Quentin Lee Leaps with 'White Frog'
Since coming out at Berkeley as a sophomore, director Quentin Lee has been making independent features, covering everything from drama to sex comedies, and featuring both gay and Asian-American protagonists. He was picked twice as The Advocate’s “Trendsetters under 30” and his last sex comedy The People I’ve Slept With starring Wilson Cruz was a hit on the festival circuit and Netflix.
His latest feature White Frog is an emotional teen drama with a gay twist. Starring gay-favorites like Teen Wolf’s Tyler Posey and Glee’s Harry Shum Jr., along with an incredible cast that includes Breaking Dawn’s Booboo Stewart, Law and Order SVU’s BD Wong, The Last Emperor’s Joan Chen, and Wizard of Waverly Place’s Gregg Sulkin, White Frog will have its world premiere at the 30th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival as the event's opening film on March 8, 2012.
GAY.NET: What is White Frog about?
Quentin Lee: White Frog is an emotional teen drama about a 15-year-old boy (Booboo Stewart) with Asperger’s who has to step up for himself and his family after his beloved older brother (Harry Shum Jr.) dies unexpectedly. White Frog is about being different and how we come to terms with difference, whether you are gay, Asian or have Asperger’s.
How did the project come about?
I was on Facebook one night and a fellow filmmaker facebooked me and asked if I would be interested in a directing assignment. I said, “Yes” and the mother-daughter writer team Fabienne and Ellie Wen emailed me the script the next day. I read it and connected to it immediately because I knew the material came from a very personal place. I also knew exactly why I would be the perfect director for the project. We shot the movie last summer and it will be world premiering almost exactly a year after starting pre-production. It’s been a total roller coaster!
Booboo Stewart and Tyler Posey in White Frog
How did you get into filmmaking?
Like many filmmakers, I started making Super 8 films at eleven. And when I was reading about film schools at fifteen, I thought I really wanted to go to UCLA. I was rejected as an undergraduate and then as a graduate student. On my third try I was waitlisted and I finally got in, literally on my first day of film school at another school. Between college and film school, I was making experimental video shorts that got me into a bunch of festivals and won prizes. Because my short To Ride a Cow was banned for frontal nudity on its way to the Tokyo Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, I was coined the “enfant terrible of gay cinema” at 21. And then they started calling me the “aging enfant terrible.”
Seriously, who doesn’t get old?
But the great thing about being a director is that the older you get the better you become. Like Stanley Kubrick and John Houston, many directors die in the middle of finishing their final features. I’d like to be making films until the day I die.
Director Quentin Lee on the set of White Frog.
White Frog is your fifth feature. Tell us about your other movies.
In 1995, I put a collection of my experimental student shorts, which are all gay Asian themed, into a feature called Flow that premiered at the Vancouver International Film Festival. While going to UCLA Film School, my friend Justin Lin (Fast and the Furious) and I got together and made our first feature, Shopping For Fangs, a sort of Gen-X Asian American comedy, that went to Toronto International Film Festival. I went on to make a gay relationship drama called Drift that did very well in gay film festival circuit. Then I made a critically divisive gay teen rebel feature called Ethan Mao. My last feature was The People I’ve Slept With, a sexy romantic comedy about a slutty girl and her gay best friend played by Wilson Cruz. People is now streaming on Netflix and I’m releasing Flow into 8 web episodes on YouTube.
Currently, I’m at the third episode of Flow and I’m releasing an episode every Friday until the final 8th episode, which will be released on March 9th, 2012.
Karin Anna Cheung and Wilson Cruz in The People I've Slept With.
It seems like all your movies have involved both gay and Asian people. Is it intentional or coincidental?
In North America, if you’re a minority you pretty much have to deal with your identity one way or another. It’s the damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don’t dilemma. When I first came out in college at 19, I made a vow to myself to be totally out and will not let anyone put me down— either because I am gay or Asian or both. As an immigrant, I knew early on that I had to work extra hard to overcome the discrimination or the gap with the mainstream that you might face. So I’ve pretty much stuck to that philosophy. But which filmmaker or person in the industry doesn’t work hard?
So in a roundabout way to answer your question... Yes, I’ve intended to make movies about both gay and Asian people because if I don’t make them I can’t expect others to make films about us. At the same time, I strive to make every movie as universal as possible so people of all ethnicities, genders and sexualities will enjoy [them]. And I hope my movies are good examples of the universal in the specific.
So how’s White Frog different from all the gay or “minority-themed” movies out there?
White Frog is very much a gateway movie about dealing with difference for people on both coasts, in the red states and in even more conservative countries. It will probably be my broadest and first “PG” movie about very unique characters. Every one of my past features was either R-rated or unrated. With White Frog, I’ve strived to make an emotional and entertaining movie with both veteran and up-and-coming talents. So I’m really excited about having new audiences discover my work.
And what’s next?
I’m in talks about doing a Chinese feature and a web mini-series, But I’m also focusing on making a smart genre film. To be more specific, an ensemble supernatural thriller called Vampires Party in the vein of Interview with a Vampire meets The Hunger, set in a modern North American city. Wish me luck!
Purchase tickets for White Frog's March 8 opening at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival here: http://caamedia.org/blog/caam-events/2012/01/30/sfiaaff30-opening-night-feature/
Check out the festival trailer of White Frog below.