San Diego couple turns pandemic wedding saga into feature film

The long-postponed wedding of San Diegans Hillary Manalac and Chris Soriano took place last May. Now it's a feature film.
(Photo by Kate Garcia Weddings)

Chris and Hillary Soriano postponed their wedding so many times due to the pandemic that they turned their experience into a romantic comedy that premieres Jan. 20


Chris and Hillary Soriano were one of many couples who postponed their wedding during the pandemic.

But they’re the only couple who turned their unsettling experience into a 94-minute feature film that will debut in 10 Regal theaters across the country (including three locally) on Friday.

The Bonita couple had planned to get married in September 2020, notified their relatives and sent out save-the-date notices. Ongoing pandemic restrictions forced them to move the wedding to March 2021. As that date neared, they butted up against competition for caterers and event space triggered by the deluge of postponed marriages.

Their third attempt was the charm. They married on May 6, 2022.

Chris, 34, had a passion be a film director since he finished high school. His creative eye saw a romantic comedy in the couple’s crazy scramble to make their wedding a reality during the pandemic.

A guy with a can-do attitude, he cleared clothes out of a closet, added a desk and light and began turning their story into a movie script.

The result is a feature film, “The Wedding Hustler,” about his adventures with a wedding planner (and almost no money) that result in a low-budget event with all the bells and whistles of an extravagant affair.

Chris and Hillary played themselves in the rom-com. Their wedding planner in the movie, Christine Chang, is portrayed by their real wedding planner. And their ceremony participants — bridesmaids, grooms, parents and wedding guests — all became part of their cast.

Film production took about three months from start to finish. Shooting began at the end — with the filming of their May 6 wedding at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in National City and reception at the Luce Loft in downtown San Diego.

This real wedding of Hillary and Chris Soriano on May 6, 2022.
This real wedding of Hillary and Chris Soriano on May 6, 2022 is the climax of their new feature film, “The Wedding Hustler.”
(Courtesy of Kate Garcia Weddings)

This was followed by 20 more days of fictional wedding prep filming at various locations — Seafood City Supermarket in National City, Harmony Cuisine 2B1 on Convoy Street, SMACK’N Guamanian Grill on Miramar Road, Panini Kabob Grill in Mission Valley, See’s Candies and Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula.

“I had no experience writing films or directing or even acting. I just always had a passion for it,” says Chris, who had worked as a certified nursing assistant and a conference planner.

“We just moved forward one step at a time. We were very resourceful.” The couple was able to get many props and set pieces donated. They asked businesses for permission to film on location. “Our goal was to showcase real, authentic San Diego spots.”

They enlisted friends as actors and paid others nominal “friendly favor” fees.

Chris found an experienced film crew and editors intrigued by his vision. He also sent a direct message to actor Kane Lim, from Netflix’s “Bling Empire,” who agreed to play the wedding planner’s assistant and became an executive producer.

Chris Soriano meets with his wedding planner in one of the scenes.
Chris Soriano meets with his wedding planner in one of the many scenes for “The Wedding Hustler” shot at San Diego locations.
(Courtesy of Kate Garcia Weddings)

“People showed up on set on their own. Everybody put on their own makeup,” says Chris, who calls it guerrilla-style film making. “There were many times when I said, ‘This is not going to happen.’” After all, putting on a wedding is stressful, not to mention making a movie at the same time.

Undaunted by his lack of experience, Chris quotes Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack Dawson character in “Titanic:” “When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.”

Chris set up numerous hourlong Zoom sessions with veteran Filipino actress Princess Punzalan in Los Angeles, who gave him acting advice “out of the goodness of her heart.”

As “The Wedding Hustler” came to fruition, the Sorianos reached out to distributors, and 1090 Pictures, a Sony company, agreed to pick up the movie. It’s slated to be released on Amazon Prime on Feb. 7 and will also be available on Apple TV. The trailer can be seen at:

The couple negotiated the cinema showings, which include weeklong screenings at Regal Edwards San Marcos, Regal Oceanside and Regal Rancho Del Rey in Chula Vista.

This was not their first film. Chris wrote and starred in “Almighty Zeus,” a story about a young boxer who protects an elderly Asian man being harassed by gang members. A video of the encounter goes viral, and a champion boxer challenges the unintentional hero to a highly publicized match.

Later this month, the Sorianos, who formed a production company, Matthew 25:14, to create films that empower minorities and often highlight hate crimes, will start filming “The Master Chief.”

It focuses on discrimination against a Filipino-American in the U.S. Navy and was inspired by Chris’ boyhood military base visits with his dad, who had a 20-year Navy career. The film’s target release date is Nov. 10, a day before Veterans Day.

His goal with “The Wedding Hustler” was to use his personal experience to show others how to create a glamorous wedding on an affordable budget. For instance, cake can come from the supermarket, dried flowers or fake flowers can be mixed with real ones, a DJ can take the place of a live band.

“Sometimes you have to hustle and work really hard to create the most important moments in your life,” says the fledgling producer. That is something Chris knows a bit about. As a 13-year-old living in Paradise Hills, he was threatened and beat up by a gang and was home schooled thereafter.

He was denied admission to San Diego State University because of his low grades, so he sent an email to then-President Stephen Weber sharing his life story and asking for reconsideration. An appeal committee reviewed his application and accepted him.

It wasn’t until the pandemic shut down the world, however, that Chris decided to tap into some things he really wanted to do and to learn. “Almighty Zeus” and “The Wedding Hustler” were the result.

His head is swimming with many more potential film ideas. Using his formula of producing a shoestring-budget quality film in three months, he hopes to produce four movies this year.

Since the newlyweds transitioned directly into 12-hour workdays after their wedding, they never had getaway time. “Someday we’ll have our honeymoon,” Hillary says.

Surely that, too, will be the subject of a feature film.