Michael Mullenniex 1:43 p.m., May 25
Tonight at SDAFF: Meet Goh Nakamura, Musician & Star of Surrogate Valentine
Dave Boyle’s Surrogate Valentine was the first SDAFF screener to make its way to my DVD player. While it’s not the best film to play this year’s festival -- I’m hoping that honor will go to Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s A City of Sadness -- it’s easily this year’s sweetest, freshest, and most captivating date movie.
Goh Nakamura putting on a happy face.
Newcomer Goh Nakamura plays “Himself,” a talented, yet still relatively undiscovered San Francisco-based musician making a living by giving music lessons. A friend puts him in touch with Danny Turner (Chadd Stoops), an endearing, but thoroughly fatuous television celebrity in need of someone to teach him how to fake playing the guitar for an upcoming feature.
Equal parts buddy picture, romcom, and slice-of-life biopic, Surrogate Valentine will hopefully find a way to progress from the festival circuit to art house distribution. Sadly, in this day and age the kiss of death could be Bill Otto's handsome black-and-white cinematography. I, for one, can't wait to see how it looks when projected on a big screen, hopefully UltraStar Mission Valley's auditorium 7.
Surrogate Valentine, named Centerpiece Presentation at this year's San Diego Asian Film Festival, screens tonight at 7:00 p.m. Goh, Dave Boyle, Chadd Stoops, and Lynn Chen will all be on hand for a post show discussion, followed by an after-party at the Gaslamp's Hard Rock Cafe.
Scott Marks: How has it come to pass that I am sitting in a movie theatre watching your face on the big screen?
Goh Nakamura: You know, I wake up each morning asking myself the same question. Why did this guy make a film about me? I mean, it’s not necessarily me on the screen. It’s our movie version of myself. I met Dave after his Q&A at the San Francisco International Asian Film Festival’s screening of his first film, White on Rice. There was something about him. He’s young, very smart, and hilarious. He had apparently heard my album, Ulysees.
[Suddenly he sounds garbled, as if he’s underwater.]
I’m having difficulty understanding you.
You know why? The mike was facing away from me.
(Laughing) For a second I forgot I was talking to a musician.
(Laughing) I had decided to make the album a free download. At the time I had a video that was on the front page of YouTube that had given me a lot of exposure. I would never have predicted that I would be in a movie. Dave and I really hit it off and we kept in touch. He asked me to write a theme song for White on Rice.
He asked you to write the theme song after the film was completed and in release?
Yeah. He did it as a promotional kind of thing. I agreed to write the song that he eventually made a video of. He had a movie in mind, and looking back I guess that was kind of the audition for it. We were both traveling. He was on the film circuit and I was out promoting my album. We met in Chicago maybe six or seven months later and he asked me if I was up for acting in his next movie. I was in shock. I had no idea if it was going to be a short film or a YouTube video. Sure enough, a month later he had a script.
Goh Nakamura and Lynn Chen.
You receive screenwriting credit on the film, but how is it that someone you’ve known for just a few months comes up with the idea to tell your story on film?
The thing I learned about Dave is, he’s one of those guys who when he says he’s going to do something and a year later he’ll hand it to you. A lot of the script was written via Facebook chat. These stories would just come up.
So this is basically a compilation of Facebook messages put together to form a screenplay?
Yeah. There was a third writer involved, Joel Clark, who co-wrote White on Rice, so there was a bit of a wild card. The first version of the script involved...some it was completely verbatim of our Facebook chats. We wanted to make it sort of like a short story. That’s the best way that I can describe it.
Who decided that this was going to star as “Himself” as opposed to Goh Nakamura playing a wholly fabricated character?
That was all Dave. Originally, the character was named Joe Nakura.
Great cover. Audiences will never suspect that it’s you.
Yeah. I showed my sister the script and she gave me so much grief about it. She’s like, “It can’t be, Joe!” I explained the situation to Dave, and asked if it was alright to just be, Goh. And he said okay.
Was there ever a point in your life where you were asked to teach a television star how to play the guitar?
(Laughing) Uh, no. During...did you see, White on Rice?
The romantic rival in that...that plot device was taken from White on Rice. Dad had to hire his friend to teach that actor how to play guitar. It’s loosely based on that.
Chadd Stoops on air guitar.
Is there a Goh’s Guitar Lounge in San Francisco?
I was teaching at a school in Sunny Vale, California for about seven years. That little sign you see hanging in the film was actually a Christmas gift from a student. Two of the kids you see me giving lessons to in the beginning are my students.
So the sign was a prop from your real life that made it into this fictional reworking of your real life.
How do you feel while watching yourself on screen?
It’s a little uncomfortable because that’s me completely out of my element. And I’m really happy that I got a chance to work with seasoned actors.
Do you remember the actor Jack Soo? He’s probably best known for Barney Miller?
You have this great, world-weary, “fuck it all” attitude that really comes across on screen. You have a natural presence, you’re always “in the moment,” and very appealing to watch. When you and Chad get into it, and you can see that you’re peeved at all his inanity, it come across as smooth and genuine. I see people play happy, and I see people play pissed, but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen someone execute flustered quite like you do.
What was wrong with the Valerie (Mary Cavett)? When you watch the film you realize that you character is not a 100% not-happening guy because at least Valerie finds him attractive. Why no sparks there?
In the script, I don’t even go into her apartment. We have a conversation at her doorstep and I refuse to go in. I assured Dave that if placed in a similar situation, I would definitely go inside, but something would happen and I’d completely fail, you know. You don’t really know what happens between Goh and Valerie. All you see is me driving away after our first encounter. And I later wind up getting together with her again. She’s the complete polar opposite of my character in the film. She’s a bit crazy. She’s also a groupie and maybe I’m afraid that she’ll get bored with me.
And structurally, Dave wants to build to the big ending and the question of whether or not Rachel (Lynn Chen) will be there when you call on her. I’m glad you decided to go inside. You don’t want a film about your life to portray you as a sack-whack. Your decision to go inside was a smart one. How crazy was Dave to shoot this in black-and-white?
I’m not a film guy at all, but I think one of the reasons it was shot in black-and-white was to keep it simple. In my mind, filmmaking is the director, the actors, a sound guy, maybe the producer, and a couple of assistants. We had to keep it that way because in some cases we literally had to pull over and “steal” our shots. Dave wanted to keep it very mobile.