With a background in documentary filmmaking, Diane Paragas strove to make her narrative feature debut, “Yellow Rose,” which revolves around a 17-year-old Filipina American immigrant who dreams of becoming a country singer, look as natural as possible — particularly when those dreams are shaken.
Played by Eva Noblezada (Tony-nominated for her role in the 2017 Broadway revival of “Miss Saigon”), Rose spends her nights listening to records and writing songs. But when her mom, Priscilla (Princess Punzalan), is picked up by immigration agents, Rose understands that she must flee — and make choices that confront the reality of her life in the U.S. The movie, from Sony Pictures Classics, bows in theaters Oct.9.
Though the film considers how the crackdown on immigrants affects an entire family, Paragas and editor Liron Reiter knew they had to narrow in on Rose when the first cut came in at more than two hours. “We needed to tell her journey,” Reiter notes.
Reiter says she used music cues to balance the despair and difficulty Rose experiences separated from her mother and now living with her aunt (“Miss Saigon” Tony winner Lea Salonga). “The film is a love letter to country music,” Reiter explains, “and so the music, the score and the songs really help drive the rhythm and emotional tone.” Some scenes show musician Dale Watson, who’s first seen at a club and plays himself, mentoring young Rose in the fine art of the country guitar.
When Rose sees her mom taken by ICE agents, her world collapses. Her friend, Elliot (Liam Booth), drives her to safety, and the two happen upon a hayfield at dusk. Paragas shot the scene during magic hour and relied on cinematographer August Thurmer’s poetic style to portray the sequence, which she calls her MacGuffin. The DP shot on 1970s-era Kowa anamorphic lenses to capture the scope of the Texas landscape as well as the pain in Rose’s face as she runs toward an uncertain future. “It had to be achingly beautiful but at the same time painfully tragic,” says the director. Reiter intercut the scene with images of Priscilla being taken to prison. Notes Paragas: “I always knew Rose would be running into a field and her mom was going into a prison, yet in a way they were both going into a prison.”
Paragas had Christopher H. Knight’s score layered over the top of the sequence, replacing her first idea for a song, since it better portrayed the bittersweet nature of the moment. The key to editing the scene was to create compassion and empathy, Reiter says. “It was important that Priscilla’s world felt like it was caving in and imprisoning her while Rose looks small and lost in a world that she now doesn’t know her place in. If your heart isn’t breaking when you’re watching these two — mother and daughter and what they’re going through — you’re not going to come along for the ride.”
For Paragas, the most challenging scene in the film was the last of the shoot. It features Rose on the phone to her mom via FaceTime, and the director felt the time constraints of the 19-day shoot. Punzalan had already traveled back home to California, and the scene had tech issues. Paradoxically, Reiter says the scene was the first one she worked on. “It’s almost as if I cut it blind,” the editor admits. “But the movie does its job; their moment is earned.”