Interview with “Yes, We’re Open” Director, Richard Wong
20 Nov, 2012
For more information on Richard Wong’s work visit: IMDb
For more information on “Yes, We’re Open” visit:
I had the privilege to speak with “Yes, We’re Open” director, Richard Wong recently following the 30th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival back in March 2012. We discussed how his friendship with writer/composer/filmmaker H.P. Mendoza spawned the development of the film, his “homemade” post-production process and shotgun approach to movie making. Following the film’s world premiere at SFIAAFF30, it also screened in Los Angeles at the LA Asian Pacific Film Festival, and will make its New York premiere on August 4th as part of the 2012 Asian American International Film Festival.
Dig In Magazine: When did you start working in film and what is your training?
Richard Wong: I went to film school for a bit at College of San Mateo and the Academy of Art in San Francisco. But I ended up dropping out of both when I started working at a rental house called Videofax. There i learned as much as I could about video engineering and that led to my working as a DIT in LA for 5 years where I worked mostly on Fox TV shows including Arrested Development. Then I got a little burned out on the grind of TV, so I decided to take the summer off in San Francisco, where I reconnected with H.P. Mendoza. He sent me some samples of new music he was making and I thought, we should make a musical! And we did. “Colma: The Musical” changed my life and led to all kinds of different opportunities as well as travelling with it for almost 2 years.
DIM: How many of the films you’ve made traveled the festival circuit?
RW: As a director? 2.
DIM: I understand that you have worked as a cinematographer, as well as director, how do you decide what type of work you do on each specific film project?
RW: Opportunity mainly. As a DP I get offers and I field each of them individually. Since I’m not as established as a director, I marinate over my own personal projects and get them going from scratch. It’s quite a different process.
DIM: What are some of the past films that you were involved with? And where were they screened?
RW: “Colma: The Musical” was the first film I directed. It played over 40 film festivals and landed distribution. It played a limited theatrical run, which was very exciting for a tiny movie made for 15,000 bucks. The last film I DPed was called “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” which was released last summer theatrically. Working on that film under Wayne Wang inspired me to make “Yes, We’re Open” which I did very shortly after finishing that film.
DIM: How did the story for “Yes, We’re Open” come about?
RW: In 2009, H.P. and I were hanging out in my house and just talking and I told him I was interested in doing a film about sex. Ever the geyser of ideas, H.P. immediately said “I’ve got an idea, wanna direct it?” I was like, “YES.” A few months later he produced a script and we had designed it to do in December of that year with 15,000 dollars, like “Colma.” But I liked the script so much, I thought it was worth a shot to send it around, maybe make a bigger movie of it. When my agents and producers didn’t bite, it ended up on the shelf as i worked as a Cinematographer. After working a whole year on “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” I was inspired to direct again, and “YES, WE’RE OPEN” was the logical choice to make next. I had a 2 month break in between movies so that’s the amount of time we had to make this thing, and I think part of that time restraint is how the film was made. Sometimes when you have too much time you relax, but when something needs to happen by Thursday, it happens.
DIM: Was it difficult to mix in a bit of comedy with the seriousness of the main theme – a couple in a committed, and monogamous relationship contemplating an open
RW: I wouldn’t call it difficult. I think the tone of the film has shifts, but I think I’m naturally interested in films like that. “Colma” was very much the same way.
DIM: What was it like working with the very talented writer/filmmaker H.P. Mendoza?
RW: HP and I are close friends first. Filmmaking buddies second. When we hang out we laugh nonstop and our humor and views of the world are very similar. I think that shows on screen.
DIM: How did you choose your cast and crew, and more specifically the film’s main characters played by Lynn Chen, Parry Shen, and Sheetal Sheth?
RW: Because we had such a short schedule, we had very limited time to put the cast together. Theresa [Navarro] and I met for the very first time about “Yes, We’re Open” during SFIAAFF in 2011, and the closing night film was Dave Boyle’s “Surrogate Valentine.” Speaking to Dave he mentioned Lynn and what a joy she is to work with. I also saw Parry in that film in a small role, but could see him as a likeable douchebag. So I sent both of them the script, and they both responded the same day, eager to do it. Lynn then recommended her friend, Sheetal Sheth for Elena, so I sent her the script, and she also immediately responded and offered to do it. Having a great script makes putting a movie together with great speed so much easier! Kerry McCrohan, who plays Ronald, is a close friend of mine, and I always from day one had him in mind for this role.
DIM: Why did you decide to shoot the film in the city of San Francisco and what made you decide to shoot some scenes in local venues such as independent bookstores and open-air farmer’s markets?
RW: The script was actually originally written for New York, mainly because I was going to be in New York when I originally wanted to shoot it. But the pieces all came together in San Francisco, and I live in San Francisco. That said, I feel the need to shoot films in San Francisco and show a side of it that isn’t always seen, like Green Apple books and Alemany Farmers Market. Also those locations play into the story, so I don’t feel like they are unmotivated or forced. I actually would have loved to show much more favorite local hauntings, but in the end, it has to fit the story.
DIM: How long did the film take to shoot and edit?
RW: We had something like 21 days of pre-production and 16 days of shooting, with a couple of pick-up days. As for editing, I cut together an assemble cut in about a week, and then took a long break from it to clear my head. Then spent about a month straight editing with Theresa staying on my couch and just hacking away at the thicket. I had a list of scenes to work on first, like a tier system. The five most important scenes that will inform the rest of the movie. We started there and worked our way down, it was a very fun experience. I spent another month doing the color correction and the sound mix all from my couch in my living room. It’s truly a homemade film.
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