by Jason Whyte
Surrogate Valentine - At SxSW Film
"Surrogate Valentine" is a romantic comedy, a buddy movie, and a road trip all rolled into one. It's about my good friend Goh Nakamura, who is playing himself, coming to terms with trying to have a life when you're always on the road. He gets hired to teach an obnoxious actor (Chadd Stoops) how to play guitar for his new movie role, and wrestles with his feelings for his longtime friend Rachel (Lynn Chen).
Is this your first film in SxSW? Do you have any other festival experience? Do you plan to attend the festival screenings?
I previously attended SXSW 2008 with a film I produced called "Natural Causes" (directed by Michael Lerman, Alex Cannon and Paul Cannon). I will definitely be in attendance at the first two screenings of the movie! My producer Michael Lerman will handle Q&A duties at the third screening.
Could you give me a little look into your background, and what led you to the desire to want to make film?
I always wanted to work in the arts, and I didn't really spark to the idea of being a filmmaker until I saw "Dick Tracy" when I was eight years old. I thought Warren Beatty was the coolest man alive. It was like nothing else I had ever seen. A few years later, I saw Woody Allen's "Manhattan Murder Mystery." Even though it's considered a minor Allen work, seeing that at 11 years old really opened my eyes to the possibility of telling simple stories through filmmaking. All he had at his disposal were people talking in front of the camera, but it kept my interest for two hours. As I got older, I saw more and more movies and knew that's what I wanted to do with my life.
Growing up, you were no doubt asked the eternal question “When I grow up I want to be a …”
…a Newspaper Cartoonist. Seriously, my ambition for a long time was to create a comic strip like "Calvin and Hobbes." But as I got more into movies and realized that my drawing skills were not top notch, I moved on. I was a huge Dick Tracy fan as a kid, which is probably why I liked the film so much.
How did this whole project come together?
My previous film "White on Rice" was a pretty big undertaking, and since I self-distributed it following our festival run, it really ended up taking 3 years of my life from start to finish. I wanted to do something simple and very personal and cheap just to get back into the swing of things.
During the whole "White on Rice" festival thing, I met Goh Nakamura. We hit it off, and I thought he would make a perfect main character for an autobiographical story I wanted to make into a film. To my delight, he was into the idea and even came on as a co-writer with my usual collaborator Joel Clark. In the end, it became Goh's movie as much as it is mine.
What was the biggest challenge in the production of the movie, be it the script, principal photography or post-production stage?
This is always the toughest question, because I think any film of this size faces the exact same problems. Not enough money, not enough time; we shot it in 15 days. But since this isn't my first rodeo, I was able to enjoy it for the most part and relish the challenge. I think that finding the right tone for the film in post-production was a challenge. I wanted to find a balance between being a sincere portrait of Goh's personal journey as well as a raucous comedy.
Please tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.
Bill Otto, my cinematographer, is definitely one of my closest collaborators and a great friend. This is our third film together. The first one ("Big Dreams Little Tokyo") was shot on miniDV, the second ("White on Rice") on Super 16mm and we shot this one on HDV (basically an HD resolution image compressed to miniDV tape). The choice really came down to budget. We could not have made the film if we didn't shoot it on borrowed equipment. The choice to shoot in black and white was also budgetary; not having to worry about gelling lights and wardrobe color freed up an enormous amount of time. We did not rent any movie lights, but just used fixtures that Bill picked up from a hardware store. It was a blast.
Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world (directors, actors, cinematographers, etc)? Did you have any direct inspirations from filmmakers for this project in particular?
Warren Beatty is still my hero. That guy has a great batting average. He only directed a handful of movies, but every one of them is a gem. And he looks like he's fun to sit next to at awards shows. Beyond that, there are a ton of directors who I admire and try to learn from.
How far do you think you would want to go in this industry? Do you see yourself working on larger stories for a larger budget under the studio system, or do you feel that you would like to continue down the independent film path?
I would love to do a studio feature. But I am happy doing it the independent way too. I just want to be able to continue making a feature or two every year. I like working at a fast pace and working on a variety of different projects.
If you weren’t in this profession, what other line of work do think you would be involved with?
It's hard to imagine. I once took a career aptitude test that told me I was best suited for the Custodial and Food Services industries. I've spent most of my life trying to prove that test wrong. Like most independent filmmakers I work other jobs within the industry to make ends meet. I'm primarily a film editor, and I'm currently working on Kevin Barker's ("The Family Jams") first narrative feature "Last Kind Words" and Old English's "Exquisite Corpse Project".
How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?
It's hard to say. It's simultaneously more and less important than it used to be. Unanimous critical approval is a very valuable thing for a film in terms of gaining an audience's attention. However, the Rotten Tomato factor has diluted the critical dialogue and made everything quantitative instead of qualitative. I for one wish the ubiquitous Tomatometer would just go away.
What would you say to someone on the street to see your film instead of the latest blockbuster playing at the local megaplex?
I would lie to them and say some marketable star like Channing Tatum or Jamie Bell was in my movie and that they'd be there for a Q and A.
What would you say or do to someone who is talking during or conversing/texting on their cell phone while you’re watching a movie?
I'm pretty passive aggressive so I probably wouldn't say anything and just complain about them later.
What do you love the most about this business of making movies?
I love the process of discovering new collaborators and together finding unexpected stories to tell.
No doubt there are a lot of aspiring filmmakers at film festivals who are out there curious about making a film of their own. Do you have any advice that you could provide for those looking to get a start?
Stay in school. Seriously. I dropped out of college to make my first feature, and now I'm close to thirty and chipping away at my degree a little bit at a time. You will get too busy to ever go back.
And finally…what is your all time favourite motion picture, and why?
It changes on a weekly basis. Current favorite is "Chinatown."
This is one of the many films screening at the 2011 SXSW in Austin, Texas between March 11-19. For more information on the film’s screening, point your browser to www.sxsw.com/film.
Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com
Twitter: @jasonwhyte Facebook: jasonwhyte
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=3193
originally posted: 03/10/11 16:51:47