Filmmaker So Yong Kim on Facing Her Unlikeable Parts When Writing
So Yong Kim is a director, producer and writer. Her latest movie is “For Ellen,” starring Paul Dano and Jena Malone.
In an interview, she talks about a number of aspects of developing her script and shooting the film – aspects of creative expression that impact other artists as well.
Like many creative and talented people, she purposely seeks challenge and difficulty:
“I think it’s surprising for people because I did two Korean language films, and suddenly I’m doing this film with actors and cast that are white and named. But the decision was because I felt, I can do a film in Korean, I want to do a film in English.
“I speak English, why not? And it’s so much fun and freeing somehow. As an independent filmmaker, I think if I made another Korean language film it’s like ‘yeah, of course she can do that.’ It’s like challenging for me to use different colors in the pallet.”
In a previous post – Developing Creativity in Solitude – I addressed creating alone versus in collaboration. Directing a movie, of course, is a very collaborative endeavor, but Kim says writing the script was solitary.
“I never send my script or writing to anybody until it’s completely ready. I don’t talk about it with my husband either really. I keep a tight lid as to what I’m doing…I think he was really surprised. But no, for me it’s very internal. I want to, you know, protect the baby. Protect the film as long as I can.”
Her husband is filmmaker Bradley Rust Gray, and she also does not give him input on his scripts, at least “not until he’s ready. Not until he’s done. And likewise. I think that’s because we feel that you know when you’re writing, these characters are so fragile. Like any slight comment could affect the characters so much.
“So we really try not to attack the idea, or the concept, or the development of the character. And I feel that more so than Brad I think, although he really doesn’t want me to know anything about his script until the first reading. So I don’t know, we do that to have some boundaries. Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to be married, have kids, work together and have a good friendship going.”
The movie is about a struggling musician (Paul Dano) who is fighting his estranged wife (Jena Malone) for custody of their young daughter.
Kim says one of her challenges in writing Dano’s character was that it was so personal.
“I think the scariest part about the writing of the character was not the fact that he was male but it was more that the most terrifying thing about this character is that he has so many traits of myself. That’s the most embarrassing thing I’ve seen on screen.”
She said the film was challenging because she “really had to go into these parts of myself that are really unlikeable. That’s difficult for me to face.”
She also praises actor Dano for his input while making the movie.
“Everything seemed very organic once Paul came on board, everything kind of fit into place. I’m really grateful for that collaboration, because Paul is a great cinephile, and he’s seen so many films, and he has a great language of cinema, so it was for me a great learning experience because I also learned from the way he worked.”
Quotes from article: So Yong Kim Discusses Her Collaboration With Paul Dano & Battling The Freezing Winter In ‘For Ellen’ by Cory Everett, Indiewire January 25, 2012.
Kim has the advantage in this movie and a couple of others of being both screenwriter and director. Many screenwriters have to labor a long time on story ideas that may be very personal for them, with little or no assurance their work will ever be made into a movie.
Dennis Palumbo, MFT, is a former screenwriter, now licensed psychotherapist specializing in creative issues.
He says, “You’re very powerless as a screenwriter. And what happens – and it’s a subtle change, but I think it’s the one that most mature writers go through – is the gratification becomes personal… the process of writing becomes its own reward… you tell the story the way you want to tell the story, and then hope for the best.”
From my Inner Writer post Therapist Dennis Palumbo on the Writer’s Inner Life.
Many writers and other artists realize how valuable it can be to explore and make use of depth psychology concepts such as archetypes and the shadow self, both for creating characters and for exploring themselves as people and artists.
Psychologist Carl Jung developed ideas about exploring and using our personal shadow – “the negative side of the personality, the sum of all those unpleasant qualities we like to hide, together with the insufficiently developed functions and the contents of the personal unconscious.”
He said the shadow “also displays a number of good qualities such as normal instincts, appropriate reactions, realistic insights, creative impulses, etc.”
Director and screenwriter Wes Craven said that during the years while writing his movie “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984 – the photo is from a scene), he was reading “a lot of Eastern sort of esoteric knowledge. There’s a Russian philosopher who wrote about levels of consciousness and equated consciousness with being awake.”
Craven adds that the hero – an archetypal figure – is “the person that remains conscious, remains awake, up to the point where it’s so painful you want to kill yourself. Most people, if they get near that level, turn around and go the other way; some people actually kill themselves, and some people break through to a sort of clarity where they’re truly conscious. That became the framework for the film.”
From my post: Archetypes for Writers: Developing Complex Characters.
Eby, D. (2012). Filmmaker So Yong Kim on Facing Her Unlikeable Parts When Writing. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 20, 2017, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/creative-mind/2012/01/filmmaker-so-yong-kim-on-facing-her-unlikeable-parts-when-writing/