01 Jul Q&A WITH ERIC BYLER, DIRECTOR OF CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES
Imagine seeing this on an audition ad: Asian American Actor needed for Romantic Lead. This was listed on CraigsList back in April when writer/director Eric Byler was looking for a handsome, middle aged Asian American male to star in his new project, AMERICAN KNEES. Eric Byler wowed audiences and critiques alike with his highly acclaimed film, CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES (2003). The then first time writer/director was subsequently nominated for the 2003 Independent Spirit Award.
SDAFF writer Diana Lin met up with Eric Byler after the University of Southern California’s Wide Eyed Film screening of CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES.
DIANA LIN: Where do you see Asian American films going? In terms of raising the profile of Asian Americans?
ERIC BYLER: I think more importantly, the movie is going to be seen by Asian American artists as a new direction to go. And I think it gives them a fighting chance in the, you know, next five, ten years, where filmmakers who are just finding their artistic style. Those filmmakers, I think, will have another alternative.
You know, if BETTER LUCK TOMORROW can be made and can be successful, and if ROBOT STORIES and CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES can be made and be successful, then so can anything in between, because we have different points on the map now, we’re not making the JOY LUCK CLUB again and again and again. There are so many different points; more possibilities will result in more variety of films, and we’ll have a better chance of breaking through.
LIN: Have you noticed more Asian American actors or directors coming out, with more confident material?
BYLER: Yes, I think that’s the trend. I don’t know if there’re more actors but, directors. I mean, we might see more actors in five years, though, because of these movies.
LIN: So who are some directors we should be keeping our eyes out for, other than you?
BYLER: Grace Lee, Georgia Lee, look out for a movie called FLAVORS, a South Asian movie.
LIN: How do you feel about aspiring filmmakers looking up to you as someone to follow?
BYLER: That’s cool, that’s good. I mean, I don’t know if I would necessarily just follow me, but follow my approach, which is to follow my heart, and tell stories that come from deep inside, then I hope people can follow that.
LIN: I understand that independent films are usually much more personal than big-budget films. Are you going to go into bigger companies and develop bigger movie projects?
BYLER: Yeah, I am doing that. But there’s a reason why the film are more personal, and it’s because they’re usually authored by one person, whereas studio films are made by committee, and it’s very hard to make a personal film by committee.
LIN: Could you tell me what you’re doing with AMERICAN KNEES?
BYLER: I’ve taken the novel (by Shawn Wong called American Knees, about the love relationship between divorced Chinese-American Raymond Ding and Japanese Irish Aurora Crane) and put a focus on the more romantic drama as opposed to romantic comedy. I’ve really toned down some of the political diatribes and made it just a story about people trying to get by.
It’s a love story, and I’ve sort of taken the Woody Allen out of it and put in some Milan Kundera.
LIN: Have you spoken to Shawn Wong?
BYLER: Yeah, he said that he liked it, that he thinks I’m a good writer, but he wanted me to put some of the jokes put back in. (laughs)
LIN: When is production going to start?
BYLER: We’ll probably start shooting in June or July, and you’ll be able to see it a year after that.
LIN: How big will the distribution be?
BYLER: (laughs) You just make a movie and you hope, you know. I assume it will be at least as big as CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES, but beyond that, I don’t know.
Diana was a writer for the San Diego Asian Film Foundation (now known as Pacific Arts Movement).