JULY 7, 2021 | UPDATED FEBRUARY 4, 2022
USA | 21 minutes | 2020
Drama short film directed by Allan Zhang Tran
Starring Bloom Li, Ray Yamamoto
It’s ditch day in SoCal’s San Gabriel Valley as two Asian American youths realize they might be on very different paths.
CineAsian Films (CAF): This is such a universal story in many ways about Asian-Americans coming of age. What was the inspiration behind making Valley?
Allan Zhang Tran: I knew I wanted to tell a coming of age story set in my hometown of the San Gabriel Valley. It’s a predominantly Asian & Hispanic American area of LA County and thus has a pretty distinct cultural landscape, different to many of the coming of age films I grew up on, which typically took place in suburban America featuring kids that didn’t quite look like me (or my friends) doing things that weren’t quite within the reality I knew. It often made me wonder if where and how I grew up wasn’t “normal.” So Valley became a vessel for me to speak to the specifics of growing up Asian American, to explore that underlying sense of angst and displacement felt by third culture kids when they’re starting to come into their own. But at the same time, I think there’s a universality in growing up—the navigating of one’s self at the cusp of adulthood is true regardless of cultural background. Valley is specific and personal to me, but I wanted to speak to that universal truth too.
CAF: The film was shot in and around Alhambra and San Gabriel. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced during production and shooting on location?
Tran: With Valley, I sought to capture the spontaneity and free-spiritedness of youth. And to do this in 3 shoot days, with limited daylight hours and well over 20 company moves, meant that we needed to shoot at an economical and efficient pace. A circumstance of scheduling that inherently worked against the ‘carefree’ tone of the film. Needless to say, finding that balance of creating an environment that allowed me to work/play with the actors to foster that tone while ensuring we made our days was an interesting challenge. But thankfully, I had the privilege of working with a rockstar cast and crew, and they truly all functioned at peak form to make this seemingly impossible task a reality.
That said… if you were to ask the two leads (Bloom Li and Ray Yamamoto) the same question, I think they’d tell you the biggest challenge was the summer heat. And the unexpected cardio they had to endure. While giving the killer performances they did.
CAF: What do you hope people can take away from watching Valley?
Tran: Ultimately, I hope people can find something with which they can relate, whatever that might be. I hope they can identify with the fickleness and volatility of friendships during that formative age. To recognize the joy of kicking a can for longer than they should. To be reminded of that simpler time where they hung out with a close friend all day and did practically nothing but felt like they did everything. And, if they’re Asian American, I hope they identify with where the characters are coming from and why they act the way they do. That they can feel a version of themselves or people they knew reflected (hopefully) properly on screen.
CAF: Do you have plans to adapt this film into a feature? Are you working on anything new and exciting?
Tran: Yes! If anything, I personally see Valley as a limited series rather than a feature, so I’ve since adapted it into a 30-page pilot. Although the series wouldn’t necessarily focus on the Ryan and Kev characters for its entirety, they would be the focus of the pilot. I envision the series as a tapestry of loosely connected characters within the Greater San Gabriel Valley. Each episode would focus on a character or set of characters we met in a previous episode to form a mosaic narrative of Asian and Hispanic America.
As far as the next short film, I’m prepping a horror project that hopefully shoots soon in 2021. I’m excited to explore the theme of duality within Asian America from a different angle, and different genre. Just have to navigate funding and production in this unique climate properly!
VALLEY is one of the many great projects shared with CineAsian Films through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them, submit your film.
Director, Writer, Editor: Allan Zhang Tran
Producers: Matthew P. Higgins, Michelle Okawa
Cinematographer: Sonny Wong
Composer: Nicholas “Nick” Shaffer
Also starring: Michelle Park, Gloria Ho, Jocelyn May