Festival Q&A: Richard Wong and H.P. Mendoza of YES, WE’RE OPEN
As we count down to opening night, we bring you special Q&As with filmmakers whose features will be presented at our festival this year. In this edition, managing director Phillip Lorenzo speaks to YES, WE’RE OPEN director Richard Wong and writer-actor H.P. Mendoza.
Did this story start from you getting to know a couple in an open relationship, or did it come from many tales of couples’ debauchery?
HP: After my partner and I opened our relationship, we had so much fun laughing at ourselves and parodying our own behavior that I really wanted to write a script about it. I think most of the people we know who enter open relationships, gay or straight, do it because they serendipitously meet a couple in a functioning open relationship. We’re no exception. Call me.
H.P., how did working together on this film differ or feel the same from your last effort together Fruit Fly, as well as your first feature together Colma: The Musical? Were there any changes in how you approached the production process?
HP: I think doing things on a micro-budget and using guerilla tactics forces you to find your own rhythm for every project. The biggest difference is that YES, WE’RE OPEN isn’t a musical. And the script doesn’t have set pieces, per se. It’s more like one big set piece and a coda and I think that made for a completely different dynamic from Colma and Fruit Fly.
Richard, you’ve now tackled some big projects as cinematographer, in addition to your work as a director. How does a project like YES, WE’RE OPEN rank in terms of enjoyability?
RW: One always hopes that the latest thing you do is the most enjoyable experience in the industry. But that’s a tough thing to say about anything. Different projects are enjoyable for different reasons, and it becomes somewhat disrespectful to those you’ve worked with in the past to say that the newest was most enjoyable. I will say though that YES, WE’RE OPEN was an incredible experience. The time I had with the actors was the most satisfying part of the process for me. It really was the most important part for me as well. Having just shot Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, my main goal for YES, WE’RE OPEN was to really focus on directing, which is why I elected to have a DP rather than shoot it myself, which is what I had done on the previous films. The ability to just focus on the actors, script, performances, and collaboration of figuring out each scene, was what I was most looking forward to, and the experience didn’t disappoint.
How did you arrive at the casting of the film? Also, what was it like having H.P. and Dave Boyle in the same film together?
HP: I remember Rich asking me if I wanted to be in the film, and I asked him who he wanted me to play. He said “anyone you want”. When I settled on the character of Brett, he just said “awesome, I was thinking you’d pick him.” I’m really grateful to be in the same movie Dave Boyle is in because he’s a seriously funny guy. I’m even more grateful to get the chance to get to know him. As funny as he is onscreen, I don’t think you could possibly know how hilarious he is in real life. Maybe that’s my fault. Had I met him earlier, I could have written “Gerald” to be as funny as Dave Boyle.
RW: YES, WE’RE OPEN was made under a very tight schedule with a tiny window where the key players were available. Namely me. I had suddenly found myself with two months off in between films, and Theresa Navarro, who had read the script a couple years back, thought we could pull it off. I agreed. However, that required a cast which I thought would not be a compromise. Dave Boyle was in town with his film Surrogate Valentine, which featured both Lynn and Parry, and I found them to be an intriguing mix for Sylvia and Luke. He made the introductions, I sent them the script, and within two or three hours, they both responded wanting to do the movie. That’s the power of a good script – it becomes currency.
H.P. and Dave in the same film made sense to me. I love the sense that we have a nice little film community amongst a group of friends, and films like YES, WE’RE OPEN are always deeply personal and intimate. So in that sense having my director friends (who also love to act – Kerry McCrohan included) in my films just feels like the right spirit. Their humor is wildly different. So when they get together they just crack each other up.
In looking at Colma, Fruit Fly, and now Yes We’re Open, would you consider these films the unofficial trilogy of a love-letter to San Francisco? Or am I way off?
HP: Wow, I never thought of it that way. That’s kinda nice. Although, I don’t think we’re going to stop making love letters to San Francisco, so maybe we shouldn’t jump the gun because the next time either of us makes a San Francisco film, we’ll be forced to come out with a four disc box set called the “Love Letter Quadrilogy”. (Then we’ll convince Dave Boyle to direct Colma vs. Predator!) We actually never set out to make love letters to our hometown, but it just kind of happens.
RW: I think it’s fair to say the films are at least cousins. I do think they are united by our sensibilities of the city and HP’s specific rendering of people and those he chooses to render. I think from my part of it, I always try to show a San Francisco that’s a bit beyond the standard tourist views. It’s a truly beautiful and diverse city, and singular in its look and feel. I try to get render that in the films.
You two have developed some wonderful work together. When do you anticipate your next film adventure, and what do you want it to look like? Would you want to do another change in genre? Perhaps an action film? Sci-Fi? Are there any new places you want to go together?
HP: Thank you! “Wonderful” is a great word. We’re learning how to take compliments now and not be so “aw, shucks, this old thing” about it. Maybe one day we’ll have our own From Dusk Til Dawn or Grindhouse. Rich and I could remake Beaches and we’d cast Dave Boyle as Bette Midler. We could be like Tarantino and Rodriguez. Or Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. Or The Wachowskis! (I get to be Lana.) In all honesty, though, I don’t want to say too much, but I’m waiting for Rich to get the chance to make the first good video game movie. He tells me about scenes of a certain movie that he has in mind and it always rouses me.
RW: I think both of us always try to change genres. Our conversations are about musicals about only about 12 percent of the time! I think one thing we both have in common is love for all genres, and students of them to boot. I seriously don’t think there’s a genre HP can’t do. That all said, there’s a musical HP wrote for me a while back that’s essentially my dream project, so I hope…one day…