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Interview with So Yong Kim – Writer/Director of For Ellen

Interview with So Yong Kim - Writer/Director of For Ellen

So Yong Kim’s For Ellen stars Paul Dano in a beautiful performance as a young father forced to make a life altering decision about his relationship with his daughter Ellen.  Dano plays Joby a musician who never quite made it.  But he’s been on the road for years, he’s getting divorced and he has no relationship with his daughter.  He knows he wants one but he also doesn’t know if he is capable of it.  This is a film about a guy who has to grow up and remember that not everything is about him.  It is a small, really well done character study.

The film opens today  in NYC.

Writer/director So Yong Kim answered some questions about the film.

Women and Hollywood: Can you talk about where the story came from?

So Yong Kim: The story actually started from this memory I had from meeting my own father for the first time.  When I was really young  a stranger walked into our house and said Hey I’m your dad. That kind of started the story from that point.

WaH: This is your third feature. And so my question for you is what has changed about your filmmaking since you have begun?

SYK: I think from my first film In Between Days to For Ellen the main thing that I try to keep consistent is to make a film that’s very personal. While For Ellen for me is personal, it’s not autobiographical.  I also try to be a better filmmaker one who is trying to work on film–35 mm. Working with professional actors and with each film I try to challenge myself and learn something more.

WaH: I find the way that you work with your husband.  You both produce each others films are both directors and make really small lovely character driven story films. Talk about how you work together.  Was there a decision to both become directors/producers?

SYK: I think it just organically worked out that way. Brad made his first film in Iceland and no one wanted to produce it. So I said Ok I’ll produce it. And I had no idea what that meant.  But we just went to Iceland and we bought a video camera and shot the film and drove around the country with a cinematographer. And I boomed the film and did the sound work on it. Then after that I saw how he worked on a film and I said well maybe I could write a film and direct it. So I felt like it was my turn. So I kind of jumped on the bandwagon and said I want to direct and you can be the producer. So he said OK. And he returned the favor to me. And we’ve just been trying to support each other as much as we can. To be the person who watches out for the other person.

WaH: Do you take turns directing?

SYK: Yeah, we’re trying to. But this new film, For Ellen and his film Jack and Diane were actually back to back. It was really difficult for us. But we survived. And at a certain point when you are going into production it’s more like we are going into a battle, let’s come out of it stronger than when we went in.

WaH: This was quite a challenging shoot on a limited budget. What was the most daunting challenge?

SYK: I don’t know there are so many things. One of the main things we were blessed with was the weather. Even though it was cold, it wasn’t like we were completely snowed in and missing shoot days. And even though Paul got sick and had to go to the emergency room it wasn’t something where we had to shut down the shoot completely.  In retrospect those two are the things I’m very grateful for. And also the fact that I had a really great team and crew and producers on set that were completely dedicated.

WaH: At the beginning I had a hard time liking Joby, but he grew on me. How were able to achieve that transition into the likeability factor?

SYK: When I was writing the film I had to live with this guy for years. And when I was editing had to watch him and it’s very intense and experience developing him as a person. I think the crucial thing is that Joby actually is somebody who is doing the best he can. And I think that kind of builds empathy in anyone because we all make mistakes. It’s normal to make mistakes. It’s just whether you learn from it or not.  There is maybe potential for him because he’s so young and so naïve in a way.

WaH: He’s really ambivalent about his whole life.  THe question about whether he fights for his daughter or let her go—is a life changing decision. But it also takes him a long time to make a connection. Talk a little bit about that piece of the puzzle.

SYK: I think with Joby was confronted with this decision or ambiguity when Ellen was born it was a lot easier for him because she was a baby. And I think fathers when the baby is first born they don’t make a deep connection with the baby until a little bit later because the baby is essentially still part of the mother even though the baby is out of the womb.  I think that’s one of the things in the history of Joby that is coming back to him with Ellen as a 6 yr old. She’s a person. It’s something that he faces this internal struggle with. If he stays what kind of father can he be to his daughter? And if he goes then what does that mean. It’s a struggle. It’s a deep struggle which he has to decide.

WaH: Any advice for female filmmakers?

SYK: I think we have to keep making films. I think that’s the most important thing. It’s not that there aren’t that many of us, there are so many of us who are talented. I have so many friends who are struggling, and I am struggling. We don’t give up, we persevere. I think that’s the most important thing.


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