Interview Roberto Saieh: I was very much in awe of everything he had been through. Of his persistence, his tenacity, and his dedication

We spoke with the writer of Asia A Roberto Saieh to discuss his collaboration with Andrew Reid, his reaction when he first heard Andrew’s story and the message he hopes people will take away from this film.

Hi Roberto, how are you doing?

I’m doing well. Extremely busy, but always happy to talk about ASIA A.

Congratulations on Asia A, an amazing short film. How did the collaboration between you and director Andrew Reid start?

Thank you! This is a very personal story for Andrew and he knew he wanted to tell it so he started working on the script. Once he had an early draft, he decided to look for a writer to come on board and take it from there. I immediately responded to the story and the characters. Marquise’s anguish and grief were very real and something I could empathize with, even if I had never experienced a spinal cord injury. But, most of all, I was drawn by how personal and raw the story felt.

I pitched Andrew my take and he responded very positively to it and that’s how we started working together. Later on, he would tell me the reason he decided to work with me over the other writers was that I told him what he didn’t want to hear. In other words, I took a lot of the existing elements of the story and flipped them on their heads. It was a big change from what he had, but I felt it was best for the story and I’m very glad he agreed.

As a brief example, the character of Noah was originally a straightforward mentor figure for Marquise but, after I came on board, he became more of a tragic character, teaching by counter-example and giving Marquise a visual of what his future would be if he wasn’t strong enough to make the right choices.

What was your reaction when you first heard about Andrew’s incredible story?

I was very much in awe of everything he had been through. Of his persistence, his tenacity, and his dedication. More than anything, though, I was very taken with how honest and open he was about the experience (and this was something that would become key as we worked on the story). ASIA A is not a “pretty” story designed to be feel-good. I mean, you hopefully feel good by the end of it, but you have to go through a lot of ugly emotions to get there. In order to do that, it required a lot of honesty between Andrew and me.

How was it working with him?

It was great working with Andrew. I felt we both hit it off from the start. He has an exceptional story-sense and is a true collaborator in every sense of the word. He lets you bring your own contributions to the table, then builds on them. If there ever was a difference of opinion, we were in sync enough that eventually, one would sway the other. It was never about egos but about what was best for the story. It was an amazing collaboration.

What was the thing that attracted you to be involved in this movie?

As I mentioned, it was mostly the emotion of the story. I tend to write stories that are very raw and unfiltered- as opposed to sugar-coated- and I really connected to how real Marquise’s situation felt. It was a story that needed to be told and I felt I was up to the task. Then, when you take in the fact that it’s loosely based on Andrew’s own experience, it just takes it to a new level of import and emotional honesty, and those are two things I respond to greatly.

 What do you hope people will take away with them after seeing the film?

A couple of things. First is that I hope the film can spark a conversation on disability- which I don’t feel has gotten its due on screen- and the importance of making space for these stories as told by the people who lived them.

Second, ASIA A has a great message that I think many of us need to hear. Oftentimes, we find ourselves in situations where we know what the right thing for us to do is but we’re too afraid to follow through. Instead, we rely on crutches to get by, be them people, objects or behaviors. ASIA A is a bit of a reminder to fight for ourselves and not be afraid to stand on our own (no pun intended).

What advice would you give to writers who also want to work in film?

You have to love it. You can’t go into it thinking it’ll be something fun to do on the side or that you’ll give it a year or two. You have to love it, you have to commit because it will demand nothing less of you and if your heart’s not in it, you’ll just be miserable. If there’s anything else you can do and be just as happy as writing film or TV makes you, do that instead.

Just one more question: Do you already have more upcoming projects?

Absolutely and one of them is the feature version of ASIA A. There’s already a completed draft and Andrew and I are currently discussing how to finesse the story. When dealing with something as multi-faceted as disability, there are many different points of view you’d like to address- some diametrically opposed- and you need to do them all justice.

We’re both very excited about seeing ASIA A as a feature-length and hope everyone gets the chance to see it, too. Thank you for having me.

Liselotte Vanophem, Just Celebrity Magazine’s Film and Celebrity Reporter

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