Home Creative writing 2 minutes with… writer / director Sally Tran

2 minutes with… writer / director Sally Tran


Sally Tran is a writer and director from New Zealand to Vietnam, living in New York. Tran’s cinematic expertise is focused on creating unique stories through his multicultural experiences.

Her film career began in New Zealand, where she directed three shorts and one feature film before moving to New York City and creating commercials for brands like Dunkin ‘Donuts, U by Kotex and Schick. This summer, she joined Scholar’s list of directors.

Tran’s work shows his love for color, bold styles and creating distinctive images without resorting to digital effects. As a fashion designer turned director, her love for texture and detail is evident in her work, as well as in her sometimes unconventional processes, earning her recognition and residencies around the world.

We spent two minutes with Sally to learn more about her background, her creative inspirations and the recent work she admires.

Sally, tell us …

Where you grew up and where you live now.

I grew up in a very small town called Flaxmere in New Zealand. We lived next to a stream so my siblings and I would always go exploring. There was even a farm next to us. I currently live in New York… opposites.

What you wanted to be growing up.

I wanted to be an art curator. I remember when I was 16 our art history teacher took us to the big cities of New Zealand and we visited a bunch of amazing galleries and watched foreign films. There were no art galleries in Flaxmere. I remember the curator of the City Gallery in Wellington being so cool that I wanted to walk around and talk to people about art. In my twenties, I got a job as an art performer at the Auckland City Gallery, where I took groups and talked about art. I realized after a lot of training that this was definitely not the job for me.

How you found out you were creative.

I think everyone is creative. There is a time when we decide to use our creativity, it can be just a hobby or professionally. If there was a moment in time, I didn’t necessarily think it was when I discovered that I was creative, but more that I was curious. My parents took my sister, brother and I to a toy store and let us choose whatever we wanted. It was our anniversary. We were all born in March. My brother got the biggest robot, my sister got a pair of awesome skates, and I wanted a pack of felts. The cheapest in the store. My parents suggested that I buy something else, something more valuable, but I kept saying I wanted the felt to draw.

Someone you idolize as you grow up creatively.

Willem de Kooning. He taught me not to hold back when I was a teenager.

A moment in high school or college that changed your life.

Go to Embassy cinema in Wellington and watch my first foreign film. It was Last Night directed by Don McKellar.

The first gig you saw, and your favorite band or musician today.

The first gig was a New Zealand band, nothing memorable, but it was a great night. I love Lizzo. She’s so cool and represents so many positive things that need to change in society.

Your favorite visual artist.

Björk, does she count? She is incredible.

Your favorite fictional character.

Trinity of The Matrix.

Neo: I just thought … you were a guy.
Trinity: Most guys do.

The best book you’ve read lately.

Stories of the Sahara by Sanmao.

A movie, TV show, or podcast that inspired you.

There are simply too many. The Truman Show was one of the most inspiring movies I watched when I was younger.

Your favorite Instagram account.

@domsebastian. It’s a fashion brand with all the sensibilities that I wish I had, or part of me is trying to move towards. Fabrications, printing, patterns, abstract, obscure, just cool.

How Covid-19 has changed your life, personally or professionally.

I think most people have been forced to think and think about what’s important to them. I realized that it was okay not to work and that the money came to me when it was supposed to. I spent a lot of time writing movies and creating stories.

Your favorite creative project you’ve worked on before.

I guess my Timeslow feature film, which I directed and completed over a period of five years, was my favorite creative project. Not because I like it or because I think I did a good job – in fact, I feel like I didn’t do a good job on it. It was hard work, physically and emotionally draining. This is my favorite because I learned so much and started to understand what cinema and storytelling means to me.

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