In the summer of 2011 Korean-American UCLA student Chris Jeon made world headlines for ditching his $9,000 per month asset management internship and buying a one way ticket to Egypt - from where he hitchhiked to Libya and joined an elite rebel force in fighting Gaddafi. "It got to a point where literally everything I was doing was for another bullet point on the resume," said Jeon of his life up to then. "In America if you want change, you quit a job, get a divorce or move somewhere. These people in Libya were willing to pick up an AK-47 and shed blood for freedom...I wanted to see what that was like."
Unto now, Chris has also lived with an indigenous population in the Amazon rainforest, gone on dollar trips to cities for a week with nothing but his own clothes and one dollar, hunted for sharks with a bow and arrow, body-guarded call girls, gotten kidnapped twice in the middle east, and sold rooftops and windows door-to-door - among other things.
Why does he do all these things? "It's a question I get all the time," says Jeon. It was a question that I sensed had many more layers than what the mainstream media had portrayed in the past - and so I set out to find out more.
After reading this article about Chris half a year ago, something stirred within me and I sent Chris an email with my truthful thoughts that the media was only scratching the surface of his story - and I asked if anybody had ever approached him for making a documentary film. One month later, I unexpectedly received a response - an event that triggered a flight out to Los Angeles to meet up with Chris and subsequently led to a new friendship. Contrary to much of the hype surrounding him, I found Chris to be a grounded and highly reflexive human being who's motives behind his seemingly "crazy" actions are still built on the universal human yearning for life. Even though I was still polarized by his behavior that could either be dismissed as naive and foolish - or hailed as heroic and courageous, I nonetheless found his story to be symbolic of the journey rooted in all of us to constantly be on the search for a more meaningful truth.
What is this film about?
Chris's past actions were all rooted in the most fundamental human search for something more than just earning a comfortable living, nurturing one's reputation, or following society's dogmas. Being an Asian-American myself, I could empathize with why Chris went hunting for sharks, living with the indigenous in the Amazon, and going off to Libya; they were powerful reactions to a repressive past of just pursuing all A's, going to a good college, or earning a respectable living. But it was only recently that Chris in his own words says he's found a new peace of mind - a sense of total self acceptance and liberation from the infinite void that so many try to fill with money, adventure, travel, relationships, career success, materials, accomplishments and beyond. Chris has told me he was never very religious, but that only recently has he come to realize some greater truths that has changed his life.
With this new realization and state of consciousness, he now faces this next summer with infinite possibilities and has mentioned to me that he wants to pursue being an artist. How he will go about this I am not sure - but I plan to follow him as he undergoes his next summer endeavor.
While I'll be documenting this summer, I'd also like to tell the story of his past and explore what has led him to where he is today: his bold quests to overcome fear, the extreme adventures rooted in a search for meaningfulness, and expressions for self affirmation and acceptance - his journey from previously following a linear path based on dogma and safety, to questioning his motives, to breaking the chain and diving into experiences in the Amazon, Libya, and beyond to where he is now in his spiritual learning of true self. It seems that ultimately, this entire journey has been and continues to be a deeply spiritual one.
This is a real life coming-of-age story of Chris Jeon who chose the red pill instead of the blue pill - who went down the rabbit hole and found the extraordinary.
Don't be mistaken. This film isn't meant to idolize Chris, but to rather show Chris's journey in the most honest and holistic way possible so that the audience can decide for themselves what they think of this young man. Chris is a relatively normal guy like the rest of us who likes to go out, crack jokes, and pick up girls - nothing out of the ordinary. But it is because of his unique experiences in overcoming fear and being courageous that attracted me to tell his symbolic story which I think ultimately tells a much broader story of all of us and the fundamental human condition.
Chris has also agreed to be 100% "naked" in terms of who he is - revealing all his weaknesses and faults as well as his more positive characteristics; it is extremely rare to find such a subject willing to be 100% open, which is another reason I am excited to make this film.
What will the money be used for?
I've only been following Chris for two weeks, but with your support you will sustain me while I continue this endeavor throughout the summer - and allow me to make this film as professional as the budget will allow. Money will be used for basic expenses such as travel and gear like external harddrives, a good microphone for interviews, perhaps a better camcorder if enough money is raised. It will be used for making the most rewards of DVDs, blu rays, etc - also commissioning any necessary artists for potential animation, titles, graphics, buying music licenses, perhaps hiring musicians, color correcting, etc. We will submit the film to festivals and get it out to the world as much as possible - all for which funding will be crucial. Overall I have always tried my best to keep costs as low as possible by doing many things myself instead of hiring others. This will definitely be my most ambitious project so far, but I can wholly promise that all money received from this Kickstarter campaign will be going straight into this project for the story and not for any personal profit.
I am at very beginning stages of this documentary, so the project's scale will be very much based on how much we will be able to raise. A bigger budget means more possibilities. With enough funding, I may be able to form a talented dedicated team and get the best people I can find. If you are interested in helping this project in any way at all creatively or any other way, by all means shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Who is making this?
My name is Ien Chi and I am a 21 year old Korean-American filmmaker. I've made several shorts in the past, but am probably most known for Tick Tock, which won Best Picture and Best Director at the 2011 Campus MovieFest International Grand Finale: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w14v4vGUDdg
Currently I am the sole filmmaker attached to this project, but I am always looking for other purpose-driven and passionate creatives and producers to build a team. Again, if you so feel moved, do send an email or pass along the news: email@example.com
A video trailer of Chris's past dollar trip to New York City where he and a friend flew out with no phones or wallets - just their state IDs and the clothes on them (see the $7,500 reward).
We'd greatly appreciate if you spread this page to your friends. Thank you so much for your time :)
Risks and challenges
1. Because this is a documentary film, we have no idea what will happen next. The direction of Chris's life is not something I can predict, but I am going into this project trusting that no matter what happens I can delve deeply into Chris's world view and tell his past well.
2. I cannot predict the final length of this film. Whether it is a full feature or a longer short film, truthfully I am not sure. But I can guarantee this won't be a short short - we've definitely got enough material for at the VERY least 30 minutes or so.
3. Finally, the date of completion for this project is still tentative; things may take longer or faster depending on how life plays out. Post production will be a crucial but extensive process that may end up taking much longer than anticipated. But I will always stick with my personal policy of steadily working on a film until it reaches its highest potential. I have extremely high expectations and if outputting the highest quality work takes a little longer, I am willing to be patient and do what is necessary to make the best film possible.
There are definitely strong thematic similarities between the two - mainly that of breaking away radically from societal norms and dogma. But I think there are essential differences between them as well. For one, I don't think Chris has any interest in living off the land or going into the wild for an extended period of time. Christopher McCandless' and Chris Jeon's actions both seem to stem from a troubled past; but from conversations with Jeon I get the strong sense that he has recently realized the extent to which his crazy adventures were caused by his rigid upbringing. One thing I can say for sure is that Chris Jeon is not as romantic as McCandless (at least the way the book and film portrayed him). Jeon is a California dude who is very much a character of his own.
Our deepest thanks for your initiative in supporting the telling of this story. We'll send you a high five video and you receive a full resolution digital download of the film's poster and a stills album of the film + all of the above
"Official Patron" credit in the final film + Sneak peaks and private exclusive updates of the film before its completion + exclusive link to the final film far before its public release + all of the above
Associate producer credit + an hour Skype session with Chris and filmmaker Ien Chi to discuss anything of your choosing. Pick our brains, do an interview, invite us virtually to a class, get advice about your own film or adventure, or just simply have a chill session + a yet-to-be-completed large format art print by Chris + all of the above
Hang out with Chris and Ien for a day to do anything of your choosing; film something with us, go to a shooting range, eat good food, anything you choose! + all of the above (your personal transportation fees not included)
Co-producer credit + go on a weekend trip of a lifetime with Chris and Ien anywhere within a 10 hour drive radius of Los Angeles and we'll make a finished movie together fiction or nonfiction (unless you want to do something else) + everything in the $1000 category (transportation fees not included)
Not for the faint of heart. Hop on a plane with nothing but the clothes on you and an ID and go on a life altering dollar trip with Chris to a city of your choosing - where you and Chris navigate one city for a week off of only one dollar doing anything and everything! (see the video in the description at bottom - this will only be done with the agreement of Chris after an interview or a get-to-know process) + everything in the $1000 category (transportation fees not included, and US only excluding Alaska and Hawaii)
Executive producer credit + upon the film's completion, Chris and the filmmakers will travel to wherever you are and host a private weekend screening and Q&A for whomever you please. You and however many of your friends can hang out with us the whole weekend and do whatever! + a single artwork unique in its kind made just for you by Chris + one whole book copy of Chris's personal journal + everything in the $1000 category (USA only, Alaska and Hawaii not included)