Making ‘Sunset Stories:’ A Conversation with Ernesto Foronda

"Sunset Stories."

This month, Cinema Asian American on Xfinity On Demand presents Ernesto Foronda and Silas Howard’s romantic comedy, “Sunset Stories.” After much-talked about screenings at film festivals around the country, from SXSW to the San Francisco International Asian American, the film is now available to audiences nation-wide.

Set in Los Angeles, the film stars Sung Kang (“Fast & Furious”) and Monique Gabriela Curnen (“The Mentalist”, “CSI”) as former lovers whose lives are thrown back together through a series of misadventures that force them to revisit, and rethink their history together.

May (Curnen) is a high-strung and overly meticulous nurse who must return to Los Angeles to retrieve bone marrow for a transplant. Soon after her trip begins, her world turns upside down when past and present collide and she runs smack into JP (Kang), the man she left behind five years ago. Flustered, May loses the cooler containing the marrow. With only 24 hours remaining, the two embark on an offbeat search through the streets of Los Angeles only to discover that just when you think all is lost you find what you least expected.

Co-director Foronda, a veteran screenwriter and producer, discussed the making of “Sunset Stories”, the challenges of making independent films, and his relationship to the city of Los Angeles.

Most people know you from your screenplays and producing – these include a number of independent films including Justin Lin’s “Better Luck Tomorrow” and Quentin Lee’s “Ethan Mao”. This is the first feature film you’ve both written and directed, it seems to have come from a personal place, and was made with a close-knit team, including your co-director Silas Howard and producer Valerie Stadler. What was it about this project that inspired you to take the leap to directing?

EF: I’ve always wanted to direct. I went to film school, both in grad and undergrad and directed many films, although many were actually experimental films that didn’t require the classic definition of directing. I’ve waited this long because of fear and waiting for a story that personally moved me. Fear was alleviated because I took the pressure off myself by surrounding myself with amazing friends and collaborators both behind and in front of the camera. It was a very supportive process and environment, from co-writer/producer Valerie Stadler, the uber talented director Silas Howard, to producer Tatian Kelley. Also, the fact that films could be made at a no-budget level also took the pressure off from a producing standpoint. I was also very inspired by the story because it was something I have been toying around with and carrying in my head for a decade and it had to come out in some form or another. The story was based on my sister who worked in transporting bone marrow samples for a children’t oncology hospital. I also wanted to make a film filled with outright emotion because I was so tired of indies that had to stifle any form of emotion. Overall it was a tribute to the city I love and the interconnectivity of people beyond biology and blood.

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Let’s talk about the casting of the film. I was initially drawn to it by your fine-looking and talented leads, Sung Kang (“Fast and Furious”) and Monique Gabriela Curnen (“The Mentalist”, “CSI”), who have a wonderful, nuanced chemistry, but equally pleasurable are the cameos dotted throughout of familiar faces: Michelle Krusiec, Harold Perrineau, Zosia Mamet and Justin Vivian Bond to name a few. I can tell that you had a lot of fun populating the cast, and there’s an understated logic to how everyone fits together. What guided your choices?

EF: This film was a no budget film and I remember writing the script with Valerie Stadler and choosing locations near the areas we both lived in — and we live only a couple of blocks apart. We basically listed, locations we had easy access to and wrote them in the script. We did this also with our characters, like with locations or as Val would say: “Making the foot fit the shoe.” We had a lot of actor friends and we wrote characters that would be a fit to our friends. Others were casted the old-fashioned way, but in all we were extremely lucky to have such a fantastic cast. As a whole, we really wanted to represent the LA that we knew, which was diverse, vibrant and always a surprise. We wanted to create a familiar fairy tale with very unexpected and unfamiliar characters.

This film occupies an interesting place within the landscapes of independent and commercial films. It is a broadly appealing romantic drama/comedy that stands up to any Hollywood films but at the same time there’s an integrity to your vision for it, as we see through the casting of your leads who are both actors of color, and to the naturalness of the multi-cultural, queer world they inhabit. How would you describe your intentions for the film in these regards?

EF: A lot of the people involved with the film were all raised in a very independent film world with a DIY work ethic. Many of us reached a certain level in the more mainstream film world, but many still couldn’t quite get to a certain level for many reasons. I remember getting a group of frustrated filmmakers together and just complaining about how we couldn’t get our projects off the ground. We had to remind ourselves that we had the resources and talent and know-how to make films like we used to, instead of waiting for funding or some sort of permission to make our films. There was a new wave of no-budget films being made and equipment was now completely affordable and readily available. We shot the whole film the very compact and affordable Canon 5D. We also looked at all the friends we had, from cinematographers to costume designers that we could ask for help in making the film. In all we wanted to make a film, that was purely relatable in a mainstream way. We wanted to be able to play in their field, while staying true and retaining our queer, multi-cultural point of view and voices.

There’s a lot of fondness for the city of Los Angeles in “Sunset Stories” – the streets, the people, the micro-communities, the interconnected-ness of life. What is it about the city that inspired this?

EF: Los Angeles inspired “Sunset Stories” in exactly the ways you mentioned in the questions. The city is so vast and the area that I love and live in, the east side to be precise, is very diverse, with many people and micro-communities comingling. I see a lot of films set in LA but I rarely see the LA that I experience, so I wanted to see it represented. I also love the interconnected-ness of the community, especially in “outsider” communities that form families outside of biological ones, those are really inspiring to me. Lastly, LA is not known to be a walking-friendly city, and that’s very true to a certain extent, but the LA that I know and love is quite beautiful, especially at night. All that combined, help form our love letter to Los Angeles.

What are you working on now?

EF: Currently, I am working on several scripts for both features and television. On the feature side, I’ve been working on a screenplay about Agatha Christie and an adaptation of the classic Japanese manga “Dororo” for director, Justin Lin. I’m completing several indie scripts including a coming-of-age story set in the Philippines. I have a great love for all forms and genres of film from indie, experimental, docs, to tentpole spectacles and my work reflects that, but I hope not in a crazy haphazard way.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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