Friday, June 19, 2009

This past week was given over to my Fangoria duties. I completed my interviews for the film "Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl." I did a duo interview with directors Nishimura and Tomomatsu. I've got a long history with both of them, as I've interviewed both on several occasions and have been an actor in 2 of Tomomatsu's films ("Stacy" and "Zombie Self-Defense Force") and was a glorified extra in Nishimura's "Tokyo Gore Police."

We hung out at the offices of Excellent Films (Vampire Girl's production office) and delved into the back story of how the film came about, the production, the actors, etc etc. The usual for me when doing this job. The unusual thing was that Nishimura brought a bunch of beer and we were drinking throughout. I guess I can no longer say that I don't drink on the job.

Yesterday I took a long bus ride down to the lower tip of Chiba to the town of Tateyama to check in on the production of "The Shock Labyrinth." The film is being directed by "The Grudge" director Takashi Shimizu. This makes the 5th production of his I've visited. His sets are always fun. They are very well organized and are always minus the hectic pace normally found on Japanese productions. I don't know how he does it.

The film is being shot in 3D and it's the first time I've been able to watch such a film in production. The camera was really small and basically just two small night vision like goggles strapped together. There was a large monitor on the set that displayed the 3D image. Shimizu tossed me a pair of 3D glasses and sat me next to him so I could get the full impact of the 3D image. The monitor was a typical thin LCD yet when looking at it you felt that it went back much further. That was kind of cool to stare into. I enjoyed watching how they would dress the set in order to enhance the 3D feeling.

Another fun thing about the set was that I could see Ai Maeda again, who is one of the first actors I'd interviewed when I started this job. She was the star of "Gamera 3," which shot back in 1998 (or was it 99? Can't recall offhand). I've hung out with Ai on a number of occasions since then including going out for dinner with her and her sister Aki following the world premiere of "Battle Royale 2." Still, it was 4 years since I saw her last. One of the interesting stories I have about Ai is how when I met her on Gamera she couldn't speak a lick of English. After the production she went to Canada for a year. I met her after that on the set of the Godzilla film "GMK" and she was suddenly fluent in English, putting my Japanese to shame! I guess it's true when they say you have to learn languages when you're young. I didn't learn my first Japanese word until I was almost 30!

Shimizu brought up the fact that I was in the SM bar scene in "Tokyo Gore Police," and told Ai, who had seen the film recently. Shimizu too has a small part in the film. Maybe I should be more careful about the films I appear in...

I'm writing a basic intro piece on the film and will upload it to the Fangoria website later next week.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

It's All Good Shooting done! For real!

And I thought Shusuke's 5-shot shoot the other day was short! My shoot today was one of the shortest shoots I've ever been involved with. Or maybe it's because I got up at 5:30am that finishing at 2pm made it feel like a 1/2 day. In any case, I completed the shooting phase of my newest film and for that I'm grateful. A film is never done until the last shot is in the can.

Oh, wait... I still have ADR, effect creation, titles, music, sound effects, etc etc to deal with.

OK... Can't say it's done just yet.

Today's shoot was over at Tamachi Station, one stop from Shinagawa on the Yamanote Line. The crew today was relatively small, but enough to get the job done. It was good to get back with Shu G and Ota, the DP and Lighting Chief from such classics as 'Tokyo Gore Police' and the upcoming 'Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl. ' Also, Hiro and Sekiguchi, the video support team from McCray Inc. Also on hand were JR, co-producer of the film, Mike, our FXs Supervisor, Lindee, the film's Girl Friday (is this a sexist thing to write?), and Adi, who was coaching Ako during her rehearsals.

Today was deceptively simple, which should have set the warning bells off in my head, as nothing is every easy when making film. Today was just a static shot of a reporter reading the news in front of a green screen. Seems simple enough, no? But the delivery of such dialogue is important to come off as convincing and it was a lot of work for Ako, the actress in today's scene. Ako is a sinfully cute young woman who works as a reporter for the Japan Fox-TV show Backstage Pass. Check out Ako here:

While Ako's English is entirely fantastic, the dialogue was in a serious news style and not easy even for a native English speaker to deliver credibly. It took a long time to get each take just right and I found I was having to reach deep inside myself to find ways in which to relate the motivation and delivery style needed to bring each take to its finish.

Trust me, Ako was in a rough position. By being removed from an English-speaking nation I've been able to see that the subtle nuances that make up the English language and give it its character are not as apparent as they seem. For non-native speakers, no matter how good they are, English doesn't always make a lot of sense for the simple reason that English doesn't always make a lot of sense.

What I mean to say is, Ako had her work cut out for her! But with concentration and commitment, we got everything in the can by shoot's end, and I really have nothing but praise for Ako taking this on. お疲れさまでした、あこ様!

Later on Ota, my lighting director, said he had just shot a film (he's a director too) and he appeared as a newscaster in his newest film. He said it took him on average 20 takes just to get each line – and this was in his native Japanese!

But I love challenging moments such as this, where things are not going smooth and the pressure is on me to bring everything together. These are the times where you earn the respect of your staff, or lose it. Anyone can do the easy shots. Unfortunately, when the film is done, no one watching will ever know that this was the toughest scene of all to capture. But that's the cross filmmakers everywhere have to bear.

We wrapped on time and all of us retired to a fantastic pizzeria down the block where we laughed over the scene and the difficulty in getting it done. We could laugh because we did it. Had we not, it would have been a lot of long faces. Thanks Ako! Thanks crew! We rock!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Running Away from One Film to Another Film!

Sort of took it easy this week, working on a new script and getting ready for the final day of shooting.

The final day of shooting...

Compared to the first phase, this day will be relatively easy. I say 'relatively' because there is no such thing as an easy shoot. The easy part is that it's a single head shot of a newscaster to be used as an insert for a TV in the house where the film is set; difficult in that it's 7-pages of intense dialogue!

To get away from it all, I played hooky today from my own responsibilities and went over to the set of my friend Shusuke Kaneko to watch the final day of shooting on his new film. The majority of the shoot on his film was up in Guma, but today he and his crew were over in Ebisu at the Ebisu Garden complex, which is just a stone's throw from my place in Tokyo. I wanted to go visit their shooting in Guma but I was just too busy with my own work. I kind of miss the old days when all I lived for was going to film sets in Japan (Godzilla in particular) and making my presence felt!

I enjoy watching Kaneko shoot. And now that I have 4 productions of my own under my belt, I pick up more on the subtle instances of his style. My main interest is in a director's relationship with the actors. Keeping actors interested in the material and 'up' is without a doubt the number one responsibility of the director, and in this department Kaneko is ace!

One funny moment on the set was during the shoot. One of the young PAs came up to me and asked me to leave the set. He thought I was just some clueless foreigner who had stumbled where he shouldn't be. The staff started laughing, "this is Norman!" Some of them yelled. He started bowing apologetically.

After shooting I joined Kaneko, the film's ADs and the producer for some beer at one of the many 'beer gardens' in the area. I don't often drink in the afternoon, but I made an exception.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Work! Or Sink!

Haven't touched the blog in a month. Been really busy with a whole mess of things.

Actually, I wrote two entries but failed to up them. One was about being a guest at Superfest... Briefly, it was a lot of fun and I saw a bunch of film people I hadn't seen in a while, especially since the Godzilla films are no longer in production. The best was catching up with classic Toho actor Tsuchiya, who was in my documentary "Bringing Godzilla Down to Size." I took a photo of the two of us but can't seem to find it in my mess of a hard drive! The other was my ordeal trying to get an iPhone. I spent almost 8 hours dealing with Japanese cell-phone company nonsense and had to finally give up and stick with my current company docomo, which is a company I absolutely LOATH!

I spent the past week creating subtitles for directors Nishimura and Tomomatsu's upcoming film "Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl. " That was a load of work, but I enjoyed doing it. I spent two days at Nishimura's studio on the East side of Tokyo re-writing and adjusting the timing of the subs. Man! It's such precise work! My goal on this (as with other subtitling jobs I've done, including my own films) is to help the non-Japanese speaking audience get as close to the spirit of the film as is possible. Bad subs can, unfortunately, cause people to perceive the film as being no good, so I felt a great responsibility.

There were a few instances where there was just no translation that matched the wholly zany Japanese way of viewing the world. At those spots I would explain my approach to Nishimura and, after bouncing ideas around, came up with what I felt was something within the character of the film. Actually, those are my favorite moments when doing this kind of work. It's when I can get creative.

Silly me. I forgot to take photos, so the photos here I swiped from Nishimura's blog (I also stole this photo of Vampire Girl star Yukie Nakamura as I took it on set... A pretty good shot (if I do say so myself) of a very pretty woman....covered in blood! :

I was going to put up a link to the film's trailer, but I can't seem to find it on-line at the moment. I watched the latest trailers at Nishimura's yesterday and think they look really good. It's a fun movie and I'm proud to do some kind of work on the film. I also took some great set photos when I visited the set a few months back. A couple of them found their way onto Nishimura's blog.

I've been busting my rear getting a rough edit of my film "It's All Good" together. That, too, is tough work. I have one more day of shooting, which is scheduled for next weekend. In the film, a TV is constantly on in the background reporting world news. I had to write a script for this and it was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. As I've set the film in the near future, I had to imagine how current events might play out in 8 years time. Also, the timing had to be exact, matching when I want to cut to a close up of the TV. The actress I got for the newscaster part is Ako, who is a regular on the Entertainment show Fox Backstage Pass on air here in Japan. Ako is a really fun person with a real glow about her. I'm looking forward to the shoot and working with her.