Lava G. Khonsuwon

NMFO: We’re excited to have you. First and foremost, why don't you tell us a little about yourself?

LK: My name is Lava Khonsuwon, and I am an Isan Thai American filmmaker who lives in New Mexico. I've been in the film industry for about 18 years. I've done different departments. I've worked as an actress. I have worked in the production office and casting, and I've worked my way up to be a producer, director, and writer.

NMFO: What motivated you to want to get into film in the first place?

LK: When I was in fourth grade, I was watching television. To disclose, my family had lived in a shelter. I was a homeless kid at one point. After we got out of the shelter, we were living in bad poverty. On the television, I saw Audrey Hepburn, helping others in poverty. And I thought, if I worked in film, I could help other people. So, that idea has always stayed with me since I was a little kid.

NMFO: Thank you for sharing that story with us. How motivating it is for a young child to see that and want to become part of that culture and make an impact in that way.

LK: I still believe it. I can feel it. I worked as an actress for a while, but I realized this because I saw Audrey as an actress, and she had the influence to help. I realized I was becoming a storyteller. I didn't go to film school. I started from the bottom as a production office intern on a movie here in New Mexico. That was my film school, working.

NMFO: Sometimes, hands-on experience can catapult you a lot further. Why don't you talk about your experience and how you've progressed through the industry, starting as an intern in New Mexico?

LK: I started as a production office intern, so I didn't get paid and enjoyed it. I worked for Britt Morris, and he was an incredible mentor. He was super kind. It was a fun German movie called “Friendship.” I do have a business communications degree. So, I felt like the production office was a great fit for my background.

Though I had been acting then, I saw where I could use my college degree and work in the film industry. There's a big learning curve not being in film school, so I had to work as an intern for a little bit. Then I moved to production office assistant and worked on different movies and features for a few years.

Then I got wrangled into the casting world, where I worked as a casting assistant for Midthunder casting. I've even worked for Kira Rye on some episodes of “Longmire” and “Breaking Bad” for a little bit and some other stuff. I also worked for Joe Edna for a little bit. And then I realized I was in casting too long. I wasn't trying to stay in the casting world and had to stop and reevaluate. I got myself back into the production office. Then I had a situation where I got mauled by a neighbor's pit bull, and then I had to take three years off a film. I had to learn to walk again.

NMFO: Oh my gosh, you poor thing!

LK: It's a crazy life journey. And during that time, I was allowed to reflect because I couldn't work for those three years. I realized I had potentially lost my chance to pursue what I wanted, which was to be a storyteller, because, you know, here I am at home trying to rehabilitate an incurable diagnosis.

I was facing amputation of my leg, and I was told I'd never walk again, I'd never work again. And just like that, I saw everything I ever wanted gone. I said this isn't how it's going to end. There's no way I can go out like this. I'm too young. That's when I decided I'd go for it if I could walk again. I'm going to be a writer, director, and producer, and I became determined.

During that time, I started teaching myself how to make films, how to incorporate all my years of experience working on different film productions here in New Mexico, and how to become a writer, director, and producer.

Both backgrounds helped me start feeling what path I'm on right now. I want to create films that can raise awareness and make change. That's what drives me. If I'm given this chance again to work and walk and all this stuff, I want to do creative work that can help do good in the world. That's my motivation.

NMFO: That's beautiful! For those who may not know, you completed the Stowe Story Labs fellowship last year. Could you tell us about your story for that program?

LK: The story that I chose for the Stowe Story Labs fellowship doesn't sound like it should be an awareness piece because it's horror, but thanks to Jordan Peele leading the way, horror is a great genre to help bring in different elements of awareness and stories that you may not have thought of.

I chose an identity journey of being an Asian Thai person, just finding out where they belong and learning to fit in. I did so through the narrative of the horror genre.

NMFO: What was your experience with Stowe like?

LK: My experience with Stowe was beyond what I expected. It was incredible. I will sing the praises of Stowe Story Lab every day to anybody who asks me. It was incredible to me every week because it kept me on track to write this feature. After all, I did not have a feature written when I entered the program.

I have these amazing supportive cohort peers here in New Mexico. We're all in different phases of our careers. Everybody was great getting feedback from my cohort, but then getting guidance from the experienced mentors and their input and insight into creating engaging stories and what life is like as a writer. I can honestly say it was a life changer. I feel so determined and on fire for my career that I've never had before.

NMFO: That's amazing, and I love hearing that and understanding that these mentors are coming in and giving you guidance. What's great is you also have your peers with whom you're able to connect, bond, and have this experience. So that way, when everybody's getting their projects together, you have your network and resources to bounce things off of.

LK: Absolutely, and our cohort still meets and talks, and they still meet frequently and support each other.

NMFO: What would you recommend for somebody interested in applying for the upcoming Stowe Story Labs program?

LK: I recommend to anyone interested in applying to the next Stowe Story Labs with New Mexico New Voices program to do it! Just do it! Because I think it's worth trying because you never know. I was surprised when I made the cut. You never know. I applied the first year, but I wanted to try again and I'm so glad I gave it the chance.

If you are going to apply and have a great story you feel passionate about, go for it. And I encourage anyone who doesn't have a script already written not to be shy that you don't already have it done. Just go for it.

NMFO: Great words of wisdom. What else are you working on? What other projects can we look out from you?

LK: I also work as a producer and am grateful to be wrapping up a short documentary about Slim Whitman. I'm the producer/animator. I also do a lot of stop-motion animation and have an art background. I made some dioramas with my partner, John KD Graham. It was a fun project.

We're getting in pre-production for a miniseries about helping youth in the juvenile system and youth learn about healthy relationships. I'm really excited about this project because they've already been testing it and they know it's effective, so that feels great.