UT alumna Christine Chen creates independent films

Amanda Booth

Christine Chen does not want to become the next Michael Bay. She doesn’t want to lose her audience with too obscure of a message either. Instead, when the UT alumna makes films, she tries to find the balance between high production value and indie creativity.

As the owner of filmmaking collective Moth to Flame, Chen is able to pursue these goals with a team of like-minded artists.  

Chen, who went to Rice University for her undergraduate degree, graduated in 2012 from McCombs with a Master of Business Administration degree with an emphasis in entrepreneurship and marketing. Chen knew she would gain the knowledge and networking skills necessary to be a business owner through the MBA program, but, in order to get the experience in film necessary to start a production company, she also took radio-television-film classes and started networking in the Austin film scene.

“You meet people by being on set, so I just started jumping on people’s sets,” Chen said. 

Through McCombs, Chen met her partner, Michelle Casanova, who mostly deals with the business side of the company, such as contract development. Chen and Casanova both believe it is important for women to become more involved in the male-dominated film industry.

“We like bringing on females [to our set], which is not very common at all,” Chen said. “It’s always sad when I’m the only girl on set.”

Casanova also believes it is important for young women to make a presence in the business world.  

“It’s a really good turning point and a good time for women to get more involved in what are traditionally gender-stereotyped opportunities,” Casanova said. “The lines are starting to blur.” 

Chen said the secret to owning a business is as simple as taking a leap of faith. In the time following Moth to Flame’s inception, Chen was eager to get as much work experience as possible by taking on many different types of projects. 

When Whitney Hamnett Pirkle, Girl Scouts of Central Texas board member and UT alumna, asked Moth to Flame to make a promotional video for Girl Scouts, Chen was eager to take on the project. The video centered around the idea that a Girl Scout cookie is a tool that can teach girls entrepreneurial skills. 

Hamnett Pirkle has since asked Chen to make a series of training videos for employees at Hewlett-Packard, where she works.

“[Businesswomen] tend to reinvest in our community and in each other,” Hamnett Pirkle said. “It’s not competitive. It’s more collaborative.” 

As far as future plans for Moth to Flame go, Chen is in the process of finishing her first full-length film, “Funemployment.” Chen made it a point to keep the film as local as possible, using mostly Austin-based actors and musicians, and she hopes to get the film entered in South By Southwest. 

She also has a short film, “A Bird’s Nest,” that is currently in the running to win the Louisiana Film Prize. Chen worked on both projects at the same time and said working on multiple projects was helpful for her.

“I did [‘A Bird’s Nest’] in between doing ‘Funemployment’ because I find that, if I focus completely on one project, I start nit-picking and tearing it apart,” Chen said. 

Chen’s personal goal is to be able to strictly make movies — but that doesn’t mean Moth to Flame will stop making promotional videos for companies. 

“My hope is that our corporate projects will help fund our creative projects,” Chen said.