Daniel Scheinert: I always say I watch movies about marriage and I'm like, ‘Ooh, yes. This reminds me of Dan…’ (laughs)
Dan Kwan: (laughs)
Anna Sale: (laughs) But like what movie reminds you of your relationship with Dan?
Daniel Scheinert: Oh yeah, Scenes from a Marriage. No, I haven't seen that, actually.
Anna Sale: (laughs)
Dan Kwan: A Marriage Story.
Daniel Scheinert: A Marriage Story, yeah.
Dan Kwan: Am I Adam Driver? Are you…?
Daniel Scheinert: Um, no you're Scarlett Johansson.
Dan Kwan: Okay, fine.
Daniel Scheinert: I’m the hero the audience likes.
(Death, Sex & Money theme music)
Anna Sale: This is Death, Sex & Money.
The show from WNYC about the things we think about a lot....
....and need to talk about more.
I’m Anna Sale.
(end of Death, Sex & Money theme music)
Anna Sale: Daniels are a filmmaker duo made up of, yes, two men named Daniel – Daniel Scheinert and Dan Kwan, who also goes by Dan.
They are the writers and directors of the movie, Everything Everywhere All At Once – a very strange, and moving, film about the metaverse and generational trauma, that also may be the first award season darling that has not one but a few dildo gags.
The story follows Evelyn Wang, played by Michelle Yeoh, as she tries to save the world…while being audited by an IRS agent, played by Jamie Lee Curtis.
(clip from “Everything Everywhere All At Once”: With nothing but a stack of receipts I can trace the ups and downs of your life and it does not look good. It does not look good.)
(St Augustine Red - Blue Dot Sessions)
Anna Sale: Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert are both in their 30s. Kwan is 34, Scheinert is 35, and they’ve been working together since they were film students in their early 20s. Everything Everywhere All At Once has been a massive hit, and as we started our conversation, it seemed like they’re still getting used to the crush of attention that it’s brought the two of them.
Anna Sale: I know you all have done a lot of interviews together, but, you know, don't feel like you have to wait for me to turn the question to the other, like, please feel free to just kind of add on to what the other is saying.
Dan Kwan: You're gonna regret that because we talk way too much.
Daniel Scheinert: Yeah, we have the opposite problem. You’re gonna be like, “You already answered the question. You don't have to…”
Dan Kwan: “Stop talking.”
Daniel Scheinert: “Why are both Daniels just keep going back and forth?”
Dan Kwan: But thank you for the invitation.
Daniel Scheinert: Yeah.
(End of St Augustine Red - Blue Dot Sessions)
Anna Sale: Just talking with the Daniels, you immediately feel the way they collaborate and I wanted to know more about this relationship, how it started and how it’s developed.
Dan Kwan grew up in Massachusetts – his parents met in Syracuse after immigrating from Hong Kong and Taipei. Daniel Scheinert is white, from Alabama, back several generations.
Somehow, together, their taste and sense of humor combine to take their audiences to some very far out places, like for instance…
(clip from “Everything Everywhere All At Once”: She appears to be in a universe where everyone has hot dogs instead of fingers. Ahh!! (screams)
Anna Sale: The first question I have for you is, um, whose idea was hot dogs for fingers?
Dan Kwan: (laughs)
Daniel Scheinert: I think it's Dan Kwan.
Dan Kwan: I don’t know. I think usually what happens is I, I say things that I shouldn't say and then before I can take it back, Scheinert says, yes. That's good. Let's keep going with that.
Anna Sale: (laughs)
Daniel Scheinert: Yeah. And we,we also like, have been doing like weird body horror comedy shorts for like 12 years. And so like…
Anna Sale: Yeah, a long time.
Daniel Scheinert: You can basically pick any body part and we've made jokes about it in the past, but I do remember specifically you pitching that to me and me being not convinced.
Dan Kwan: Yeah, I mean, you shouldn't have to.
Daniel Scheinert: huh. Well, uh, well, you know, we'll hold onto that idea. I don’t know if I want to ask, you know, uh, famous actresses I admire to do that but, look at us now.
Anna Sale: Daniel Scheinert and Dan Kwan first met in film school at Emerson College in Boston during the late 2000s. Scheinert was a year ahead of Kwan, and they had different creative ambitions and anxieties.
Dan Kwan: I went to film school and pretty quickly realized I wasn't director material. I was like, I don't think I'm cut out for this. I don't have leadership qualities. I don't have the confidence. I don't want to make other people work on my ideas. It didn't feel right to me and I was very uncomfortable with that.
Anna Sale: When you were discovering that about yourself, Dan, did that feel like a failure? Like something you were ashamed of, or something you were kind of learning about yourself?
Dan Kwan: Oh, I mean… (laughs) That's such a great question because at the time, I don't think I could have put into words what I was feeling, but I think shame is sort of my default mode. I'm working on it now but especially back then, a lot of everything was framed through shame. So of course that was definitely framed through that as well. But also, you know, because that was my default mode, I'm very flexible where I'm like, ‘Okay, you know what? This sucks, but I'll pivot again as I always do.’ And so I went into animation because I was like, okay, this is a way for me to create without having to feel all those burdens of directing that I didn't feel right for.
And then that's actually when I met Scheinert, we met in an animation class. And in a lot of ways I owe a lot to Scheinert because he's the opposite.
Daniel Scheinert: Just confident as hell. Yeah. Confident to a fault.
Anna Sale: (laughs)
Daniel Scheinert: Especially in film school, I had an attitude like, I'm gonna get my money's worth. I was like, holy crap, film school costs too much. And I was constantly doing the math in my head like, a two hour class, how that's hundreds of dollars. And if the teacher would play a movie in class, I'd be like, this is absurd. I paid $200 so that Emerson College could show me Cloverfield. I've already seen Cloverfield. So I was that kind of asshole.
Anna Sale: Did you think you were gonna be friends? It sounds like you have slightly different personalities or ways of presenting socially. Is that right?
Daniel Scheinert: Yeah, we had creativity crushes, but not friend, like, material vibes. Uh, we were very different. And then we did become friends after I had graduated. I had a summer job at this summer camp that teaches filmmaking to middle and high schoolers and our job as film students was to supervise kids while they make their movies.
Dan Kwan: It was the best job ever. Like even to this day it was so fun.
Daniel Scheinert: We got paid 20 bucks an hour just to hang out with kids while they make their movies. And so then I got Dan a job, cause we had hung out a bit. And I remember like our first day working together at camp, suddenly we were like, wait, we actually have a lot in common because we both just kind of have camp counselor vibes and we were encouraging our kids to make increasingly insane short films.
Was it the first day that I almost got you fired?
Dan Kwan: No, you almost got yourself fired. And you almost got all your kids sent home.
Daniel Scheinert: Yeah.
Anna Sale: (laughs) Wait, what?
Daniel Scheinert: I was teaching them about long lenses and wide angle lenses, that was the assignment.
Anna Sale: Uh-huh.
Daniel Scheinert: And I was like, long lenses are great for hidden camera stuff like Jackass because you can hide in the bushes with a long lens and no one can see the camera. So why don't we do that? And then my kids ran off and they told me they had just gotten some lettuce and…
Dan Kwan: Some salad.
Daniel Scheinert: Yeah. They were gonna throw a salad on somebody while hiding in the bushes. And I was like, Well, don't throw it on a student. Throw it on my friend Dan.
Dan Kwan: (laughs)
Daniel Scheinert: But I didn't know they had filled the salad…
Dan Kwan: With beans, meat, soda, cheese, salad dressing…
Daniel Scheinert: It was gross.
Dan Kwan: And then somehow the soda actually digested some of the food. So it actually was putrid.
Daniel Scheinert: It kinda had vomit vibes.
Dan Kwan: Exactly.
Daniel Scheinert: He was like, Did you just throw vomit on me?
Dan Kwan: Yeah. It was really confusing.
Daniel Scheinert: And then my kids got taken to the camp heads and were threatened to get kicked out. And I took the fall for it because it really was my fault. And I went and explained…
Dan Kwan: Yeah, you were the adult.
Daniel Scheinert: That was literally my job, to supervise. And they were like, don't let it happen again, Daniel and luckily, I got to stay.
Dan Kwan: But it was a very clarifying moment because I do think, now looking back on it, it was actually really informative for our process.
Growing up, I was really active in the church and every single summer there was this thing called VBS, Vacation Bible School.
Anna Sale: Vacation Bible School.
Dan Kwan: Yes, you are familiar. And from a pretty young age, I was very active in being a part of that energy. You know, starting the morning warm ups and doing the songs with everyone and basically I became like my church's MC or whatever, and looking back on it now, I see…
Anna Sale: Aww, you do have leadership qualities, Dan Kwan.
Daniel Scheinert: He does.
Dan Kwan: Exactly. But I didn't realize it at the time.
Daniel Scheinert: Yeah. And like in a classroom, Dan's so shy and then like, it's so weird to see that switch and be like, holy cow, he's really controlling the group and the energy and the vibes, this kind of summer camp vibe.
Dan Kwan: But this is something that me and Scheinert discovered slowly over the past, you know, 12 years, is that as directors we work much better, less as like dictators or, you know, the boss of the company, and when we switch over to camp counselor energy, it's way more effective, way more fun. And it just plays to our strengths.
(Eyes on Everyone - Blue Dot Sessions)
Anna Sale: So, they each liked a particular kind of community-building and they brought this to their work, even as their work styles and social instincts were very different. They considered this a matter of personality until just a few years ago, when Dan Kwan realized his brain works differently because he has ADHD.
(End of Eyes on Everyone - Blue Dot Sessions)
Dan Kwan: It was about five or six years ago. And the funny story is that we were writing this movie, Everything Everywhere All At Once, and we thought that the main character was gonna be incredibly distractible. We wanted this film to be about how impossible it is to live in the current age without being distracted, without being present.
And so we thought, Oh, maybe the main character could have ADHD. And that's why she's able to jump between different universes. And we were like, Well, we should probably do some research, we don't want to portray this in the wrong way. And then that night I was up until like four in the morning just researching on my phone and basically taking all the unofficial quizzes like, Do you have ADHD? All that stuff. And just crying. Cause it was this beautiful moment where I realized why my life had been so hard, um, for so long. And also why I think I have so much shame.
And one of the things that we talk about often within the ADHD community is how our motivation structures within our minds aren't working properly. And so we're constantly having to chase the dopamine, right? You're trying to ride that wave, looking for the thing that will keep you motivated, keep you engaged, not just with the activity you're doing, but with life in general.
And so that diagnosis has been just huge for me as far as my self-esteem and my self image and understanding how to move through this world. And so yeah, this movie, kind of saved my life a little bit.
Anna Sale: You were doing character research and then landed on something that felt true for you.
Dan Kwan: Yeah.
Anna Sale: And one more question about this. When you described chasing the dopamine hits, for you, is that related to chasing novelty? Like does it have to be new?
Dan Kwan: Um, often, yes, novelty is definitely something that people with ADHD are chasing after. But for me, a lot of the dopamine chasing is about discovering new things.
And so whenever we start a new script, I go and find all the books I can and I read all — I listen to all the podcasts I can and I write little essays and I try to understand, first of all, why I'm so interested in it, but also how it can apply to our next script. And so there's that part of it.
But then also the other half of it is like, what is fun? What is just pleasurable? You know, there are very few things as fulfilling as finishing a film with a bunch of friends and so things like that keep us motivated and keep us excited.
But then of course, we've also just built in a system of a lot of breaks from work. Like oftentimes now when we write, we're just, uh, skateboarding in my back alleyway and I think we're starting to embrace this thing where work and play, the line is kind of fuzzier.
Anna Sale: Hmm. It’s the two of you skateboarding in the alleyway?
Daniel Scheinert: Yeah, we're both so good.
Dan Kwan: No, I'm terrible. I'm so bad…
Daniel Scheinert: The listeners should picture us doing kickflips and…
Dan Kwan: Yeah, exactly.
Daniel Scheinert: Kwan can almost do an ollie…
Anna Sale: (laughs) They’re hard.
Dan Kwan: Just for context though, this is all a part of my post diagnosis life. Most of my life I was bad at everything because I was so distractible and I wouldn't have any follow through.
But because of that, I was so afraid to start anything. So I just didn't. I spent a decent chunk of my life not trying new things. And now that I'm diagnosed and I understand that I'm probably going to fall out of love with a new hobby or whatever, just knowing that eventually my brain is gonna be like, you know what? I don't care about this anymore. Going into it and knowing that it's gonna end, I'm able to just embrace it for what it is.
And so I just started skating for the first time as an adult, I'm in my mid thirties, and I just started doing it like a couple years ago and I'm really bad at it, but that is growth, honestly. Me being okay with myself, being bad at something, that's a new development for sure.
(Etude 3 Chessanta - Blue Dot Sessions)
Anna Sale: Finding these new ways of working together took some experimenting. Because over the years there were some false starts, like when they were trying to finish their first feature film, called Swiss Army Man… and they were really struggling.
(End of Etude 3 Chessanta - Blue Dot Sessions)
Daniel Scheinert: It was the hardest thing we'd ever done. And we were having this argument about like, I thought it was too hard.
Anna Sale: You thought making this feature film was too hard and it became not fun.
Daniel Scheinert: If every feature film is as hard as this, I don't want to do them anymore, was kind of my stance. And Kwan was more like, we could do better. Let's make the next one better. I don't care if it's harder, we just have to do better, you know?
Dan Kwan: Yeah.
Daniel Scheinert: Um, so we gave each other the space and grace…
Dan Kwan: (laughs)
Anna Sale: (laughs)
Daniel Scheinert: …to kind of experiment with the process to both try to make it better, but also, try to make behind the scenes better, not just on screen better.
Anna Sale: What, how did you give each other that space and grace? Like you said that in a jokey way, but that's hard if you have very different ideas about it. Sounds like, Dan…
Dan Kwan: Often, it's just time. I think giving ourselves time to live and not be impatient. This industry needs to move so fast and wants you to move so fast. And I think one of the great things about both of us is neither of us, even though we love making films that are successful, we're not chasing success.
We're not chasing those things. We both have a very shared interest in just making things the things that we want and the things that we think will reflect the world back to itself. And, so because of that, we have time to give each other the space and grace and to develop, you know.
Daniel Scheinert: It’s funny, that night when Dan was all night in bed, we had been having some of the most intense disagreements during the edit on Swiss Army Man.
Dan Kwan: Oh right.
Daniel Scheinert: We were still editing and we had decided, like, let's get drinks, away from the computer and just talk about, you know, the process and how we're doing. And so I kind of came in with the things I want to complain about. And Dan sat down and was like, “Hey, I think I'm a bad creative partner because I have ADHD and I'm undiagnosed.”
And it just took the wind out of my sails.
Dan Kwan: (laughs)
Daniel Scheinert: I was like, No way man. What does that mean? I do think that is one of a hundred adjustments, was just finding vocabulary for our process and being, this is like, what makes Dan so creative and talented is also what makes him a little…
Dan Kwan: …difficult to work with.
Daniel Scheinert: Unreliable, you know. It's like, oh, he’s capable of hyper focus and a little less good at consistent focus. And it's like, great, I'll take it. No notes. But now we have a word for it that's less judgmental or angry and it's just like, totally. Hey man, this is happening.
Dan Kwan: No, that's a very good example of active grace, which I'm very appreciative of.
Daniel Scheinert: But also I'm appreciative that you did the work and figured it out, your self-reflection paid off for everybody.
Anna Sale: Well, and that you got to, it wasn't a conflict that you were just having by proxy, by fighting over edit notes. You instead figured out, you needed to step away from the computer and have a conversation where you saw each other.
Dan Kwan: Yeah.
Daniel Scheinert: Totally. I made that pretty apparent. I was being a big baby like, it was very obvious it wasn't about the thing on camera. I think that is where my brain goes. It telescopes out and goes, there's something bigger here. The communication's bad.
Dan Kwan: Yeah.
Daniel Scheinert: It's not the color of the paint, it's about the way you're talking about the color of paint. (laughs)
Dan Kwan: Yeah.
Anna Sale: And, when you're a big baby, what do you do? What did that look like?
Daniel Scheinert: I kept leaving the edit a lot. I would leave Dan and our editor alone and I just stormed out one night. I was like, good luck. I don't want to be here. Uh, try stuff, I don't give a shit anymore. One way I pitched it to Dan, like, I get butt-hurt when he'll be hard on our movie and not acknowledge that it's my movie too, you know.
Anna Sale: Oh, it hurts your feelings.
Daniel Scheinert: He'll frame it and he'll think he's being self-deprecating, but our lives are so intertwined that it’s like, no, no, no, you're being us-deprecating.
Dan Kwan: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Daniel Scheinert: And I’m standing over here, you know?
Anna Sale: (laughs) Us-deprecating.
Dan Kwan: Us-deprecating.
(King Daniel - Blue Dot Sessions)
Anna Sale: Coming up, how the surprise success of their film, Everything Everywhere All At Once, is changing both Daniels in real-time.
Daniel Scheinert: Yeah, I mean we're still in the middle of so much of it. We could do a part two interview next year and see if it went to our heads or drove us insane.
Anna Sale: Or how many cars you’ll have?
Dan Kwan: Yeah, we’ll set a date, we’ll see you then.
(End of King Daniel - Blue Dot Sessions)
Anna Sale: Hey, I want to turn away from this conversation about movie making in Hollywood for a minute to let you know about a loss I’m absorbing in my life because I could use your help.
Earlier this week, my family said goodbye to our nearly 14-year-old Australian Shepherd, Jack. He was, truly, a very sweet boy who was right there when I fell in love with Arthur, when we got married, when we first became parents, when we brought home our second baby. We moved a lot of places over those years, and he became home for us.
So figuring out how to love him as he declined and got more disoriented and more stressed has been really hard. The question of when and how to end his life was an existential and logistical puzzle that made me well up with tears whenever I considered it over these last months and weeks. And then, I’d cry again when I thought about how to bring in our little kids to this experience.
And now, having watched him die, and noticing his absence, my eyes well up for different reasons. I miss him. I’m sad he’s only a memory now.
Anyway, it’s made death feel very close and unavoidable and I’d like to hear your stories of saying goodbye to cherished pets. How did you do it? How did you avoid going out and picking up a new puppy immediately (because that’s my current phase of grief)?
Tell me about saying goodbye to a pet you’ve loved – you can record a voice memo, tell us your pet’s names, how you think back on his or her end, and how you’ve carried that intimate exposure to death forward. And send it to us at email@example.com. I look forward to listening.
Anna Sale: This is Death, Sex & Money from WNYC. I’m Anna Sale.
As Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert have been working together, they’ve also made film projects separately, and have been building their own families. Kwan is a father of a young son and is married to animator Kirsten Lepore who happened to work on Marcel the Shell, another of our team’s favorite movies of 2022.
Scheinert has been with his partner, Stefanie, a Planned Parenthood organizer he met in college, for more than a dozen years.
But the two Daniels keep collaborating on film projects because of what their contrasting creative instincts spark together. One of them, Scheinert, can be more of a world-weary skeptic, while Kwan is all about possibility and wild ideas…
Dan Kwan: I love everything. I'm like, this is awesome. This is great.
Daniel Scheinert: You’re such a pushover. You’re like, “Oh nice to meet you.” And I’m like, ‘No it’s not. You’re part of the problem.’ I'm so reactionary sometimes.
Dan Kwan: But I think, obviously you can unpack a lot of different reasons why we turned out this way, but it's a really…
Daniel Scheinert: You're a great therapist, by the way.
Dan Kwan: Mmm. Am I?
Daniel Scheinert: No, I'm talking to her.
Dan Kwan: Oh yeah. I was gonna say, I don't think I'm a good therapist.
Daniel Scheinert: No. Yeah. Don't release this but this has been very good for us. (laughs)
Anna Sale: (laughs) Um, when you said butt-hurt, Daniel Scheinert, it made me think about, like, this conversation has been so feelings-forward and you both are describing yourselves and each other with such awareness and self-awareness but when you said butt-hurt, it reminded me that you're also two dudes…
Dan Kwan: (laughs) What, girls don’t say butt-hurt?
Anna Sale: I don't think as much…I think it’s more like…
Daniel Scheinert: No, they say boob hurt
Dan Kwan: (laughs) Oh, right. Yeah. Okay. There you go.
Daniel Scheinert: Do they? (laughs)
Anna Sale: But um, whether through talking about your work and the kind of work you wanted to make, or just talking about the kinds of the ways you expect to be treated by one another and wanna treat each other, have you had direct conversations about like masculinity, the kind of men you are?
Daniel Scheinert: Totally. Um, But funnily enough, we're kind of bad communicators about our personal lives. We communicate with each other through creative ideas.
Dan Kwan: Yeah.
Daniel Scheinert: So it's like while pitching, we're learning things about ourselves, you know?
Dan Kwan: We never really set out to say, Hey, let's do something about masculinity. Like, growing up most of my friendships that really clicked were actually with women. And I had a hard time fitting in, in most male activities…did not do well with sports teams, did not do well with, um, a lot of that stuff.
And, anytime I tried to imitate it, it would feel really awful. And so I actually, I kind of pushed back against it. I got into the punk scene, the local emo punk scene, and there's much more of like a queer open space in the punk world where people can dress however they want. And I found that really exciting and beautiful and I started to dress different. Most people at my school, you know, they actually thought I was gay and I wasn't gay.
And that was also a whole nother thing. I was very confused and I'm so grateful for all the queer thinkers and writers and activists who have decoupled, um, sexuality and gender for us all so that we have the language to understand ourselves better. Because like at the time I remember the phrase, um, metrosexual was getting passed around and I was like, ah, maybe that, am I metrosexual? Is that me? And then like, I tried it on for a week and I was like, hell no. Obviously it's a problematic phrase now, but at the time it was like, ew, this is, that's not what I'm talking about, but thanks for trying. And so, yeah, you know, I wore a lot of girls' clothes and I, you know, paint my nails. My mom was very, you know, being a very traditional Chinese immigrant, she was afraid that I was gay and we grew up in the Church. So t was a very complicated, strange thing that, um, only now that I'm an adult and I have my own son, I'm starting to really feel comfortable with.
But yeah, I'm really grateful, like, again, for the language that the queer community has provided straight men like me. Because I do think that when the queer community is lifted up, it actively helps cis straight men, and I don't think people see that enough. It's like we are trapped in all these boxes and we're just afraid to open the doors to let it all mix together.
(Overlook on Fairview- Blue Dot Sessions)
Anna Sale: As I was watching Everything Everywhere All At Once, you know, it's so much about the necessity of critique and honestly looking at pain and absurdity and suffering and misunderstandings. But there's also a moment pretty early in the film where there's conversation about the decline of community and institutions and durable relationships.
(clip from “Everything Everywhere All At Once”: Our institutions are crumbling. Nobody trusts their neighbor anymore. And you stay up at night wondering to yourself - how can we get back?)
And the question is how can we get back? And I wonder if, like, do you think of those questions as related? That on the one hand you're interested in like blowing up labels and on the other hand you're like, how do we maintain some kind of connective tissue?
Dan Kwan: Oh my God, there's so much to unpack in this.
Daniel Scheinert: Yeah, I mean we always kind of made fun of that speech as like our version of a MAGA speech, you know, just like…
Anna Sale: Oh, interesting.
Daniel Scheinert: You know, this is the guy who's like, we gotta get our institutions back or whatever.
And I think we kind of made it a bit, but tried to articulate the part of it that's somewhat relatable. That is understandable, my parents' generation is scared of change. And, ultimately, I do think the whole movie was kind of like an exercise in us, you know, not just being like the label exploding, screaming millennials, but trying to connect with and learn from the generation that came before us and empathize with, you know, the good parts of the society that came before us. But also, empathize with just how hard and beautiful and challenging it is to change your mind or to adjust or to move in new directions, you know?
Dan Kwan: Yeah. There's one more quote I want to throw out there, but I don't remember who it's from and I'm so sorry.
Daniel Scheinert: It's probably me.
Dan Kwan: Yeah, it's you. Exactly. You're a genius. I'm gonna re-quote you right now. Yeah. Um, and I'm gonna paraphrase, but they basically said like, society as a whole, we all need to believe that there is stability. But the artist's job is to remind himself or herself or themselves and the world that nothing in this world is stable. We can do better, we can be better. And in order to get there, we might have to, you know, break some eggs and feel some pain and, I think that's where we're at right now. I think we're all feeling a lot of pain.
Anna Sale: I think that's a James Baldwin quote. I just looked it up.
Dan Kwan: Yes. Thank you. James Baldwin, genius.
Anna Sale: “A society must assume that it is stable, but the artist must know and he must let us know that there is nothing stable under heaven.”
Dan Kwan: Thank you. I love that you could just look that up. Thank you, technology.
Daniel Scheinert: Yeah. He said it better.
Dan Kwan: Exactly. (laughs)
Anna Sale: And how does that sit with you as a parent, Dan? That idea of stability being a mirage.
Dan Kwan: Yeah. That's a beautiful and horrifying question. Um, parenting has been just the hardest thing and the most, like, life changing, paradigm-shifting thing for me. And, it's been really good for me. But one thing that I'm realizing now, looking back at my own childhood and looking at my son now who is almost four, is that one of the best gifts you can give to a child is… I don't wanna say the illusion of stability, but this magic trick where you create, you manifest stability in a chaotic world. If you can give them that safe launching pad, they will be so resilient and emotionally intelligent and capable of becoming stable for someone else, if that makes sense.
Um, and I think, you know, at no fault to my parents, they did the best with what they could. I grew up and I've become a very unstable human being. And I look at people like Daniel, and realize the reason why I am drawn to them and I need them in my life is because they grew up in households that gave them that stability. And so it's not… I'll say stability is not impossible, but is also not a given. And in fact, it has to be, it's something that has to be protected and fought for. And so as a parent, this is what I'm thinking about and I'm doing a terrible job sometimes with my son, it's like so hard to break free from these things. And so, um, anyways, I'm really grateful for the people around me who give me an example of what a confident, stable existence can look like. And I want to be able to pay that forward to the people around me.
Anna Sale: And Daniel Scheinert is that, is the way Dan described you, does that feel accurate inside yourself? Like, do you feel that sense of kind of like, um, stable footing?
Daniel Scheinert: I think so, sometimes. You know, making a project that's all about reflecting on these generation gaps has definitely made me reflect on some of the extremely lucky things I got out of, you know, my relationship with my family and what I learned from the generations before me.
Only now as an adult am I hearing these stories about what my dad's childhood was like. I'm learning that his childhood was pretty bonkers and like, he was a completely different parent to me than my granddad was to him. And seeing just how huge of a deal it is to be like, holy cow. Like, um, that's not an easy thing to do, to choose. To be like, no, I'm gonna be this kind of parent.
His career was kind of his second priority, maybe third, you know, like he had kids and was like, no, I'm gonna be a dad. Took like a three-year sabbatical to just be a dad for a while. I don't wanna shit talk my granddad, he was great, I grew up loving him. But like now I'm just hearing these stories and being like, oh wow. Like my childhood was different.
Anna Sale: He parented in a very different way.
Dan Kwan: Especially in the 90s, every 90s movie was all about how dads were never there, never at home.
Daniel Scheinert: Yeah And I'm from the south, I'm like a third or fourth generation redneck, and on both sides it goes back into some really desperate, impoverished times. And like yeah, some really epic cycles got broken and I'm so lucky.
(Overlook on Fairview- Blue Dot Sessions)
Anna Sale: You mentioned earlier that when you talked about what your hopes are for, the things you make together, that financial success or success at the box office hasn't been the thing that you've articulated as your mission. What is it? How have you committed to each other about what you're trying to do with what you’re making?
(End of Overlook on Fairview- Blue Dot Sessions)
Daniel Scheinert: I have this spiel I sometimes go on. You know, as a young person, filmmakers inspired me. Um, but then I would realize like some of them only make one good movie or they burn out and they disappear. And I was like, well then that doesn't seem like a career that I want. I actually want to have a career. And so then I was like, oh, who makes lots of good things? Those are the people I look to. And then you start hearing that a lot of filmmakers are assholes. And I was like, okay, who has a whole career, lots of movies and they're not mean…
Dan Kwan: …and they're good family people.
Daniel Scheinert: And then I realize even those people are like absentee parents and like, Dan and I love kids and being parents has always been super important to both of us. So we're like, okay, what we're looking for is a sustained career where we're not mean, the content's pretty good, and, uh, we're also not absentee, terrible partners and parents.
Dan Kwan: Mm-hmm.
Daniel Scheinert: We’re scared of burning out, we’re scared of turning into people we don’t admire or don’t want to be more than we're focused on the money, the awards, the celebrities, you know? Yeah. But like right now we're getting all of it. (laughs)
Dan Kwan: I know. It's, that's the wild thing.
Daniel Scheinert: Except we’re becoming assholes.
Dan Kwan: Yeah, exactly.
Daniel Scheinert: This has all been a front.
Daniel Scheinert: Like I think we're lucky. We weren't overnight successes, we've had 12 years to like, find collaborators and find these people in our lives that kind of keep us in check. Um, and we're gonna need that in the coming months.
I think there's definitely part of us that, I mean, we definitely didn't expect to be talking, um, that the promotion tour this spring would just segue into more promotion and into award season. I feel like right now we're becoming like these public figures, you know, like doing things like this podcast and we're like, this is barely even about the movie, this is just about us, like who cares?
Anna Sale: I care, it's been a really good conversation, I’ve learned a lot. (laughs)
Dan Kwan: Thank you, don't be us-deprecating. Okay. She cares.
Daniel Scheinert: (laughs)
(Death, Sex & Money closing theme plays)
Anna Sale: That was filmmakers Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert.
Their movie Everything Everywhere All At Once is now available to stream. And there’s also a link in our show notes to their first big breakthrough, the music video they directed for the song, “Turn Down for What.” It’s definitely worth a watch if you haven’t ever seen it and it includes some hot dance moves from Dan Kwan.
Death, Sex & Money is a listener-supported production of WNYC Studios in New York. This episode was produced by Afi Yellow-Duke and Andrew Dunn. The rest of our team is Liliana Maria Percy Ruiz, Zoe Azulay, and Lindsay Foster Thomas.
And special thanks to Lilly Clark for her help with this episode and for taking the fun photos of the Daniels in our studio. You can see them on our instagram @deathsexmoney.
The Reverend John Delore and Steve Lewis wrote our theme music.
Thank you to Lynn Meissner in Chicago, Illinois for being a member of Death, Sex & Money and supporting us with a monthly donation. Join Lynn and support what we do here by going to deathsexmoney.org/donate.
One other way the Daniels bring camp counselor energy to their projects, is how they treat their filmmaking crew. Like, for Everything Everywhere All At Once, they reversed the regular order of the credits and put the names of production assistants at the very top.
Daniel Scheinert: We were like, oh that sounds fun! So we looked into it and there's no union requirement. So like the scroll of the movie, like we put PAs up there and someone came up to me after a screening a few weeks ago and started crying because it meant so much to her. And she was like, “I came up as a PA and I saw the names come up in end credits.” She cried then and then cried again talking about it.
Anna Sale: I’m Anna Sale and this is Death, Sex & Money from WNYC.
(Death, Sex & Money theme music ends)