Hyphen magazine - Asian American arts, culture, and politics

No Block Here -- Writer Koji Steven Sakai of 'The People I’ve Slept With'


A slew of opportunities for API filmmakers and writers are coming up. The prizes are tantalizing and the honor of winning might be in grasp. As we’ve seen with the winners of Hyphen’s short story competition, a win could ignite a career. Are you prepared? The writer of the hot film The People I’ve Slept With Koji Steven Sakai lets us in on his commitment to writing and his role in film.

Your commitment to writing is practically legendary. How can you consistently write a full screenplay in two weeks?

[laughs] I'm crazy. I think you have to take writing seriously. I get up at 4:30 am every day to write. I spend days locked in my room writing. There are things I know I miss out on -- beach, hiking, spending time with my wife and dog, even going out and just people watching. And I guess you have to decide if it's ... worth it. The moment it isn't worth it, that's when you gotta stop writing. Another thing is you have to get in the habit of writing every day. And when you're not writing, you have to be outlining, researching, and thinking of new ideas. Writing is a 24-hour, 7-day a week job. Not just something you do in your spare time!

Anyone can have an idea, but a writer needs his own take on that idea. What was yours that propelled the writing of The People I’ve Slept With?

My take on The People I've Slept With? I wanted to make an Asian American date movie where the two leads were Asian American. It's so rare to see that, even in Asian American films! I wanted to make a story about a strong Asian American woman because all the Asian American women I know are strong! I'm not sure where the stereotype of the demure/passive Asian woman came from because I am surrounded by strong and beautiful Asian American women! 

The People I’ve Slept With seems to be ahead of the curve, zeroing in on what’s just becoming ‘hot topics’ now such as re-virginization and the renaissance of unsafe sex. With a family, a full time job at Japanese American National Museum, and other artistic endeavors, when do you have time to be ‘current’?

That's a great question. The People I've Slept With was something that I developed with Quentin Lee (director/producer), Karin Anna Cheung (star), and Stanley Yung (producer). It was all of our ideas rolled into one. We were all on the same page and this is truly one of the most collaborative projects I have ever worked on.

Where do you see Asian American film now and where do you see it in five years?

Asian American film has come a long way in the last 15 years. You're finding a lot of great actors and filmmakers who went to school and have spent years honing their crafts. Right now we're in an interesting time period. There is a lot of talent out there, but not a lot of money. The reason is that there isn't really an audience outside of API film festivals for Asian American movies. Until we can show that these movies will/can make money, traditional Hollywood won't pay attention to these films. But in terms of story, the idea of API films is changing. Just look at The People I've Slept With. [This film] is intentionally not about identity issues. It is not about intergenerational conflict. It is about a person who just happens to be Asian American. I think that's the future of Asian American films. And it's a good thing. It'll help broaden the films and hopefully make them a little bit more mainstream. 

 What is your best advice for coping with writer’s block?

I don't believe in writer's block. I always tell new writers that the biggest difference between professional writers and amateur writers is that the amateur writers waits for inspiration but the professional writer creates that same inspiration every time they sit down to write.

You co-produced The People I’ve Slept With as well. Have you dealt with relinquishing artistic control on your scripts and if so, how do you deal with it?

I believe that screenwriting is very different than any other type of writing. As a screenwriter you have to remember that you're just writing the blueprint of the movie. The director, the actors, the editor, the light and sound folks, and even the stylists and make-up people -- they are the ones that are painting it and giving it life. So when I write a script and turn it in, I don't look at it as losing control but instead, I'm always interested to see how they interpreted my story. If it doesn't turn out the way I imagined it, that's on me. It means I didn't communicate my thoughts well enough.

Photo courtesy of Margin Films. Archie Kao and Karin Anna Cheung.

About The Author

Ken Choy

Ken Choy is a community organizer and filmmaker, and producer of Breaking the Bow. He is gay, green, and gluten free.

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