Written by Sebastian Kim

When Roger Ebert described movies as “a machine that generates empathy,” I doubt the Jackass film and TV series was at the top of his mind. To me at twelve, however, Johnny Knoxville getting kicked in the nuts may as well have been Humphrey Bogart saying, “Here’s looking at you kid” in Casablanca. There’s still a germ of that childlike excitement fueling the Willy Wonka-esque dream factory at the core of my identity.

My mom is Irish by way of Brooklyn and my dad, who’s originally from Korea, credits film and TV with teaching him the spoken and cultural language of the US. The Irish Rovers and The Pogues provided much of the soundtrack to my youth, and reruns of The Beverly Hillbillies were considered educational. We made frequent visits to the video store and I typically got to weigh in. I was about ten when I first saw Spike Jonze’s Video Days.

It wasn’t long before I had a skateboard and access to a camcorder.

It’s a real testament to my parents that pride was their main reaction to important milestones like my appearance in the crime-report section of the local newspaper. I had earned the accolade by filming a scene that involved me and a friend donning Gumby and giant chicken disguises and wrestling outside a crowded downtown CVS.

Was I offered any cautionary words of wisdom? Yes— I was informed that Barnum & Bailey Clown College is more selective than Harvard. This further proved that being smart and being serious don’t always go hand-in-hand. My next step was rigorously studying a DVD boxset of Spike Jonze music videos and his entire Jackass oeuvre.

As a child actor, I scored prestigious roles like “Skateboard Kid” and “Lightsaber Boy” in national TV commercials for Krispy Kreme and Hasbro. I also played the titular character in a professional stage production of Aladdin. During quiet moments, I dreamt of becoming a professional surfer and while I did rise to the level of local sponsorship, my greatest achievement in surfing remains a fleeting cameo on Jamie O’Brien’s Red Bull TV series where I’m shown alongside Sean “Poopies” McInerney being pinched by a lobster.

My trajectory from here was obvious— I’d study English and Cinema Studies at Bowdoin College in Maine. If this seems incongruous, it’s because it is. No one’s path is straight forward and mine is no exception. By my late-teens, I felt hungry for something different and I didn’t end up on a professional set again until a film history professor of mine, Tricia Welsch, encouraged me to pursue an internship at HBO. I spent that summer in LA reading scripts and fetching coffee in HBO’s films department.

A script I had written got some positive professional feedback, and Dennis Quaid told me he liked my shirt! It was exactly the creative kick in the pants I needed.

That fall, I pitched a short documentary about Winslow Homer to the Bowdoin Museum of Art. Much to my surprise, they agreed to help make it happen.

That opportunity is how I eventually met the photographer Jona Frank and her director/DP husband Patrick Loungway. Patrick secured my first Production Assistant gig on the second unit of James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad. Along with subsequent PA gigs, that experience felt a little like running away to join the circus— only without health insurance or paid vacation.

During that time, I was also writing and shooting like crazy. I wrote and produced a short film about a company offering luxury options to clients interested in having themselves killed. I also made an experimental live-performance music video for the band Them Airs. Some of my even more “experimental” work from that time will hopefully never see the light of day. Overall, that chapter felt like a giant game of creativity “Whac-A-Mole” that had me pouncing on chances to either make things or learn on the job.

When an opportunity to work for the Oscar-winning producer Anthony Katagas came up, I knew I had to go for it. With credits including Uncut Gems and The Lost City of Z, Anthony represented a level of cinematic achievement and gritty, on-location filmmaking I desperately wanted to learn more about and be a part of.

My time as an assistant gave me a unique window into the process, not to mention the opportunity to rub shoulders with many of the actors and filmmakers I’d grown up admiring. I’ve come to think of the film industry as a combination of the military, the mafia, and the circus and working for Anthony felt like going to bootcamp for all three at the same time.

The importance of creative community, collaboration, and knowing how to make dinner reservations on short notice are among the most important lessons I learned as an assistant. By this point, my creative process had matured beyond the Gumby and Chicken days, so I began looking for inspiration.

Pretty soon, I had a ten-page screenplay based on a low-level Russian gang in Brighton Beach. I’d have to learn some Russian to act in the film, but that was just one small part of a big challenge I was excited to take on. It was a chance to apply everything I’d learned to a project that gave me the same creative buzz I’d been drawn to all along.

Sebastian KimAnthony Grasetti

I still pinch myself whenever I watch Slumber Party, and that’s really thanks to everyone involved. My vision came to life through my work with co-writer Oceanna Pak, Tom O’Keefe’s deadly performance as a ruthless villain, the amazing props and weapons provided by Ruth DiPasquale and Annie Shapiro, the otherworldly original score composed by Brian Deming and Peter Nashel, and so much more— not least of all getting to work with real people and settings.

The dream factory is operating 24/7 these days. Next up for me is directing a feature length documentary about the world’s preeminent canine-artist. Harry Jackson is editing the film and our Executive Producer is Sam Widdoes.

I’m also co-writing a feature about an architect going through a midlife crisis and I recently played a tortured video game designer in a short film. There are a lot of people I’d love to work with, but I’m sure many dream collaborators are people I have yet to meet. For now, I’m focused on dreaming big and taking one step at a time.