Inspiration. Ambition.
Passion. Process. Technique.

By: Marina Fang

Promotional poster for FIRE ISLAND

Host Marina Fang talks to Joel Kim Booster, writer and co-star of FIRE ISLAND, about the film’s Austenian origins, the boundaries between real-life and fiction throughout the writing process, and navigating issues of racial and sexual representation and the intersections of privilege.

This episode is presented by the WGAE’s Asian-American and LGBTQ+ Salons, in partnership with The Lower East Side Film Festival.

Joel Kim Booster is a Los Angeles-based actor, comedian, producer, and writer. He co-produced and wrote for the acclaimed comedy series BIG MOUTH and THE OTHER TWO and has appeared on series such as SHRILL, SEARCH PARTY, and SUNNYSIDE as an actor. In 2022, his stand-up special JOEL KIM BOOSTER: PSYCHOSEXUAL released on Netflix.

His most recent project is the Hulu romantic comedy film FIRE ISLAND, an unapologetic, modern day rom-com showcasing a diverse, multicultural examination of queerness and romance. Inspired by Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice, the film centers around two best friends, Noah and Howie, who set out to have a legendary week-long summer vacation on the iconic and historic gay cultural hub of Fire Island with the help of cheap rosé and a group of eclectic friends.

Marina Fang (she/her) is a senior culture reporter at HuffPost, based in New York. She primarily covers film and television, examining their intersection with politics, race and gender. She can be found on Twitter at @marinafang.

Listen here:

OnWriting is an official podcast of the Writers Guild of America, East. The series was created and produced by Jason Gordon. Associate Producer & Designer is Molly Beer. Mix, tech production, and original music by Stock Boy Creative.

If you like OnWriting, please subscribe to our show wherever you listen to podcasts, and be sure to rate us on iTunes.

Follow us on social media:
Twitter: @OnWritingWGAE | @WGAEast
Facebook: /WGAEast
Instagram: @WGAEast

Thanks for listening. Write on.


Speaker 1: Hello, you’re listening to OnWriting, a podcast from the Writers Guild of America, East. In each episode you’ll hear from the writers of your favorite films and television series. They’ll take you behind the scenes, go deep into the writing and production process, and explain how they got their project from the page to the screen.

Marina Fang: Hi, I’m Marina Fang, a senior cultural reporter at HuffPost, a member of the Writers Guild of America, East, and host of the special episode of OnWriting, presented by the WGAE’s Asian-American and LGBTQ+ Salons in partnership with The Lower East Side Film Festival. I’m thrilled to speak with Joel Kim Booster, the writer and co-star of the new Searchlight Pictures’ feature film, Fire Island, which is now streaming on Hulu. I wanted to ask. So before we get to Fire Island itself and the origin story which, if people don’t know, involves you being on Fire Island and noticing all of the different parallels between the kind of social morays of Fire Island and those of Jane Austen’s work, since this is a writing podcast, I was curious about what was your first exposure to Jane Austen? And what activated you about her writing in particular?

Joel Kim Booster: First of all, thank you for having me, my first exposure to Jane Austen wasn’t her books. It was actually the BBC mini series with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. And I started watching that when I was really young, like eight or nine years old with my mom and my sister. And that became sort of our yearly tradition is we would watch that mini series all the way through. I just remember all the tapes that we would go through and watching that. And I fell in love with Jane Austen then, and I sort of devoured most of her film adaptations. I love Emma Thompson, Sense and Sensibility. I love Gwyneth Paltrow’s Emma. I love it all. And I, that was largely how I consumed Jane Austen for much of my adolescents and teenage years. And it wasn’t until I was in my 20s going to Fire Island that I read her for the first time. Which was Pride and Prejudice were my first readthrough for work.

And I think because I was so familiar with the film adaptations, I was like, “Oh, what more could I gain from actually reading the novels?” And it turns out a lot. And yeah, and so the first time I ever read Jane Austen was on Fire Island, ironically enough.

Marina Fang: Wow. So for people who don’t know, when you were on Fire Island and reading it, what stood out to you? And then what was sort of significant about being on Fire Island and then reading Pride and Prejudice, and what were those parallels that kind of immediately started to accumulate in your head?

Joel Kim Booster: Yeah, I think that the fascinating thing about Fire Island and the thing that felt creatively energizing to me was that it was a place that sort of, it felt like an alternate reality where straight people didn’t exist. And that to me was really interesting. Because I think out in the broader world where we’re navigating a straight society, homophobia is still a big issue for us. And experiencing homophobia is sort of a daily task that I think gay people are sort of fighting against. And that’s why we go to places like Fire Island, where we can sort of release that experience and sort of be together and not have to worry about straight people at all. But the thing that’s interesting about those spaces is that once we’re all together in a space like that, the question becomes, how do we oppress each other when there’s no one around to oppress us? And suddenly all of the things that from a macro perspective affect our lives as well, like racism and classism become even more sort of apparent in that way.

And in the specific ways in which it manifests as gay people and towards gay people, I think is really interesting. And the thing, I think the reason that it felt so like Jane Austen and specifically Pride and Prejudice felt so passionate to me in that moment was that, the way she wrote about Regency England and the way in which specifically respectability was so important. And the ways in which people communicated across class lines. And the way specifically people in the upper classes communicated their disdain for people in lower classes, without coming out and saying that they hated them felt so familiar to me, because it just felt like that’s how gay men communicate with each other in a lot of ways. When they consider someone beneath them, it’s not socially acceptable to say, “I think you’re trash.” They just find different ways to do it.

And I was in a house, it was Bowen and I actually in a house together. And we were in a house with two of my hottest friends who were invited to all the parties and would sort of drag us along to these parties. And we were experiencing just the oddest, like they knew they couldn’t kick us out of the party because they all wanted to sleep with our friends, but they also didn’t want to interact with us in any sort of deep way. And so it was navigating those parties. And then going back to the house and reading Pride and Prejudice by the pool where I was like, “Oh my God, this is the same. This is exactly the same what we’re dealing with.” The parallels that were so clear to me in that moment. And that’s where I really first got the idea to write something. It was when I first made the connection anyways between Jane Austen’s work and the sort of modern gay world.

Marina Fang: Yeah. And then to fast forward a couple of years, I know you wrote an essay for Penguin about this very topic, these parallels between being on Fire Island and the social mores of Jane Austen and her work. And then I know your agent was like, “Oh, might be cool to turn this into something more.”

Joel Kim Booster: Yeah.

Marina Fang: And reading that essay now, I feel the bones of what became this script are definitely there.

Joel Kim Booster: Absolutely.

Marina Fang: But how did you approach taking these observations and then building a plot around it and finding characters and finding all of these things to really anchor this story?

Joel Kim Booster: Well, it’s interesting, the first iteration of Fire Island was not a movie at all. I wrote it-

Marina Fang: It was for Quibi.

Joel Kim Booster: I know, and it goes actually even further back before Quibi, I wrote a half hour comedy spec script on a plane ride from LA to Tokyo. That was the first iteration of Fire Island. It was about me and Bowen going. And it was just going to sort of follow every episode would be like a day on the island. And it would follow, it was always Bowen and I from the beginning and our characters, and it was not at that point structured mapping onto Pride and Prejudice exactly. But it was sort of lightly sort of polling from certain trips from various Jane Austen books, that it was similar, it mirrored the essay in that way more than it did Pride and Prejudice the book.

And we tried to sell that. We took it out and I thought maybe because it was written on spec already, and it felt like a complete work, or at least at the beginning of one. I thought it would be easy, but nobody wanted to purchase that story at that time. I think I was nobody and that this was pre-Bowen being on SNL as well. And so it was just, it felt very niche and very specific. And I don’t think anyone thought that anyone would be interested in watching it. And so it sort of died there. And then it wasn’t until I had a meeting with Quibi that I sort of offhand brought up that project and they jumped at it.

They said, “That is exactly the kind of niche, exciting project that we want to work on.” And that is when it sort of became structured as a movie more so. And directly structured onto Pride and Prejudice as, that Quibi is the one who is the reason I made that move. And the thing about writing it for Quibi is that, maybe many people might not know about Quibi is that after two years, if you made a Quibi project, all the rights would revert back to you and you could take your project and sell it elsewhere. You would have this full completed shot thing that you could repurpose and sell elsewhere. And so my plan was always after two years to repurpose it and sell it as a movie. And so I wrote it structured as a feature film, just broken up into 10 chapters. And so by the time Quibi folded, and then we were sending it out to Searchlight. I mean, the script that we sent to Searchlight was the Quibi version of the script.

And it changed maybe 25% by the end of shooting. But it really didn’t structurally or in terms of storytelling changed a huge amount from Quibi to Searchlight.

Marina Fang: Oh, interesting. Yeah, I was going to ask you that later on, because I mean, as you just explained, this has gone through a lot of different versions. I guess, to sort of back up to when you were trying to first sell the pilot, what were some of the notes that you got, do you think it was just maybe not the right, like you said, maybe just not the right time for it?

Joel Kim Booster: Yeah. I think it just felt at that moment like such a hyper specific story. And I think the industry is this weird sort of secular catch 22. They only are interested in your story when you are somebody, but you can only become somebody if you get to tell your story. And it’s this weird calculus of figuring out, of making these baby steps in the industry until some finally you have reached a level that they trust you enough to tell a very specific story. And so I think at that point, this was pre-Sunnyside. I had a failed pilot at Comedy Central and I had just, come off writing the other two. And I had a Comedy Central special, those were my big credits.

And so I think there was just a sort of distrust of like, I was not tested by the market yet, and so they didn’t believe that something so specific would be marketable. That was basically the notes that we got back. It was just too specific, too specific. And it’s so funny because I think now things have shifted a little bit more in the direction of people wanting very hyper specific stories. I mean, this was back in 2018 or late 2018. So, the industry hasn’t wildly changed since then. But I do think that there is a more interest in specific stories than there were back then.

Marina Fang: Yeah, I think people at least have at least some better understanding of like the specific can turn into the universal and I mean, that’s ultimately what great art is someone’s specific story having universal appeal or parallels. Even if you are not that person, you can see something in it.

Joel Kim Booster: Absolutely.

Marina Fang: I feel like Austen’s work, to bring it back to her, I think that is also a big part of the enduring appeal and power of her work and why we see various iterations of it over and over again.

Joel Kim Booster: For sure.

Marina Fang: I guess, to also follow up on that, when you brought it to Quibi and you said that’s when it really turned into what the film is now, which there are a lot more parallels to Pride and Prejudice. First of all, did they suggest that? To kind of continue this conversation of how this evolved over time, how did it become that?

Joel Kim Booster: It became that because when I understood sort of what Quibi was looking for and what the model for Quibi was, specifically movies cut into 10 or more chapters or less chapters rather. It sort of became … Well, I was thinking when I wrote the half hour pilot, the reason it wasn’t a Pride and Prejudice adaptation was I was like, “Well, ideally this would go for two, three, four, five seasons.” And so it was much more sort of gay Asian looking more specifically than it was an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. But when it came to Quibi and they weren’t really interested in a long … It was much more like, “We want a mini series, we want a movie.” It became much more clear that I could sort of do a direct adaptation, a modern day adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. And honestly, I brought up Clueless in my pitch and they really responded to that. And so, I really just wanted to do for Pride and Prejudice what Amy Heckerling did for Emma with Clueless.

And so they were really hyped about that idea and they were really specifically excited about the idea of getting a lot of up and coming gay comedians together on an island to do it. And so that’s sort of how it shifted into becoming a more sort of structurally beat for beat remake of Pride and Prejudice.

Marina Fang: Yeah. How did you strike that balance between, as you mentioned, I think Clueless is such a great example of taking Emma, but it’s not really Emma and I wonder, yeah, how did you strike a balance between not wanting to make this obviously a direct adaptation, while also using the original as an inspiration? And I think, if you’re watching this, you probably can pick up on the parallels, obviously Will is Darcy and Charlie Bingley, but beyond that not wanting to make it too much of a direct adaptation?

Joel Kim Booster: Yeah. You know, it’s a balancing act. And I think there are parts of the movie … I used it as a map really to sort of structure the arcs of the characters and figure out where I was going and how I would … And the sort of how I got there was where I balanced in and sort of added my own editorial ideas about, the more ripped from the headlines parts of mine and Bowen’s experience and our friendship. And sort of from the beginning really reorienting the Pride and Prejudice story to focus more on the Jane and Lizzie friendship in our movie, but sort of sisterly bond in the book, and less on the actual love interests. And so it was sort of just finding the areas where it was helpful and sort of a good roadmap and where I needed to deviate because of where we are in a modern day.

And I will say, I think I did an okay job, but there are legitimate critiques of the movie that I look at now. And I think, “Oh, I was trying to slavishly map on my own ideas onto Pride and Prejudice or the other way around rather.” And I do think that I could have let go of Pride and Prejudice a little bit more in certain areas and made a stronger movie. But I do think I was really caught up in making it feel like, I love watching Clueless and saying, “Oh my God, that is, the moment in the book where she,” … Those moments were what I was really trying to write towards. Was having people be like, “Oh, how are they going to do the Lydia and Wickham scandal in modern day Fire Island? What is the equivalent of X, Y, Z thing for us?” And so I think I got caught up a little bit in doing that. And in that process maybe got a little at times lost in the adaptation part of it.

Marina Fang: Yeah. That’s so funny, because yeah, I’ve seen some of those pieces that you mention. And I get where that criticism is coming from, but then I also, I like you really I would sort of watch a scene and be like, “Oh, I remember where that is in Pride and Prejudice,” and get kind of excited about seeing that. And I actually talked to you for a piece I wrote for HuffPost and I talked to Andrew, Andrew the director about, I remember him telling me how he’s more of a Joe Wright adaptation person. And how the two of you really drew from that, which is by the way a gorgeous, gorgeous movie. Really pulling from that. And yeah, it’s funny how you kind of you can’t please everybody, I guess, in some ways.

Joel Kim Booster: Yeah, definitely. But I think it’s one of those things, I think it’s the standup in me a little bit where it’s like, I never see my work as completely finished. And it stresses me out, that I remember watching the first locked cut of this movie and sort of having an internal meltdown because I was like, “Oh my God, I can’t adjust anything. I can’t fix anything. There’s so much that I would fix. And so many mistakes that I made as a writer.” And it’s much easier as a standup because I just get to constantly be rewriting my material until of course it’s released as a Netflix special. And then it’s the same meltdown all over again of like, “What could I have fixed? What could I have evolved in the set?” So, you live, you learn and hopefully I will make less mistakes on the next one.

Marina Fang: Oh, don’t be so hard on yourself. The movie’s great. But on that note it makes me wonder, when you were on set, were you able to kind of separate like, “Okay, I’m an actor now. I’ve written the script, now I’m an actor.” Or are you constantly sort of toggling between acting and writing, even when you’re filming?

Joel Kim Booster: It’s so funny. I have no conscious memories of being an actor on that set. I don’t remember really preparing, I don’t remember being in the moment and having questions. I just, I was always a writer on that set. I rewrote so much of that movie on the fly on set and I was constantly, that was my main concern on set was as the writer of the movie. Which is crazy, because I was in every scene, I was acting every day. But I think probably because Noah is so similar to who I am and I was basically just playing a sort of amalgamated version of myself in the movie that it just felt very easy. Bowen had a lot more of the dramatic, heavy lifting to do in that movie than I did.

And so it wasn’t super challenging. Noah is not a super challenging acting role, I don’t think. And so I wasn’t consciously thinking about being an actor that much, I was more so concerned with the story and making sure that everything felt real and connected and the arcs were making sense. And I was just constantly throwing out alts and rewriting things on the fly. And you know, there’s a monologue that I made up actually that is in the movie, the end of the movie when I go to convince Charlie to go after Howie, that monologue was completely improvised. Because I showed up to set and I said, “I do not like what I have written and I don’t have time to sit down and write it again. So I’m just going to wing it.” And Andrew was kind enough to let me do that. And our poor script supervisor had to really, she really earned that check that day. So there was a lot of that. I was more so concerned with the writing than I was with the acting.

Marina Fang: Oh, interesting. Speaking of Bowen, I am wondering, I mean, first of all, one of the really great, I think emotional cores of Fire Island is this beautiful friendship between Noah and Howie and obviously you and Bowen have been really good friends for a long time. So how did you navigate, putting obviously your real life experiences and parts of your personalities into the story, but also, I mean, ultimately this is a work of fiction?

Joel Kim Booster: I think, I shared with Bowen a lot of early drafts of the script. I made sure that he wasn’t blindsided by anything that he had to do in the movie. And I was very careful about that, but I think for Bowen too, like Howie is not as close to Bowen as I am close to Noah, it’s much more of a character I think for Bowen. And so there was certainly things that we have dealt with together and things about body image and feeling desired and visibility and things like that are things that we have both struggled with and both talked about and had less contentious versions of, I think that conversation in the bathroom at the after party. And so those things were really sort of pulled from our own shared experience, but I think it was easier for Bowen to get some distance because there’s a lot more of me in Howie actually than I think Bowen in a lot of ways. I think Bowen is not as much of a romantic as I am, or a part of me is.

And so, some of that stuff I think was just easier to just separate himself and say, “That’s not me. I am playing a part.” And between that and sort of engaging him, involving him in the early writing process, I think was where we were able to strike that balance.

Marina Fang: Were there any particular scenes that you felt like, “Okay, maybe this is too close to what has actually happened to us?” Was it all, I mean, was it all kind of a blur? Like you said, there’s especially sometimes there isn’t always that separation.

Joel Kim Booster: You know, I will say, I think most of the stuff that fell too close was excised from the script before we got to shooting it. The bathroom scene was really tough for us. I think it was the third day of shooting. It is for me that probably was the toughest scene of acting that we had to do, that I had to do as an actor on that set. And it did feel very intimate and close and to fight with my best friend in that way, in which we have never done that before, felt very vulnerable in a huge way. But it was also, I think, one of the most important scenes in the movie. And we also knew that, and I think that understanding really covered that. But no, I don’t think that anything felt super too close. I think there are certain moments and chemistry moments, like the scene in the bedroom when Howie’s leaving, I think is very close to me. I think, because that is maybe something very close to what has happened in real life between Bowen and I.

But that’s a sweeter moment, and it’s not super taxing emotionally, I think. And so, that’s probably the closest too directly ripped from the headlines of our friendship. But beyond that, I think everything else that would felt too close for comfort was removed before we got to the late stages.

Marina Fang: Yeah. You mentioned being on set and even then just rewriting things. Was there anything specific you remember that you felt had to change or specific scenes that you remember kind of rewriting on the fly?

Joel Kim Booster: I mean, definitely that monologue at the end, Margaret’s monologue. We noodled with that a lot. I think that scene where she sort of takes me to task before Howie falls in the pool. We really, that’s a pivotal, that’s a real turning point, I think for both of our characters. And I think it’s a real marquee moment for Margaret. And we really struggled to find the right balance of sort of motherly affection, but also grounded, like taking me to task Margaret. And so we definitely, I think I wrote that big portion, a lot of portions of that on the fly there. And the bathroom scene, honestly, there are a couple of adjustments there. We toyed with I think six or seven different versions of the final line that Bowen says to me in the bathroom. And it’s funny, we just ended, I think even this might have just been an improvised line, but fuck you was just, felt the most correct in that moment.

There were a lot of written sort of rejoinders and exit lines that he had that I had created for him in that moment. And at the end of it, by the time we had done the scene, it just felt like fuck you was the most sort of natural, realistic way to go.

Marina Fang: Yeah. You mentioned Margaret. I mean, this cast is just, in terms of the talent is just bananas and you’ve had just such a rich range of talents. And I’m wondering when you were on set, how much input did the actors have into their characters and the script and the rewriting process or the improvising process?

Joel Kim Booster: So, I’ll say I’m not super precious about the specificity of my lines. I think there was a lot of paraphrasing going on throughout certain moments, more so from certain actors than others. But I’m very much in favor as a writer. I want it to sound and feel natural coming out of your mouth. So if you have to swap a word or add an article or put a comma where there isn’t one or remove a comma. I’m very open to that. And it got to the point where it didn’t even really need to be a discussion if it was little changes, specifically for jokes. But I think story is where I did never let anyone change the story. I think there were definitely moments and improvised lines that felt out of character or maybe felt too close to who Matt Rogers was as a person versus who Luke was as a person. But we always let them go there. You don’t cast people like Matt and Tomas and Torian and Margaret without asking for some of them.

I think it really was important for me that everybody felt real and lived in and part of that was allowing them to play and live in those characters. And I trusted them all. So especially by the end of the process, I was like, “Yeah, go.”

Marina Fang: Yeah. Did you always write this alone? Or was there any point when it was at Quibi, did you have a writer’s room or anything like that?

Joel Kim Booster: No, no writer’s room. The person who had the most input in the rewrites was Andrew. I think Andrew was the only one that I let actually touch the final draft file of the movie, besides myself. And we rewrote a lot of it together in a room and there were certain passes that he would take of it on his own. So yeah, I definitely credit him as a collaborator on the script portion a lot. And he really was helpful. I’ve said it in other places, but I’m in a relationship now and that relationship was beginning while we were rewriting the script going into the final rewrites right before shooting. And he was really helpful in helping me process my relationship and into workable moments in the script, I think. And like story beats.

Marina Fang: You rewrote the ending because of your boyfriend?

Joel Kim Booster: Yeah. Yeah, I did. And Andrew was a big part of that. Andrew was sort of the person who was helping me process my real-time emotions and translating them into Noah’s arc specifically and definitely moments in Howie’s arc as well. And yeah, he was super instrumental in helping me get there with those moments.

Marina Fang: What were some of the best things you remember him helping you kind of tweak or change?

Joel Kim Booster: You know, I think one direct thing was the Will’s final line of, “I guess we’ll find out.” And my sort of hesitation before that where it’s like, “I’m so good on my own. Falling in love is not what I want,” and all of those things. Those were processed through Andrew in a lot of ways. Because originally I had written Will’s final line was, “Who cares?” I asked him, “But then what happens?” And he says, “Who cares?” And it’s a small adjustment, but it really does change, for me it sort of closes the loop in a much more specific way when he says like, “I guess we’ll find out.” It’s a much more hopeful way to end the movie, I think, it’s a less flip. I think I wrote a lot of … When I first wrote the script, it was like I gave all of the romance and the romcom and the traditional sort of like fluffy love portions to Howie.

And I kept Noah’s story very glib and flip and sort of what I felt at the time was a more grounded version of what would actually happen. And then I happened to fall in love and it sort of changed my perspective on how I wanted Noah’s story to end. And I didn’t really figure that out until I was talking to Andrew during these rewriting processes. And he was the one who was like, “You need to change that final line.” He was the one who helped me sort of rework my sort of like, I’m good on my own, finding the central conflict of why Noah wouldn’t want Will in the first place. He was really instrumental in that.

Marina Fang: Yeah. And there’s something else he told me when we talked with trying to find those moments of romantic tension between Noah and Will at the underwear party, which is your version of the Netherfield ball.

Joel Kim Booster: Yeah, absolutely. There’s an image in the Joe Wright Pride and Prejudice that Andrew mentioned to me in his pitch for when we were interviewing directors, which was just a very small moment of Darcy helping Elizabeth into the carriage and their hands touch and there’s a moment of real electricity that happens. And it’s very subtle in the Joe Wright Pride and Prejudice, but he really wanted that moment in the script and he really felt it was important. And that’s why we wrote the scene of them dancing, accidentally dancing. It’s obviously a little bit more on the nose than a hand touch into a carriage. But if for us it was like that moment of undeniable chemistry between these two characters that was previously missing from the script.

Marina Fang: Yeah. I feel it’s still so rare to see a movie with four queer Asian American stars. And this movie I think is such a great celebration of queer Asian joy. And I’m wondering if … Well, I know you and Bowen were always sort of at the forefront. You always wanted this, with the two of you, were there ever any obstacles to making this happen in terms of having so many queer Asian actors at the forefront and also, getting to see this rain … I feel so often it’s like we have to be, whether it’s being Asian or being queer or being queer and Asian, you’re the only one out there. There can only be one of you on screen. And I think thankfully we’re moving, slowly but surely moving past that. But yeah, was there ever any pushback to making that happen or was it always?

Joel Kim Booster: Yeah, it’s interesting. If this weren’t a podcast, I think the answer would be a little bit more specific, but there was, there definitely was resistance. And I think there was this idea that, “Are you sure you want to make an Asian movie? Wouldn’t it be more interesting if it was a rainbow of characters and experiences and things like that?” And Will wasn’t initially written to be Asian. He was written to be a person of color, but not specifically Asian. And when we decided to cast Conrad or really wanted to cast Conrad, I think there was a little resistance because they were wondering if it flattened the story a little bit to have it all be Asian people. Which is an interesting way of putting it because it’s like, are you saying that there aren’t complications to two Asian men in these two very different class statuses getting together? I felt like it was still a very interesting, very different movie.

And so yeah, there was definitely some resistance, but not enough to deter Andrew and I, and our producer, our wonderful producers from doing what was right for the movie. Specifically because Conrad was the best choice. We weren’t setting out to make a gay Asian love story. But when Conrad Ricamora walks through the door and completely knocks me on my ass in a chemistry read, it just felt undeniable.

Marina Fang: Yeah. And similarly, I mean, Margaret Cho is a legend and was Aaron also written as Asian originally?

Joel Kim Booster: No, Aaron was written to be an older gay man, race indeterminate. It was sort of, again, we were just looking at everybody and we had actually cast somebody, an older gay man in that part that had to drop out suddenly right before filming. And Margaret had asked, her people had literally reached out the day or right around the same time that we lost that actor and said, “Hey, she’d love to do a cameo in the movie if there’s one available for her.” And I remember the moment that Andrew and I looked at each other and we were like, “Actually, could that work?” And it was the best happy accident I think of the movie. Because I literally can’t imagine the movie without Conrad and without Margaret. I think it really made the movie come into focus in a real way after we cast Margaret and Conrad.

And there were rewrites to make based on those casting decisions. But they were ones that I just remember the first thing I said when Conrad left the room during his chemistry audition, I was like, “I will rewrite the script for that man, because he is that good and that right for this part.”

Marina Fang: Yeah, totally. Wow, that is such a great happy accident.

Joel Kim Booster: Yeah.

Marina Fang: Just gold. Yeah, I mean, when you mentioned that sort of note that you got about like, “Do you want another Asian person? Doesn’t that flatten the story?” My immediate thought is like, you want this range of queer Asian actors, queer Asian stories. What were some specific things that you wanted to capture about that range and about having the diversity of stories and of characters?

Joel Kim Booster: I think it was a sort of about the different intersections of privilege. I think having, specifically amongst the men, it’s a little bit more complicated because Margaret’s older and she’s a woman and not sort of engaging in the class structures in the same way that the three men in the movie are. But it’s the way that, like I’m very different from Bowen. It goes back to that bathroom scene, we are not seeing the same. Even though we are the same, we share a lot. We’re not seeing the same. And then earlier in the rain scene, I think it’s confronted that Conrad because of his masculinity and his actual wealth navigates the world as an Asian person in a much different way than I do. And so for me it was interesting to play with where our experiences intersected with one another and where they sort of deviated and how that affected. Because again, I think when you see Asian people in movies, oftentimes it’s like all these people have the same struggles and have the same life experience and are all the same.

And it is this weird flattening of the Asian American experience where it’s like, that’s the problem that we often face is that, “Oh, you’re all the same.” They see us as all the same oftentimes. And I think getting a textured, a very textured look at our different experiences was really important to me.

Marina Fang: Yeah. We’re going to move to audience Q&A in a second, but I wanted to ask one more thing, which is that you have a lot going on right now. I remember you telling me way back when I interviewed you for my piece that you were hoping that you just survived the month of June. So first of all, how are you doing?

Joel Kim Booster: I’m tired, I’m exhausted, but I’m good. It’s all good things. It’s all primarily good things. And the responses to all of the projects that I’ve released this month have been really overwhelming to me. So, I’m doing well. It’s pride. I can’t wait to sleep next month. I’m sleeping the entire month of July.

Marina Fang: I hope so. Yeah, that sounds good. What else are you working on in terms of, I think specifically writing projects or anything that you can talk about, maybe if it’s too early?

Joel Kim Booster: Everything is very, very early, early days. I think for me it’s really daunting now in a way. I finally got something made, which is something that I’ve wanted for years and years and years since before, and that I’ve gotten very close to before. And now that it’s out there and the response has been largely positive, it’s really scary. Because I feel I have the yips a little bit. I want the next thing to feel different, but good. And I want it to be an upward trajectory. I don’t want to flat line. And it’s a little scary, but I’m also sort of reveling, I think once I have some distance from this particular moment, I’m really excited to go back, and I don’t know if this will change for me after the movie, but I’m a big write on spec kind of guy.

Everything I’ve ever written has been at first, some version of it has been on spec. I prefer to present a finished product and I’m really excited to just with no stakes go in and write my next project. And I have a few ideas and few things, but I’m really just excited to sit in front of my computer with music on for a minute and be able to think about the next thing.

Marina Fang: Yeah, I hope you get a chance to at least just sort of process everything.

Joel Kim Booster: Yeah. There’s a big push for me to sort of write a sequel to this movie right now. And I definitely need some distance to really understand what this … Before I would ever be able to even think about cracking that story. What’s next for these characters?

Marina Fang: For sure. Okay, so I’m going to dig into some of these audience questions. Oh, what was a scene or a take that was cut you wish could be on an extended cut?

Joel Kim Booster: There’s a bunch, there’s a lot that was cut around the dinner that happens at the Tuna Walk House, specifically there’s a mild sex scene between Zane Phillips and I, Dex’s character and my character that happens before the dark room scene. And this is getting into where my head space was at, but he blows me. And as an Asian person hooking up with a white guy in this movie, I felt it was very important that there was parody in who was doing the blowing and who was doing the receiving. And I was actually quite upset when they cut that from the movie. And suddenly I’m blowing him and he’s not reciprocating at all in the movie.

And I felt that was one of the things that I was really optically I was like, “Oh, people are really going to drag me through the mud.” I don’t think anyone noticed, but I will always have felt that. And then there’s a lot of stuff with Conrad that did not make the cut, and the thing is I don’t know that any of it was vital, but it was all really good and sweet. There’s a moment where we share a joint and we find out that Will is a little bit of a secret stoner. It’s a fun sort of interplay between this. It’s a very brief moment. And then there’s a scene right before I get to Howie on the dock before Howie leaves, where we have a third almost kiss moment. And we felt that was gilding the Lilly a little bit.

But I remember shooting that scene with Conrad and it was early, early days in the process. And I remember running back to playback and watching it at video village as this closeup of Conrad almost kissing me and really, it was a moment where he was really in control in a way that it felt flipped for the first time. And I just remember going up to Conrad and saying, “You are a fucking movie star.” And that was really the first like moment where, I mean, of course he was, and I felt that for the rest of it, but he really was a moment where I was like, “Wow, you are a star.”

And then there’s a lot of Torian and Matt and Tomas that was cut, because just for time and space and they each had, I think more to do and both comedically and story wise for them. And it’s one of my great regrets that we just didn’t get, especially Torian, I think, there was a lot more illuminated about that character and I regret that we weren’t able to keep all of it.

Marina Fang: Oh, this is good. What is something you learned making Fire Island and doing all the press for it? You wish you could tell a version of yourself maybe much earlier in your career or when there were fewer examples of representation on TV and movies for gay and Asian Americans?

Joel Kim Booster: I think for me, something I have learned in the aftermath of this story was, I don’t know. I almost wish that my first big project was … I guess I’ll say this is not to get caught up in the representation discourse as much as I have. And I have done a pretty good job of sort of taking a step back from it. But I think in the back of my head while writing it, in the back of my head while filming it and all throughout press there’s this question of like, “Oh, finally Asian gay representation on screen.” And I celebrate that. But it is also a very dangerous game to play because when you start to think about representation on this scale, it does become this question of like, “Am I doing it right and not, am I telling a good story?” And so that is a really tricky balancing act.

And it’s something of course, when I have Asian people, especially gay Asian men come up to me and say like, “Oh my God, I have never felt so represented by story before. I’ve never felt seen before.” That always feels incredibly gratifying. But it’s also really scary and it’s really daunting and it cannot be the thing that you start from, I think, for me at least. Because I think we have to sort of move past these conversations and I hope that my movie is the beginning of that, where we can sort of begin to move beyond just the basic idea of we need to feel represented. Hopefully people will feel less intimidated by that prospect.

Marina Fang: Yeah, and one movie can’t, it’s all about just opening up more and more stories. So that way there’s no real weight on the few that are out there.

Joel Kim Booster: Yeah, no, absolutely.

Marina Fang: I think Jenny, Jenny Yang calls it rep sweats, just that weight that’s put on. Like one movie or one show can’t be all things, all people. And the point is just more and more people just have to be able to tell their stories.

Joel Kim Booster: Yeah, no, absolutely.

Marina Fang: Another audience question. How did you establish relationships with other writers and talent and did other writers’ success help you and have you been able to help others?

Joel Kim Booster: So, I will say I haven’t been exactly in a position. I haven’t been given a lot of op opportunities necessarily to help others in a really concrete way. It’s my dream to someday run my own production company and be able to open those doors for other writers. That is sort of my main goal and my main mission as I look ahead to the next 10 years of my career. But I think the biggest thing is finding the people that you vibe with, whose ideas and goals, and goals I mean specifically creative goals line up with yours. And sharing your work with each other.

This is just for me, and I know that many other writers may feel differently about this. But you can’t write in a vacuum completely. And I thrive off of input and criticism and notes and perspectives outside. If you’re so inside of it, it’s impossible for me to write something coherent. And I really did abuse a lot of friendships and forcing people to read the scripts before it was ready. And their notes were really valuable. And I think being open to that kind of exchange is really important. I think a lot of people really just want to send their work to their friends and have them go, “Yay you did it, amazing job.” And not be open to criticism. And you really have to be open to that and you have to understand.

And then understand the things to ignore and the things to take. That’s a skill into itself. And that’s a muscle that you have to constantly work out, I think. And yeah, I think it comes with a lot of experience. I sent my script to so many friends before I was working with producers, and that really helped me understand how to navigate the notes process with my producers.

Marina Fang: Yeah. How did you decide on the specifics of the villain character and what his “person used crimes” would be while still staying sex positive?

Joel Kim Booster: Yeah. This was the most difficult, I think part of the adaptation process for me from Pride and Prejudice to Fire Island, was figuring out how to deal with the Wickham of it all. As soon as I introduced Wickham, some of the contours of I think his Instagram made it easier. And we could have stopped there. But it was really about sort of figuring out what felt real without changing this movie dramatically from a romcom into something much more serious. And again, it was something I wanted to stay true to within the community of what our community is dealing with. And there are two questions about that. And one was just enthusiastic consent, I think, I’ve seen, and I know so many people who regret sexual encounters that they’ve had when they’ve been too fucked up to enthusiastically consent to them.

And that’s a very real thing that I wanted to not shy away from. In a movie where there’s a lot of sex happening sort of on the periphery. And then the filming without consent, I’ve obviously experienced revenge porn. I’ve talked about that openly in my life. And this specific instance is something that happened to somebody very close to me of being filmed and having these videos posted online. That was something that was just sort of ripped from the headlines of somebody very close to me that experienced that. And so it was a delicate balance of figuring out how to introduce that and then have, I think I owe a big debt to Matt and his performance of it, because it did, it felt very real, his reaction to it. But it also felt, I think the nuance of him saying, “I don’t want him to be mad at me,” was a really big sort of moment of like, that is when the consent question is tricky and gray, when it’s like, “I did enjoy having sex with him the next day. I just don’t remember any of this stuff that happened before.”

And it’s like, I think the response is often, “I don’t want to make waves. I don’t want to make waves.” And I wanted to sort of honor that impulse that we have a lot of times when we regret sex. And I think in terms of how did I remain sex positive? I think the movie has a very positive non-judgmental view of sex. And I hope, and this might be one of the areas where I could have done a better job or where I might have failed a little bit. Is that this instance, this wasn’t about sex. This was about consent. This aspect of the plot was not about shaming people who have sex. It was about shaming people who take advantage of consent and sort of move around that. And yeah, it’s one of the things that I still wonder if I was successful in doing. But it was also something that I felt really was important to address if I was making a movie about sex in these environments.

Marina Fang: Thank you so much, Joel, for joining us and for doing this, this was such a pleasure. Again, if people have not watched Fire Island, they should, it’s on Hulu. And also you have your Netflix special, which was released yesterday and then Loot is coming out Friday, I believe. So yeah, congrats on all of that. And I hope you get to have a more relaxing July.

Joel Kim Booster: Yeah, thank you very much. I really appreciated it. And I loved this conversation.

Marina Fang: Thank you.

Speaker 1: OnWriting is a production of The Writer’s Guild of America, East. This series was created and is produced by Jason Gordon. Our associate producer and designer is Molly Beer, tech production, and original music by Taylor Bradshaw and Stickboy Creative. You can learn more about The Writer’s Guild of America, East online at You can follow the Guild on all social media platforms at WGA East. If you like this podcast, please subscribe and rate us. Thank you for listening, and write on.


Back to top