From Chiang Mai to Hollywood: An Interview with Aria Inthavong
Aria Inthavong is a former Chiang Mai resident who left Thailand a few years ago to work as an actor and filmmaker in Los Angeles. In ‘Development Hell’, an upcoming comedic web series he co-created, Aria plays Damien Lockwood, a failed and arrogant director who plans to conquer Hollywood by staging a disastrous movie-musical project. With the imminent release of the first episode, I had an opportunity to ask this young artist about his work.
Citylife: What is your background?
Aria: I was born in San Francisco in 1991 to Lao parents. My dad works in the hotel industry [D2 Hotel’s previous general manager, Somock Inthavong], so we resided in various countries before finally moving to Chiang Mai in 2001. I studied at Prem Tinsulanonda International School from which I graduated in 2009 before moving to Los Angeles in 2010. All my life I’ve wanted to work in the film industry, nothing else.
Citylife: What are you currently working on?
Aria: I am hard at work on a web series called ‘Development Hell’, which I created with my co-writer Devon Henry. We both recognised online content as a viable option for producing work and we felt it was the perfect medium for our show. At the beginning, I would have said it was an amateur project but, slowly, it grew into something larger than we ever expected. We’ve had a great response from people in the industry and many fantastically talented people joined in. It is entirely a self-financed project, with everybody working on it doing so out of their good faith.
Citylife: In the movie industry, what is a ‘development hell’?
Aria: It’s a project that just can’t seem to get out of the development phase and actually start production, for a variety of reasons (from financial, to behind-the-scenes drama). We felt that the idea of telling a story about a group of miscreants, all trying to find fame and success in Hollywood but stuck in such hellish experience, would be great and that audiences could connect with it.
Citylife: Can you tell us more about these characters?
Aria: The show follows a team led by Damien Lockwood, a director who recently released a critical and commercial failure film. In order to save his reputation, he sets out to make a stage musical, which he hopes to release as a feature film. Unfortunately, Damien and his team aren’t quite as talented as they think they are. These characters are complete antiheros and that’s what drives the show’s humour. We want audiences to love to hate these characters.
Citylife: How long did it take to complete the show and what difficulties did you encounter?
Aria: It has been in production for over a year. We went through many changes and rewrites, from entirely getting rid of main characters to scrapping several scripts and footage we had already shot. Despite all the trouble we went through, I feel it strengthened the show and helped us learn from our mistakes.
Citylife: The project progressively garnered support from several Hollywood personalities. How did that happen?
Aria: Networking is a crucial part of this industry, and you have to take advantage of that. With each new person that joins the team, we have a new network of people connected to the project. It might eventually reach someone with influence.
Citylife: On which website are the episodes going to be released?
Aria: On YouTube, because it has a great audience and already has a stable base for web series. We hope to maintain a steady stream of releasing an episode every week, but we’re wary of making promises we can’t keep (which is definitely something you should not do in this business).
Citylife: Is there going to be more than one season of ‘Development Hell’?
Aria: It is dependent on the kind of response we get. If there’s no one watching it, it just wouldn’t be viable, financially and otherwise. We’re working hard to make sure we do get to come back!
Citylife: Internet is a medium that allows every artist to present their work to the world without going through major production firms. In the future, do you want to keep putting your work online?
Aria: The majority of people in the industry see cinema as the ‘Holy Grail’ of working in entertainment, followed by the other traditional mediums of television and radio. Web-based content is an alternate pathway to transitioning to TV or film, and one I’d be happy to take.
Citylife: Do you think it’s easier to get noticed in Hollywood nowadays?
Aria: It’s easier in the sense that, with the emergence of social media, you can promote your work with relative ease. But there’ll probably be a million other people doing the same thing. At the end of the day, in Hollywood, everyone is still fighting to get noticed.
Citylife: In the future, which aspect of filmmaking do you want to focus on?
Aria: When I was younger, my passion was in being a director. However, I had an incredible acting teacher at Prem, who really helped me break out of my shell as an actor. In the distant future, I’d love to try to step behind the camera as a director, but I’d like to accomplish what I can as an actor first.
Citylife: Do you have one specific project that you dream about bringing into life?
Aria: If I’d have to choose one, it would be directing a movie adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel, ‘And Then There Were None’. It’s such a fantastic and gripping thriller, and perfect for the screen treatment, There was a movie adaptation back in 1945, but I think it’s time for a revived adaptation. I also have an original project in mind, actually set in Laos, but I’ll save that for another time!
The first episode of ‘Development Hell’ is now available online at www.youtube.com/thedevelopmenthell
Follow the show’s news at www.facebook.com/thedevelopmenthell.