NICK NEON, actor/director of short "Ultra Bleu" is currently working on its feature film version and hopes to premiere it at next OUTFEST ...
An interview by Oliver Carnay
One of the most popular programs at the yearly Outfest (Los Angeles’ largest and only LGBT Film Festival) is Boys Shorts (a collection of some of the best shorts with lgbt themes). Among the most popular ones include ULTRA BLUE where director Nick Neon also stars in the movie. Ultra Bleu follows Jim Park (Neon) for the first 24 hours after a violent break up with his ex-boyfriend and how a chance meeting with a stranger reveals deeper issues he must confront. It’s a coming-of-age story, which according to him is a little autobiographical. In person, Nick is very approachable and accommodating. He has that infectious smile that you’d like to talk to him for long. I caught up with him and got an insight about "Ultra Bleu," which is still currently doing its successful rounds in different film festivals. He is also in pre-production and ready to film the feature version .. please read on:
HOLLYWOODFLIP: Can you give me a little background how you started acting, directing and finally producing?
NN: My acting experience has been pretty limited but I did get to train with Spike Lee's sister, Joie, for a semester which was definitely my most rewarding and challenging acting experience. I also spent a few years performing improv while living in Korea. And in college, I studied screenwriting which led to directing my first feature, Fear Eats The Seoul. From there, I began to direct music videos for K-Indie artists while living in Seoul.
HOLLYWOODFLIP: What was your inspiration in making "Ultra Bleu"? Was it autobiographical? When did you start writing the script?
NN: Ultra Bleu was a project that I kept in the back of my mind. I wanted to tell a story about my experiences as a 20-something and lost gay youth living in the middle of Korea. The struggles and joy I felt as an immigrant in a foreign place. It wasn't until two years ago when I went through a really hard break up that I found the heart of the story. I was this lost kid in the world looking for love and my self. Last summer I began to write the first twenty minutes of Ultra Bleu which, ultimately, became the short film that screened at Outfest. We are now working on the feature version of Ultra Bleu.
HOLLYWOODFLIP: You are based in New York, but you shot this in Seoul, Korea, how did that happen?
NN: Well I was living in Seoul, on and off, for the last 8 years. Initially, as an English teacher and then as a film and music video director. Ultra Bleu came at the tail end of my stay in Korea.
HOLLYWOODFLIP: You cast non-professional actors in your film, isn't it risky to do that? How did you motivate them to get what you need?
NN: I think it's risky no matter who you work with. A professional actor could have a big ego or be trained to perform to the back of the room. And there are different risks to casting non-actors like not having enough self-confidence or not being able to take direction but I chose to trust the people I selected as many were friends of mine. A film set is just a group of relationships that must be managed well. If everyone feels comfortable and safe, it's amazing what people can bring to the table.
HOLLYWOODFLIP: Did any of the actors do improvisation in any scene or did they stick to the script?
NN: We did a lot of improvisation in the rehearsal phase which led to some rewrites in the script. On set, we stuck to the improv rewrites but whenever someone felt better about a different line or delivery I was always open to trying it out.
HOLLYWOODFLIP: What was your favorite moment in shooting the film? What was your least favorite part?
NN: My favorite part was performing. It was so nice after years of being behind the camera to finally step in front and spend most of my time working with the other cast members. I love acting. My least favorite part was having to spin in circles before every take for the opening scene to properly look drunk. Getting slapped 10 times wasn't fun either. But it looks great in the final film!
HOLLYWOODFLIP: What were the preparations you have to do before shooting and what were the greatest challenge you have encountered shooting the film?
NN: We're always fighting the clock. This film takes place from dusk till dawn over two days. It was difficult to shoot everything we needed for both nights before the sun started to rise. And we also had important scenes to shoot while the sun was rising. That was the biggest challenge. We didn't quite get it in production and had to do a little repair in post with color grading to help match shots. The most important thing I was preparing before the shoot was that the cast knew what I wanted from each scene because on set I was joining them as an actor and didn't want to be much of a director.
HOLLYWOODFLIP: Do you believe in destiny? What do you want your audience to take with them after seeing this film?
NN: I believe destiny is something you earn. We're all born with great potential but it is up to us to discover and fulfill that potential. I want people to walk away with a stronger sense of self direction. Most of us spend so much time being lost somewhere in between lives. I would love for those who watch my film to reflect on their own lives and question if they're on their right path.
HOLLYWOODFLIP: What were the film festivals "Ultra Bleu" had already been screened and what other film festivals is it going to? How was the reaction of the people who have seen the film? Did your family already saw it? What was their reaction?
NN: Ultra Bleu has screened at Sene Fest, Toronto Inside Out, Korea Queer Film Festival and Outfest. We will screen next at the North Carolina Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in August and at the North Louisiana Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in September. We will screen in NYC in October, but I can't reveal what festival yet. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. I am very grateful for the genuine support audiences have provided for the film thus far. My family hasn't seen it yet. I was waiting for a NYC screening to have them see it on a real screen. I don't know what their reaction will be, ironically, the film shows a part of myself my family has hardly seen. I'm most curious what my mother's reaction will be... so we'll see come October.
HOLLYWOODFLIP: I believe this is your first time at Outfest. Besides having the opportunity to show your film at the longest and biggest LGBT film festival in L.A. what would be your greatest memorable moment so far?
NN: Yes, it was my first time. I can't express how incredible this experience has been for me. The most memorable part has been the incredible friendships that have been born here at this festival with other filmmakers who had their films screen here too. I even got a tattoo with two of them in honor of our fateful meetings.
(NICK NEON (far left) with other filmmakers and some of their cast members during BOY SHORTS screening at OUTFEST 2016.)
HOLLYWOODFLIP: Which do you enjoy most, acting or directing?
NN: I enjoy both very much. I have to say that my love for acting has been rekindled between Ultra Bleu and then acting in a new short film by fellow Outfest director Lisa Donato which we shot during the festival. But I also can't wait to get back to genre directing after Ultra Bleu. I have a trilogy of horror films that I want to tackle next.
HOLLYWOODFLIP: You mentioned you are preparing to start for the feature version of "Ultra Bleu," would you be getting a different cast and will you be hiring professional actors this time? Looking back to when you start writing the short script, and now you are working the feature version, what do you think you would have done differently?
NN: Yes, we are looking to begin shooting next spring into summer. I love the cast from the short, but we will be looking to cast some up and coming indie sweethearts to bring more clout to the project. We can't ignore the business side of filmmaking. I don't know if I would have done anything differently, we had managed to pull off a lot with very little. I would simply want more time and resources to better focus as an artist. Maybe less rushing. But that seems impossible on any set. You always want more time.
HOLLYWOODFLIP: Do you have a dream project?
NN: I do. I have this massive future-fantasy space epic I've been developing since I was 16. That's all I can really say about it for now. But it would be nice to have a popular film franchise headlined by multi-racial LGBT characters who also get to blow shit up and save the world from imminent evil.
HOLLYWOODFLIP: How do you see yourself ten years from now? Do you see yourself producing more gay-themed movies or any type of film genre?
NN: Ten years from now, I would like to be exploring the character of Jimmy Park at a later point in his life in a new Ultra Bleu film. I would also like to be working on more horror/sci-fi films that include LGBT characters. I don't think I can ever direct a film without an LGBT character somewhere in the story. It's just not true to my life. And genre filmmaking can also be a great way to tell these extraordinary stories that can be metaphors for the LGBT person and their struggle.
HOLLYWOODFLIP: Can you tell our readers what web sites or social media links they can follow you and your works?