Recently named a 2021 Allstate Foundation Film Fellow, Film Studies’ class of 2022 Spencer Tsang has already begun making his way in the film industry. The fellowship awarded five filmmakers from all over the United States $15,000 and mentorship opportunities for the young creatives to bring their visions to life. In collaboration with the One Love Foundation, the aim of the fellowship is to extend opportunities in film to people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. In line with One Love’s mission to end domestic abuse, the films had to focus on some aspect of relationships. For Spencer’s film Fight Night he drew inspiration from his own upbringing in Sacramento, toxic masculinity, and past friendships.
He first heard of the fellowship through an Instagram advertisement. “I looked at [it] and thought: No way this is real; it’s too good to be true,” Spencer said. He applied but didn’t have high expectations. “My goal was never to win a fellowship or a grant,” he said. “I really just wanted to find the right people for myself, find myself in general, and see if art and film was a career that I could go into.”
A short time later Spencer found out he had made it to the next phase and had to present his work to a panel for review. He wrote the script in two weeks, created a proof of concept video, and animated scenes from his storyboard. “I wanted to leave no space to chance,” Spencer said.
After completing his presentation, Spencer was awarded the fellowship on the spot. “It felt like a dream come true,” he said. “I don’t know a better way to say it.”
With the $15,000 provided by the fellowship and an additional $2,000 he raised independently, Spencer began working on his first “big” budget set. “More money doesn’t always make it easier,” he said.
While producing Fight Night, he worked through issues having to do with securing film permits with the city of Los Angeles, getting production insurance, and working with a large number of people. “I just learned so much about how to be a good collaborator,” he said. “You could be the most talented person in the world, but if you don’t know how to work with people it’s really hard.”
Fight Night was Spencer’s first experience at the helm of a professional set. It was a huge responsibility, at times overwhelming. “You don’t fail until you give up,” Spencer said. As of right now, Fight Night is being screened at various film festivals and will be available to stream sometime later this year.
Growing up, Spencer loved movies. He’d watch them with his Dad when he was younger and always appreciated them as an audience member. His first opportunity to create films happened his freshman year at USF. In partnership with USFtv, Campus Movie Fest came to the Hilltop and provided students with equipment and support to produce a five-minute movie within a week; the best fifteen were showcased at the campus film festival. “It was a ‘your dreams are made or your heart is shattered’ kind of thing,” he said.
Partnered with his friend, Spencer produced Finding Compromises for the movie fest. At the screening they sat through fourteen films, becoming less and less sure of themselves after each one. “But then we saw the first shot of our movie and Carnival of Animals playing and we lost our minds,” Spencer said.
That experience motivated him to take more classes in film. During the pandemic Spencer took the time to seek out opportunities in Los Angeles, applying to an obscene amount of internships. “I heard back from one and that’s all I needed,” he said.
Spencer’s motivation to succeed came from his desire to subvert expectations. “Where I’m from people don’t go on to do crazy, amazing things,” he said. “I was always told [film] was a hobby.”
His internship with Immortal Cinema International put him on small sets where he started out at the very bottom, patiently waiting for the chance to move up. “If you keep showing up on time and being a good person your time will come,” Spencer said.
With graduation rapidly approaching Spencer is looking at what’s next. He’s considering moving to New York City and involving himself in the film scene there. His end goal is to direct short films professionally but will most likely start out as an editor while he climbs the ranks. Trusting the process, Spencer is doing everything he can to realize his dreams. “I would hate myself if I looked back on my life in like 30 years and said ‘Oh you didn’t even try.’”
Visit Spencer’s website: https://spencertsang.com/home-1
Photos Courtesy of Spencer Tsang