Two adult men in their underwear, one laying in a giantic blue beach chair labeled "ICE PALACE" in rainbow lettering, the other standing with arms folded and looking down at his friend while other party-goers in underwear and swimwear mingle behind them; still from "Fire Island"
ManOfTheCenturyMovie Awards How Joel Kim Booster “got away with” starting ‘Fire Island’.

How Joel Kim Booster “got away with” starting ‘Fire Island’.

Two adult men in their underwear, one laying in a giantic blue beach chair labeled "ICE PALACE" in rainbow lettering, the other standing with arms folded and looking down at his friend while other party-goers in underwear and swimwear mingle behind them; still from "Fire Island"

Editor’s note: This interview took place before the Writers Guild of America strike began on May 2.

Welcome toIt’s a hit! In this series, IndieWire talks to the creators and showrunners behind some of our favorite TV shows about the moment they realized their show was getting big.

While preparing for the premiere of ‘Fire Island’ on Hulu, writer and star Joel Kim Booster geared up for a deluge of #talk.

He knew critical audience feedback for well-meaning queer media of the past (like “Looking,” a show Booster enjoyed at the time but has been closely scrutinized since it wrapped in 2015), and he was fully prepared for “Fire Island.” “. to generate the same polarizing response.

“Listen, I think I got away with murder a little bit in terms of the discourse on this movie,” Booster told IndieWire. “Gay men are especially critical of a media outlet that represents us because we are so hungry for it. There aren’t many shows or movies that are about us, so when we catch one, we look at it very closely and try to find all the ways it represents us and doesn’t represent us and represents our specific experience.

While “Fire Island” has not entirely escaped outlandish criticism (note prompted Alison Bechdel to step in and modify its namesake test metric), the adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” that focused on gay Asian men received rave reviews. IndieWire’s Jude Dry called it “A guaranteed instant classic” that is “beautifully intersectional, subtly political, and damned funny.” On May 13, the film won a GLAAD Media Award for Best Picture (alongside “Anything’s Possible”), with Booster picking up the award for his screenwriting debut film.

“AI doesn’t have the trauma or joy or lived experience to create any of these stories that we’re honoring tonight,” Booster said. in his speech, noting his support for the Writers Guild of America strike. “AI certainly couldn’t have written the line ‘If you take a edible with half of an Adderall it’s kind of like Molly.’ You have to live that life.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

IndieWire: When you were originally developing and pitching Fire Island, what were some of the changes or feedback you received? People in Hollywood love having opinions about why something doesn’t work, and many times they’re wrong, especially when it’s a minority story.

Joel Kim Boosters: There were (there were) a lot of notes throughout the project, honestly, asking me to explain some of the jokes and references in the film a little bit more. Specifically, I think I made a tactical error by including the voice-over narration, because that gave the studio a lot of opportunities to tell me, “Well, explain that in the narration” or, “Explain this reference or this joke,” and I was really adamant about making sure that it didn’t feel like a movie for straight people.

I think people are very sensitive to this when they watch movies about other people’s experiences. I know I feel this way when I watch shows like – “Insecure”, for example… I didn’t understand every reference in every joke, but I felt the authenticity through that and it was a more enjoyable viewing experience for it. I really wanted to replicate that kind of experience in my film.

Were there particular things you perhaps remember striving for or a note you pushed back on?

A lot of drug stuff got very heavily noticed. They definitely wanted to retire some and I lost some of those battles, and they also wanted more descriptions of what it was all about and how it worked. George W. Bush’s line (which Booster as Noah says out loud after thinking “Mission accomplished” in his voiceover) is a line I’m convinced only about 15% of the audience liked or enjoyed, and it’s one of my favorites because Esso AND the experience for me of being on ketamine. The studio definitely didn’t get it that much, and I’m not even sure it tested very well when we saw it with test audiences, but for me, it was an experience that I had and wanted to emulate on film. I’ll be frank: There is more storytelling in the film than originally anticipated due to the need to compromise on the amount of explaining that needed to happen.

I guess as a comedian you’ve had to deal with this at times: do you want everyone in the room to laugh a little, or one person who likes to snort?

Yes, that’s my big thing. I’m much more interested in writing something specific — hyper specific and a little left of center — that maybe affects fewer people than something super broad. There’s definitely broad comedy in the film, there’s falls, there’s all kinds of silliness that happens – but for me, it’s those little moments that somehow pass people by, that happen fast enough that you really have to be put in. in the movie to really grab and grab and grab. These are the moments that are most rewarding to me as a writer and as a creator.

A group of men in summer vacation attire and a woman in a light floral cover-up sit at a table, looking worried;  still from "Fire Island"
Bowen Yang, Tom Matos, Joel Kim Booster, Matt Rogers, Torian Miller and Margaret Cho in “Fire Island”Jeong Park/Searchlight/Hulu

I read that this was originally developed as a series for Quibi.

When I wrote it as a series, quote, not quote, for Quibi, it was always written as a movie that was just split into 10 parts. When Quibi closed and Searchlight bought the script, I actually didn’t make many changes from its Quibi version to the Searchlight version. Basically I just eliminated the chapter breaks and smoothed out the structure a bit, but overall the movie stayed pretty much the same from Quibi to Searchlight.

I would have thought it would have been different. So even in Quibi stages, maybe you wished it was just a feature?

Here’s the thing: Quibi wasn’t my first choice of home for this one, but it was also the only place interested in a movie like this at the time. I was grateful that this company was interested in developing it with me, and the big advantage with Quibi was[that]after two years, all rights belong to you, so I could get it back and cut it as a film and sell it elsewhere. This has always been kind of the goal.

There was a moment during production where you or maybe your director (Andrew Ahn) were looking around and we were like, “Damn, do we have anything special?

This was such a special experience for me because I got to do this with so many of my closest friends and people who eventually became very close friends. We were a very tight group and so there were a lot of moments, especially when we got to the island to actually shoot. We only shot on Fire Island for about the last couple of weeks of production, and those moments — I mean, like dancing on the pier at the end of the movie, when we were able to shoot those scenes — it wasn’t acting. We were really able to celebrate while we were doing it and…we were able to bring that energy into that scene. The first moment we were rehearsing the karaoke scene from “Sometimes”, and Matt (Rogers) and Tomás (Matos) didn’t tell us that they had come up with a choreography to do while singing for Bowen (Yang), and so it was a complete surprise for us. I remember seeing it for the first time and thinking, “This is preposterous and ridiculous and so funny – and if it works, then it’s going to be one of the most iconic scenes in the movie.” And if it doesn’t work, then the whole movie doesn’t work, because that’s the kind of atmosphere the whole movie is this kind of level of ridiculousness mixed with seriousness. If we can pull it off, then the movie will be successful, otherwise we’re screwed.

In April 2022, you tweeted that the “Fire Island” speech was going to kill you. Can you tell me more about it?

I really wanted to make a film that was about my experience without trying to represent everyone’s experience in the community. For me, the discourse was frustrating when it came to “Well, that doesn’t represent me because XYZ,” when that was never really the goal.

I preemptively tweeted this as a kind of joke. It didn’t happen to me or my film, and the jury is still out, maybe it will. Maybe in five years people will revisit it and who knows how it will age. But I was really, really happy with the response from the gay community to my film, and I appreciated that. In terms of knowing when it was a hit, a big moment for me was going to Fire Island after the premiere. I was nervous; I was nervous about being in that environment with a group of gay men who loved Fire Island as much as I did – the place – and figuring out what their reaction to this film would be. Going there was kind of like being Mickey and Disneyland for a week and having people comfortable enough to come up to me and tell me they loved the movie, especially gay men who are notoriously not very outgoing when it comes to other people’s work. gay men, I think. It really felt like, “Oh, wow, like we did it. We’ve made something really great that people like.

Paraphrasing a famous musical: how do you measure success?

It’s really tough. I’m not aware of the streaming numbers. Hulu does not share this information with me. I know people have been watching it, I know they’re very happy with its performance, so based on those metrics I guess you could call it a success. But for me, the successful look is still not something I’ve fully come to terms with. It’s really hard for me to even say — I would never say that to someone else, like, “Oh, my movie was a hit.” I guess moments like these really are the validation that comes with that. This is a really difficult question and I don’t feel qualified to answer it.

“Fire Island” is now streaming on Hulu.

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