Director Emily Ting’s romance dramedy “Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong” opens in theaters Feb. 12.
A graduate of the film/TV program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Ting recently answered a few questions about her film.
What was the inspiration for your story?
I had lived in Hong Kong for five years as an expat prior to moving back to the U.S. As much as I found the city exciting and gorgeous, I never quite felt at home there. I found it quite hard to connect to people for some reason. I’ve always wanted to make a film about two people connecting in this occasionally alienating city and build a love story around that. The idea sat with me for a long time until one night, I actually met a fellow expat, and we spent a night wandering around the city and talking together. I thought we were building a connection, but then, I found out later that he had a girlfriend. I felt like a fool for making this flirtation up in my head. So, I went home and wrote the screenplay that eventually became the film.
In your own words, describe what your film is about?
Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong is about two people forming a connection during a chance encounter in this city, and exploring what these people decide to do when their brief encounter is given a second chance a year later.
As a first time director, what were the challenges you faced while filming?
I think that being a first time director is already difficult, but to make your first feature in a foreign country only makes it that much more challenging. Even though I had lived in Hong Kong before, I had never worked on a film set there. There are little ways of working that are just different from what you’re used to. I had brought over some of my key crewmembers to Hong Kong (like my DP, production designer, editor, etc.). I had to make sure that they could communicate and work together with their various crew. Everyone was extremely professional, but it did take a little time to get into the groove of working together.
I think the biggest challenge for me was to overcome the hurdle of my own insecurities as a first time director. The majority of my set crew had more experience with their respective jobs than I did, which was a daunting but exciting feeling. Sometimes, I would let that knowledge get inside my head, but I also learned to let go and really listen and trust my crew and cast. It gradually became a very collaborative process.
Describe your collaboration process with Jamie Chung and Bryan Greenberg, who are not only the leads, but also serve as executive producers?
I was incredibly lucky to have Bryan and Jamie attached to the film as both the stars and as EP’s. They gave the script the first stamp of approval, and once they became attached, the script that’s been sitting on my computer became a bona fide film project. Even though they loved the material, they knew that the script was not ready to go into production yet. They gave me some really good notes in re-working the script and getting it ready. I went through two months of intensive re-writes with their guidance.
When it came time to shoot the film, they came out to Hong Kong early to prep with me. Since neither of them had ever really been to Hong Kong before, I wanted them to get acclimated to the environment. We walked around the city, broke down the scenes, and discussed their characters, so that when the cameras rolled, they were really prepared. Normally on an indie film, directors don’t get the luxury of getting to rehearse with their actors so extensively beforehand, so I was lucky to have experienced that.
It takes an incredible leap of faith to fly half way across the world to act in a movie by a first time director. I am always going to be grateful to them for taking that leap with me.
Could you elaborate on why you chose to keep the main narrative solely between two characters?
It is probably no surprise to anyone that I am a huge fan of the BEFORE SUNRISE trilogy. I remember watching BEFORE SUNRISE when I was 14 and discovering for the first time how incredibly engaging and downright romantic two people walking and talking can be. Since then, I’ve always been drawn to the walk and talk romance genre. When two people are connecting, that’s what draws your attention, and that’s all you need. Even visually, I tried to keep the camera work very simple and just hold on the actors for as long as we possibly could.
Shooting locations are very important in any film. What was the appeal of shooting in Hong Kong?
I don’t think that this film would be what it is if they were just walking around and talking in LA or New York. Pardon the cliché, but Hong Kong is basically the third character in the film. Hong Kong was the entire inspiration for this story, so there really was no other city we could have shot the film in.
Hong Kong just provides such a visually stimulating palette for a filmmaker. From the iconic skyline, the glistening neon lights and all the rich saturated colors, there is just so much Hong Kong has to visually offer. My DP and I felt like kids in a candy store when we were location scouting. Even though there were some challenges in shooting there, when all is said and done, we now have a film set in Hong Kong, which totally sets it apart from a lot of other indie films out there. My head is already spinning on what other beautiful foreign locale I can shoot in next.
What were some of the challenges you faced when shooting and coordinating production?
The first challenge I faced while shooting in Hong Kong was finding the right producer who can produce the film with our budget. I didn’t really have many connections in Hong Kong and didn’t know a lot of people in the film industry. The producers I met all told me that it was impossible to make this film in this location for our budget. The crew rates are just higher as compared to indie rates here in LA. After extensive searching, I finally found my producer Sophia Shek. She strongly believed in the project and got us through production under our budget.
After the local crew was assembled, the biggest challenge became the weather, since the majority of the film takes place in exterior night locations. Hong Kong is incredibly hot and humid, and it rains pretty much every day. I think that the weather was quite a shock to the cast and a lot of the US crew. It was quite grueling to be working outside in that humidity every day. And, we were shooting in the start of typhoon season, so we were constantly faced with the possibility of being rained out at any moment. But, somehow, we became what my producer considered the luckiest film crew in Hong Kong, because we were able to dodge the rain for the entire 14-day shoot. It might be thundering an hour before we were about to shoot a scene on a rooftop, but by the time we’re all set up, the rain would stop. Or, it would start raining just when we’ve wrapped for the night.
The nature of shooting everything on location in the streets of Hong Kong was also challenging. We had permits to shoot all over the city, but we didn’t have the budget to shut down any streets. So, we would literally just plop our actors into the middle of bustling Nathan Road, Lan Kwai Fong or Temple Street market and shoot our scenes amongst the real crowds of city goers. I would say that at least half of our scenes were shot in an uncontrolled environment.
What were some of your favorite scenes to shoot?
I think that one of my favorite scenes to shoot was the promenade scene. We had this gorgeous location right in front of Hong Kong’s iconic skyline, and it was going to be the longest walk and talk sequence we’ve shot up to that point. The coverage was simple, but it was all on the actors to deliver it as a oner. We did the first take with our steadicam operator, and it was just magical. The camera work was beautiful, and the actors really delivered. We could have cut then and had a perfectly useable take on the first try. That scene to me epitomizes what this film is.
How much preparation and research did you have to do before production started?
In general, I travel to Hong Kong five to six times a year for my day job. So, every time I would be back in Hong Kong, I would go and location scout and take tons of pictures. Unlike a typical foreign shoot, I wasn’t limited to one research and scout trip. By the time we started pre-production officially, I had already scouted most of the locations and walked it with script in hand. I also flew my DP out to Hong Kong a few months prior, so he could get a feel for the city and see the potential locations. Even though a lot of locations changed since his trip, we were able to shot list pretty extensively based on location photos I had taken. The actors and I would work on the script separately via phone and email. Once it was at a good place, I worked with the actors a bit in New York, where they were living at the time, and then rehearsed for a full week in Hong Kong prior to the shoot.
What are your upcoming projects?
I am currently in development on a script with writer Melynda Bissmeyer that I’m attached to direct called “31 Second Chances” about a girl who, after wasting the year away, decides, on December 1st, to conquer all her New Year’s resolutions and turn her life around, before the year’s over.