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SOMEONE ELSE – A Q&A With Nelson Kim

December 21, 2016

Where are all the places we can see/buy the film?

The movie can be streamed or downloaded via Amazon and iTunes, and can also be purchased on DVD at Amazon. Go to our website, www.SomeoneElseMovie.com, for details. We’re pretty much at the end of our U.S. festival run, but we haven’t played at any fests outside the U.S. yet, so I’m still sending out submissions with fingers crossed.

What was your inspiration behind the story and the script?

Some years back I re-watched Claude Chabrol’s 1959 French New Wave film Les Cousins, and it sparked an idea. I borrowed the plot skeleton of that film -- young man from the provinces visits his decadent playboy cousin in the big city -- and turned it into a vehicle for some of my own interests and obsessions. I wanted to get into questions about identity, about masculinity and male ego and male competition, about family and relationships, and this story allowed me to do that.

You currently teach film at Columbia University and Fordham University and have lived in NY for awhile. What made you want to set it in NYC?

I grew up in New Jersey but went to high school in New York and began spending all my free time in the city from the age of twelve. So even though I think of NYC as my hometown and have lived here most of my life, I’m not a born-and-raised city boy. I can still call up the wide-eyed excitement my teenage self felt whenever I would cross over the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan. I think there might be some echoes of that in Jamie’s arrival in NYC at the start of the film -- the feeling that this is where his real life would begin.

Can you describe the casting process?

I wrote the script with both Aaron and Leo in mind. I knew Aaron a little bit from years ago, when I was in film school and he was an unknown actor in NY trying to catch a break. I saw him do an Off-Broadway play reading and was immediately struck by his live-wire energy and intelligence. We talked about him acting in a student film of mine, but then he was called to LA and got cast in Disturbia, and his movie career took off -- no more student films for him! But I always hoped to collaborate with him someday, especially as the work he did over the years more than justified my initial belief in his talent.

I’d seen Leo in a few things and he always intrigued me as an actor. I knew he and Aaron were friends, and I thought it would be great to put them together in a movie. (They worked together once before, in American Pastime, a 2007 drama about Japanese American internment.) These guys get cast all the time in big movies and TV shows, and they do outstanding work, but they’re almost always playing supporting roles. Like most of their admirers, I was sure we were only seeing a fraction of what they were capable of.

Aaron read the script and agreed to do the movie, and along with my producers Geoff and Brandon, he gave me great feedback all through the revision process. When we all thought the script was in good shape, Aaron passed it to Leo, and Leo signed on. So I’m one of the very few indie filmmakers who actually got their dream cast for their first feature.

I really didn’t do much to guide the actors. Partly this is just because low-budget movies give you almost no time to rehearse. Partly because actors of this caliber don’t need much guidance from me! I was there to answer any questions and give adjustments on set, but they showed up to work with fully fleshed-out characterizations, ready to plunge in. I’m not rigid about always sticking to my exact wording. If someone wants to run a suggestion by me, it’s fine -- these guys often did, and some of that ended up in the finished film.

Visually, I noticed many similarities to De Palma; was this intended? Can you discuss the process for your sound design?

One of the mysterious things about the creative process is how much of it happens at a subconscious level. Things like the mirror imagery and the twinning motifs started coming up organically in the writing, without any intention on my part. I mean, I was writing a story about two cousins whose identities gradually shift and merge, so all the twin/mirror/doppelganger stuff fit perfectly, but I didn’t plan it. It’s almost as if your imagination knows better than your rational mind what needs to be done to dream up this world. Then at a certain point you see the patterns forming, and your rational mind takes over -- you start to consciously weave those elements into the design.

For sound design and music, I only had a vague sense of what I wanted while shooting. But all through the editing, we played around with different temp tracks from my music collection, and as we got closer to locking picture, I was able to come up with some guidelines for Ben Rubin, our composer, and Eli Cohn, our sound designer. The same kind of duality you find in the movie’s visual design, we wanted to get into the soundscape as well. Lyrical and romantic at times, harsh and dissonant at others. Dream/nightmare.

The ending and last third of the film seems to be up for interpretation and made deliberately abstract as well as cryptic. Did you always intend for the film to be sort of a Lynchian-esque puzzle for viewers to figure out with multiple viewings?

Someone Else is a puzzle film. But I realized making it that there are two kinds of puzzle films. The first kind is something like The Sixth Sense or The Usual Suspects, where the filmmakers provide the solution at the end. Whenever you see those movies for the first time, you go “Aha!” and then run the whole thing back in your mind enjoying how cleverly it was put together.

The other kind of puzzle film is different: the solution isn’t given to you. Maybe you have to watch it more than once to figure it out, or maybe there isn’t really a solution, or maybe the filmmakers want every viewer to come up with their own. Mulholland Drive is like that. So is Last Year At Marienbad. Shane Carruth’s films too.

Our movie is probably closer to the second kind than the first. We did have a specific intention in mind when we made it, and the clues are all there in the film. But we also want it to be open to multiple interpretations. At every screening, people have asked me to explain my take on it, which I’m happy to do. But first I like to ask the audience what they think was going on, and the answers have been all over the place -- I love that. To me, they’re all valid. Movies work on our minds like dreams, and this movie does that more than most, and dreams never have a single specific meaning.

In my ideal world, the film will develop a small cult following over time, and I’ll see people arguing about it online for years to come. Ha!

Can you talk about the production of the film?

We shot for eighteen days, three six-day weeks. It took about a year and a half to get to our final cut, which is quite long for a narrative feature. We did a lot of starting and stopping because we had so little money, so folks had to take other jobs here and there to pay the bills. (Props to our amazing editor Brooke Sebold for sticking with us and doing such great work.)

As it turned out, taking such a long time with the edit had some unexpected benefits. Being forced to take repeated breaks from the movie let us come back to it with fresh eyes, which is actually a luxury. Plus, due to the complicated nonlinear nature of the story, we felt we had to try out several different variations of the story structure. By the time we locked picture, I could honestly say that we had explored all our options and we were left with the best possible version of the movie.

What are you working on next?

I’m working on two feature scripts. Both of them could loosely be described as noir-influenced thrillers. I want to continue making movies about Asian American characters, I like coloring outside the lines of conventional storytelling and experimenting with form and style, and I’m not interested in giving up creative control -- all of which means I’ll be sticking with low-budget independent films for the foreseeable future.

 

Contributor: 

Timothy Tau

Timothy Tau
Blogger

Timothy Tau is an award-winning writer and filmmaker and was recently named by PolicyMic magazine as "6 Young Asian-American Filmmakers Who Are Shattering America's Asian Film Bias." His short story "The Understudy" won Grand Prize in the 2011 Hyphen Asian American Writer's Workshop Short Story Contest and is published in the 2011 Issue of Hyphen Magazine as well as online. His short story, "Land of Origin" also won 2nd Prize in the 2010 Playboy College Fiction Contest (See October 2010 Issue of Playboy Magazine). Both stories are being developed into feature film projects.

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