Review Fix chats with “Asia A” writer Roberto Saieh to find out what inspired the film and more.
Review Fix: How was this film born?
Roberto Saieh: The film was born from Andrew’s (Reid) experience with a spinal cord injury and his amazing recovery after being told he would never walk again.
Andrew had an early draft of the script and was looking for a writer to come on board and take it from there. I thought the script had great potential, the characters, the story, Marquise’s anguish and grief were all very real and something you could empathize with, regardless of whether or not you’ve ever been in Marquise’s (or Andrew’s) shoes. Most of all, I was drawn by how personal and raw the story felt.
After reading the script, I met with Andrew and I pitched him my take on it to which he responded positively and we began working together.
Review Fix: How has it changed from initial concept?
Saieh: In some ways, the script remained the same as what I originally read but it has also changed greatly in others. For instance, the characters all remained the same (none were added or removed) and the story’s general progression is as Andrew wrote it. However, the characters’ personality, their function in the story, and the story’s theme all changed.
Originally, the story was about letting people in after a traumatic injury and so Marquise kept pushing Camilla away because he was afraid of her rejecting him when she finally saw him. Similarly, Noah’s character was a much more straight-forward mentor, advising Marquise that he needs to let people in in order to get better.
Perhaps the biggest change I made was that the story was no longer about letting people in, but about redefining who you are after a life-altering event. It’s an arduous process that you have to undertake alone before you are ready to relate to others. And so, the idea became that Marquise’s arc was to reject the easy options, he would reject using Camilla as a crutch so he could first learn to be okay with himself. Along these lines, Noah also changed from being a straight-forward mentor to being a cautionary tale, showing Marquise what his life would be like if he didn’t make the right choice.
Review Fix: What are you most proud of when it comes to this film?
Saieh: One of the things I’m most proud of is how emotionally honest Marquise’s arc is. There is a genuine progression that feels right every step of the way and leads to a very satisfying resolution.
I was also proud of the way the film balanced such a heavy subject matter with moments of necessary levity. Pruitt had an amazing performance as Noah and it’s reflected in how quickly the audience warms up to him- in spite of his abrasive behavior- and feels it’s okay to laugh in spite of the film’s theme.
Review Fix: What helped inspire it?
Saieh: Throughout the writing process, I leaned heavily on Andrew to get into Marquise’s emotional state. We had many long, honest conversations about spinal cord injuries and what it’s like to be in Marquise’s (and Andrew’s) shoes. Something I came to realize was that grief played a big part of it, i.e. mourning being able-bodied, mourning the life they led, and that’s what gave rise to the concept of structuring the film around the five stages of grief. Doing this allowed me to connect to Marquise at a much deeper level and bring his story to life. Though I’ve been fortunate enough never to have suffered a spinal cord injury, I have felt anger, I have felt depression, I have bargained with the universe, and I used all of that to write Marquise.
Regarding the levity in the story, my writing tends to lean towards the darker themes, the raw emotions and the unthinkables of life. And when things are the darkest is when I feel the levity naturally come out. I think it’s just human instinct. We need to laugh so we don’t cry.
Review Fix: What was the feeling like on set?
Saieh: I only visited the set once during production but it had a great atmosphere. I truly felt the crew was one big family, all working together to fulfill Andrew’s vision (and they did a terrific job of it). The hospital set itself looked amazing.
Review Fix: What stands out the most about your cast?
Saieh: How much they became the characters. I know it’s their job but, what I’m trying to say is, they were exceptional at it. They breathed life into the words on the page, taking the characters’ thoughts and actions and making them their own.
Review Fix: What makes this film special?
Saieh: I think the film is made special as much by what’s onscreen as by what isn’t. It’s a solid story with a great message that I think many people need to hear in their lives. Beyond Marquise’s spinal cord injury, I think many times we know what the right thing for us to do is but we’re too afraid to follow through and, instead, rely on crutches to get by, be them people, objects or behaviors. It’s a bit of a reminder to fight for ourselves and not be afraid to stand on our own (no pun intended).
Behind the scenes, this is (loosely based on) Andrew’s story and the story of so many other spinal cord injury patients. It puts on screen what Andrew hasn’t seen yet about his own experience, through his own eye, which gives an authenticity to the story that is hard to find in other films of the same kind.
Review Fix: Who will enjoy it the most?
Saieh: I think everyone would. It’s a film that crosses all barriers and has an important message that everyone should hear. ASIA A came from a very real place and everyone who worked on it put a bit of themselves into it.
Review Fix: Why is the subject matter of this film important?
Saieh: The subject matter of the film is important because, in this day and age of increased diversity in front and behind the camera, disability remains a topic that, I feel, hasn’t fully gotten its due. More than a story about disability, this is someone’s story about their struggles and triumphs told in their voice with very few filters added.
Review Fix: Do you connect with it in any way?
Saieh: I do. I’ve had experiences in my life where I’ve found myself lost and disoriented and looking to use anything as an excuse not to face the truth. And whether I knew it at the time or not, I had to learn to be okay with myself- by myself- before I could be okay with others. I think it’s something many people do, masking their fears and shortcomings to avoid facing them and taking personal responsibility. This was a story about staring the great wall of flame in the face- that is all that is fear- and finding the courage to walk through it.
Review Fix: Bottom Line: Why must someone see this film?
Saieh: People should see this film because it’s honest, authentic, and has something to say from a voice that isn’t usually heard.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Saieh: We’re well in development on the feature version of ASIA A. I have completed a draft and am currently discussing with Andrew where we want to take it. It’s tremendously important to us that the message we want to communicate is clear. 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.