Music, Cars and Don't Forget the Hair: Eugene Kim's 'Cherry' Channels 90s Daly City

Editor's Note: Behind the Lens is a digital video series featuring bold California indie filmmakers pushing the boundaries of their craft. Each episode captures the personal experiences that inform a filmmaker's work and the risks they take to bring stories to the screen.

When Eugene Kim put his filmmaking career on hold to help his parents achieve financial stability, he didn’t know if he’d ever make it back to the career of his dreams.

“The dream kept getting further and further away,” he remembers. But eight years later, he owns three San Francisco coffee shops. And a little voice in his head told him it was time to get back into filmmaking. (HBO’s Asian Pacific American Visionaries short film competition, and its submission deadline, didn’t hurt his motivation either.) 

With the help of a small crew of film school friends from San Jose State, Kim just wrapped shooting his short film, Cherry, the story of an R&B artist coming up in 1990s Daly City. It’s a script pulled from Kim’s own memories of growing up on the peninsula in that very scene, where Filipino DJs were pioneering a new style, B-Boys competed at car shows and everyone knew they were part of a historic moment in music history.

Still from 'Cherry', courtesy of Eugene Kim

“There were so many Asian kids involved with different subcultures,” Kim says. He channeled those memories of music, hair, style and romances into one day in the life of Christian Flores, a singer trying to find the money to get his car out of the impound lot, and a girl named Cherry he meets along the way.

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“The thing that I’m most proud of with Cherry is just the fact that we got it done,” Kim says. “We all promised to take time off and prioritize this project, that in itself felt like a victory.”

Eugene Kim on the set of 'Cherry'

The biggest lesson he learned getting back into the filmmaking game? “There’s no time limit or an expiration date on your creativity.”

KQED sat down with Kim to talk about growing up with a supportive family, not holding yourself to outdated timelines and learning from small stories.  -- Introductory Text by Sarah Hotchkiss

How did you get your start in filmmaking?

I feel like I've always had an imagination ever since I was a kid, and it's just fun to tell stories. My parents were so open to us being creative and artistic, they let me feel like it was OK to pursue something like that. We spent a lot of time watching movies. My dad always had a camera. He filmed us growing up, especially me because I was the first child. And then my friends growing up used to skateboard and rollerblade, [and] make weird goofy films together. Finally I thought, “You could do that as a major in college.”

How do you define success for yourself?

If you are able to create something and you continue doing so and you grow with each project. Let's say I put out a project, and the next project, something's better. Maybe it's just cinematography. Maybe it's the sound, maybe it's the writing or the acting. As long as you're progressing and getting better with each project and learning something from your previous project, I feel like that's success. Some projects you might not find any success [with], but being able to pick yourself up and say, “Hey, onto the next project.” We have to keep working towards becoming better storytellers or filmmakers.

What's something you wish you could say to your younger self?

There's no need to rush. There's no time limit or an expiration date on when your creativity stops. When I was younger, I felt like I put all these limitations on myself. As long as you're creating something that you're happy with there's no point to stopping. If you're in it because you like to create stuff with your friends and just put out cool stuff, there's really no limit to [creativity].

Still from 'Cherry', courtesy of Eugene Kim

What is a source of inspiration to you that might be surprising to other people?

I feel like a source of inspiration for me is my friends and family. The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to have people that surround me, that support me. Building a strong support system has been huge for me. Overall I'm just inspired by real people—the stories that I've heard from the people in my life. [It’s the] little things that you learn through life that inspire you and give you ideas for stories and characters.

What does the future of filmmaking look like in your ideal world?

I'd like to see more stories about different people, different ethnicities, different races. I feel like we're going to start realizing that lead male or female doesn't have to look like a supermodel. I feel like we're going to see more and more stories that we can all relate to as people—at least that's what I'd like to see. And I feel like it's starting to happen. But, I think we're going to start seeing a lot more from people in terms of small stories, small things that we can all grow from, the stories that are going to educate us a little more and teach us about different types of people [from] different backgrounds.

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