Having just wrapped up shooting his latest film "All Men Are Thieves" in San Francisco, writer-director Henry J. Kim generously took time to answer a few questions about his filmmaking influences, shooting in the City, utilizing crowdfunding and more...
Tell us what inspired you to become a filmmaker.
Originally when I was a kid the first thing that I ever wanted to be was a comic book artist. But my father, who was an architect and general contractor came home one day with boxes and boxes of VHS tapes, probably over 500. One of his client’s that couldn’t pay him for a job paid in movies. And when I was a kid I wasn’t allowed to watch too much TV, but for some reason my parents had no problem with me coming home after school and watching movie after movie. For several months I plowed through multiple movies every day, and somehow by the end of it, I realized that more than just drawing pictures, I wanted to tell stories and move people. And that is how I became a filmmaker.
Who are some directors and films that have influenced your work?
The main directors who’ve influenced my work are: Robert Rodriguez, for teaching me I can shoot anything I want on any budget, Quentin Tarantino for teaching me I can write anything I want, and Wong Kar Wai for teaching me that it’s okay to take my time and be artistic with my vision. Other directors I look up to are Scorsese, Kubrick, Takeshi Miike, Jean Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Melville, and one of my best friends Danny Machines, who is a director to look for in the future, and who is the one I credit for teaching me to be particular and have artistic integrity about my work.
How did you come up with the idea for All Men Are Thieves?
All Men Are Thieves is a film that, while set in a world of crime/drama, was really my way of exploring aspects of my personal life that mean a lot to me, which is my childhood, my friends/brothers, and my family. Originally when I started the project I just wanted to continue my study of the crime/drama genre, and somehow I wasn’t happy with my first draft, and I realized it was because it was simply rehashing familiar genre tropes. I decided to go back into the script, start from scratch and make it as personal as possible while still keeping in mind the “rules” of the genre. What came out of it is what I hope to be an original take and a fresh look at the city of San Francisco on film, because I also consciously tried to make it another character in the film, much like Spike Lee or Woody Allen are known for using New York as a character.
Tell us about your casting choices for All Men Are Thieves.
Lanny Joon is an actor that I’ve been meaning to work with for over three years now. We’ve talked over several projects but this is the one that I specifically wrote for him because he embodies so many characteristics that I look for in an actor.. he’s hard working, takes his craft seriously, he’s talented, and also comes from a very similar family background so he totally understood and appreciated the elements of focus that I put into my film. Plus he’s not a bitch and I always can tell when an actor on film is not really as tough as they make themselves to be, and in the end he was the only actor in the world that I felt could portray the balance of toughness and tender uncertainty that I was looking for in the character of Rich.
Frederick Szkoda is one of my best mates, and this is our fourth film together. We first worked together on a film that I buried because I hated it, but his performance was solid and most importantly he totally kept up with my crazy working conditions. For one week straight we shot 18, 20 hour days, he slept on the floor the whole time, didn’t even have time to shower.. and he never complained once. Even though I never released the film I knew I’d be working with him over and over, because he’s been one of the most dedicated people I know. And I don’t care what people think, I’ll be working with him on as many projects as I can until the day I die.
Brandon Hanson is an actor that was brought to me by Mike Kaney, Ward Sorrick, and the Rockbridge / Electrum team and came highly touted. We met in LA and talked for a while and I really liked his style and our ideas of what makes for good filmmaking really gelled and I knew some day we’d be working together. This was our first film together and he really brought it, taking a character on page and bringing it to life in a way I never imagined, so I was quite honored to have him on set and I know I’ll be working with him again in the future as well.
Levy Tran is someone who I wanted to give a chance because I felt she would portray the character I had in mind the right way. She’s gotten a lot of flack for the Asian Girlz music video she was in, but after talking with her I knew she acknowledged her mistake and wanted to move forward in a positive way. I decided to stick with my guns and keep her in the role of Violet, a strong female character in a world where all men are thieves. She played her part perfectly and my choice was totally validated. She was professional, prepared, and did a great job playing a role that blows away any Asian girl stereotypes in film so really people don’t have a reason to complain anymore. So to everyone who for some reason want to continue to condemn her.. kiss my ass. Seriously. And for anyone that works with me, if you’re a good person with a good heart, even if you make mistakes in life, know that I will stand up for you and give the world the middle finger on your behalf. Unless you do something crazy like murder someone in real life. But on film? Game on.
Tell us about filming in SF. What kind of challenges do you face? How do you choose your locations?
Filming in SF is a dream. Everyone is so friggin’ cool we (knock on wood) get away with so many things that we never ever would be able to in a million years if we were shooting in LA. The magic of moviemaking is still in full effect, nobody is jaded, and so people here are genuinely interested in learning about your project and supporting the film if they believe in you for nothing other than a sense of community and good will. It’s amazing and I love it. As Lanny told me, in LA a film like this would never in a millions years be able to get made, and yet it was totally possible because of all the amazing people and sense of community the Bay Area has.
Because I shoot guerilla style, I choose my locations based on a few factors like how easy it is for us to take over the spot and not get kicked out, as well as how the place looks on screen. I am actually very picky about my locations as I feel that is one of the crucial elements in creating believable movie worlds. I try to avoid the stereotypical “San Fran” spots that any Hollywood production might select, instead opting for places that only locals might know about. In the end San Francisco is one of the best places to shoot in the world because you can walk three blocks, turn a corner, and you’re in a whole different world. It has so much personality I could spend a lifetime exploring and discovering new things.
Tell us about crowdfunding and how it has helped you to make this project.
Crowdfunding is great. It’s the future. It’s here and we’re right at the beginning. A lot of celebrities and people who don’t technically need it seem to be catching on, and there is a backlash from that. I expect it to go the way of Sundance, which is a festival that started out as an indie-filmmakers’ place to show their work but was obviously run over by Hollywood and I see crowdfunding moving in that direction.
Eventually studios with hundreds of millions of dollars at their disposal are going to figure out how to get us to pay for their films as well, but that doesn’t bother me because in the end it will become a situation where the story and passion behind the project will become more and more important to get support. I love crowdfunding because I find filmmaking to be the most variably collaborative art form, and crowdfunding finally allows the audience to be a part of the process from day one, and that is a special thing.
I’ve been incredibly grateful for everyone who’s donated or shared the campaign because it gives me a sense of hope that I can build a career outside of the studio system, which means more freedom of expression and I will continue to do all I can to honor that and deliver kick ass movies with great production value on low budgets that can rival any studio film.
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