Writer and Producer Koji Steven Sakai’s film and television projects have played on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Peacock, Paramount+, Roku, and Tubi. He has worked with a variety of talented and award-winning actors and filmmakers, including Cuba Gooding Jr., Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, James Shigeta, Michael Jai White, Mel Gibson, Mickey Rourke, Randall Park, RZA, Samuel L. Jackson, Terrence Howard, and Wilson Cruz.
He has written eleven feature films that have been produced and served as a producer on nine features. He has also produced a one-hour comedy special that premiered on Netflix and a comedy series that premiered on Hulu and Peacock. Koji recently completed writing for a Japanese television series slated for Disney+.
In addition to his screenplays, Koji has written books and graphic novels, produces, writes, and co-hosts The Unofficial Official Story Podcast, and teaches screenwriting at UCLA Extension and New York Film Academy.
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“Being a father is probably the most important thing I do.”
“I always say South Pasadena is like a Midwestern town. it’s a small town. It has small-town politics, but it’s also a small-town atmosphere. It’s a very close, tight-knit community.”
“I always knew I wanted to do some kind of writing. I just didn’t know what kind. I wanted to write the great American novel. So I went to USC for a graduate program as a graduate program, and I kinda fell into screenwriting, and that’s kind of where my career started.”
“Here’s the here’s the secret pro tip for people who want to be a professional writer. You have to treat it like a job. So what I do is every time I open my computer, I’m inspired. Every time I close my computer, I cease to be inspired.”
“One of the things in order to become a great writer, well in order to be a professional writer, is that you have to want to do it all the time. And so what I say about that is that I would be writing if no one paid me to write.”
“[What a producer does] is always the question. I think people don’t know what a producer does. So, do you follow sports and sports teams and stuff? The best analogy for what a producer does involves what people do on set. So a producer is like the general manager of the Dodgers or the president of the Dodgers now. They make the trades.”
Koji is a writer and producer, but there is no role more precious to him than being a father.
Koji always wanted to be a father. This stems back to when Koji was a child himself and the special bond he had with his father. His father had a disability, which led to him being home and raising Koji. This inspired Koji to always want to be present in his child’s life, not just a parent who showed up late after work.
Koji’s mother worked full-time. Looking back, Koji had no idea how uncommon it was for a fully-present father in the Asian community.
Koji’s flexible career has been a blessing for him. It has allowed him to be a coach, volunteer, and present father. He can coach baseball teams, drive Uber, and be engaged in various activities.
Koji was proudly born and raised in the SGV. He has spent the majority of his life living in South Pasadena, Pasadena, and San Marino.
Koji frequented many Asian restaurants before they became hip and popular in the SGV. Particular places that Koji remembers include ABC and classic cafes like Hong Kong Cafe.
To Koji, South Pasadena was like a missing Midwestern town, a very close-knit community. He thinks it is one of the absolute best spots to raise a family in the SGV.
Koji ended up leaving the SGV to attend school at the University of California in Santa Barbara. He doesn’t believe it was a great school when he attended, but thinks it is a much better school now. Koji specifically wanted to attend a school that did not have a lot of Asian Americans. It was a very shocking cultural experience for Koji. Thankfully, he did not experience a lot of racism.
Koji returned to South Pasadena upon graduating from UC in Santa Barbara. He knew he always wanted to be a writer, but he didn’t know exactly what he wanted to write. Initially, he wanted to write a great American novel. This led him to USC for a graduate program, but this actually led him to screenwriting.
Koji’s parents looked up Asian-American screenwriters and noticed that there were not many of them. They questioned him to make sure that this was truly the path that Koji Steven Sakai wanted to take.
It is a funny story – koji had won many competitions and wrote many screenplays, however, it was with luck from his mom that he truly got into the business. She cut the hair of a famous Japanese director, and she pitched Koji to rewrite his screenplay. That was how he got his first movie made. The film came out on Lionsgate, but Koji admits it was a pretty terrible movie. He struggled early in his career because the type of movies he wanted to write about were not the ones that folks were eager to see. It is much more acceptable now to see films that feature Asian Americans.
Koji’s family was incarcerated for a very long time. As an American citizen, Koji’s grandfather was incarcerated for almost 5 years, and they went through a lot. His father, as a child, was incarcerated for 5 years, too. Koji wants to make sure this never happens to anyone else. And he’s not worried about Asian-Americans anymore. It is Muslim Americans or Jewish Americans.
The graphic novel is about Japanese American veterans who fought during World War II.
Here is a tip from Koji: you have to treat writing like it is a job. Every time Koji opens the computer, he is inspired. Every time he closes the computer, he ceases to be inspired. He emphasizes that it is important to have that distinction and separation.
No, Koji does not force himself to write 8 hours a day. However, he is a very fast writer and works on six to eight projects at a time. Of course, the projects are at different stages. Sometimes, they are in the development or outline stage rather than pure writing. Koji believes that in order to be a great writer, or at least a professional writer, you must have the passion to want to write all the time, every day.
No, if it is not writing that is done professionally or meant to be published or eventually displayed on the big screen, he does not do it.
Koji reads a lot of books and pretty much everything else. From blogs and Buzzfeed articles to newspapers at Starbucks, he loves reading as much as he can. Koji also enjoys listening to podcasts. Consuming in this fashion helps writers tremendously. He also likes to speak to people when out and about. Koji believes this is where stories come from.
The biggest project that Koji Steven Sakai has worked on is a movie called “The People I Slept With.” Koji has a movie coming out soon titled, “Skeletons in the Closet.” Koji wrote and produced this film. When it comes to producing, the best analogy that Koji has is what a general manager does for a baseball team. They pretty much do everything up until the actual ‘playing.’
Koji’s podcast is called The Unofficial Official Story. Essentially, they look at conspiracies, true crime, paranormal events, and UFOs, and then they make up their own stories. Koji loves the paranormal and UFOs, and he loves being creative and he and his friends love making up stories, so why not combine them?
Like it Loud, Dyalla, YouTube Audio Library
Scarlet Fire (Sting), Otis McDonald, YouTube Audio Library
Indecision, Dyalla, YouTube Audio Library