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.
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