4 Wedding Planners’ Director Michael Kang at Screen Actors Guild panel in New York
4 Wedding Planners (formerly Knots), written by and starring Kimberly-Rose Wolter, and directed by Michael Kang, has been a fan favorite at film festivals across the country, and is now available on Video on Demand, Digital Download, amazon.com and Itunes. (See below for a full list of providers.)
Island Film Group's 4 Wedding Planners, a charming “UN-romantic comedy”, is a witty take on the lives and loves of a family of Honolulu wedding planners.
The film also features Illeana Douglas (Cape Fear, “Entourage”), Sung Kang (The Fast & The Furious, Better Luck Tomorrow), Mia Riverton (Red Doors), Janel Parrish (Bratz: The Movie, “Pretty Little Liars”), Christopher Taloa, Henry Dittman and Cathy Foy (Battleship, “Lost”, “Hawaii 5-0”).
In 4 Wedding Planners, Kimberly-Rose Wolter tells the story of thrice divorced matriarch Miriam (Illeana Douglas), with one daughter born from each husband. What ensues is a recipe for comical family strife as the daughters finally reach the breaking point of addressing feelings repressed thanks to mom’s poor choices in men.
When eldest daughter Lily (Kimberly Rose-Wolter) rejects her boyfriend’s marriage proposal, she decides to return home to Hawaii for family support. It turns out the family is having troubles of their own – their wedding planning business is being run into the ground by Lily’s two half-sisters Twinny (Mia Riverton) and Hoku (Janel Parrish). It’s left to Lily to get things on the right track. If things couldn’t get worse, Lily’s ex-boyfriend Kai (Sung Kang) enters the picture, as does a surprise reveal that makes reconciliation no easy matter. Click here for the trailer.
Shot in ten days on a half a million dollar budget, 4 Wedding Plannersfeatures an original score by renowned ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro, and showcases songs by such beloved local artists as Na Leo Pilimehana, John Cruz, Anuhea, Makana, Paula Fuga, Olomana, Willie K, Kepa Kruse and Eric Gilliom.
Illeana Douglas, Kimberly-Rose Wolter and Michael Kang attended a screening of 4 Wedding Planners on August 21, 2012, at the NYIT Auditorium on Broadway, 1871 Broadway (Between 61st and 62nd), as part of the popular Screen Actors Guild Foundation Conversations Series. The trio had the audience in stitches over their tales from the set and the making of the film, shared their insights into indie filmmaking, video on demand distribution, and gave advice about pursuing your personal passions and staying creative. Below are excerpts from the Q&A following the screening, moderated by Nick Sakai, Actor, SAG-AFTRA National Ethnic Employment Opportunities Committee Member.
Nick: Kimberly, what inspired you to make 4 Wedding Planners?
Kimberly: I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of marriage because I come from a family that doesn’t do marriage very well. That being said, some of my family has been in long term relationships without being married. Sometimes they seem to do better without that. I’ve always questioned, ‘What is the role with marriage in love? And how does being married affect love? How does being in love affect wanting to get married?’ It’s a question that I grappled with and was curious to explore. I would talk to my different girlfriends about it. Some of them really couldn’t imagine that I wasn’t married, because it was the most quintessential thing they had done. They felt their relationship with their husband had become so much richer and fuller. They really felt like I was not experiencing that, even though I had been with the same person for the same amount of time that they had been together. I thought that was so interesting. Whereas, I had other friends who were married for a year and they said, ‘What was I thinking? I have to get a lawyer. This was the biggest mistake of my entire life.’ It means so much to so many people and yet it’s categorized in such a specific box. It clearly didn’t work for my mom the first couple of times. Why is that? She’s not a bad person.
Nick: What was the casting process?
Kim: Certain people we knew. Certain people we auditioned. Most of the people in the cast and crew were from Hawaii except Illeana, Sung and Mia. Mia and I knew each other from other projects, and we were on the festival circuit at the same time, She was promoting Red Doorsand I was promoting TRE. We had always joked that we should play sisters because we are both Hapa, and being Hapa, you couldn’t play anybody’s sister.
Michael: With Sung, I worked with him on The Motel. Originally, I did not want to cast Sung because we were trying to keep the casting authentically Hawaiian. But then I decided it was just the kind of role Sung should play, a romantic lead. He’s always playing the dark brooding guy who gets his head cut off. I’ve always said he should play more leading roles. Illeana was always on the top of the list for who I wanted to cast for the mother. We didn’t know her. I was Facebook friends with her. I messaged her on Facebook and she got back to me. We ended up casting her. She was totally down. I appealed to her in the New York indie movie sensibility.
Nick: Illeana, what is the current project you are working on?
Illeana: I do a web series called ‘It’s Easy to Assemble’ which can be found on YouTube, and is sponsored by Ikea. The premise, I play myself. I’ve tried to escape Hollywood to live a normal life by working at my local Ikea. My best friend, played by Justine Bateman, starts doing a show on the floor of Ikea called ’40 and Bitter’. It becomes a big success. I’m forced to be more like Justine. So everything that I was trying to escape from in show business starts to replicate itself at Ikea. I’ve been doing it for 3 years. We’re premiering our 4th season this Fall.
Nick: Illeana, what about 4 Wedding Planners convinced you to accept this role?
Illeana: I liked the idea. I thought it was a very charming script and I thought it could be a lot of fun, which it was. It was a woman’s movie, from a woman’s point of view. Lots of girl time. Being shot on location in Hawaii was a big incentive.
Nick: Michael, you usually direct films that you’ve written, The Moteland West 32nd. This is the first film you directed something that you did not write.
Michael: It was a direction that I wanted to take my career in. I write, but I hate writing. It’s a very painful process. It’s very lonely. I really love production, being on set and thinking on my toes. It was just by luck that Kim and I have a mutual friend, Michelle Krusiec, who was inSaving Face. She introduced us. I read the script. I really liked the story and that it was set in Hawaii. One of the most painful parts of being a filmmaker is that 90% of your time is spent on the business side, raising money. With 4 Wedding Planners, Kim had already set up the financing, it was already a go. They just needed a director. I saw it as a great opportunity. Working with Kim, and also Illeana with her web series which has a lot of writers, as a director, it’s really great for me to be able to take a step back and look at the story on a formative visual sense, rather than getting caught up in my own ‘What is it I’m trying to say?’ Instead of birthing a baby, I’m more of an obstetrician birthing their babies, making sure they come out health and strong.
Nick: What is your process like as a director? Do you give much direction?
Michael: You only have to give a lot of direction if you cast badly. Cast well from the beginning and let them do their thing. There are small adjustments now and then, for the most part; everyone involved in this film was so on top of it. I trusted them, they trusted me. Film is such a collaborative process. The cast was a tight knit family and I made it a tradition to jump in the ocean at midnight when we wrapped, to cleanse all of the stress and be ready to tackle another day of shooting.
Nick: Illeana, how did you like working with Michael?
Illeana: Oh, it was fun. Being on location in Hawaii lent to the film. We all hung out together in the hotel, went swimming together. It really added to the familial feeling of the film. One of the first things Michael had us do was he had all of the women go shopping together. We all made dinner. It was very easy going.
Nick: Can you tell us about the shooting of the proposal scene at the top of the film?
Kimberly: It was shot at an outdoor luau. They are long, 5-6 hours. You come and have cocktails, stand in a buffet line for your food, and then there is a 3 hour dance performance. We didn’t have the budget to put on such a huge luau, so we crashed it. We had permission and in exchange, we made a great promotional video for the luau. When people were arriving, we had these huge boards posted, ‘We’re filming a movie. It’s not going to disrupt your experience, just so you know that if you are here tonight, do you mind being in the movie?’ That was while people were ordering their Mai Tai’s before the sun had set. So we filmed the buffet line, the performance. Hours later, Henry Dittman, who plays James, comes out with his coconut bra, shaking his stuff and people are so into it by now, that they have completely forgotten we’re filming a movie. He proposes to me. We did discuss in the beginning that we could not have me throw up on somebody in the middle of a luau-that would wreck their experience. Instead, I needed to say something that would generate the kind of response that would be equivalent to me throwing up. Henry was so brave and endearing, he really got the audience on his side with his cute hip action. When he proposed, everybody was on board. They gave me the microphone and I said, ‘I slept with your brother.’ Hundreds of people reacted with huge gasps. I had to leave because people at the next table said, ‘What is wrong with you? He does not deserve you. You’re a bad person.’ I got up and went to the bathroom, where this otherwise very Norman Rockwell looking grandmother said, ‘I saw you up there. You’re not a good girl!’
Nick: Illeana, what’s the difference between working on a studio vs. an Indie film?
Illeana: The budgets on all of these movies keep going down. We used to do a movie –it was 3 weeks rehearsal and 30 days to shoot. Now, it’s down to shooting a movie in 10 days and paying you $100 a day. It is a challenge, and with digital, it’s another excuse to lower the pay rate. An indie film is always a little more fun because it is looser and a little more collaborative. When we shoot my web series, we shoot it like a movie. When Michael directed Season 3, we shot a 90-minute episode in 10-12 days. I produce now, so that the project can be well produced. Sometimes I make more as a producer than I do as an actor.
Nick: What was the strategy for distribution of 4 Wedding Planners?
Kimberly: The strategy from the beginning with Island Film Group, our production company, was a Video on Demand release, not a theatrical release. The publicity for a theatrical nowadays is excruciatingly painful. It’s too expensive.
Michael: There are also talks of having it on TV. I’m much happier with this release than with my previous two films because it is so accessible. This is the wave of the future. The indie theatrical is dead. Whenever I see people doing indie theatricals now- it’s just a vanity thing. I’ve been through that mill with my other two movies, trying to sell it, getting it out there, having it in theaters, doing the limited release trying to create a buzz. It’s almost as painful as when I used to work in theater. I would do performances and 30 people in a basement would show up, and then it would be over. Now with technology, people can watch this movie, all across the country, and all across Canada. It’s reaching a far wider audience.
Nick: Kimberly, would you be interested in directing?
Kimberly: Sure, but I would not be interested in acting and directing at the same time. It’s a lot of work to direct. You have to make a lot of choices really quickly and be confident in the choices. And at the same time, be so uber collaborative that you’re responding to what everybody is doing, allowing them to do their best and still trying to keep everybody on the same path.
Nick: Illeana, have you directed?
Illeana: I have directed some short films and documentaries. With my web series, I write, produce and star in it. It would almost be impossible to direct it too. When I work with a director, it’s very collaborative in terms of the story, music, casting. It’s a hybrid of indie film and television structure. The formula has been established each year. We bring in a new director, a new flavor to the show, and yet still have some of the same recurring characters. I would love to direct. I am leaning towards that.
Nick: Kimberly, how did you secure the financing?
Kimberly: I was so lucky. I was at a film festival with my previous filmTRE, which was very dark and angsty. I met a producer who had seen it and really enjoyed the work. I started forging a relationship with her and she enjoyed the 4 Wedding Planners script. She was based in Hawaii and had connections with production companies there. After a couple of years of going back and forth, we were able to secure Island Film Group, who was very interested in making films about Hawaii with local themes that weren’t exotic or about tourists. Films where you actually got more of a sense of what’s going on in Hawaii.
Q: The soundtrack was wonderful, everything flowed – how did you make that happen?
Michael: It was really important to me that the movie felt authentic. The key was another Facebook connection. I reached out to Jake Shimabukuro. We kept going back and forth about schedules (because he’s constantly touring). We lucked out that he was able to come in and do the score for us. That really married everything in the film together wonderfully. We wanted to have as many local artists on the soundtrack. We were able to access a lot of great talent because Island Film Group, in addition to their film production arm, has relationships with many musical artists in Hawaii.
Q: You had a lot of different locations. How long was your advance work in pre-production for locations before you started shooting?
Michael: I started pre-production 2 months before shooting, from the East coast. Kim was still in LA. I went to LA to do casting with Kim. We had two weeks in Hawaii of hard prep. We hit the ground running and were still casting out of Hawaii to fill out as many of the parts with local talent. Six months to a 1-year before, I had shadowed on “Lost”. I knew Oahu really well because of that. I had gone on a lot of location scouts with them. I saw all of the nooks and crannies of the island. So, when we came out, I knew from reading the script where scenes were going to take place. A lot of it was tricky line producer stuff. Scheduling the hospital, the luau. It was a jigsaw puzzle of very tight scheduling. We were really lucky because the crews there, people working in production in Hawaii for a long time, they knew exactly where we should go.
Q: What was the budget? Is the distribution expected to turn a profit?
4 Wedding Planners was made for half a million dollars, in part because at that time, Hawaii had a lot of tax incentives. We were able to fund the whole movie through tax incentives. All of our investors have actually gotten something monetarily out of the film. Tax credits are an amazing thing and vary state to state. If you are interested in producing a film, I would suggest looking into tax credits in different cities. It makes a huge impact on how you fund a film.
Q: What was your time frame from idea to shooting?
Kimberly: I started writing it in 2006, but I had originally thought of it as a pilot. In February 2009, the guys at Island Film Group liked the idea and the characters, but weren’t interested in making it as a TV show because it was too expensive. They told me that if made it into a feature script, they would produce it. I did, and by October of 2009, we were shooting on location in Hawaii.
Nick: Illeana, what’s next for you?
Illeana: I just finished wrapping season 4 of the web series, directed by Melanie Mayron, and starring Tim Arnold, Roger Bart, myself, Mia Riverton, Lorraine Newman, Ed Begley, Jr., that will air this Fall.
Nick: What advice do you have for the audience?
Illeana: Be your own flying saucer, rescue yourself. Think about your own projects. Do your own projects. Everybody has a story. That’s what makes us unique. Do things that are personal for you, write, create. It’s really important for you to work on, whether it’s painting a picture, writing something, going to a museum, constantly working on yourself. You can get into a vibe where you are almost unemployable if you’re just waiting for a job to happen. Thinking about yourself as a creative person even if you’re not getting paid for it. I always volunteer for things because nobody can ever turn you down if you volunteer. Eventually, if you’re pretty good at it, you’ll end up getting paid.
Kimberly: I would say, do your own thing. The toughest thing about acting is the waiting. I don’t think you should have to wait. There are so many ways to go out and make your own projects. There are so many talented people. If you have something that you really want to say, then it’s worth it for you to dedicate some of that waiting time to doing that’s proactive and feeds you creatively.
Michael: Adding to the idea of volunteering, if you haven’t, try to get on the other side of the camera. Befriend a casting director; volunteer to be a reader for them. See the process of casting from the other side. It will make it much easier for you to go into those castings. You’ll begin to understand that it has so little to do with you. A lot of the times, they’re looking for something so specific. This way you can actually walk in and not feel like it’s something personal.
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Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist.