‘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…

The premise for Sunset Stories is a very personal one. It tells the story of May, a nurse who must travel back to her old home of Los Angeles to fetch a bone marrow transplant housed in a COOLER. She loses the cooler and must ask the help of her ex-boyfriend, JP, whom she abruptly left five years ago. Now, I used to never believe in the adage of “write what you know,” I mean I often write in genre, but over the years, I’ve found it to be very true. Even when I write high concept films, I find it rings truer if I mine things from my life (characters, lines of dialog, conflicts, scenarios). There’s a sense of specificity that you can’t get from making it up.

So the story is partly inspired by my older sister, who’s a nurse (big surprise, a Filipina nurse!). She works at a children’s oncology hospital in Orange County and she used to come home every day, just crying and bawling her eyes out, reminiscent of Holly Hunter in Broadcast News for you older folks that remember that. She would hold in her feelings all day from dealing with the kids and then cathartically cry all night. After a while, she had this opportunity to work with the transplants and retrieve donations, even from overseas (for you nurses, I didn’t fact check so I’m using layman’s terms). I would peruse her photos where she would pose in front of tourist sites still holding the cooler that she needed to keep her eyes on. Usually, she only had a couple of hours layover so she didn’t have much time. These pictures inspired the character of May.

The second inspiration is my fear of setting foot in Berlin. I had a relationship that ended badly where I never spoke to my ex since an amorphous break up. There was no resolution or closure. I am always certain that if I ever set foot in the city that according to Murphy’s Law (in this case more like Tony Robbins) will bump into him, because that’s what always happens. So I’ve never returned. Even when a film I helped produced premiered there in 2010, I couldn’t get myself to go. Digging deeper, I also know that’s it’s more than the place or a feared encounter, it’s about holding onto a memory or regret so that we can have a reason to hold ourselves back – an excuse to punish ourselves or keep from moving on. And from the reaction I get from the screenings, this is a very common thing. We’ve all got that one place, one thing, one albatross hanging around our necks that feels like a noose. In Sunset Stories, both May and JP must face and reconcile their past to be able to create a future.

But wait, I’m making it sound like such a downer. It’s not. It’s also funny and hopeful, and a big love letter to Los Angeles, which often gets a bad wrap. In all, it’s a heart-felt fairy tale that everyone can relate to. It’s a comedy, a drama, and has something for everyone. Even beautiful and inspired animation by artist Giles Timms. Also, I’m really thankful for my collaborators, Valerie Stadler (co-writer) and Silas Howard (co-director) who helped shape these personal stories and kept them from a becoming a melodramatic heaping mess. And a note to aspiring screenwriters out there, WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW. Especially at the micro-budget level, where “what you know” is your unique voice. You might as well embrace it because, dammit, it will always sneak up on you.

Our next screening is at the LAAPFF on May 12 @ 6PM (YOMYOMF is the Community Presenter for this screening. For info and tickets click here). We’ve never had time for a cast and crew screenings and since this is our hometown we’re going to have a great crowd to celebrate the film with, so I hope everyone can make it. Oh and do me a favor, if you could please LIKE our facebook page. It’s really important to have an online presence and that all begins and ends with facebook as we all know.

In the next few installments, in lieu of a trailer I’ll be sharing clips from the film. The week of our screening, I’ll try and post a scene that didn’t make it in the film, and you don’t want to miss it. It shows a different side of him like you’ve never seen or heard before.

In this first clip, after bumping into her ex-boyfriend, JP, May realizes that she’s missing something….

(Photos by Love Ablan)

3 thoughts on “‘Sunset Stories’ Stories: Writing What You Know

  1. it is good to find more real stories that captivate the audience not only by the good performances but also for excellent scripts, which are closer to the reality of day to day, good job

  2. That, or you write like Pedro Almodovar, whose scripts are distorted and twisted, but his imagination is… well, beyond imagination.

  3. I’m tellin’ ya, guys. Uncle Sung’s going to be a hit. I told you. Get that man a sitcom contract now! “Bachelor Uncle, starring Sung Kang and introducing Kevin Wu.” Make it happen.

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