Island Film Group’s independent feature film 4 Wedding Planners (formerly Knots), written by and starring Kimberly-Rose Wolter, and directed by Michael Kang, has been a fan favorite at film festivals across the country, and is now available on Video on Demand, Digital Download, amazon.com and Itunes. (See below for a full list of providers.)
4 Wedding Planners, a charming “UN-romantic comedy”, is a witty take on the lives and loves of a family of Honolulu wedding planners.The film also features Illeana Douglas (Cape Fear, “Entourage”), Sung Kang (The Fast & The Furious, Better Luck Tomorrow), Mia Riverton (Red Doors), Janel Parrish (Bratz: The Movie, “Pretty Little Liars”), Christopher Taloa, Henry Dittman and Cathy Foy (Battleship, “Lost”, “Hawaii 5-0”).
Michael: With Sung, I worked with him on The Motel. Originally, I did not want to cast Sung because we were trying to keep the casting authentically Hawaiian. But then I decided it was just the kind of role Sung should play, a romantic lead. He’s always playing the dark brooding guy who gets his head cut off. I’ve always said he should play more leading roles. Illeana was always on the top of the list for who I wanted to cast for the mother. We didn’t know her. I was Facebook friends with her. I messaged her on Facebook and she got back to me. We ended up casting her. She was totally down. I appealed to her in the New York indie movie sensibility.
Nick: Illeana, what about 4 Wedding Planners convinced you to accept this role?
Illeana: I liked the idea. I thought it was a very charming script and I thought it could be a lot of fun, which it was. It was a woman’s movie, from a woman’s point of view. Lots of girl time. Being shot on location in Hawaii was a big incentive.
Nick: What is your process like as a director? Do you give much direction?
Michael: You only have to give a lot of direction if you cast badly. Cast well from the beginning and let them do their thing. There are small adjustments now and then, for the most part; everyone involved in this film was so on top of it. I trusted them, they trusted me. Film is such a collaborative process. The cast was a tight knit family and I made it a tradition to jump in the ocean at midnight when we wrapped, to cleanse all of the stress and be ready to tackle another day of shooting.
Nick: Can you tell us about the shooting of the proposal scene at the top of the film?
Kimberly: It was shot at an outdoor luau. They are long, 5-6 hours. You come and have cocktails, stand in a buffet line for your food, and then there is a 3 hour dance performance. We didn’t have the budget to put on such a huge luau, so we crashed it. We had permission and in exchange, we made a great promotional video for the luau. When people were arriving, we had these huge boards posted, ‘We’re filming a movie. It’s not going to disrupt your experience, just so you know that if you are here tonight, do you mind being in the movie?’ That was while people were ordering their Mai Tai’s before the sun had set. So we filmed the buffet line, the performance. Hours later, Henry Dittman, who plays James, comes out with his coconut bra, shaking his stuff and people are so into it by now, that they have completely forgotten we’re filming a movie. He proposes to me. We did discuss in the beginning that we could not have me throw up on somebody in the middle of a luau-that would wreck their experience. Instead, I needed to say something that would generate the kind of response that would be equivalent to me throwing up. Henry was so brave and endearing, he really got the audience on his side with his cute hip action. When he proposed, everybody was on board. They gave me the microphone and I said, ‘I slept with your brother.’ Hundreds of people reacted with huge gasps. I had to leave because people at the next table said, ‘What is wrong with you? He does not deserve you. You’re a bad person.’ I got up and went to the bathroom, where this otherwise very Norman Rockwell looking grandmother said, ‘I saw you up there. You’re not a good girl!’
Nick: Illeana, what’s the difference between working on a studio vs. an Indie film?
Illeana: The budgets on all of these movies keep going down. We used to do a movie –it was 3 weeks rehearsal and 30 days to shoot. Now, it’s down to shooting a movie in 10 days and paying you $100 a day. It is a challenge, and with digital, it’s another excuse to lower the pay rate. An indie film is always a little more fun because it is looser and a little more collaborative. When we shoot my web series, we shoot it like a movie. When Michael directed Season 3, we shot a 90-minute episode in 10-12 days. I produce now, so that the project can be well produced. Sometimes I make more as a producer than I do as an actor.
Nick: What was the strategy for distribution of 4 Wedding Planners?
Kimberly: The strategy from the beginning with Island Film Group, our production company, was a Video on Demand release, not a theatrical release. The publicity for a theatrical nowadays is excruciatingly painful. It’s too expensive.
Michael: There are also talks of having it on TV. I’m much happier with this release than with my previous two films because it is so accessible. This is the wave of the future. The indie theatrical is dead. Whenever I see people doing indie theatricals now- it’s just a vanity thing. I’ve been through that mill with my other two movies, trying to sell it, getting it out there, having it in theaters, doing the limited release trying to create a buzz. It’s almost as painful as when I used to work in theater. I would do performances and 30 people in a basement would show up, and then it would be over. Now with technology, people can watch this movie, all across the country, and all across Canada. It’s reaching a far wider audience.
Nick: Kimberly, would you be interested in directing?
Kimberly: Sure, but I would not be interested in acting and directing at the same time. It’s a lot of work to direct. You have to make a lot of choices really quickly and be confident in the choices. And at the same time, be so uber collaborative that you’re responding to what everybody is doing, allowing them to do their best and still trying to keep everybody on the same path.
Nick: Illeana, have you directed?
Illeana: I have directed some short films and documentaries. With my web series, I write, produce and star in it. It would almost be impossible to direct it too. When I work with a director, it’s very collaborative in terms of the story, music, casting. It’s a hybrid of indie film and television structure. The formula has been established each year. We bring in a new director, a new flavor to the show, and yet still have some of the same recurring characters. I would love to direct. I am leaning towards that.
Nick: Kimberly, how did you secure the financing?
Kimberly: I was so lucky. I was at a film festival with my previous film TRE, which was very dark and angsty. I met a producer who had seen it and really enjoyed the work. I started forging a relationship with her and she enjoyed the 4 Wedding Planners script. She was based in Hawaii and had connections with production companies there. After a couple of years of going back and forth, we were able to secure Island Film Group, who was very interested in making films about Hawaii with local themes that weren’t exotic or about tourists. Films where you actually got more of a sense of what’s going on in Hawaii.
Q: The soundtrack was wonderful, everything flowed – how did you make that happen?
Michael: It was really important to me that the movie felt authentic. The key was another Facebook connection. I reached out to Jake Shimabukuro. We kept going back and forth about schedules (because he’s constantly touring). We lucked out that he was able to come in and do the score for us. That really married everything in the film together wonderfully. We wanted to have as many local artists on the soundtrack. We were able to access a lot of great talent because Island Film Group, in addition to their film production arm, has relationships with many musical artists in Hawaii.
Q: You had a lot of different locations. How long was your advance work in pre-production for locations before you started shooting?
Michael: I started pre-production 2 months before shooting, from the East coast. Kim was still in LA. I went to LA to do casting with Kim. We had two weeks in Hawaii of hard prep. We hit the ground running and were still casting out of Hawaii to fill out as many of the parts with local talent. Six months to a 1-year before, I had shadowed on “Lost”. I knew Oahu really well because of that. I had gone on a lot of location scouts with them. I saw all of the nooks and crannies of the island. So, when we came out, I knew from reading the script where scenes were going to take place. A lot of it was tricky line producer stuff. Scheduling the hospital, the luau. It was a jigsaw puzzle of very tight scheduling. We were really lucky because the crews there, people working in production in Hawaii for a long time, they knew exactly where we should go.
Q: What was the budget? Is the distribution expected to turn a profit?
4 Wedding Planners was made for half a million dollars, in part because at that time, Hawaii had a lot of tax incentives. We were able to fund the whole movie through tax incentives. All of our investors have actually gotten something monetarily out of the film. Tax credits are an amazing thing and vary state to state. If you are interested in producing a film, I would suggest looking into tax credits in different cities. It makes a huge impact on how you fund a film.
Q: What was your time frame from idea to shooting?
Kimberly: I started writing it in 2006, but I had originally thought of it as a pilot. In February 2009, the guys at Island Film Group liked the idea and the characters, but weren’t interested in making it as a TV show because it was too expensive. They told me that if made it into a feature script, they would produce it. I did, and by October of 2009, we were shooting on location in Hawaii.
Nick: Illeana, what’s next for you?
Illeana: I just finished wrapping season 4 of the web series, directed by Melanie Mayron, and starring Tim Arnold, Roger Bart, myself, Mia Riverton, Lorraine Newman, Ed Begley, Jr., that will air this Fall.
Kimberly: I would say, do your own thing. The toughest thing about acting is the waiting. I don’t think you should have to wait. There are so many ways to go out and make your own projects. There are so many talented people. If you have something that you really want to say, then it’s worth it for you to dedicate some of that waiting time to doing that’s proactive and feeds you creatively.
Michael: Adding to the idea of volunteering, if you haven’t, try to get on the other side of the camera. Befriend a casting director; volunteer to be a reader for them. See the process of casting from the other side. It will make it much easier for you to go into those castings. You’ll begin to understand that it has so little to do with you. A lot of the times, they’re looking for something so specific. This way you can actually walk in and not feel like it’s something personal.
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