By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The most effective scenes in “Driveways” come quietly, which filmmaker Andrew Ahn understood, because he made most of the scenes come quietly. A crucial interchange consists of almost nothing at all—on the surface.
A young mother, Kathy (played by Hong Chau) drives along with her young son Cody (Lucas Jaye), and an old man they’ve just met, Del (Brian Dennehy). The mother and son will drop Del off at the VFW.
“What’s the VFW?” asks the precocious boy.
And in the semi darkness of the car, the old man has to decide how to answer. Should he admit that VFW stands for Veterans of Foreign Wars? Should he admit that he’s a veteran himself? Should he admit that he might well have been sent by his superiors to hunt and kill Asians, people who look quite a bit like the mother and child?
He takes a deep breath.
“It’s where I play bingo,” is all he says.
Ahn, marking his second feature film with “Driveways,” grew up in the South Bay region of Los Angeles.
“I felt a strong connection to my Asian American identity from early on because of the community that existed around me,” he remembered.
“During the summers, my parents would bring me up to Koreatown where they worked. Some of my earliest memories are eating Korean pastries and shaved ice inside Koreatown malls. I feel like these positive associations to these places have served as inspirations for my storytelling as a filmmaker.”
He loved movies from an early age, but began to think about them seriously only after he made it to Brown University and decided against becoming a doctor. He claims humanist filmmakers, such as Yasujiro Ozu from Japan and John Cassavetes from America, as his primary influences, and the standards that inspire him.
Those filmmakers, he elaborated, ask the questions, “How do you capture human behavior? How do you articulate emotion? These will be questions I ask myself for the rest of my career.”
He came to “Driveways” having shot two short films, and working as an editor on other directors’ projects. He also wrote and directed a feature film, “Spa Night,” about a young Korean man coming of age, and coming out, over the course of working at a Korean spa.
“As a gay, Korean American man, I will always feel like an outsider, but I don’t say that in a negative way,” Ahn said. “In fact, I think my position allows me a certain perspective that makes me a better filmmaker, more observant and sensitive to the world around me.”
For his second feature film, Ahn made use of a screenplay from the writing team of Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen, who blended some of their formative experiences to create the “Driveways” story.
Kathy and Cody drive in from out of town, charged with emptying out and selling the house of Kathy’s sister, who recently died. They discover Del, leading a brave but lonely existence around that same block, and over time, the boy and the old man develop an unlikely, but necessary, friendship.
In terms of Kathy and Del, Ahn explained, he felt “no other options” in casting other than Chau and Dennehy. He wanted both of them and lobbied until he got them. Lucas Jaye, a newcomer, had a resume with TV shows and TV commercials, but never a feature film.
“Brian and Lucas met the day before filming started,” remembered Ahn. “I was nervous that they might not like each other or that they would feel uncomfortable around each other, things that wouldn’t help them be believable friends on screen. Fortunately, they immediately hit it off, having fun and joking around. The friendship you see on screen is real and that was such a gift for the film.”
Dennehy died suddenly on April 15, and “Driveways” is one of his last credits. When Ahn got the word, he called his screenwriters and his producers, in shock.
Ahn vows to keep making intimate, bold, and daring films. But he’ll miss the big, warm fellow who helped anchor “Driveways.”
“I loved seeing Lucas and Brian pal around, their friendship was really special. Brian was so kind and generous.
“I will also always cherish this memory of Brian thanking me for directing him in the last scene of the film. I think he knew that scene was special and he felt proud of the work he had done.”
“Driveways” is currently available to stream on iTunes, Amazon Prime, or Google Play.
Andrew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.