If you Only Read One of my Blog Entries, Try This One

For those of you who skim, I’ll get to the point and implore you to check out The National Marrow Donor Program and Asian Americans for Miracle Marrow Matches. People of color are extremely under represented in the registry, specifically in the Asian American community so please take the time to consider and save a life.

Now back for those who are reading on:

As I’ve written in past blogs, the main plot of my film Sunset Stories involves a nurse who loses a bone marrow specimen that she is transporting cross-country. It was inspired by my sister, who works in a pediatric oncological hospital as a CHOC Children’s BMT (blood and marrow transplant) Coordinator. I’ve always been worried about talking explicitly about both simultaneously because I feared coming off as an opportunist from the whole film promoting aspect of it all. But after talking to a lot of people, I just decided that it is what it is and while on one hand it could be seen in a negative light, I also don’t want to miss an opportunity to use it as a positive tool.

‘Sunset Stories’ Stories: Giving Up The Dream

It’s been a about a year since Sunset Stories made its film festival premiere and this coming weekend we’re excited to have our Bay Area premiere with two screenings at CAAMFEST formerly the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival. I’m incredibly pumped to screen at this festival, which has provided some of the best festival experiences I’ve had to date.

A few weeks ago, I was having Sunday dinner with my parents and made the utter mistake of telling them how excited to tell them the news about our new screening – I mean c’mon! It’s at the 1,400 seat, historic Castro Theater for chrissakes! – Only to be met by blank, completely unimpressed stares. I’m sure many of you out there in the interwebs can relate about how parents have that special knack of taking something you are so incredibly proud of and knocking it down a peg or a hundred, sending you crashing and burning from your elated high. And I totally think that Asian parents have this down to an art from with their painful bluntness.

‘Sunset Stories’ Stories: Interviewing Monique Gabriela Curnen

This upcoming Saturday, Sunset Stories will finally be having our New York City premiere when it plays The New York International Latino Film Festival. This continues our run of festivals that started at SXSW, Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival and Outfest. It’s been amazing to see how well the film has been received and how diverse the audiences have been. I think that’s kind of a rare achievement and speaks to our intentions in making the film in the first place.

I interviewed our wonderful lead actress Monique Gabriela Curnen, also a long standing member of the YOMYOMF family, on how the journey of Sunset Stories has been thus far.

What drew you to working on Sunset Stories?

I was drawn to the prospect of playing a flawed heroine, a woman who has to learn how she’s getting in her own way in an effort to control every outcome around her. I think she is a great example of how we sometimes cling to certain ideas or practices because they help us feel secure, but they might also be getting in the way of our opportunity to live deeper, more vulnerable, challenging, scary and fun lives. I was also drawn to walking in the shoes of someone who gets to deal with old baggage head-on. May gets the chance to clear up a major falling-out with someone she loved – we don’t always get those opportunities in life.

‘Sunset Stories’ Stories: Interviewing the Sung Kang

I can’t believe I’ve known Sung Kang for over a decade. And neither can I believe that we have worked together multiple times and have not inflicted grievous bodily harm unto each other. I jest, I mean I think we’re both pretty laid back and calm and we must have a lot of common ground after all these years.

I met Sung while working on Better Luck Tomorrow, I remember that after his audition, there was no question in any of our minds, he was Han – little did he know that he would be HAN for over a decade. What I sparked onto with Sung was how his personality is really different from the brooding, silent types that he portrays on screen. In person, he’s really lighthearted, goofy and love to laugh. Our conversations usually centered around how we both loved and hated what we did (acting and filmmaking) and just wanted to somehow capture those moments of what we love the most and make a career out of it – all on our own terms (kind of a pipe dream, I know). Our paths continued to cross over the years and we always discussed working on a project together, but things never really got off the ground. I (co-)wrote Sunset Stories with Sung Kang in mind. I remember him telling me that he wanted to do something different. The character of JP in Sunset Stories is an East LA musician who is on the verge of big life changes. Should he cash in his dreams and start a family and be resigned to be a wedding singer? I knew that both Sung and I had talked about trading in the dream for reality, so I knew even if this character was far from him, he could identify with that central question.

‘Sunset Stories’ Stories: Internet Killed the Movie Star

Here’s the new clip of Sunset Stories with Sung Kang, Michelle Krusiec and Monique Gabriela Curnen.

Less than a week until our West Coast premiere and I’m biting my nails. I’ve been inviting everyone I know to the screening, which seats 600 and having dreams that only my parents show up. They think the film is okay, not their cup of tea. They tell me I should make films with talking animals, they like those. Then, I wake up and look through my contact lists and send reminders on the countless invites I’ve sent.

Once you’re screening on the festival circuit, it seems like a good time to relax and enjoy yourself. Partly, that’s true. I think you definitely have to soak in the fun and give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back, but it’s also the beginning of the second half of the journey that’s just as physically and emotionally draining, even more-so as you put yourself out there to be judged and criticized. Sunset Stories is not my first rodeo. I’ve been in this position a few times before but I’m still just amazed how incredibly unprepared I am and how much harder it seems to get.

‘Sunset Stories’ Stories: Writing What You Know

So it’s been a few weeks since my last Sunset Stories entry – and I realized I needed to take a much needed break from the film even though it’s “completed” the rush to prepare for the next stage – festivals and hopefully some distribution. It’s been emotionally and physically draining. All I want to do is veg out in front of the television and/or play Mass Effect 3 all day, but really all that amounts to is more guilt and more work.

For this entry I wanted to address a question we got at every Q&A we’ve had so far. Where did the story come from? I know a lot of friends have actually asked the question in many forms. They’re confused about what the film is about – really about. Is it a comedy? Dark? Romantic? The synopsis can only give you so much, so I’m going to try to answer that question as best as I can. It’s an equally easy and hard question to answer. We don’t have a trailer for the film partly because we couldn’t afford to make one (that’s true folks, not kidding) and partly because we couldn’t seem to distill the story and tone of the film into two minutes and some change. We didn’t want to mislead or confuse people and potential distributors and wanted them to discover the film in the theater. Wrong or right, I get a lot of question for clarity so here goes…

‘Sunset Stories’ Stories: Act Like You Mean It

One of the most frequently asked questions I’ve gotten on making Sunset Stories is — “How do you get good professional actors to agree to work on your film?” Of course, each project is a different case and you can do anything from contacting their reps, getting to them personally, or stalking them (I kid…), but nowadays, access seems a lot easier especially in this age of social networking, and of course, the help of a great casting director (shout out to Brad Gilmore) doesn’t hurt either.

But that’s not really what I’m writing about here. Not about access, but how does one hook an actor when you have access? Basically speaking, what is the actor looking for in the material and in the filmmaker that will have them agree to long, unglamorous nights of production hell that is the micro-budget films. I’m pretty sure the promise of a whopping $100 per day isn’t going to do it. With Sunset Stories, we were very lucky to assemble an incredibly talented group of actors and I’ve asked two – Mousa Kraish and Michelle Krusiec to answer a few questions on what they look for in joining low budget productions. Better to get it straight from the horse’s mouth – what does that even mean?

‘Sunset Stories’ Stories: When Micro-Budgets Attack!

After our initial screening/world premiere of SUNSET STORIES at SXSW, the nerves had gone away and I was able to enjoy the following screenings and Q&A’s. I was glad to see that the audiences were understanding and enjoying the film at both the narrative level and the larger concepts we were playing with – especially in terms of the diversity in casting. People were not really used to these images and representations and found the experience unique.

This past week, the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival also took place. There were many great films there but two in particular, I AM A GHOST by H.P. Mendoza and YES, WE’RE OPEN by Richard Wong, are great examples of amazing micro-budget filmmaking. Both are true Asian American films, but take it a step further with their use of genre and content. I AM A GHOST is a horror film while YES, WE’RE OPEN is a daring romantic comedy with two AA leads! As I’ve blogged before, these are the ways micro-budget must be used to help elevate Asian American films to the foreground. And again, this is the case of AA filmmakers taking matters into their own hands and telling their own stories without compromise.

‘Sunset Stories’ Stories: The End of a Journey

So I decided, as a gift to myself, that I would take a relaxing journey to Austin for SUNSET STORIES’ world premiere screening at SXSW 2012. I thought it would be a great way to unwind and reflect on the journey of the film, not to mention take in the beauty of the southwest. Plus, it was a straight shot for the most part through the 10E. Simple. Easy breezy. Until I got stuck on the side of the road for over six hours in the rain…anyway, like any film journey this seemed fated. It was long, hard, grueling, but my goal at the end was worth all of it. After being rescued, I soldiered on to Austin, well in time for the screening that night.

The rest was a BLUR. A bunch of our team and our two leads, Sung Kang and Monique Curnen, made it out for the screening that night at the Alamo Ritz, an amazing theater that served food while you watched the film. That may be annoying for some, but I thought it was comforting and completely reflected the spirit of the festival. If you ever make it there, try the fried pickles! The screening went well – I was told it did. I kept coming in and out of the theater, to check in but couldn’t stand to watch the film with an audience just yet. From the places I did catch, the audience laughed and were engaged. Our Q&A was fun and entertaining. For some reason, Sung Kang managed to talk about his fabulous hair and I had an experience that brought the BETTER LUCK TOMORROW screening from a decade ago back to full circle – but I’ll leave that for another blog entry.

‘Sunset Stories’ Stories: Why Micro-Budget Films are so Damn Important & Everyone Should Make One

Ernesto’s back to write about his new film SUNSET STORIES, which will have its World Premiere at SXSW on Saturday. The film’s executive produced by our own Justin Lin (with Sung Kang starring) and the first feature to go out under our YOMYOMF Films banner. Ernesto will be sharing his journey with the film on a regular basis. 

From my previous and only entry, I had this grand plan of blogging on the experience of making micro-budget films, going into detail using my first feature SUNSET STORIES as an example and chronicling our long journey up to our premiere – then the realities of micro-budget reared its ugly head and set in.

In a matter of about two weeks we had to finish the picture edit, re-write, re-record and edit in the voice over, prepare titles and title animation, have a new score composed, color correct the picture, edit the music sound, sound mix and finally playback to our screening tape. This doesn’t even mention the publicity and promotions materials and logistics of making the festival screening happen. I won’t bore you with those details. In all, it was a Herculean task, to say the least, especially with what little budget we had left.

Again, we were scrambling, begging, pleading and promising our first born to anyone that would help us. And as of yesterday, everything is finished. It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve experienced in my whole life, and the only thing running in my head, over and over again: I WILL NEVER EVER DO THIS SHIT AGAIN.

‘Sunset Stories’ Stories: The Beginning

Please welcome Ernesto to our YOMYOMF family. Actually as writer/producer on BETTER LUCK TOMORROW, Ernesto’s been a part of the fam for a long time, but he joins us in an official capacity to blog about his new film SUNSET STORIES, which will have its just-announced World Premiere at SXSW in March and is executive produced by our own Justin Lin (with Sung Kang starring) and the first feature to go out under our YOMYOMF Films banner. Ernesto will be sharing his journey with the film on a regular basis.

It took a lot of convincing for me to write this journal about the making of SUNSET STORIES (formerly COOLER), a micro-budget film shot nearly one and a half years ago. People who know me, know first hand how quiet, insular and private I am, and writing something like this amounts to pulling teeth – with a very, very rusty pair of pliers. Slowly. One at a time. With the molars breaking to pieces and you have to dig them out of blood soaked gumflesh…okay, you get the picture, it’s painful. Well, I finally gave in, so here goes.

With this journal, I’m going to trace the making of SUNSET STORIES and follow our journey to our World Premiere screening at SXSW in March. It’s been a long hard road, with a lot of twists, turns and dead-ends – seriously, as I write this, we’re still scrambling to finish and STILL begging for favors because of our limited budget – but fighting ‘til the end. If you’re reading this, odds are you too are thinking about making a film. I write this for you. Maybe you can avoid the many pitfalls we suffered through or maybe I’ll convince you to go back to grad school for industrial design, trade school for nursing and x-ray tech, or, of course, culinary school. Trust me, I’ve got a drawer full of half finished applications at home. But like many of you, I’m a glutton for punishment and no matter how hard I try to convince myself otherwise, film and writing is where my heart is.