Army veteran turned filmmaker

Anthony Ngo during a film premier stated, “Find people’s stories, read and listen, it is inspiring. Use that to fuel your passion.” [Photo chosen and sent by Anthony Ngo] 

Technological advances have allowed for film production to be shifted down to the individual, carving more space for creative storytelling. Filmmakers are no longer the nerdy kids in class fanboying over Star Wars scenes, but your everyday curious person holding an iPhone. Anthony Ngo, military veteran turned documentary filmmaker, gives insight on this expansive and forthcoming field, May 18, 2016.

Unlike many journalism outlets (such as legacy media) filmmaking, producing, and editing have been on the rise. According to the Bureau of Labor projected job outlook for film related careers increased 11 percent from 2014-2024.

The increase in jobs has left many wondering what the future of filmmaking looks like, especially as field expands and becomes more readily available to the masses.

“My story is, I was in the army for a long time [12 years] and I got hurt during my last tour,” said Ngo. “And while I was recovering I took free college courses at Art Institute of Colorado. I took a history of cinema class and found my passion.”

While serving in the United States Army, Ngo was in Psychological Operations. This job required compressive conflict resolution strategies backed by diplomatic communications. The average day consisted of multiple language translations, determining how to effectively distribute water, how to create more inclusive school, and of course, trying to escape imminent danger.

An improvised explosive device (IED) hit their truck, destroying Ngo’s lower body. His left knee and ankle were left extremely impaired. He underwent five surgeries on his left knee and had a complete prostatic knee replacement as well as multiple more on both ankles. As a result, his mobility was greatly impaired for over six months.

“The reason I chose film was because there’s this visual, sound, and movement interplay that is so appealing. It tells a story over a period of time opposed to just a moment,” said Ngo. “You’re leading the audience on this journey with you.”

After getting rejected by the Colorado Film School of Denver, Ngo received his Bachelor’s degree in Digital Cinematography and Video Production from the Art Institute of Colorado. Since graduating in 2014, Ngo has had a wide range of film experiences.

Ngo’s first paid film based job was as a wedding videographer with All Digital Photo and Video. Although the gig only paid $8.10 an hour, Ngo spent hours hand-selecting high-quality footage and intricately piecing them together to make a memorable story.

The list of random jobs and practical skills does not end there. Ngo won a Silver Telly and a Student Emmy for his fiction piece Letter to Jen, which he produced, wrote, filmed, and edited. This short film follows a man deployed in the U.S Army who takes refuge in writing to his distance lover, Jen. Ngo states that the film unfortunately does have some real life elements incorporated, as he has been “Dear Johned” multiple times throughout his military career.

“I just remember that she ended it with in my very first tour,” Ngo states. “Then she got married a few months later and I wasn’t even invited to film the wedding.”

Ngo’s response to his success was, “It was really just for me, to express myself through film.” He laughed, “But I guess some people liked it, so that’s pretty cool!”

Currently Ngo works for Polar Mist Expeditions, a sailing organization that travels through South America, Cape Horn, and Antarctica. Next May, Ngo will go by sailboat through the Northwest Passage of the arctic to do a feature story, or possibly start a documentary TV series on the Inuit people of the area. These people are indigenous to the arctic land and, in the near future, may become climate change refugees. Each year, due to melting icecaps and environmental shifts, the Inuit migrate further off their land in search of means to survival.

“I know that some people here [Denver/United States] don’t think global warming affects us, or don’t believe in it at all. But when we go through the arctic, it gravely effects the first nation Inuit people,” said Ngo. “We need to make that knowledge feel real.”

On a more optimistic note, over a 4-year span Ngo’s salary increased from 8.10 dollars an hour to $50,000 salary based per year. In between these years he worked with the Pepsi Center as a camera operator ($25 an hour), interned with Colorado Mammoth, and was a video producer for Hanger30, a marketing agency who mainly works with Department of Defense clients ($46,000/year).

Hanger30 allowed him to travel to 10 different locations in 7 days: Hong Kong, Tokyo, Vancouver, Denver, Casablanca, Madrid, London, Budapest, Athens, and Istanbul. Meanwhile, he made various promotional videos such as the Military Appreciation Month promo, which was filmed in Washington D.C and Florida.

“It’s difficult to spend such little time in these locations. I spent my time sleeping in the plane and filming every other second.”

Ngo may seem like a unique filmmaker, but in this increasing more competitive field this may become the norm. Documentary filmmakers rarely stay in their niche and expand throughout all means of communication—such ways include journalism, blog posting, marketing, public relations, photography, producing, playwriting, and editing. They must acquire the basic knowledge as to what makes a great journalist and further that by being a great filmmaker. Working with lights, angles, sound, endless hours of footage, and doing extensive research is just the tip as to what makes a great documentary filmmaker.

“The best advice I could give is just get your foot in the door,” Ngo said “Take as many internships as possible, join in on all the sets you can find, and never stop creating.”



One thought on “Army veteran turned filmmaker

  1. Angel I found this read wonderfully and revolved around such a neat guy and or future profession. You did a lot of research beyond your interview and it showed. I love reading about people who have lived a textured life and I think a lot of other people do as well, so good job on finding this guy! The hyperlinks worked wonderfully in the story, and really helped overall. If I were you I would have asked him how his days go when he is not working, or is that all the time now? Is he ALWAYS either on a plane or filming or does he have droughts were he has no work? That is just something that would be really important for me to know if I wanted to go into this profession, although like he said in his quote “never stop creating,” so maybe its implied that he is always up to something even if he might not get a reward.


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