When acclaimed director Dave Boyle and musician Goh Nakamura teamed up in early 2010 to begin working on a film with Nakamura as its leading man playing a fictional character named “Goh Nakamura”, neither knew that both 2011’s “Surrogate Valentine” and its 2012 sequel “Daylight Savings” would take SXSW by storm, change both of their lives, and alter the indie film landscape through their innovative, social-media driven distribution strategy.
The two had met by chance on the film festival circuit, when Boyle was touring his previous film “White On Rice” and struck up a friendship – a micro-budget independent film made quick and with friends was what they had in mind. Now, with the national release of “Daylight Savings” (available this month on Xfinity On Demand’s Cinema Asian America) and a third installment of a planned trilogy in the works, the two have settled into a creative collaboration that merges Nakamura’s melodic, melancholic songs, and Boyle’s perfectly-pitched and timed filmmaking.
“Surrogate Valentine” finds 30-something Goh at a crossroads. Barely scraping by playing concerts and teaching guitar lessons – he jumps at the chance to teach guitar to TV star (Chadd Stoops) for an upcoming role. But when pupil joins teacher on the road, Goh experiences the strangest tour of his life, and when his old high school flame Rachel (Lynne Chen) enters the picture, he, Goh is forced to take some bold steps that might just change everything.
“Daylight Savings” picks up at a not-too-distant future, where mending a broken heart, Goh again hits the road for another bizarre trip, this time with his cousin Mike (Michael Aki), that might just include chasing a new girl to Las Vegas (Yea-Ming Chen), working out his latest break-up (Ayako Fujitani) and staying in touch with Rachel.
This film sees you playing with the road trip, concert film and the bro and ro-mance (which are carried over from “Surrogate Valentine”) but also incorporating a kind surrealistic humor and psychological depth that distinguishes this from its predecessor. It also looks like you again, had a lot of fun making this. How did this film evolve from “Surrogate Valentine”?
DB: “Surrogate Valentine” began as an experiment. I wanted to see if I could make something for basically no budget, starring a non-actor. From that beginning as basically a filmmaking exercise, the movie grew into my most personal work. Goh and I had such a good time working together that we felt like the story should continue.
“Daylight Savings” then became something of an experiment as well. Having proven that Goh could carry a movie playing a sort-of fictional version of himself, my co-writers and I tried to see if we could push things further by writing a more difficult role for him to play in the follow-up. While the first installment didn’t require much of him besides being himself, the “Goh” character in “Daylight Savings” is a much more nuanced part. It’s a difficult part for any actor to play.
As with the first go-round, the movie became more and more personal for all of us as the process continued.
Both “Daylight Savings” and “Surrogate Valentine” are named for songs written by Goh that predate your collaboration – can you talk about the interplay between his music, the tone of the films and your screenplays?
DB: The impetus for this whole project was trying to find a cinematic tone that matches the magic of Goh’s songs. While I was writing them I would often listen to his music, but I also tried not to feel too tied down to any specific lyrics or music in planning out the movie. It was important to both Goh and me that the music and the films maintain a separate identity, but the movies definitely lean heavily on Goh’s body of work for their funny-sad atmosphere.
“Daylight Savings” also features the acting and songs of another musician – Yea-ming Chen, who plays Goh’s love interest (or, one of them). What drew you to her?
DB: Goh suggested involving Yea-Ming in the sequel and as soon as I met her, I knew he was on the right track. She has such natural charisma and when she’s on camera you just instantly buy her as a character. The Yea-Ming of the movie is a fictional character, but shares the wit and charm of the real person.
The film also features a number of fantastic actors, including Michael Aki and Ayako Fujitani whose characters create entire universes themselves within the film; how did the two actors (and their characters) shape both the plot and structure of the film?
DB: I wrote the parts for both Michael and Ayako, so I couldn’t help but be influenced by their real life personalities. Michael has often played brooding loners in his other films, so I tried to give him some different notes to play. He’s still a brooding loner, but with a sense of humor. Ayako made such a big impression in her handful of scenes with Goh that during post production we decided to shoot more scenes with her character. I think audiences will have an easy time seeing why Goh is so broken up over losing her!
You’ve taken a less traditional route with distributing “Daylight Savings,” where you’ve eschewed the theatrical release which is often seen as the goal for independent filmmakers, for a more decentralized approach built around in-person appearances, digital downloads, and social media. Can you talk about this approach and why you’ve taken it?
DB: Our little “Surrogate Valentine” saga is less a movie series than it is a multi-media project so we’ve tried to bring it to audiences in a unique way. By touring with the movie and setting up concerts for Goh and Yea-Ming, we’ve managed to introduce their music to people who might not otherwise know about it. On the flip side, music fans have proven to be a perfect audience for the movies themselves. Now that both movies are available for people to watch in the comfort of home, here’s hoping that people will enjoy the fictional Goh’s journey as well as the real Goh’s music.
What are you working on now?
DB: I’m editing a new feature film called “Man from Reno.” It’s a Japanese co-production starring Ayako Fujitani, Kazuki Kitamura and my old friend Pepe Serna. It should be done later this year.