Sometimes" is an intriguing film by director/writer Eric Byler.
The story centers around the concepts of loneliness and loyalty,
romance and betrayals. The film has been making the rounds at film
festivals and has attracted considerable attention through its story-telling
and production values. Recently, it received the "Special Jury
Award for Narrative Filmmaking" at the Florida Film Festival
and was reviewed
positively by Variety. AsianConnections caught up with writer/director
Eric Byler to get his insights about this innovative film about
the human experience.
Eric, the last time we met more than two years ago, you were
working on a film called Better than Sex. What became of
Another movie came out with the title Better Than Sex,
so we had to change it. I was never quite happy having the word
sex in the title, which isnít very subtle. Charlotte Sometimes
is a song by The Cure from the early 80ís. As it happens, the character
Jacqueline Kim plays in my film is named Charlotte, although like
the character in the song, she takes other names. When I first got
the idea, I went to Jacqueline with an old Cure CD and said, what
if we call the movie Charlotte Sometimes and you do a cover
of this song?
I'm always pleased
when audiences stay for the credits and listen to Jacqueline sing.
Robert Smith's poetic observations on loneliness and longing take
on a new light when itís Charlotte herself who sings them. I think
it's the same sense of isolation that drew a lot of Asian Americans
to alternative music like the Cure -- not so much in Hawai'i where
I was, but in parts of the country where there are less Asians around.
A lot of Asian Americans know the words to Charlotte Sometimes
and what it's all about.
I noticed that much of the time, the music was critical to conveying
a meaning or establishing a mood. Can you speak more about the role
music played in the film?
Michael Brook is an incredible composer. My collaboration with him
has been one of my most rewarding experiences as an artist. He watched
a rough cut of the film, and wrote 40 themes, only one of which
was intended for a particular scene. Michael suggested that I match
music to scenes myself, and edit them so they fit the picture. Michael
then took my re-edited versions, and crafted the finished cues.
He played all the instruments himself, except for the percussion.
I'm amazed when people say they like the film but didnít really
notice the music. I guess thatís a tribute to Michael and his ability
to weave music subtly and seamlessly into an understated cinematic
has four songs in the film. Cody voices some of the thoughts the
main character sometimes feels but would never say. Seven Year Bitch
also contributes an important song that gives voice to Charlotte's
inner rage. Cody and the lead singer of Seven Year Bitch, Selene
Vigil, are friends of my co-producer Brooke Dammkoehler.
I understand the film was originally shot digitally. Can you describe
the set-up and how going digital has been different from the traditional
way of making films?
Kim as "Charlotte"
Charlotte Sometimes is a character
driven film that relies heavily on the audience believing in the
characters' humanity. This may not be true of most films, but I
can honestly tell you that Charlotte Sometimes is a stronger
piece for having originated on DV. Because tape is so much cheaper
than film, I had room to experiment, make adjustments, and improvise
on set. This flexibility proved essential in designing layered performances,
and creating the "illusion of the first time." For instance, rather
than saying "action," I sometimes instructed the actors to begin
with an exercise we developed during rehearsal, and slide gradually
into scripted dialogue, only when they were ready. Amidst the noise
and bustle of low budget production, the actors knew they had time,
if they needed it, to forget the chaos, and believe the illusion,
before immersing themselves in a complex or difficult scene.
Related to the digital aspect, there was an amazing amount of difference
in quality when watching the screener on tape as opposed to the
35 mm version. Yet there was no "35 mm version" filmed
per se. Can you tell us more about the process used to convert from
DV to 35 mm?
There's a new technology, I think it's called the Ari Laser, that
allows DV to be blown up to film with very little loss of resolution.
Our DV master was bumped up to high definition, color timed, and
then blown up to 35 mm off of a high definition, D5 deck, which
is the highest grade deck available. I think Charlotte Sometimes
is the first film to use both the Ari laser and the D5 deck in conjunction.
Alpha Cine Labs in Seattle could tell you more about that. Contact
Jannat Gargi at email@example.com.
What motivates you as a filmmaker? What do you try to achieve in
telling a story through film?
My motivation as a storyteller stems from a desire to let other
people into my world. I guess I want others to visit from time to
time so I don't feel alone. Film is my medium of choice because
film comes closest to replicating human consciousness. Film can
employ instantly juxtaposed images, as well as music and sound,
to communicate, not just information, but experience. Film has the
potential to share a subjective point of view -- as unique and as
personal as dreams or memories -- with millions of people.
Idemoto and Eugenia Yuan, Charlotte Sometimes
How did you find the actors for Charlotte Sometimes?
Was it particularly difficult to cast each of the roles?
Four were easy, two were hard. I wrote the title role for Jacqueline
Kim. And I offered supporting roles to Shizuko Hoshi based on her
work in other films, and to Kimberly-Rose having worked with her
back in Hawai'i. I knew I wanted Matt Westmore as "Justin" after
the first round of auditions. In the second round, I focused on
a dozen, very strong candidates for "Michael" and "Lori." Eugenia
Yuan and Jae Suh were neck and neck for the role of "Lori." "Michael"
was more difficult for me to narrow down. Burt Bulos had caught
my eye, and sort of changed the way I envisioned the character,
but his agent called to say he was no longer interested. So I decided
to ask two actors who chose not to audition to enter late in the
game. One was Jeff Liu, my friend and writing partner, who had played
the role during the development stage.
The other was
Michael Idemoto, who I'd seen in "Sunsets" (which he also directed)
and in the short film "Breezes" directed by Justin Lin. Meanwhile,
Burt told me his agent had made that call without his knowledge,
so Burt came to final callbacks as well. The other invitees to final
callbacks were D.W. Sweet and Michael Lee. Jacqueline flew in from
New York to read with her five potential love interests, and her
two potential opposite-rivals Eugenia and Jae. Eugenia edged Jae
out for the part of Lori, and I had to make a very difficult choice
in casting Michael Idemoto over Jeff, who had delivered a powerful
interpretation of a character he helped create.
Writer/Director Eric Byler (right) moments
after winning the "Special Jury Award for Narrative Filmmaking"
at the Florida Film Festival for Charlotte Sometimes. Actress
Amy Ngyuen (left) shares the moment with Eric.
Can you comment on the camerawork in the movie?
Rob Humphreys is amazing. He totally believed in my vision, and
even reminded me of it if I started to stray. In storyboarding and
composing shots, we tried to create distance, and allow room for
a sense of truth, or realism. Instead of close-ups lingering in
the eye-line (line of sight) of the actors, we're giving you long
lens shots through veils or through windows, or with foreground
objects creating a frame within the frame. My aim was to give you
the impression that these events happened only once, and the camera
could only see what it could see.
Also, I guess
subconsciously, you might feel like the camera is placed in such
a way that the subjects might not be aware of its presence. I knew
it wsas a risk not to give you that privileged point of view youíre
used to. But my theory was, if you consequently believe that these
people youíre watching are not actors but real people, youíll start
to implement the same powers of observation and intuition you use
to decode people in real life.
me to get by without expositional dialogue, which I really, really
hate. I find that in real life, people rarely explain their deepest
fears and hidden desires in the words they say, in fact, itís quite
the opposite. So, in Charlotte Sometimes, we use dialogue
not to show but to hide. We do our showing in the visuals.
The film has been making its round at various film festivals now
and gaining a lot of press. Ben Fong-Torres had a lot of positive
things to say about it in his last column on AsianConnections. What's
the response to your film been like, and where can people see it
in the coming months?
Iíve just learned that the film was accepted at the Hawai'i International
Film Festival, November 1st thru 10th. We have some other tempting
invitations, but we also want to limit the film's exposure, so we're
weighing our options.
As for the response,
well, our reviews are very strong. Asian and non-Asian viewers seem
to enjoy the film equally. At South by Southwest, where we won the
audience award, there were only 6 Asian people who saw it.
What are some current and upcoming projects?
I was hired to adapt Shawn Wong's novel American Knees to
the big screen for Starz, who recently produced Tortilla Soup
along with Samuel Goldwyn. American Knees is also a character
driven Asian American drama, but Iíll have to win the job as director
before I can say much more about it. I'm also raising money for
"Kealoha: The Loved One," a coming of age story I wrote thatís set
in Hawai'i. Iím also working on my first mainstream (no Asian people)
script, inspired by a novel by Prof. Howard Bernstein.
Do you have any words of advice for aspiring filmmakers, particularly
in the Asian American community?
Writers always tell other writers: write what you know. It's true
of filmmaking too, but for the Asian American filmmaker, I'd like
to add one thing: You know more about life than just being Asian.
Our stories, yes, even the personal ones, are worth telling. Other
filmmakers have earned the right to make art without an ethnic agenda.
So can we. Just tell the truth, even if it hurts you, especially
if it hurts you, tell the truth.
Sometimes can be seen at the Washington D.C. Asian Fest and the
San Diego Asian Fest. For more information, visit the official Charlotte