Interview with Kat Moon: the Writer and Director of “Yellow Fever” – A new independent feature film starring Jenna Ushkowitz (Glee) and Scott Patterson (Gimore Girls).
About the film: Asia Bradford (Ushkowitz) was adopted from Korea by white people, so she doesn’t speak Korean. She apparently doesn’t speak New York either, because everyone seems to think she’s from somewhere else. “Stop asking me where I’m from! I get it .. I’m Yellow!” she angrily writes on her blog. It’s bad enough that everyone in New York seems to think she’s not American, but to top it all off, her “culturally sensitive,” whitebread parents decided to dress up in Korean hanboks for the annual Christmas card this year! Seriously. So, where does she actually fit in if she feels like she doesn’t belong in her family, New York or even her so-called “motherland?” Her salvation comes in an odd package – an “old ugly white dude,” (Patterson) who’s just moved back to New York after living in Korea for over a decade.
“Yellow Fever” has been nominated for 6 awards with 2 wins.
JP: You wrote and directed this film. Both were spot on. Some of the lines were comedic perfection.. like “I think I speak for all us Asian chicks when I say the ‘I love Asian women’ line is offensive. If you’re looking for a cultural experience, go travel.” Or when told that her grades are impeccable, she responds “That’s because I’m Asian. It’s genetic.” Did you have help writing this film? Or directing? And did you start as a writer or director?
Kat Moon: As a Korean-American growing up in NY, in many ways, I’ve been writing this film my whole life. I actually have two Masters, one in Directing from the London Film School, and one in Scriptwriting from the University of Westminster. Though the latter degree came a few years later, I did always write the scripts I directed, so I suppose, in my case, they came hand in hand.
JP: What originally inspired you to do Yellow Fever?
Kat: I had the script for many years. We had been producing other people’s films and projects for a while at our company, Wham Bam Productions, and when we found we had some time to produce our own film, we jumped in head on. The timing was also right. Mixed with the charged political climate caused by our current Tweeter in Chief and the push for Hollywood to demand equality with females, we thought, “Why not make a film with an Asian-American female writer/director, starring an Asian-American female lead?”
Further, I wanted to tell a commercial story about an American girl, not a hyphenated girl (i.e. Korean-American or Asian-American), as that is still something that is severely lacking.
JP: Can you tell me the most challenging part of the process in making this movie?
Kat: Indie films are always challenging! On some days, I really felt like Sisyphus. But if I had to narrow it down to one thing, I’d say it was the schedule. We shot the whole film in 18 days over three weeks, not because we wanted to, but because we had no more funds to shoot any longer. What we got in the can was it; no money for reshoots, the actors had other projects, this was it! There were obviously some sacrifices made with the time constraint. We had to limit the amount of setups and shots. We had virtually no rehearsal time. I didn’t know what sleep was! Film shoots are the real deal! You really have to love it!
JP: What was the most rewarding part of the process?
Kat: This is a bit of cheese, but in all seriousness, the most rewarding part of the process is having the chance to have your script made into a film. So many scripts don’t get this opportunity.
JP: Was this more about coming to terms with racial biases and constantly being labeled?
Or more about the process of any teenager’s journey coming to terms with themselves?
Or, am I entirely off and it’s ultimately about neither? :)
Kat: I think it’s both. It’s the feverish way people need to label people and put them in boxes.
Why can’t I just be American? Why must I always be Korean-American or some varietal of Yellow-American? It’s exhausting … too many syllables!
And yes, I also wanted to tell a story about an American teen. I’m sure most people noticed that she’s yellow (shocker!), but at the core, it’s really just about a teen trying to find her place in the world. Telling a universal story in a package that hasn’t been seen in the mainstream films out there is an uphill battle to say the least, but in this day and age, it really needs to be out there, because it is the mainstream. Just because it’s not readily out there yet, doesn’t mean it’s niche.
JP: The casting was great, and Jenna Ushkowtiz was the perfect ironic angry teenager for this role. Did you have her in mind for this ahead of time, or did you find her from casting?
Kat: It’s a Korean pride thing. We keep tabs. So yes, I knew about Jenna, but to be honest, I thought it was a longshot, given the fact that I was an unknown writer/director and it was my first feature! But the stories they say are true. If the script is solid, people will want to work on it. And that’s actually what happened. Our casting director sent the script out to Jenna’s team, and she loved it! It turned out that Jenna was also a Korean Adoptee and could relate to the character of Asia Bradford, which was an added bonus. She was actually the first person we cast. The one stipulation was that she needed to meet me in person to make sure I wasn’t some weirdo, and I guess I passed the test! (Barely!)
JP: When and where can people see this? Do you even know exactly yet?
Kat: The film is being independently released through an on-demand platform called Tugg. People can “host a screening” in their respective cities and earn 5% of ticket sales. We also have a few screenings coming up in Boston and Minneapolis, and soon in San Francisco and Houston. Indie comedies with an Asian lead and a mainstream storyline is something that’s hard to categorize and box in, so we are approaching distribution in a more grassroots way. We’ve already managed to create a rather large fan base on social media and would really appreciate fans around the country helping us spread the word about the film.
In terms of a wider digital release, we are looking to release on VOD this summer.
JP: Thank you for the interview!! I really enjoyed it.
Below is more information to keep up with where you can find Yellow Fever.