IRIS PRIZE – ZERO ONE
Nick Neon made his directing debut in 2011 with the Korean horror movie Fear Eats the Seoul. Since then, he has written and directed a series of short films, and acted in films directed by others, including Lisa Donato’s The News Today, which was shortlisted for the Iris Prize in 2017. We talked to Nick about his latest film, Zero One, a follow up to his earlier short Ultra Bleu.
IRIS BLOGGER: Zero One works as a standalone film, but is also a sequel to your earlier short film Ultra Bleu, which was set in Seoul. Is Jim’s story autobiographical?
NICK NEON: Absolutely. Zero One is not as accurate as Ultra Bleu, as I’ve started to follow Jim on his own trajectory, but the themes and characters are still based on real relationships and moments from my own life. I look at Jimmy Park as a way to deconstruct my past through the lens of my present self. It’s an opportunity to make the past better, or at the very least something more introspective.
IB: Were there any major differences between shooting in Seoul and New York?
NN: Shooting in Seoul was a dream because we didn’t have to worry about permits but were able to shoot pretty much anywhere we wanted. Everything from equipment to catering costs were also much lower than in the States. However, it was easier to gain funding in the States with Zero One, mostly due to the lack of a language barrier and the ability to network. I’m sure Korea has tons of funding options I just wasn’t privy to them while living overseas. I was too busy consuming soju, BBQ and K-Pop!
IB: You previously directed the feature film Fear Eats the Seoul (the title of which deserves the Nobel Prize for Puns). Do you see Jim’s story becoming a feature, or would you maybe follow Zero One with further shorts?
NN: Ultra Bleu and Zero One are part of what I’m now calling The Jimmy Park Saga. For each decade of Jim’s life, I want to make a trilogy of films. So this is the middle film in a trilogy following his 20s. Electric Mars is up next and will be the first feature film to follow Jimmy Park. We’ll be back in Seoul three years after the events of Zero One. We’ll get to see Jim as a working artist, fall in love, fall apart and finally come of age. I’m deeply interested in exploring what happens when you begin to get all the things you’ve always wanted but you still feel a void. Electric Mars will be a lesson in recognizing that the best part of life is the journey in between destinations.
IB: There are moments in Zero One that feel very spontaneous, almost fly-on-the-wall. Do you use improvisation at all? How closely did you stick to your own script?
NN: Improvisation is a huge part of my rehearsal process which then gets filtered back into the final shooting script. However, I am not very precious with my words so if anyone has suggestions on set, I usually run with that too. I enjoy this particular process because it’s fluid and allows for everyone to be their more natural self when performing. In my experience, some really great lines of dialogue just can’t be written until you’re all on set and vibing with one another.
IB: JJ Mattise is exceptional as Sally. Was the part written with her in mind, or did she audition and just own it?
NN: I love JJ! She’s a good friend and I always had her in mind. Sally is based on all us Queens kids who grew up in NYC and don’t give a fuck. We’re street smart, intelligent and unfiltered. So I wrote the role with her in mind, but she also brought a lot of her own flavor to the role and I think she really steals the show. We just had two back to back screenings in Austin last week for our world premiere and the crowd went wild for Sally and the dinner scene in particular. When we were shooting that scene, I couldn’t stop laughing after each take and some of that is still in the final sound mix if listen closely.
IB: You were in a film (The News Today) that was shortlisted for the Iris Prize in 2017, and its writer-director (Lisa Donato) is on the shortlist again with There You Are. I’ve asked her this question, so I’ll ask you too. Can we expect friendly rivalry between the two of you, or a Davis/Crawford level grudge match?
NN: Lisa wins either way! She’s Joan and Betty. She executive produced Zero One so even if I were to win, she’d still own my ass. On a serious note, she is incredible and I am a better artist having met her back at Outfest 2016. I loved being a part of The News Today and I love There You Are so much. She’s as special as they come and if there is any rivalry between us, it’s about who is better at supporting and uplifting the other.