Sometimes it takes traveling halfway around the world to find someone you truly connect with, and with whom you can picture spending tomorrow and the rest of your future with in a significant relationship. That powerful exploration into how strangers who seemingly meet randomly are actually meant to form a more meaningful bond that traces back to their mutual home and society. The intriguing exploration into how people naturally and instantly bond over their beliefs and feelings is enthrallingly presented in the new romantic film, ‘Already Tomorrow In Hong Kong.’ Distributor Gravitas Ventures has released the insightful and endearing comedy, which marks the feature film writing and directorial debuts of producer Emily Ting, in select theaters and On Demand nationwide.
‘It’s Already Tomorrow In Hong Kong’ follows two American thirty-somethings as they contemplate what they want to achieve next in their professional and personal lives. The strangers, Josh (Bryan Greenberg) and Ruby (Jamie Chung), inadvertently encounter each other outside a bar in the title city as she struggles to directions to another local hotspot to meet her friends. Josh, an American expat who has been living and working as an investment banker in the Chinese city for the past decade, overhears Ruby’s dilemma. He offers to walk her to her next destination, which she ultimately agrees to, albeit reluctantly at first.
As the two then walk across Hong Kong together, Ruby, a Los Angeles-based stuffed-animal designer who’s in China for a short business trip, begins to open up to Josh. The two discuss their pasts, careers and ambitions for their futures, which leads her to agree to stop for a drink with him. When Josh then offhandedly mentions that he has a girlfriend, his connection with Ruby instantly becomes uncomfortable, and the two awkwardly part ways.
A year later, the two inexplicably see each again on a ferry, after having no contact with each other since their first meeting. Ruby is on another assignment for her company, and reveals that she moved to Hong Kong after they first met for a year-long work assignment. Josh admitted that he followed the advice she gave him when they initially met, and is trying to become a novelist. As the two make amends for their first encounter, they immediately reconnect, but become worried how their emotional bond will influence their relationships with their respective significant others. Josh and Ruby walk around the city again, in another attempt to determine if their feelings for each other are real, and if so, how their connection will influence the rest of their lives.
Ting generously took the time recently to talk about writing, directing and producing ‘Already Tomorrow In Hong Kong’ during an exclusive [hone interview. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed how the story for the romantic comedy was inspired by a real-life personal encounter she had while she was in Hong Kong, which helped her pen the script’s first draft in a week. She also discussed how it was both very daunting and exciting to direct her first feature film. She felt that helming her initial feature in a foreign country in a very uncontrolled environment was challenging. But the process of working with Greenberg and Chung as not only the comedy’s main actors, but also as co-producers, allowed them to fully develop the script and characters together, which she felt made the filmmaking process rewarding.
ShockYa (SY): You made your feature film writing debut with the new romantic comedy, ‘Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong,’ which follows two Americans, Josh and Ruby, as they meet and get to know each other abroad in the title city. What was your inspiration in penning the story for the film?
Emily Ting (ET): The story was actually inspired by a real-life encounter that I had while I was in Hong Kong. I actually met an expat while I was there, and we spent the night together, only for me to realize at the end that he wasn’t available. So the film’s story was very much rooted from a personal experience.
So the first draft of the script came to me very easily. I think the first draft only took me about a week to write, because I just wanted to get the experience out. It then took about another six months to constantly rewrite and edit the script so that it would get to a place where I felt comfortable showing it to the actors.
Once they came on board, they were very instrumental in helping to shape the final product that ended up on screen. Once they signed on as executive producers, they gave a lot of ideas on where they thought the story should be going. They also drew a lot from their own personal experiences. So the three of us worked together for a number of months before we actually locked in the final script and went to Hong Kong to shoot the film.
SY: In addition to penning the script for the comedy, you also made your feature film directorial debut. Was it always your intention to helm the movie as you were scribing the script? How did writing the film influence your duties as a first-time director?
ET: It was both very exciting and daunting to direct my first film. I’ve directed shorts and documentaries before, and I have also produced other people’s feature films. But directing your first feature is always a challenge, no matter what. To add to that, directing your first feature in a foreign country in this very uncontrollable environment was even more challenging. Somewhere along the process, I thought, why didn’t I just write a simple story of two people talking in their apartment in Los Angeles? Why are we flying halfway around the world?
So the most challenging parts came from my own insecurities as a first-time director. I knew that I wanted to tell this story, but I have never had to run a cast and crew of this size in a feature before. So there were definitely a lot of moments of self doubt. To add to those insecurities, filming in a foreign country, where I don’t know a lot of the crew and the way that they work, was daunting.
But with the ending of the whole process, I now have my first film. The process was difficult at times, but at the end, you cherish the project. I’ve been working on this movie for the past two years, and I’ve had some of my best times working on it. So it’s been a bittersweet process all along. Now we’re enjoying the results of all our hard work.
SY: Jamie Chung and Bryan Greenberg play Ruby and Josh in ‘Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong.’ Since the two Americans are the only main characters who appear throughout the entire film, what was the process of finding the right actors to play them?
ET: I always had Jamie in mind for the role of Ruby, because I think she’s one of the best Asian-American actresses working today. I didn’t have any connections to her, but I knew Bryan from another film that I had produced, called ‘The Kitchen.’ It was at the L.A. premiere of that film where we got to talking. He asked me what I was working on next, and I told him about the script for this movie. He immediately said, “That sounds like the perfect film for my girlfriend. Did you know that I’m dating Jamie Chung?” (Chung and Greenberg subsequently married in October 2015.) So all of a sudden the stars aligned.
So I asked if he could pass the script along to Jamie to read, since she was my first choice. When I gave him the script, I said, “Clearly, there’s also a male role. So if the part resonates with you, by all means, you guys can do it together.” So I sent him the script, and about two weeks later, which is very fast by Hollywood standards, they both emailed me. They said they loved the script and wanted to do the film.
Once they became attached, they became very involved in the development of the script. It wasn’t really planned to cast a real-life couple, but it really worked out for the best. Their chemistry was so amazing in the film, and that’s not something that you can engineer. I feel like the fact that they’re a real-life couple really cut down on my work as a director, in terms of hoping for chemistry. They obviously already have chemistry in real life.
SY: Since the comedy primarily takes place on the streets of Hong Kong, what was the process of finding the locations where you wanted to film the movie?
ET: It’s always a journey to make a film in Hong Kong. I lived there for five years as an expat in my 20s. The whole time I was living there, I thought, someone needs to make a romantic film in Hong Kong. I think it’s so picturesque and cinematic. So it was a real treat for me to be able to capture all of my favorite locations in Hong Kong in this film, like the promenade.
With that being said, it was still a difficult shoot in many ways. It was very challenging in the fact that we didn’t have the budget to close off any streets, so we were constantly fighting with the real crowds of Hong Kong. We featured them in the movie, but we constantly had to maneuver around them. Or we would have to stop and reset whenever people would wave to, or look into, the camera. That’s something that you can’t avoid when you’re shooting on an uncontrolled street, and 90 percent of the film takes place outdoors.
We actually started shooting at the start of the typhoon season, so it rained every single day. But somehow we were able to skirt around the rain, as well. It would stop raining right before we would roll camera, or it would start raining right after we wrapped. So we got really lucky with the rain. But it was so stressful to look at the weather forecast everyday. We would always wonder if we would have a huge typhoon, and lose an entire day as a result. But luckily, that didn’t happen. So it was great to capture all of the city’s beautiful scenery, but it was also difficult to skirt around all of the uncontrolled elements while shooting in that kind of environment.
SY: Besides writing and directing ‘Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong,’ you also served as one of the produces on the comedy. Why did you decide to also produce the film? Did your duties as a producer and the helmer influence each other at all on the set?
ET: Well, I have a partner, and I also hire local producers. Sophia (Shek) was my local producer, and she took care of all the logistics, like permits. That was so great and helpful. I come from a producing background, so I’m normally the person who takes care of all the logistics. I think she did a great job of shielding me from that aspect when I got on set, so that I only had to worry about directing.
But I produced the film in terms of everything that happened off of the set, such as casting the actors and taking care of such things as all the legal documents, financing and sales. Since we arrived home from Hong Kong, I’m constantly wearing the producing hat, such as dealing with our distributors and agents. But for the 14 days that we shot in Hong Kong, I was very lucky that I was able to just wear my director’s hat.
SY: Gravitas Ventures distributed ‘Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong’ in theaters and on VOD. Why do you think the On Demand platform is beneficial for independent films like this one?
ET: I really believe in the VOD platform for independent films. Nowadays, most independent films are released on VOD, or as part of the day-and-date model, when they’re distributed in theaters and On Demand on the same day. We (opened) during the same weekend as ‘Deadpool’ and ‘Zoolander 2,’ and there’s no way we can compete with such big movies. I’ve seen trailers for those films non-stop on TV, and we don’t have the budget to play trailers so often. When an independent film is also picked up by an independent distributor, it’s limited resources meeting limited resources.
I feel like VOD is a way for a lot of people to discover small, independent films. You go to the theater because you want to see a big blockbuster like ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Jurassic World.’ So it’s so hard for us to compete with those bigger studio films.
But I feel like with a movie like this one, even though the scenery is beautiful on the big screen, the audience is truly watching it at home. They’re streaming it on iTunes or VOD. But we’re also having the limited theatrical release because it’s important for us to get the press necessary for audiences to notice the film. Otherwise, you’ll be released on VOD, and no one will ever hear about it. So I think this limited theatrical release and VOD platform is the perfect way to position a smaller independent film in today’s very crowded marketplace.
SY: The romantic comedy has played at several film festivals, including the Napa Valley Film Festival and the Los Angeles Film Festival. What was your experience of bringing the movie to the different festivals?
ET: I think we screened the film for about six months at the film festivals after our Los Angeles Film Festival premiere. I think the film festival circuit is very important for a small film like this one. You’re building up word-of-mouth when you’re screening your film on the circuit. You’re also gaining fans and supporters along the way.
In October alone, I think over the course of two weekends, I went to several Midwestern towns. I went to Pepin, Wisconsin; Minneapolis; and Columbia, Missouri. I went to these locations that would have never been able to see the film in theaters. Even with the limited theatrical release, we would have never screened in the Midwest, as we’re focused on the bigger markets.
I always give the example of Pepin being a small town with less than 850 people. I had to drive for two hours to the town from the airport after I landed. It’s such a small town that they only have one small art house independent theater. So the screening offered the people in Pepin the chance to come out and see the movie in a theater. So I feel like the film festival circuit is really able to reach out to places where the limited theatrical release would never hit.
I also attended a lot of the Asian film festivals on the circuit. Starting this month, we also started going on the Jewish film festival circuit. I didn’t think that my film would appeal to the Jewish film community, but it has become such a hit. We keep receiving invitations from more and more Jewish film festivals. On the festival circuit, you’re able to tap into these communities that wouldn’t be reached with the limited theatrical release. So we did six months of word-of-mouth screenings before the film (received) its general release.
SY: Besides ‘Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong,’ do you have any other projects lined up, whether writing, directing and/or producing, that you can discuss?
ET: Yes, I have a couple of projects that I’m attached to right now, but they’re currently going out to cast and financiers. So we’ll see what happens to those projects. But once a film comes out, I feel like maybe it’s time to write more scripts.
One idea I have floating around is the possibility of writing a sequel to this film. At the Q&As on the festival circuit, often times the first question was, “Are you working on a sequel? We want to know what happens to them.” So that’s one idea that I have been kicking around.
The romantic comedy is definitely in my reel house. Most things that I write are about relationships or two people connecting. So my future projects will probably be in that similar genre.
Written by: Karen Benardello