Nick Neon is one of those young filmmakers who makes me feel amazed and useless at the same time. He directed his first feature film in his mid-twenties, something like five years ago, and is now showing up in different film festivals around the world thanks to his short film, Ultra Bleu, a realistic love story placed in a contemporary Wonderland made of skyscrapers and neon lights: Seoul, in South Korea.
His talent may speak for him, but I wanted to interview the guy anyway.
First of all, Nick, thanks for giving us a bit of your time for answering these questions. So, what are you up to lately?
Nick: No problem, thank you so much for having me. Lately? Well, I adopted a puppy. So my life right now is father duties, the film festival circuit for a short I’m starring in called The News Today and writing my next film, Zero One.”
So, if you had to describe yourself to anyone, what would you say?
I’d say I’m trouble.
RANDOM QUESTION: What was the biggest f*-up on set in your entire career?
Hah! I don’t even know… I’m not really a f* up. I can make lots of mistakes, but I usually go into things pretty well prepared. To be really frank, my biggest f*-up was probably going to college. I’ve been in debt for more than a decade and it didn’t get me any closer to my goals as a filmmaker. All it did was zap my confidence and rob me blind at an age where I didn’t know any better. I’m not hating on education but my advice: do not fucking pay anyone $80,000+ to tell you how to make movies. Take that same money and four years to make two features.
So, after the horror feature, ‘Fear Eats the Seoul’ and different music videos you directed the dramatic coming-of-age short film, ‘Ultra Bleu’, with a style that is completely different from your previous works. Can you talk a bit about this change of genre?
I don’t think I had enough courage when I was younger to just tell a story about a bunch of human beings talking. I didn’t have it in me to explore that. I needed music or monsters to disguise my insecurities as a storyteller. But Ultra Bleu was different because I felt like I had no choice but to tell my story in order to set myself free emotionally. I was dealing with a really awful breakup and was also just feeling very lost in my 20s. Making the film was the only way for me to process these negative experiences.
Regarding style, I couldn’t have made Ultra Bleu without my experiences directing Fear or directing music videos. That definitely led the visual style of the film, which was very important to me when differentiating my film from just another drama on the festival circuit. I was very adamant, from the start, that I wanted my film to be this kinetic blend between Kpop music videos and a traditional narrative. In a way, Ultra Bleu was me finally finding my voice as an artist.
Ultra Bleu is a title inspired by one of your favourite music albums, “Ultra Blue” by Utada Hikaru, and by your ex-boyfriend, who’s French (which explains the choice of “Bleu” instead of “Blue”). The title of the sequel to your short film is ‘Zero One’, what was this one inspired by?
I have this thing for abstract word pairings. Zero One takes place one month after the events of Ultra Bleu and Jim is visiting home for the first time in four years. It’s New Year’s Eve and he’s still trying to find himself but he feels like a ghost of who he was supposed to be. So, Zero One is in reference to ‘day one’ of the New Year. If Ultra Bleu was for those struggling with heartbreak, this sequel is for anyone struggling to start on a dream or to start all over from the very beginning.
RANDOM QUESTION: What is the sentence that hurt you the most in life?
I won’t put anyone on the spot but the most painful thing I’ve ever heard was “I love you” and then learning he never really meant it.
Can you tell us the pros and cons of the contemporary film industry?
The contemporary film industry can often still feel like a Boys Club to me. And I’m not interested in locker room talk or paying dues. I’m interested in paving my own path and learning by creating. The pro right now is that we’re in the middle of a revolution where the process of filmmaking and distribution is allowing independent filmmakers to make films alongside Hollywood”
Do you take inspirations from other film directors? The main character of Ultra Bleu quotes Tarantino, for example.
I usually find myself more inspired by musicians rather than filmmakers. I find the songwriting and music production process so fascinating. I even treat my own films like EPs and LPs. And I tend to write my films using song structure.
However, I do have a deep affinity for Guillermo Del Toro and Quentin Tarantino. They are both such immense artists who have managed to work within the studio system yet also remain completely authentic to their voice and vision. I just f*ing love them and wish they were my Godparents.”
Social media’s are necessary for pushing yourself out there as an artist. Do you think they have brought also negative effects from this point of view?
Social media is a tool. You can make a cabinet or drill a hole in your head. I’ve been lucky enough to be of the last analogue generation which has kept me grounded. I think there is a lot of pressure to have a strong social media presence and a lot of artists get burdened with chasing their numbers instead of their dreams. I say stick to the art and let the social media presence grow organically. Nothing good gets away.
RANDOM QUESTION: What’s the worst film you have ever watched?
Oh God, I’m not going to shoot myself in the foot. But I do think the worst films I’ve ever watched have almost all come out of Hollywood and were always more interested in the bottom line than the audience. I hate gimmicks and money grabs. But even awful movies have taught me really important lessons.
What about ‘Tonight’s The Night’? Is this another project you’re making and, if yes, can you tell me something about it?
Once ‘Zero One’ is wrapped I will be taking a break from my ‘Jimmy Park Saga’ to return to my horror roots. I’m going to combine my need for queer voices on screen with my desire for really unforgiving and visceral horror shenanigans. The only detail I’ll offer up is that the film is named after my favourite Janet Jackson song of the same name.
Is there any emerging talent in the industry that you think is worth checking out?
I am so in love with this Irish film, ‘A Date For Mad Mary’, directed by Darren Thornton. It’s my favourite film of the year. I also loved Papu Curroto’s film, ‘Esteros’, which was on the circuit last year and really affected me. And I must mention writer/director, Lisa Donato, who directed me in ‘The News Today’, which screens at Iris Prize tomorrow. She is an incredible human being and her work is always so filled to the brim with social conscience. I deeply admire her commitment to making art that activates.
It’s a good time to be gay and in love with movies!