Synopsis : Set in the iconic Pines, Andrew Ahn’s “Fire Island” is an unapologetic, modern-day rom-com showcasing a diverse, multicultural examination of queerness and romance. Inspired by the timeless pursuits from Jane Austen’s classic “Pride and Prejudice,” the story centers on two best friends (Joel Kim Booster and Bowen Yang) who set out to have a legendary summer adventure with the help of cheap rosé and their cadre of eclectic friends.
Exclusive Interview with Director Andrew Ahn
Q: Joel Kim Booster’s script covered a lot of ground with the gay community, what things stood out for you when you first read Joel’s script?
AA: I love that the screenplay focused on the friendship of two queer Asian American characters. I have been making queer Asian American work for a number of years now — short films, features. I never had the opportunity to tell a story about a friendship, and it’s such a big part of my life. I have a big group of gay Asian American friends in Los Angeles. I love that this story has two queer Asian American characters who are very different but are really close friends. That to me, I think is significant and special.
Q: The story was a mash-up of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” with the gay community in “Fire Island.” What was your experience of Fire Island —the place itself is a character in the film — and how did you want to represent it?
AA: Actually, I had never been to Fire Island before making the movie. But during pre-production, I went as much as I could to learn as much about the island as possible. I really relied on Joel Kim Booster, who wrote the script, to tell me about his experiences there, to tell his stories, just for me to know more about his Fire Island trips. We wanted to show what that experience on Fire Island can be like.
There’s a moment in the film where someone at a party looks at Joel’s character and says, “Oh, I think you’re in the wrong house.” That actually happened to Joel on the island — you know, discrimination because he’s Asian American. It’s something that happens within gay culture. We wanted to call that out in our film and say that this is an issue within the queer community [as well], that racism still exists. The fact that we’re already a marginalized community doesn’t mean that we can’t — within the community — end up marginalizing each other. So it’s important to try and fix that. We captured both the good and the bad of the island. It’s an honest portrayal of that experience.
Q: This film has a lot of colorful characters in it. Bowen [Yang] and Matt [Rogers] started a podcast together, and Joel and Bowen knew each other for a long time. How did you assemble this stand-out cast?
AA: The casting was so much fun. It’s my favorite part of the process. I love bringing a film to life through actors. Joel and Bowen were attached to the film before I was, so I was so excited to work with them. They are so talented, and I love being able to work with real-life friends — and to show a friendship on screen.
Joel had Matt in mind for this role, and I thought Matt demonstrated the perfect amount of chaos and vulnerability. He’s obviously very good friends with Bowen, and with Joel as well. [The challenge was] casting the other two members of the group, Tomas and Torian. Torian, who plays Max, has known Joel for a number of years. Joel cast Torian in a play in Chicago, which is cool, and thought of him for the role. I think he’s so funny, he brings so much lovableness, groundedness and spunk to the role.
Tomas, this is their [Tomas’s pronoun] first feature film and they’re such a star and have so much fun and great energy to inject in the film.
And Margaret Cho is an icon. How could we not cast her? She’s so funny, and has been so supportive of queer Asian Americans in the film and television industry for years. For her to play Mama Bennett in our movie feels really meaningful.
Q: Even though this is a love story connected to the gay community, it’s relatable to mainstream audiences. How did you and Joel construct this story to be personal but at the same time translate to other people?
AA: A big part of the film’s relatability is its humor. I think people love to laugh, and comedy is a way to reach a bigger audience. I’ll also say that there are many relatable films that, for whatever reason, people didn’t think of them that way because they were smaller, art-house, independent films. If they just had the budget, the marketing money, to push it out there, they would be really relatable.
So I understand the privilege that we have with “Fire Island.” We have a studio that believes in us and is getting us out there. I intend to use this platform very responsibly and I want to be able to inspire other filmmakers to make their own versions of “Fire Island” so we can have a richer, more inclusive cinema culture that’s representative of the demographic of this country. I am honored and excited to be part of the continued success of queer Asian Americans and queer art of color.
Q: You made critically successful films like “Spa Night” and “Driveways.” How did you use this Covid experience to help you as a filmmaker?
AA: It definitely was a journey, and Covid made it very complicated. We had big club scenes like the underwear party, where we had so many people. We really relied on our Covid safety office, our Covid compliance officers, and we really took the health and safety of our cast and crew very seriously.
There was something about how, because of the pandemic, I wasn’t able to see my friends in the same way that I used to — to go on a trip with them, to celebrate, and to have fun at a bar or a club. So to see Joel’s screenplay, it really affected me and made me want to do this. The pandemic showed me what I value in my life, and a lot of that is what we put on screen.
Q: What films inspired you to make this one? I remember a movie, “Longtime Companion” and films with fun-loving people such as “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”
AA: I was really inspired by Ang Lee’s comedies — “The Wedding Banquet” and “Eat Drink Man Woman.” They balance comedy and drama beautifully. Joel talked to me a lot about “Clueless” — which I think is such a fun, beautiful adaptation of another Jane Austen novel. I really love “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion.” I thought a lot about that movie, especially in thinking about Joel and Bowen’s friendship. So [there were] a lot of fun films to draw inspiration from when making “Fire Island”.
Q: How critical was it for you to shoot a studio film without a heterosexual crew and cast on the set? It’s rare to see such a film, but it’s important to have everybody else on the set bringing the community together.
AA: We had some heterosexual crew. But the cast was gay, and that to me was significant. It’s so special that our cast is all queer. I wanted to show the depth of talent that the community has. It’s a community that filmmakers and the industry have undervalued. I’m thankful that Searchlight believed in our casting priorities. We worked with our casting director, Jess[ica] Munks, to bring together a group of people that are not only queer, but fabulous actors.
Q: There are lots of messages in this film. What did you want audiences to take away from it?
AA: I want people to remember the value of our friendships, and not take for granted the people who helped us become who we are. We have to celebrate each other, and put in the time to cultivate our friendships so that we don’t take them for granted. That’s my hope for audiences watching the film. I hope they watch this film, and then go on a trip with their friends!
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Here’s the trailer of the film.