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Beloit native moved to Asia for one career but found another one

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Shawn Simon
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Nicholas Simon

Some people move to California to work in film. But one Beloit, Wisconsin native skipped the Golden State and settled in an entirely different continent – a move that set the stage for a robust career.

Nicholas Simon is a film producer and the founder and owner of two companies: Indochina Productions and Studio Muso. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand. He’s worked on films such as Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: End Game and numerous others. He didn’t always dream about working in film but said watching movies as a young child planted a seed – one that he didn’t realize would sprout.

“My dad was a professor at Beloit College,” Simon explained. “It was sort of a Midwestern version of Cinema Paradiso. I grew up going to their film series, which was two to three films a week for $1 apiece.”

He said this was the extent of his film education. He went to school at Columbia University in New York City, and he planned to go to Asia to be a journalist. Simon fulfilled that vision and started his journey as a reporter in Vietnam. He didn’t make it too far down that creative road because, he said, he realized he didn’t like writing.

Then one night he went to the Q Bar, an establishment that his friend owned.

“I met a bunch of French people who were making a movie, it went on to win at Venice, called Cyclo,” Simon added. “And there was a regional head from Ogilvy & Mather. And we convinced them that we could produce TV commercials for him. So that was the beginning of the journey.”

And yes, he could have started his journey anywhere, but he had a great admiration for the continent of Asia. He said his interest in living on the other side of the world started when he was a youngster. He remembers an influx of Cambodian and Vietnamese children in his Beloit classes between 1975 and 1979.

“And I think that I actually identified a lot with their plight, having heard about my father having gone through a similar experience, he explained, "and also, having grown up with the images of the Vietnam War, on the news every night and stuff, it was sort of distant, but it was part of my childhood.”

Simon’s father was a Hungarian immigrant who fought in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 against the country’s Stalinist government. Like many, he fled after the Soviet Union put down the uprising.

Simon suggested that sons often don’t want to follow in their father’s footsteps, so instead of going to Eastern Europe, he chose Eastern Asia.

Simon has a copious list of movies that he’s worked on. He said his favorites are always the latest ones.

“Right now, I'm on two projects. One is Warner Brothers, the Meg 2 with Jason Statham. And the other one is a new Regency film called True Love," he said. "And it's been helmed by the same director is on Star Wars Rogue One.”

He does admit that one movie he worked on is dear to his heart. It’s called A Prayer Before Dawn.

Although Simon lives far away from his childhood home, he is still connected to the small town. And he still has ties with people who are a part of the Beloit International Film Festival.

One is Greg Gerard, the festival’s executive director. He and Simon met while renovating old movie theaters. Simon said he’s impressed with the Wisconsin festival.

“And having survived and flourished over such a long time and gained a national reputation is pretty impressive for small town festival and also small town," Simon explained. "And so, I've been offering them my assistance.”

Simon is the man behind the collaboration for the small-town festival and the Luang Prabang International Film Festival. Simon said he thought back on his childhood and realized that this relationship is a natural fit, because a lot of Illinois educational institutions offer programs focusing on the study of Southeast Asian culture.

Simon wants people to remember that we only have one life, and that failure isn’t a red light. He said he’s comfortable with changing directions because he lets his instincts lead him. An intuition that took him across the world just to bring him back to his childhood passion – and for this festival at least, back home.

  • Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.