How Joel Kim’s Booster Got Away with Murder Brought Fire Island to Life – IndieWire

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Editor’s note: This interview was conducted before the Writers Guild of America strike began on May 2.

Welcome to It’s a hit! In this series, IndieWire talks to the creators and showrunners behind some of our favorite television shows about the moment they realized their show was going to make it big.

As “Fire Island” prepares to premiere on Hulu, Booster writer and star Joel Kim prepares for a barrage of #discourse.

He was aware of the critical audience response to well-intentioned queer media in the past (such as “Looking,” a show Booster enjoyed but sharply analyzed since late 2015), and he was fully prepared for “Fire Island.” to elicit the same polarizing response.

“Look, I think I got away with murder a little bit in terms of the discourse around the movie,” Booster told IndieWire. “Gay men are particularly critical of the media that portrays us because we are so starved. There aren’t many shows or movies about us, so when we get it, we look at it very carefully and try to find all the ways that represent us and don’t, and our specific experience.

Sam Levinson and Jeremy O. Harris

Cate Blanchett as Alice and Harriet Walter as Edwina in Documentary Now Season 4 Episode 3

While “Tűzsziget” did not completely avoid strange criticisms (a comment called on Alison Bechdel to chime in and modify the eponymous testing index), the gay Asian male adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” received rave reviews. IndieWire’s Jude Dry called it a “guaranteed instant classic” that is “highly intersectional, subtly political, and a damn good time.” On May 13, the film won the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Motion Picture (tied with “Anything’s Possible”), with Booster accepting the award for his screenwriting debut.

“Artificial intelligence doesn’t have the trauma, the joy, or the lived experience to create these stories that we’re honoring tonight,” Booster said. in his speech, emphasizing his support for the Writers Guild of America strike. “The AI ​​certainly couldn’t have written the line, ‘Taking an edible with half an Adderall is a bit like molly.’ This is the life you have to live.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

IndieWire: What kind of changes and feedback did you get during the development and presentation of Fire Island? People in Hollywood love to have an opinion on why something doesn’t work, and they’re often wrong—especially when it’s a minority story.

Joel Kim Booster: To be honest, there were (were) a lot of notes throughout the project asking me to expand a little more on some of the jokes and some of the references in the film. Specifically, I think I made a tactical mistake, and I also made a mistake with the voice-over narration, because it gave the studio a lot of opportunities to say to me, “Well, just explain it in the narration” or “Explain this reference or this joke.” and I was very adamant. about making sure it doesn’t feel like a movie aimed at straight people.

I think people are very sensitive to that when they watch movies about other people’s experiences. I know that’s how I feel when I watch shows like “Insecure”… I didn’t get every hint in every joke, but I felt the authenticity through it and it made it more enjoyable to watch. I really wanted to repeat this kind of experience in my film.

Were there things you remember, maybe a fight, or a comment you pushed back?

A lot of the drug stuff was taken very seriously. They definitely wanted to pull some back, and I lost a few battles, and they wanted more descriptions of what everything was and how it worked. The George W. Bush line (which Booster as Noah says out loud after thinking “Mission Accomplished” in his speech) is a joke I’m sure only about 15 percent of the audience enjoyed or liked, and that’s one of my favorites because it there is the experience for me was that I took ketamine. The studio definitely didn’t get it nearly as well, and I’m not sure it tested very well when we watched it with a test audience, but for me it was an experience I wanted to emulate in the film. . I’ll be honest: the film has more narration than I originally planned, because a compromise has to be made regarding the amount of explanations needed.

I imagine you’ve struggled with this sometimes as a comedian: Do you want everyone in the room to laugh a little bit, or someone who’s just snoring?

Yeah, that’s my big thing. I’m much more interested in writing something specific—hyperspecific and left-of-center—that might touch fewer people than something super broad. There’s definitely broad comedy in the movie, there’s gimmicks, all kinds of silly shit that happens—but for me, those little moments that pass people by happen quickly, and you really have to get into the movie to really catch it and grab it and grab it. These are the moments that are much more rewarding for me as a writer and as a creator.

A group of men on summer vacation and a woman in a light floral blanket sit at a table and look worried;  still from it
Bowen Yang, Tomás Matos, Joel Kim Booster, Matt Rogers, Torian Miller and Margaret Cho in Fire IslandJeong Park/Searchlight/Hulu

I read that this was originally developed as a series for Quibi.

When I wrote series, quote, unquote for Quibi, they always wrote it as a movie, which was accidentally split into 10 parts. When Quibi folded and Searchlight bought the script, I didn’t really change that much from the Quibi version to the Searchlight version. I basically just took out the chapter breaks and smoothed out the structure a bit, but pretty much the movie stayed pretty much the same from Quibi to Searchlight.

I would have thought it would go the other way. So even in the Quibi sections you wished it was just a service?

Here’s the thing: Quibi wasn’t my first choice for this purpose, but at the time it was the only place I was interested in a movie like this. I was grateful that this company was interested in developing with me, and the big draw with Quibi was that after two years all rights were retained – so I could get it back, edit it as a film and sell it. that elsewhere. That was always the goal.

Was there a moment during production where you or maybe your director (Andrew Ahn) looked around and we said, “Damn, do we have something special?

It was such a special (experience) for me because I got to do it with so many close friends and people who ended up being very close friends. We were a very close group so we had a lot of moments, especially when we got to the island to shoot. We shot it in the last two weeks or so on Fire Island, and those moments—I mean, like the dancing on the docks at the end of the movie, when we were able to shoot those scenes—were not acting. We were able to really celebrate while we were doing (it) and… we were able to bring that energy into this scene. The first moment we rehearsed the karaoke scene for “Sometimes” and Matt (Rogers) and Tomás (Matos) didn’t tell us that they came up with the choreography to do it as they sing to Bowen (Yang), so it was a complete surprise to us. I remember the first time I saw it and I was just like, “This is absurd and ridiculous and so funny—and if it works, it’s going to be one of the most iconic scenes in the movie.” And if it doesn’t, the whole movie doesn’t work because that’s the kind of mood of the whole movie, this kind of mix of ridiculousness and seriousness. If we can pull that off, the film will be a success, otherwise we’re screwed.

In April 2022, you tweeted that the discourse surrounding “Fire Island” was going to kill you. Can you tell me more about this?

I really wanted to make a film that was about my experience without trying to represent the experience of everyone in the community. I found it frustrating when the discourse revolved around “Well, this doesn’t represent me because XYZ,” when that was never the goal.

Before this I tweeted as a joke. It didn’t happen to me or my film, and the jury is still out — maybe it will. Maybe in five years people will revisit it and who knows how it will age. But I was very, very happy and grateful for the response of the gay community to my film. In terms of knowing when it was a hit, a huge moment for me was going to Fire Island after the premiere. I was nervous; I was excited to meet a bunch of gay men who loved Fire Island as much as I did—the place—and figure out what their reaction would be to this movie. Going there – it was a bit like being in Disneyland for a week as Mickey Mouse and people having fun enough to come up to me and tell me they loved the movie, especially gay men who are known to be not very chubby. to the work of other gay men, I guess. It really felt like, “Oh, wow, like we did it. We’ve created something really great that people enjoy.”

Paraphrasing a famous musical: How do we measure a hit?

This is very hard. I am not aware of the streaming numbers. Hulu does not share this information with me. I know people have watched it, I know they’re very happy with its performance, so based on those metrics, I think we can call it a hit. But for me, the hit aspect of it still isn’t something I’ve fully agreed with. It’s really hard for me to say—I would never tell anyone else, like, “Oh, my movie was a hit.” I think it’s moments like these that really mean validation. This is a very difficult question and I do not feel qualified to answer it.

“Fire Island” is now streaming on Hulu.

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