By Tammy Reese
In this edition of our Meet the New NYWIFT member segment, we have the pleasure of introducing Hyon Jung Lee, affectionately known as Helen. Helen is not only the executive producer but also the talented writer behind the thought-provoking short film, Bible Camp. This captivating film delves into the lives of young immigrants at a backwater camp who face daily microaggressions from the locals.
Helen’s storytelling prowess shines through in Bible Camp, as she skillfully explores important themes such as identity, belonging, and resilience. Through her writing, she sheds light on the challenges faced by young immigrants and encourages dialogue surrounding issues of discrimination and prejudice. (Support the film’s crowdfunding campaign here!)
We are thrilled to have Helen as a member of our beloved NYWIFT community. Her unique perspective and creative talent contribute greatly to our mission of supporting and empowering women in the entertainment industry. We look forward to witnessing more of her inspiring work in the future.
Here is our exclusive interview with Helen, where she shares insights into her creative process, challenges faced during production, and her hopes for the impact Bible Camp will have on its viewers.
What went into your decision to go from being an editor to a marketer, and then becoming a writer/EP?
Frustration, family, and fear had something to do with it.
I’m an immigrant, and a first-gen college student. I didn’t have a blueprint to attend college, let alone to be a creative person. I honestly thought the move was to walk out of film school with a hard skill like editing. I was so grateful to be hired as an assistant editor at a boutique post house, and I got to work on as many network and cable specials as I did industrials. Sadly, I found sitting alone in a dark room for most of the day to be isolating, I didn’t like clients barking orders at me, and I couldn’t stomach the uncertainty of freelance life.
At my next job, at a VFX house, I watched these unbelievably talented digital artists — animators who could build you magical 3D dragons or realistic fire — spend 10 hours in a chair animating the wings of maxi pads for commercial work. Then they’d order a burrito, stay late at the office, and play five hours of MMOGs. I needed something different.
This was during the first dot-com boom, and joining a tech company that offered marvels like health insurance, a 401K plan, equity, and best of all, a generous tuition reimbursement program felt like the grownup thing to do. I went to grad school and became obsessed with consumer behavior and the psychology of decision making — catnip in a field that nudges people to choose Crest vs. Colgate.
Then life stuff happened — I got married, bought a house, started a family — and I climbed the ladder at big media and tech companies. I collaborated with YouTube Creators, worked on Super Bowl ads, and cranked out corporate TikToks. And when I got laid off from Google earlier this year (#12KClub), I knew it was time to stop kicking the can. Throughout my career, I’d kept my knives sharp with writing workshops, and had arrived at an inflection point: would I chase another corporate job to keep telling stories about brands and products? Or would I find a way to tell Asian stories, immigrant stories, and give voice to underrepresented people?
As a parent of ‘tween age kids, I believe I have a responsibility: to model what it’s like to chase your dreams. I couldn’t lose another night of sleep wondering what might happen if I didn’t try.
What can you share with us about the Bible Camp film?
Bible Camp is a short film about young immigrants at a backwater camp enduring microaggressions from the locals, until a violent afternoon activity brings a bunch of kids closer together.
Nearly everyone who worked on the film identified with the fish-out-of-water themes in some way. Being an EP and the writer on this project was an unusual intersection, because I got to create both the film’s world and the culture on set. It was pretty rad.
What are you working on currently?
Other than gently navigating my way out of big tech and wriggling myself back into film & TV? I’m ruminating on another immigrant story — this one is set in lower Manhattan. I’ve been sitting on the story for 25 years.
What inspired you to join NYWIFT?
After being chewed up and spit out of big tech, [NYWIFT Board Member] Sibyl Reymundo-Santiago, a producer on Bible Camp, said exactly the words I needed to hear: “You belong here, mama.”
I’m super impressed by NYWIFT’s depth and breadth of programming, and the willingness of the community to help one another. I do need some hand-holding, and there are so many kind and helpful women here!
Congratulations on your Industry Awards such as the Creative Arts Emmy Award and the Cannes Silver Lion Award. What did these milestones mean to you?
Winning awards is always nice. Truthfully, that Cannes Lion is still sitting in the shipping box. What’s really rewarding is the shared experience with the dozens of talented collaborators on those projects.
What advice would you have for aspiring screenwriters?
I am not in a position to dispense any advice. What I can say is this: Our lived experience is far more interesting than anything AI could ever generate. Keep writing.
Follow Helen Lee on Instagram at @helen_lee_
And support her short film Bible Camp on IndieGogo.
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