Where did the title YES, AND… come from? What does it mean?
The concept of “yes, and…” comes from improvisational comedy, which helps improv actors move a scene forward by affirming and elaborating on what each actor in the scene is doing or saying in the present moment. In essence, it means to actively acknowledge and follow through on what is in front of you rather than to deny it or to anticipate what should or shouldn’t happen. And that’s the journey that the main character JUJU DING takes throughout the story, which is learning to fully embrace what he already has, rather than being preoccupied with what he hopes to have.
What inspired you to make this film? How much of it autobiographical?
A few years ago, I was at a point in my own life where I hit a wall. Most of my twenties was like a blank canvas – no matter the catch, the chase was enough to keep my happy. I fell in love with the future, so to speak, in perpetual hope.
But dreams don’t often come true in reality, in spite of all the cliches. Or if they do, they aren’t what we had imagined, whatever those “dreams” are – that one coveted job, that one person to fall in love with, or that perfect lifestyle we had envisioned for ourselves. The thrill of the chase was gone when the catch was more often than not elusive or underwhelming. And that sense of disappointment is certainly something that I have experienced personally.
So I knew going in that I wanted to make a deeply personal film as I was trying to make sense of what I was grappling with. While the inspiration behind the early drafts was certainly rooted in how I felt, I took a lot of creative license with the scenes (condensing moments, dramatizing the stakes in ways that never actually happened, and so forth). Basically the characters are all based on aspects of myself as well as real people in my own life, but placed into fictionalized circumstances. However, to make sure the writing process remained deeply personal, I named the main character ALEX as a placeholder, even as the story structure, scenes and so forth were revised over multiple drafts. It was only when we started casting that I changed the character’s name in the late drafts of the script to JUJU DING.
In the end, while it’s not an autobiography, it is still deeply personal in ways that an accurate reenactment of my life cannot be, because real life is often not as robust or poignant without having to take a lot of creative license in the first place.
This is a film whose primary characters are Asian-American. Was it a conscious choice to avoid cultural identity issues as the film’s primary theme?
In a word, yes. Not necessarily because I have nothing to say about Asian-American identity or the challenges we face and so forth – but that it’s not what this story is about or why I wrote it, plain and simple.
YES, AND… is a coming-of-age love story, where the character’s cultural backgrounds certainly gives them a certain color, context and specificity just like any other trait or characteristic one would write for any other character. It’s embedded in their sensibilities, cultural references and tastes without the story having to become a soapbox for social identity themes. Same goes with JUJU and PENELOPE suffering from depression – it informs who they are and how they interact with the world as individuals, without the film becoming a “comedy about depression” so to speak.
In the end, hopefully if the characters are well drawn and multi-dimensional, their relatability is universal, just like any character who is different from us – whether they are meth dealers, mythical kings, or mechanical toys.