It felt surreal to actually sit down and have a conversation with Susan Johnson, the director who brought one of my favourite Young Adult novels to the big screen. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a book close to my heart. Even though I fell in love with the trilogy only last year, it’s easily become the latest resident on my “prized books” bookshelf.
If you’re not familiar with the novel, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before follows the life of a Korean-American girl named Lara Jean who, in an effort to get over her crushes, writes them love letters that she will never send. When the letters are suddenly sent out to all her crushes, nothing in Lara Jean’s world remains the same.
Check out my interview with director Susan Johnson below.
Thanks for making time to do this interview. I’m a big fan of the novel but before we get into all things related to the film, I’d like to know what made you pursue filmmaking?
I’m such a big fan of movies. I grew up in the desert in Phoenix, Arizona. It was super-hot in the summers, and I’d watch movies pretty much from May until September every day. And I just had a dream as a young child to be a filmmaker and just had to really focus to get here.
What challenges did you face in turning this novel into a film?
The script was written before I came on board and they developed it for several years, but I think the script was really strong. The challenge always when you’re making a movie from a book is to figure out those moments that mean a lot to the audience and the fans of the book. We really wanted to include them in the process as much as we could, especially in the preparation of the movie. Then, once you actually start selling, you just have to put everybody else’s desire aside and just focus on your own vision for a piece. That’s a little tough but also really exciting because when you do actually touch a nerve with audience, like maybe we were doing a scene that they were most hoping to see or she’s wearing clothing that they hoped she would be wearing… that’s the kind of thing that’s really very exciting.
Which scene from the movie do you think fans would be most excited to see?
I think the hot tub scene would be the scene they’d be excited to see and then the scene in the trailer when she finds out for the first time that the letters have been sent out. I think that’s such an important moment for her, and Lana plays it so beautifully. You could just see all that emotion in her face and it’s terrifying for all of us. I think that fans really want to see that moment. And, you know, being swept up by a really cute guy!
I really enjoyed the movie, which scene did you enjoy directing the most?
I enjoyed directing the scene after the party in the diner. I think that conversation that they [Lara Jean and Peter K.] had between each other is so beautiful and so honest. I also love the way they both play it. They both are honest with each other as characters but also as actors and human beings. I just think that it’s a really beautiful scene.
Everyone that I’ve spoken to about the film so far has said the exact thing about that scene; that diner scene and the hot tub scene, of course.
Really? That’s cool…I don’t really hear that often so it’s nice to hear.
The movie uses POV angles that have the characters looking directly at the camera, which is not something you usually see in movies like this. Why did you decide to use this filmmaking style?
Because Harold and Maude is my favourite movie and they use that in the movie really effectively and I think that it’s a chance to really connect with an audience. You just give that moment where you’re giving a nod to the people who are watching the film and sometimes that’s really powerful and other times you don’t want to be in that space. Like in a war or space movie, you don’t want to be in that space with them. Sometimes with stuff that’s so heartfelt it’s nice to just break that wall for a moment.
Yeah, I think that that filmmaking style is very effective in making the audience feel like they’re a part of the film. I also absolutely loved Harold and Maude!
I used that in both of my movies that I just did that were Young Adult. I probably shouldn’t do it anymore but hopefully I won’t get nailed too badly. Hahaha! We’re certainly not the only two filmmakers who have ever done it so that’s good.
Could you describe a normal day on set of this movie? What things were listed as a priority? What was the working environment like?
The scenes are not shot in order of priority so we just had to do by location. Vancouver is very complicated that way so we had to shoot in certain neighbourhoods, only certain amount of days and then you have to be in a different part of the city. So, that’s kind of how the movie was scheduled. But also, just shooting it in the middle of summer, like having to shoot the hot tub scene and have an icy snowy entrance to the lodge in the middle of 98 degree heat…that was a little challenging. But it’s a beautiful city and the location definitely helped to prioritize our schedule for shooting.
I can only imagine how difficult it was to shoot those scenes in that type of weather! So, tell us a little about what the relationships were like on set among the cast.
Oh! That’s easy. They all made me wish that I was 20 again because they would have been really fun to hang out with if I was still 20. They just got along beautifully. The three sisters have their own dynamic and, sometimes as the director, I was interfering with their relationship. Off set they were so close together and then Noah and Israel and Lana were so great together in their own way. It was really nice to see them bond as people and then as actors.
Yeah, it shows on film so it’s easy to see that they had a good relationship off set as much as they portrayed in the movie. I also think that you did a really great job at directing this film so tell us, what films have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?
For me, I loved The Breakfast Club so that’s part of why I wanted to end this movie on a field at sunset. Hahaha. I just think that it’s just a really beautiful moment for the two of them. So, some of my favourite movies are, like I said, Harold and Maude. I have all kinds of genres that were super important to me and it just depends on what I was seeing when I was growing up, at what time in my life. I’m just such a fan of movies. I’m a real movie nerd. Hahaha. There’s also North by North West which was a huge movie for me. The Royal Tenenbaums was a really big movie as well and it’s something that’s a little more current. I’m just excited to see what’s coming out and how everybody treats things differently.
The Breakfast Club and Harold and Maude also have a special place in my heart. I love movies that defy the norm or, in The Breakfast Club’s case, create the norm.
Thanks again to Susan Johnson for taking the time to sit down with The Young Folks. Stay tuned for our interviews with actor Noah Centineo and author Jenny Han this week.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before debuts Friday, August 17, only on Netflix.