People who are struggling often look to find solace in others who have successfully navigated the same challenges. That’s certainly the case for the title protagonist in the new musical drama, ‘Yellow Rose.’ The eponymous Filipina-American character is driven by her determination to achieve her dream of becoming a country musician, despite the odds that are unfortunately stacked against her.
The journey that Rose, who’s played by two-time Tony Award nominated actress, Eva Noblezada in her feature film acting debut, goes on highlights how now more than ever, it’s so important to amplify immigrants’ stories as they strive to succeed in America. The timely story offers a unique look at the Filipino-American experience, and the struggles of undocumented families, to a wide spectrum of audiences, who the filmmakers hope will embrace the title protagonist’s story
‘Yellow Rose,’ which is deeply personal story is filled with heart, acceptance and hope, is set to an unforgettable original soundtrack that was in part penned by country singer- songwriter-guitarist-actor, Dale Watson. The musician, who also appears in the movie, collaborated on its music with filmmaker Diane Paragas.
Also in her feature film debut, Paragas created the story for the drama with Andy Bienen, and co-wrote the script with Annie J. Howell and Celena Cipriaso. Paragas then went on to direct and produce ‘Yellow Rose,’ which is based on her 2017 short film of the same name, which she also penned, helmed and produced.
‘Yellow Rose’ is now available on Digital, and is being released on Blu-ray and DVD today, courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The movie’s home release comes after it opened in theaters this past October 9, courtesy of Sony Pictures and Stage 6 Films. It also won 13 film festival jury and audience awards, including Special Jury Award – Best Narrative Feature at the Asian American International Film Festival; Grand Jury Prize – Best Narrative Feature at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival and the Best Feature Film Award and Audience Choice Award at the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival.
‘Yellow Rose’ follows the title protagonist, a Filipina teen from a small Texas town, as she fights to pursue her dreams as a country music performer. While she pursues her career goals, she has to decide between staying with her family or leaving the only home she has ever known.
Paragas generously took the time recently to talk about writing, directing and producing ‘Yellow Rose’ during an exclusive interview over the phone. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed that she was in part driven to scribe the screenplay because of her own personal experiences growing up as one of the only Filipino children in her Texas neighborhood have influenced the person she has become. The helmer also noted that she cast Noblezada as Rose in part because she felt the actress would give a nuanced performance that was filled with heart and soul.
The conversation began with Paragas explaining what the inspiration in penning the script for the drama was, and how she, Howell and Cipriaso approached creating the story. “I grew up in Lubbock, Texas, and I was one of the only Filipino kids there. So I think I wanted to write a film about that feeling in general, and feeling isolated and out of place,” she shared.
“Then I started to think about how interesting it would be if this character loved country music, because it would be the story of unrequited love. Country music often finds it hard to accept someone who looks like Rose, which I thought was a great jumping off point for a character someone would really relate to, and would provide an interesting journey for the audience to go with,” the scribe divulged.
“I also included the subjects of immigration and the undocumented, and Rose being separated from her mother. That serves as the catalyst for the rest of her story,” Paragas added. “The story is really about the Filipino-American experience.”
The filmmaker then delved into how in addition to writing the screenplay, she also made her feature film directorial debut on ‘Yellow Rose.’ She explained how working on the script influenced her helming style on the set.
“I’ve been in the business for awhile. I also direct documentaries and commercials, and I’ve been pursuing this particular script for a very long time. I knew that I wanted (‘Yellow Rose’) to be my first film, as it’s very personal, but I didn’t think it would take as long as it did,” Paragas admitted.
“When it came to making the film, I actually got lucky. Since I had made a few documentaries, and had been on bigger sets for commercials, I felt very prepared to tell this story,” the director divulged. “While it was also a completely different experience from making documentaries and commercials, of course, it was also very exciting. Overall, I felt very lucky and grateful that I was able to tell this story as the writer and director, but I was also very scared, in a good way.”
Paragas then delved into what the experience of casting the film was like after she began her directorial duties. “The film is called ‘Yellow Rose’…so for the title character of Rose, it was important to find someone who could not only act, but also know how to play country music, and have real talent as a singer,” she pointed out.
“So I saw hundreds of girls for the part, but I eventually cast Eva Noblezada. When I cast her, she was in the revival of ‘Miss Saigon’ (on Broadway), in the title role of Kim. She had just received a Tony nomination, and was just incredible,” the filmmaker gushed about the actress.
“I had dinner with Eva the night I saw her on stage, and luckily, she liked the script…She had such heart and soul, and gave such an incredible, nuanced performance,” Paragas continued. “She was so expressive and anchored the film, so I was so lucky to have her.
“Overall, I had an incredibly talented cast, including Broadway legend Lea Salonga and country music legend Dale Watson. Princess Punzalan also gave a heart-wrenching performance as Rose’s mother, Priscilla,” the helmer added. “I was lucky to have such an incredibly talented cast.”
Once the performers signed on to star in ‘Yellow Rose,’ Paragas cherished the experience of being able to work with them to build their characters. “I had a mixture of people playing themselves, like Dale Watson, as well as people who have been in many movies, like Libby Villari, and people who have starred in theater but not in movies, like Eva. Everyone had all these different acting backgrounds,” she noted.
“I think I relied mostly on how the different actors were acting and interacting with each other. A lot of times, I would adjust characters based on what I was seeing happening between the actors,” the filmmaker revealed. “I took a lot of cues from the way I was seeing the actors working, and the qualities they have as people.
“For example, the character of Elliot, who’s played by Liam Booth, was written very differently in the script. I eventually decided to use what I found charming in Liam as an actor, and incorporated that into the character,” Paragas added.
“Eva’s natural personality is very feisty and strong-willed, so I played into that during the production. I incorporated more of those elements into the character while we were on the set than what was originally included in the script,” the director shared.
“Libby Villari is such an incredible actress, and had such a great dynamic with Eva. So I expanded her role of Jolene, and wrote additional scenes for her, which ended up in the film,” Paragas added.
With the title protagonist pursuing her dreams as a country music performer, the filmmaker cherished the process of create the movie’s songs. “The music is the heart and soul of the film. A lot of it can be attributed to Dale Watson, who was our musical guru for the film. His style of music inspired everything, and he used some of his own music,” she shared.
“For the original music, we collaborated with him, and he produce all, and co-wrote most of, the songs with us. I co-wrote one of the songs with him, and wrote one on my own, and I was able to do that because I learned through Dale,” Paragas continued.
“So that was a very collaborative process, and the songs were written over several years. We had written some of the music for the short film. Dale had also written some music for the feature, and I even wrote a song while we were on set,” the director added. “In a way, I think that made the music feel lived in and very real.”
‘Yellow Rose’ was shot on location in Austin, Texas and Manila, Philippines, which was another experience that the helmer enjoyed during the production. “Locations are everything. Since we had such a small budget, we shot in real locations, such as The Broken Spoke in Austin. We also shot in Dale’s house, and recorded in his studio, which is on his property,” the filmmaker divulged. “So all of the real locations helped us not only make our budget, but also provided authenticity to the film.
“We also raised additional money after the main shoot, so that we could also do a pick-up shoot in the Philippines. We did a Kickstarter campaign, and additional fundraising, after the main shoot, so that we could raise money to shoot in the Philippines,” Paragas continued.
“We really wanted to show the separation between the United States and the Philippines. You can’t really portray the Philippines without filming there. So I think being able to shoot that far away was great, and helped make the film feel authentic,” the director added.
Besides writing and directing ‘Yellow Rose,’ Paragas also embraced the experience of also serving as one of the producers on the feature. She then delved into why she decided to also produce the drama, and what the process of balancing her helming and producing duties was like during the production.
“Well, nobody’s going to advocate for you more than yourself. I’ve been pursuing this project for more than 15 years, in an effort to get it financed. It would stop for many years, and then we’d go back to it,” the filmmaker divulged.
“So I ended up becoming a producer, and went out to talk to people. I had such a great producing team, including Cecilia Mejia and Orian Williams. All of us worked on this project for so long, and the fact that they stuck with me for as long as they did helped keep the fire going,” the producer noted.
Once production on ‘Yellow Rose’ was completed, Paragas cherished the opportunity to bring it to the various film festivals where it played, and was honored that it won 13 jury and audience awards. She described what the experience of bringing the drama to the festivals was like, especially before the COVID-19 pandemic forced many festivals to go virtual.
“We played at a lot of festivals (in 2019). But then COVID hit, so we were really lucky that we got to screen with audiences at all,” the helmer shared. “There are still filmmakers who have yet to see their films with audiences (in theaters), so I feel really grateful for that.
“We had a fairly successful run; we won more than a dozen film festival awards during the process. That made me really realize that other people thought there’s something special about the film,” Paragas continued.
“We were able to release the film in theaters in October, and we had a fairly short theatrical run. But people just weren’t going out to theaters, so the fact that (the movie’s now available) on Digital is exciting; we’re really happy that people who wanted to see it but couldn’t finally get to see it. I also hope that other people will discover it through word-of-moth,” the filmmaker added.
Speaking of the fact that Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is handling ‘Yellow Rose’s home release, which includes distributing it today on Blu-ray and DVD, Paragas feels the dual digital and disc distribution is beneficial for this type of movie.
“We’ve been trying to get the word out through as many people as we can. So many filmmakers have had to premiere their movies on digital platforms, and they had so many more people watch them than if the films were released in theaters,” the dcirector pointed out.
“So I’m so excited for (‘Yellow Rose’) to be coming out digitally, as this is the way that people are watching movies. I think this is the type of movie that people can watch with their whole family; even though it features a pretty serious subject, it is a family story,” Paragas noted. “People will relate to the music and Eva’s performance. So I hope that people will find the film and like it.”