couple years of learning the ropes, moved into the production department, where I worked on Dell and McDonald’s as a production business manager.
I eventually left DDB to join a smaller agency where I could get back to a more creative place. I spearheaded branding efforts and provided creative direction on various projects.
From there, I decided to try my hand at freelancing & after a couple successful years of writing and producing on brands like Toyota, Motorola, and Frito-Lay, I was given the opportunity to direct the pieces I was scripting.
My creative chops got a little stronger and I was fortunate to collaborate with various teams to write and deliver pitches for work on networks like NBC, ABC and Starz.
While I still executive produce on occasion, my main focus is now writing and filmmaking.
First Entertainment Job
Does getting paid in pizza and credit count? If so, then that would be as a supporting character on an indie film that director Zach Parker was DPing on at the time.
Or maybe it was on a web series called Windy Field – that was a great cast, where I got to work with an amazing actress named Jennifer Sydney who I was so excited to see on American Crime recently.
If you’re talking cash money, it would be as an extra on the set of RollBounce. That was very early on, but I truly believe that every situation is an opportunity to learn, and the education I received was on set, witnessing the insane attention to detail required to command every moving piece of even the smallest scene - all while keeping the big picture in mind and conveying the beauty of your vision.
It was amazing and also what I like best about directing.
If you’re talking artistically, I’d say Ernest Hemingway. He was able to distill the most complex human emotions to the simplest expression– that’s an amazing skill.
He won a short story contest for this: “Baby shoes for sale, never worn.” Six words, raw emotion, endless possibilities, boom.
From a directing standpoint, I like how Darren Aronofsky mixes the beautiful and grotesque in a way that can push you out of your comfort zone. And Kathryn Bigelow, she rarely puts anything in a scene that doesn’t need to be. Her stories are simple and powerful.
I’m a big fan of work that doesn’t need all the bells and whistles to prove a point.
I founded silentRebel, a boutique production firm that focuses on documentary-style campaigns for brands and non-profits. I started the company to address what I thought was a gap in the commercial marketplace – authentic storytelling that uses a real people to tell that story.
In a world dominated by the big, flashy car spot, it was sort of going against the grain at the time. Now, you see more and more big brands doing this, which I like.
In addition to our commercial work, we have a film & television division in the works called Based On A True Story. Yeah, there’s a pattern… we like real, we like simple, we like honest.
Sometimes that’s a documentary, other times it’s an animated narrative or a pitch for a network show, but whether it’s funny or tragic or ugly or breathtaking – we like to keep it real.
Women in Film
Women in Film Chicago is dedicated to empowering women to reach the highest achievements in their fields. We especially like to see women pursue non-traditional roles in entertainment and advertising if they are so inclined (think directors, DPs, tv staff writer…) and work hard to provide them with the tools and contacts to make a successful career in those fields.
I had previously served on the board as their marketing director a few years back and most recently served two-year tenure as their Creative Director. I’ve recently stepped down from that role and to serve as an advisory member in order to pursue personal projects.
My hope is to hit those endeavors out of the park so that I can come back with even more opportunities to share with our members.
In What Role Do You Find Yourself Most Comfortable?
At this point, I would say writing and directing are where I find myself the happiest.
Writing, because it’s always been part of my bread and butter, and directing because I’m naturally inclined to follow through on my vision – I like the added work of taking what I’ve written and collaborated with my crew to make it come alive.
I look forward to honing my craft here in Chicago.
In general, I like creating art that informs, makes people think twice about something, or look at an issue, cause or person in a different light.
Filmmaking gives me such a incredible outlet to do that – with the story, the look, the music, the tone – the elements are vast and varied.
I also love that no two days are the same on set.
You’re dependent on humans every step of the way once the story leaves your brain, and humans are unpredictable. That’s the beautiful and maddening part of it.
SAY YES – even if you’ve never done it before – which is basically everything I’ve ever done. “Hey, can you help pitch and direct a piece for NBC Chicago?” (No television or celebrity experience, but…)
And there I was talking to Harold Ramis about his sword collection and interviewing Virgina Madsen in LA; “Listen, I know about this Executive Producer gig at a really prominent post-house, interested?”
Not, “I’ve only ever really line produced…” - “We need someone to direct the Women in Film Focus Awards Videos, can you work on creative today and by the way, get the CEO of Leo Burnett on camera this Friday?”
“Put together a piece for Shira Piven (director on Kristen Wiig’s Welcome to Me)?”
“Pitch the treatment you just wrote to the EP of the show Vegas?” This is the first treatment I’ve ever written in my life and YES, I absolutely can.
I can't say it enough: SAY YES TO OPPORTUNITY. I feel as women, we don’t do this as often as we could.
WORD OF MOUTH is truly your best credential. Your reputation is everything.
HAVE A POINT OF VIEW. CONSISTENTLY OVER DELIVER. LISTEN and ADD VALUE. If what you’re about to say, or do, doesn’t improve the conversation, situation or project, zip it.
EMBRACE YOUR PATH. Again, mine has been a winding one, but everything I have done - from the improv to working in government to serving as a Military Intelligence Analyst for the Army National Guard to saying yes to a network show with absolutely no television experience - has shaped me, my point of view, my ability to connect with the people and the world around me.
CHECK YOUR EGO. Give your all to bring the common goal to life.
I think the first hurdle was my complete lack of experience and industry contacts, but honestly, that’s most people starting out. I overcame that by jumping in feet first then paying attention to what was going on around me.
I asked questions. I wasn’t afraid to not know something. And networking, networking, networking.
Another hurdle, as a director, was choosing the doc-style route in a commercial world. Though it’s much more prevalent now, very few major brands were using real emotion from real people to sell a product or connect with their audience when I started out.
But I believe in that form of communication, the power of that authenticity, and it’s paid off for me, both in the advertising world, and in the entertainment field.
Also, as a documentary-style director, I’ve had fellow directors ask if what I do is actually directing, which is so laughable to me. Not only am I exploring two to three unwritten scripts in my head as I’m interviewing my subject(s), having to get the material for any one of them that I may use, I need to get it from someone who may or may not have ever been in front of the camera before.
And I need to do it without feeding them lines or prompting them to say what I so desperately want to hear. Plus, I’m framing the shot, selling my vision to the crew, and much to my editor’s chagrin, am in the room creating the story through my final cut. If that’s not directing, I don’t know what is.
I know I should probably talk about the hurdle as a woman – and I’ve gotten my fair shake of “Well, this brand probably isn’t a good fit for you…” because of it, but honestly, I don’t really maneuver in those terms…I’m aware of the double standard, but it doesn’t really serve as a detriment or motivator to me.
Social media. I have a love hate relationship with it. I understand the relevance, importance and need, but I prefer to leave the actual work of it to others. I should probably hire somebody for that. We’ve done a lot of great work that nobody knows about because I’m such a slacker on that account.
Current Career Aspirations
Sell a television show to a cable network
Write & direct on said television show
Direct a feature
Sell a feature
Coffee table book, topic TBD, photos B&W
That should cover the next couple of years.
Top 5 Memories
Working on an indie pilot in Elroy, WI, 8 ½ months pregnant (my first kid was literally born two weeks later), up for 48 hours straight in a tornado watch. Happy firemen. Pissed off farmers. A crisis every minute. No bathrooms! I loved every second of that shoot.
Being called in to “creative direct” a piece for NBC via a local production company. My best friend worked there and brought the project to the table, sold it through the ranks, and asked if I was up for it. YES. It was an amazing shoot of A-list talent and I ended up directing most of the interviews for it, which was an incredible education, especially for someone with very little on set experience at the time, let alone network roles.
Finishing my first mini-documentary Off Into Space just to do a piece that wasn’t a client driven project. I did it on a whim, with a company called Teletech at the time, and it ended up being really well-received and got a couple of awards. Completely unexpected, and a nice calling card.
The beer cart that used to come around every Friday at DDB in my early days. Coming from a government job, I just. couldn’t. believe. It.
Working with an incredible group of people at Sarofsky Corp., a design-driven production house in the city. Erin Sarofsky – who is a complete inspiration – gave me the opportunity to write and pitch main titles for tv. It really pushed me to evolve out of producing and back to a true creative place. I’m hugely thankful for that.
Working with the Cystic Fibrosis on their gala videos. Directing these pieces made a huge impact on me. I was talking to parents who were holding their children in their laps, children that were unlikely to beat their disease, and asking them to share their story with me. Saying, “it was humbling,” sounds almost arrogant and trivial, but the truth is, it was humbling, completely.
What Is Something About Your Career That You Would Like People To Know?
Having kids makes you less productive and it kills me. But it also makes for good material. Dealing with three boys 6 years old and under is like stabbing yourself in the face and watching the most hilarious movie you’ve ever seen in your life, at the same time.
What else? Just that every little bit of experience I’ve been fortunate enough to have has made me a better writer and director – I have been through basic training.
I’m half Mexican and make killer guacamole.
I flew to Luxembourg when I was 19, knowing nobody, or the language.
I’ve had to, on more than one occasion, delivered the news that someone’s loved one has died. That’s not fun.
I stole a cat from a farm once. I’ve broken off an engagement. I’ve waitressed at shitty bars and sold my plasma for beer money in college.
These are not career-oriented experiences, but they are the experiences that have given me the perspective, understanding and empathy to tell the stories that move my career.
So, go live life.
Nothing. And I hope this gives a lot of hope to a lot of people.
So, this is corny, but my parents are huge mentors to me. I’ve never seen two people with a more outstanding work ethic in my life, period.
Trying to live up to that has made a huge impact on my career.
As far as industry mentors, I’d say Tom Fletcher, who used to own Fletcher Camera and Lenses – he’s always given me an honest assessment of the industry as well as of my own work. I appreciate that.
I’m working on a television pilot with a strong, female protagonist. Could I be more vague?
Anything Else You Would Like To Share With Our Readers?
Surround yourself with people you trust and be happy when your peers succeed. This is a good thing.