Sook-Yin Lee Says Yes

Sook-Yin Lee wrote and directed a movie called, Year of the Carnivore. I’m not sure when it’ll be in theaters. Soon, I hope.

She also hosts a radio show for the CBC called Definitely Not the Opera, makes music when she can, starred in John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus, and used to be a VJ on MuchMusic.

You get the idea.

You had to drum up the financing for your movie by yourself. Is there any way that the business end of making a movie feels like a creative endeavor? I can’t even pretend to know the business peoples’ areas of expertise, but the challenge for me is: “How am I going to articulate to them the elements of the film that I feel should be the ones to represent it publicly?” Things like, who cuts the trailer and designs the posters. The business people aren’t necessarily going to have the best ideas for those kinds of things. Actually, there are a lot of examples of posters that they came up with that I had to nix. I ended up presenting ideas to them that they liked. I tried to direct the way my movie is presented as much as possible.

Did you feel like you were taken seriously by the business people? I think so. But it’s funny, there is a perceived notion that the business people don’t want to try and deal with the creative people directly. The producer is the liason. I made the mistake of emailing people directly and my producer was like, “They don’t want to talk to you!” I didn’t understand why not. But I guess the idea is that sometimes what they have to say might piss you off and for the sake of maintaining a good relationship with the artist, they’d rather have a middleman.

Is it hard to accomplish the artistic goals you set out to achieve with a film at the same as staying open to other people’s input? I imagine you want to be somewhere between democratic and dictatorial. I wanted to maintain a sort of creative purity but also impose almost a military structure at the same time. I was pretty diligent about trying to get people to fully understand my ideas for various aspects of the film. I’d make files, almost like dossiers, that I’d pass out. They’d have lists of music I was listening to at the time when I was thinking about a character; photos of strangers who had hair I liked that I thought would be good for the character; clips from films I liked. I’d give these style guides to the key creative people who were working with me. I think they appreciated the direction. But I broke rules all the time. I’d be dragging furniture all over the set and people would be like, “Why is the director touching the props?” Because to them it meant that the propmaster wasn’t doing his job. But I was just trying to guide everything.

Do you come from a creative family? My parents lived through revolution and war and death in China. So that I think breeds some creativity. My dad is also a really great storyteller and loves acting. There was a point in his life where his sisters said that he couldn’t consider acting as a career and had to go into engineering. My mom’s creative too, but she never got a formal chance to express herself. She used to make these wood sculptures. She was an explosive person. I don’t think I would be driven to make art if not for having a sort of tumultuous childhood.

What was the last creative thing you did? I’m wrestling with it right now. Sometimes the creative process is pure pleasure and sometimes it makes me want to like, kill. I think my obsessive compulsive tendencies solely manifest themselves when I make art. The other night I was stumped by technology. I couldn’t get the computer to work correctly. I have this gorgeous handmade blue scarf and I took that — I was so angry at this machine — and I just wanted to strangle myself. I stopped squeezing when I could feel my pulse in my temples. I was writing a pivotal scene in the next movie I’m working on. It was an argument between a dead ghost father and the live daughter. It’s key. I’m sitting there re-enacting the screaming, the arguing, trying to come up with dialogue. It’s so easy to make arguments sound histrionic and stupid. I threw my computer against the wall. I felt like the shittiest screenwriter ever. Usually it’s more fun than that.


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