On Monday morning in Los Angeles, Tze Chun had two things on his agenda: writing and picketing.
The television writer and filmmaker, who grew up in Randolph and has two TV shows releasing within the span of a month, has been immersed in the Writers Guild of America strike since it began May 2. As he pulls daily four-hour shifts on the picket line with other writers, Chun said he’s seen an unprecedented level of solidarity among entertainment unions, including the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and Teamsters Local 399.
“We’re hoping that solidarity creates a shorter strike because the last one was 100 days,” Chun said. “I think everybody just wants to get back to work.”
The strike coincides with a major personal moment for Chun, who is an executive producer and the showrunner for “Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai,” an animated prequel to the live-action ‘80s and ‘90s “Gremlins” movies. “Secrets of the Mogwai” premiered on Max Tuesday. He’s also anticipating the June 23 Prime Video release of “I’m a Virgo,” for which he is an executive producer and co-showrunner alongside creator Boots Riley. The series is about a 13-foot-tall Black teen named Cootie (Jharrel Jerome) and marries surrealism with anti-capitalist themes.
While “Secrets of the Mogwai” is covered by the Animation Guild and unaffected by the WGA strike, Chun and Riley are not doing studio-driven promotion for “I’m a Virgo,” similar to other writers who are withdrawing from promoting their projects to try to force studios to accelerate negotiations.
The backdrop of the strike makes for a “pretty crazy” but enriching experience, he said. Chun, 43, also picketed in Los Angeles and New York City during the 2007 WGA strike but says he rarely met other Asian writers on the front lines. This time around, he said, he sees the industry is changing.
“There’s all these really interesting young Asian American writers coming up, so it’s kind of an exciting time, just personally, for me, being able to meet them on the picket line,” Chun said. “But the stuff that we’re fighting for is very serious.”
The Chicago-born, Chinese American artist moved to Randolph around the age of 5 and attended Milton Academy before studying film at Columbia University. His mother raised Chun and his sister on her own, and the family spent much of their time in Quincy because of its large Chinese population. The Boston suburbs were formative for Chun. He made autobiographical films set in those communities, including the 2006 short “Windowbreaker” and his first feature, 2009′s “Children of Invention.”
“Whenever we would go to a video store, it would either be Blockbuster or the Chinese video store, and that was how I watched a lot of the movies that influenced ‘Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai,’” Chun said.
Those influences include “The Goonies,” “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” and “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” — movies directed by Steven Spielberg and/or produced by Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, which produced the original “Gremlins” films. “Secrets of the Mogwai” is produced by Amblin Television and Warner Bros. Animation.
After graduating from Columbia in 2002, Chun worked in the independent film sphere and TV for a while before officially moving to LA in 2012 to pursue TV writing. By the time his name was thrown in the ring to head “Secrets of the Mogwai,” he had built his experience on shows like “Cashmere Mafia,” “Once Upon a Time,” and “Gotham.” He eventually pitched his idea for “Secrets of the Mogwai” — an adventure story told through the lens of Chinese mythology — to Spielberg himself.
“That was definitely a bucket-list moment,” Chun said. Spielberg is an executive producer on the show, and “he looks at everything, and he weighs in on everything,” Chun said.
“Secrets of the Mogwai” is about 10-year-old Sam Wing, an aged store owner in the original film, and is set in 1920s Shanghai. The family-friendly series about the mystical Mogwai creatures is meant to attract longtime “Gremlins” fans as well as people who haven’t seen the movies.
For Chun, the show marked two milestones: his first time being a showrunner and his first time working in animation. His visual arts background as cofounder of comic book publisher TKO Studios came in handy, he said. “Seeing the creative process of how something goes from words on the page to drawings and a finished visual book — that was really helpful in the creative process for ‘Gremlins.’”
Chun’s comics expertise was also helpful for “I’m a Virgo,” which incorporates animated sequences and comic book characters. “It was my favorite pilot I’d read in seven years,” he said. The series follows the very tall Cootie, who explores the outside world as a teenager after a lifetime of being restricted to his house by his protective family. “Even though there are things about the show that are crazy and absurd, it’s also still a coming-of-age story,” Chun said.
Now an established writer, Chun recognizes the WGA strike’s importance for writers who are early in their careers. “The entertainment industry is historically the hardest on people who are just starting to break in because there’s so many people who are willing to work for nothing,” he said.
He talks to younger writers regularly and offers career advice. Compared with when he started, there is more space for Asian American creatives, according to Chun. “Ten, 15 years ago, even if Asians and Asian Americans were in front of the camera, we wouldn’t necessarily be behind the camera,” he said.
These days, Asian Americans are helping to reshape the industry. “I think that we’re really only seeing the tip of the iceberg,” Chun said.
Abigail Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.