Here’s an old interview from 1998 about Sunsets. These are excerpts… read the whole thing at the link below.
By Jeremy Richards
Eric Nakamura is one of the founders of Asian-American (and all around cool) magazine GIANT ROBOT, a journal of West coast youth culture that’s found a dedicated audience from coast to coast. Teaming up with his cousin, Michael Idemoto, Nakamura has recently made the leap from editor to film maker, but the leap from print to film has done nothing to diminish the impact of his work.
Eric and Mike spent almost four years working on their first film, “Sunsets”. The directors follow the last summer a group of young friends spend together before they each go their seperate way. The film plays on the dynamics in a group of young men, looking for something to do during a sleepy, hot summer. Although the summer is one in which nothing seems to happen, all of the characters are aware of the impending end to their relationship. Thankfully, there is no spoon-fed, generic focus on the characters various racial and social backgrounds as they pass the summer hanging out on the beach, breaking into cars and spending time together. Instead, Eric and Mike decide to let their characters become entities for themselves, not paper-cut representations of different aspects of society.
Flak caught up to the two of them and discussed the arduous process of making an independent film, along with the motivations that lay behind making a movie in the first place.
Interview with Eric Nakamura
Flak: So what are you guys doing to get your film seen?
Eric Nakamura: Well, we were showing it any time we could show it, anytime we could get a screening in some city, we would take it. We just did San Francisco again, a little while ago, and so we just keep pushing it. And we have this distribution with a company called Phaedra. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Takeshi’s Gonin, but he distributed Gonin and some other Japanese movies. It’s still fringe kind of stuff, but it’s a lot bigger. He’s going to start it off for midnight shows in December in LA.
Flak: What kind of responses were you getting from people who saw the movie?
EN: Oh man…everytime it shows, we get a few people who walk out. They’re expecting, like, “Apocalypse Now,” or something really huge, and then they look it at, and it’s black and white and kind of gritty and there’s some language in it…so they’re like “fuck, we gotta get out of here, forget this” and they just know within the first five minutes that it’s not their kind of film. So there’s that, but then that’s a small minority, and on the whole people really like it. I really get very little criticism on it.
Flak: As far as the cars in movie, where did you get them, and how did you get to break them up like that?
EN: There were two cars that were beat up, right? Both of them were same car. We just turned it around. You don’t notice because we parked it a different way. It’s the same car, but we just blasted it twice. We had to buy it though, which sucked. We had to buy it, we broke it up, and towed it away. Even when we were out in Madison [Wisconsin], we saw so many people with cars in their yards, outside of Madison in those little towns. And we we were just like “Fuck.” We just wanted anybody’s leftover car, and we couldn’t one. When it came time to get one, we just couldn’t get one.
Flak: Have you have any sort of weird experiences doing discussions after the movie?
EN: The cool thing is…did you ever see “Karate Kid II” where the guy goes to Japan? And that girl Tamara Tomita, that girl? SHE liked it. And she like totally blew us away and gave us the coolest, greatest comment, which was that she said exactly what she felt, that she loved it and stuff- you know, when I was little (well, not little, but old enough, anyway) she was the chick I wanted. You know what I mean? I was on stage with my cousin [Michael Idemoto] in a film festival in LA, and she was in the crowd and said all this stuff, and I couldn’t even see her because it was pitch black in the crowd. And then afterwards she walked up, and it was her, and I was like: “Oh my GOD. That was the chick.” She was the hot chick at the time. I was just stoked.
Flak: You guys spent about three years writing [Sunsets], right?
EN: Yeah, definetely.
Flak: And you made it in a week, or something like that?
EN: Well, not one week; it was a little longer. It took up a good three weeks, actually.
Flak: When was that, exactly?
EN: We shot it in ’95 and finished in January of 1997. But you know editing and all that stuff takes a long time. When you’ve got a lot of money, it’s a lot easier. With a lot of money, it speeds up the editing process. But we were editing on a home system, and nobody really does that anymore.
Flak: I thought that really worked as far as showing the groove they were kind of forced into. I’d like to ask you about Josh Brant and how he found about the film.
EN: Yeah, we were having problems casting that character. We knew who we wanted: we wanted a guy just like Josh. He’s kind of like the tough guy. And it’s suprisingly not easy to find. We sent scripts out to people who were interested, and they didn’t want to play that kind of a role. They were just afraid of that role, playing the mean guy. It’s kind of an exciting role to play, though…it’s kind of like playing a De Niro role in Goodfellas. I was thinking that you’d come off pretty rad…girls would love you! It’s really exciting, but we had a hard time casting it. The best two people we had came from the supermarket ads we put up. We just went to the big-ass supermarket in the white town next to [Watsonville]. Watsonville is kind of like mixed…a lot of Latinos. But Ascot is kind of like the rich area near Watsonville. We put up a billboard there, kind of figuring: you know, they’ve got money, maybe they have time to think about this sort of stuff, you know what I mean? I don’t know if it’s a weird classification or ghetto-ization of somebody, but I figure that people with money have more time to think about being an actor. In Watsonville, you’re not going to be an actor. If you’re a dreamer, you might be able to, but if you’re living in Watsonville, you’ve got no chance. The chances of you getting out and making it like that…well, it’s slimmer. We just put it up in that neighborhood, and right away we got two calls and both of them were pretty good. Once Josh showed, we saw his face, and we’re like: “here’s what we wanted.”
Interview with Michael Idemoto
Flak: Was the film autobiographical for you? How much were you influenced by your Watsonville youth experience?
Michael Idemoto: We like to say it’s fiction, but it’s also very personal, for me and Eric, in our own ways.
Flak: As far as the character Mark goes, did you empathize with him, and were you playing yourself to some extent?
MI: I guess so. It’s personal stuff.
Flak: You guys wrote this over the span of three years. Did you kind of bounce ideas off of each other?
MI: We had a rough outline of things and since we had it all in different subjects, the scenes would just sort of come out of those subjects.
Flak: Did you use any of your English [major] background when writing the film?
MI: Well, out of all that studying and stuff you try to create a style for yourself. You take what’s best, or what you really like about other writers and pieces of literature, and you find your own style. You decide if it’s going to be complicated like Thomas Mann or maybe Mishima-style dialogue or something…or something like Hemingway, which is very simple but also very constructed.
Flak: Do you think there’s Shakespearean influence in the movie?
MI: I like Shakespeare, his type of drama and tragedy. I always considered Sunsets a type of tragedy, but it’s on a lighter scale. Shakespeare’s kind of a role model for me for drama-based stories. Or even comedy.
Flak: You guys managed to put the movie together with a pretty limited budget. If you had unlimited resources, would there be anything you would change about the movie?
MI: Oh yeah. I think so. I think if we had a higher budget, the film would be totally different in terms of its style. The editing was always questionable to me; it could have been tighter. Originally it was like a two-hour film, and we cut it down another 20 minutes, and then we had a final cut and then we returned the equipment. It was like: “man, there’s still some scenes that could’ve made the film a little tighter”
Flak: And do you enjoy doing that as a filmmaker?
MI: Uh…Not really. I mean, I like it because…No, I don’t really like it. It’s so impersonal, you know? To discuss the film with somebody on a one-on-one basis I think is so much more informative than if you’re speaking to a whole group. I worry about what their interests are, or if I’m talking too much, or what they want to hear. But you figure that people who attend independent films…well, I don’t know if you’d consider ours an independent film…it’d be like a guerrilla film…are like peers, you know?
E-mail Jeremy Richards at firstname.lastname@example.org