I had the great pleasure of speaking with Ken Mok recently, about his theatrical-film writing and directorial debut, launching just in time for Valentine’s Day.
The Journey To His Writing-Directing Film Debut
The story follows a novelist struggling with writer’s block named Sara seeking inspiration. She finds it when she meets Godfrey, an oddball who constantly changes personas to cope with his past and avoid reality. As they become close, Godfrey realizes that Sara is using him as inspiration for her book, bringing their relationship to a head.
Take a look at the trailer here:
The setup is a sheer romantic comedy, combined with the poignancy of imperfect people, characters struggling with their lives; and working it out in some sense through one another. With the recent ups and downs of our world, the couple’s personal issues, as well as the push-pull of their connection will resonate with audiences, with laughs and sweetness. This isn’t some idealized world, these are people we know, imperfect yet loveable, trying to work things out.
Honesty Combined With Persistence
Ken has always wanted to write and direct and has been writing for many years. It has clicked recently for him. Ken’s superpower is that he is always objective with his screenwriting. He has the unique trait of looking at the quality of his work and being completely honest with himself. To paraphrase, “Nobody wants more another B+ script or mediocre work,” so he was determined to push through until his writing reached a certain level before sharing it with audiences.
While honing his craft, Ken wasn’t sitting around waiting for inspiration. He worked in the industry using a variety of his many skills, hitting stride with various successes. He created and executive produced America’s Next Top Model in the unscripted genre, then transitioned to producing features with the films Invisible, winning an Academy Award® and Golden Globe® for the movie Joy.
Pulling All The Pieces Together
His artistic breakthrough was found with The Right One, and the satisfaction that this was the best project to launch his passion, writing and directing feature films. For Script Magazine hyphenates who aspire to both write and direct, Mok recommends, directing your first feature, if possible, with a script that you have written because you will know your movie by heart.
Inspiration For The Story
I knew right away that I liked Ken when we shared our mutual crush on Peter Sellers, a genius professionally and somewhat of an enigma personally. The Writer/Director shares his inspiration and catalyst for his story; “The idea for The Right One came from two sources. The first was from an article I had read in The New York Times a few years back about a popular influencer who had abruptly quit social media after revealing that all of her posts were carefully staged and not a reflection of her real life. The second came from my fascination with the late actor Peter Sellers – the brilliant mimic who evidently had no sense of himself when he wasn’t inhabiting a role.
Combining both these ideas gave rise to the story of a man who is dealing with a personal tragedy in a deep and profound way and a woman who is living an inauthentic life. Both these characters’ inner lives are empty for different reasons.”
Process and Best Practices
Ken shared the techniques that have served him, in writing overall and in this project specifically. He stresses the use of outlining to create a strong story structure. He’s also a firm believer in maintaining the forward momentum in a story to avoid boring audiences. Here are a handful of takeaways:
Writing and Directing Takeaways from Ken Mok
- Structure – create an outline no matter how you do it. Use it, and let the structure help guide you
- Every scene must push the story forward, no meandering scenes
- Be honest with yourself about the quality of your writing, always
- Get honest feedback from someone you trust
- If you’re interested in becoming a director, strive to make that first feature something you’ve written since you’ll have the script in your mind’s eye and know the story inside and out
Collaboration is Key
Movies are a collective of all the talents and skills of the team. As a filmmaker, Ken embraces collaboration and credits his entire team and their contributions to The Right One. Working on dialogue with his actors, strong comedic performers, Ken played with improvisation, which offered new discoveries into the scenes, which enriched the film overall. “Once I knew we had the takes we needed, we could play around and the process was really enjoyable.”
I asked Ken how he was able to write from Sara’s perspective and if it was difficult to capture the essence of an authentic female character, which he does very well. Ken credits the strong women in his life for their support and inspiration, from his mother, who never let gender stand in her way; to his wife, best-selling author Helie Lee, also a talented writer (and Executive Producer of the movie); as well as a variety of co-creators throughout his career. It is the directness and perspective of his wife, Ken mentioned, that has strengthened his writing and creative vision overall.
Modeling Favorite Filmmakers
Ken has a love of movies from the 1940s and 1950’s up to current day cinema. From Kubrick to Fellini, Scorsese, Judd Apatow, and Sergio Leone are directorial inspirations; as well as the romantic-comedy powerhouses Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers. He made the point that we are naturally drawn to the filmic beauty in some of the best movies, and he strives to include that in his filmmaking. “One of the things you can learn by watching The Intern, which I’ll sometimes play without sound to absorb the beauty; is how to build palettes of color, composition, design, and movement.” This is fantastic advice and I’m struck by Mok’s openness as a writer and filmmaker to learning, it’s clear that he never misses an opportunity to grow.
Ken acknowledged the difficult period we are experiencing and how much audiences deserve a lift right now. It’s the right time for this film, a heartfelt, and funny story to help us feel good, a story to touch us emotionally and lift our spirits. The Right One is available February 5, 2021, on-demand, digital, and in select theaters. Many thanks to Writer/Director Ken Mok for sharing his experience with us at Script and best wishes on the launch!
Learn more about writing a feature screenplay in our upcoming SU course, Ten Weeks to Your Feature Film