Student filmmakers on OWN Academy

These Inspiring Student Filmmakers are Seeing the World Through a Different Lens

These young creatives prove it’s never too early to start building your dream career. 

Meet four filmmakers who took matters into their own hands and started carving their own path in the film industry even before graduating from school.  

Charlie Stewart is a former intern and now video producer at OWN Academy. Before entering the University of British Columbia, where he’s now in his third year, he already worked on videos for OWN Academy and a commercial for clothing brand DETERMINANT

Shayla Perales from Mapua University won Best Film at the Philippine festival Piling Obrang Vidyo this year. Her stop motion short film, Rambutan, used different fruits to symbolize the pandemic effect around the world. 

Knoton Fung and Nicholas Chang founded the Hong Kong Student Film Festival, the country’s first student-run film fest, in 2021. At the time, Knoton was attending high school at the Hong Kong International School and Nicholas at the German Swiss International School. 

These creatives are still in college and already practicing the career they want to pursue. Here, they talk about the purpose that fuels their filmmaking, the real-world experiences that make them future ready, and the advice they have for fellow students.

Charlie Stewart interview with OWN Academy
Charlie Stewart 
Photo by Rosamond Chung

What drives your storytelling? What’s the purpose behind it? 

Charlie Stewart: People often say write what you know, and I firmly believe that’s the best way to get your stories out. From there I usually try to adjust or make it more dramatic to add a little more flavor. I always aim to leave some sort of impact with whatever I create, no matter how small. 

Shayla Perales: My stories are rooted in my own struggles, successes, beliefs, and advocacies. The closer they are to my heart, the better I can execute them. 

Knoton Fung: I wanted to use film as a medium to learn more about the human condition. So I went out and made films about topics such as the housing crisis, elderly poverty, the Hong Kong protests, and minorities. By sharing these stories, my hope was to raise awareness and understand why people act and think the way they do.

There are hundreds—if not thousands—of student filmmakers across Hong Kong creating unique and compelling work. However, there is a lack of awareness and consolidation among the student film community in this city. So, NJ (Nicholas Chang) and I decided to found the Hong Kong Student Film Festival to give student filmmakers a voice and to promote the artistic medium. 

Shayla Perales interview with OWN Academy
Shayla Perales 

Name a major challenge in your film journey and how you overcame it. 

Charlie: Even five years into it, I find originality and quantity quite difficult to balance. For a while, I was uploading to YouTube once a week to improve as a filmmaker and grow my channel. But with this amount of quantity, originality suffers a bit, and I found that it wasn’t as fulfilling. I don’t know if I’ve found a solution yet, but I’m trying to overcome this by taking my time working on videos that I care about and are not already on YouTube in the same way. 

Shayla: I remember it was nerve-wracking to be the assistant director for the first time. Instead of leaning into my negative thoughts, I reframed it as a learning opportunity. I challenged myself to think on my feet, adjust to the new environment, and communicate better with my teammates. 

Nicholas Chang: In organizing our film festival, the biggest challenge was the logistics. It was extremely difficult to find a venue that complied with the government regulations and worked with our budget and timeline. I cold-called and cold-emailed many venues, and it wasn’t until less than a month before the event that we finally secured one. The event was a success, but this hurdle opened my eyes to the logistical quagmire that every small organization has to overcome. 

Knoton Fung interview with OWN Academy
Knoton Fung 
Photo by George Lim 

What are the most valuable life lessons that filmmaking has taught you? 

Charlie: To trust myself. For a recent music video, I rented a camera that I’d never used before. I went through every YouTube tutorial to learn how to use it most efficiently. On the day of the shoot, I almost left it at home and brought my own lower quality camera that I was more comfortable with. But I pushed myself to trust that my preparation would get me through the shoot—and it did. It turned out to be one of my favorite music videos I’ve ever shot. 

Shayla: Be a decent human being. No matter how skilled you may be, the way you treat people will ultimately show who you are. It doesn’t cost a thing to be kind.

Nicholas: While filming our docuseries on socioeconomic issues in Hong Kong, I was learning about new issues as we were collecting testimonials from people. It threw me out of my comfort zone and forced me to make last-minute changes to the script and the entire direction of the film. It taught me to approach filmmaking with an open mind and not to be dead set on the perspective of the film before I make it. 

Nicholas Chang interview with OWN Academy
Nicholas Chang 
Photo by Knoton Fung 

What advice would you give to young aspiring filmmakers? 

Charlie: Go through as many YouTube tutorials as you can and try them out. I started out by trying to copy Sam Kolder, Peter McKinnon, and Casey Neistat. Eventually, you’ll get to the stage where you find your original touch and start making films that speak to you.

Shayla: I always keep in mind this advice from a professor: “Don’t be pretentious.” Create something that speaks to *you* and something that *you* relate to. Just start—write that script, film those shots, and take that first project. 

Knoton: To start, it can be as simple as taking out your phone and recording things that look interesting. They don’t need to have a unifying theme, but if you put them together, it might just turn out to be something interesting. You can take it further from there, but what’s most important is to figure out what stories you want to tell. 

Want to start building your dream career too? Sign up for the OWN Degree, the world’s first real-world experience degree! The OWN Degree represents the culmination of solving real-world problems with the guidance of industry professionals. Through a framework of Context, Problem, and Solution, it empowers and equips learners like you to pursue fulfilling, meaningful careers.

Join the OWN Degree waitlist!