Fighting a Winning War:
Guerilla Filmmakers
Battle Adversities to Bring
Three Feature Films to Asian American International Film Festival 2004
 
By Hemmy W. So
CineVue 2004
 


…. Preparation is often cited as a basic tenet of indie filmmaking, particularly when shooting on film. While Tso, Baker and Mallocra could bend that rule because they shot on video, a much cheaper medium, Yasuaki Nakajima had less flexibility. Nakajima used film to shoot his 72-minute feature AFTER THE APOCALYPSE, an expensive medium that run about $500 for 10 minutes' worth of raw film. To prevent a huge blow to an already skimpy wallet, guerilla filmmakers typically conduct multiple rehearsals with their actors to perfect scenes before shooting and prevent multiple takes. In contrast, actors in studio film often prepare very little before shooting, and with big budgets at their disposal, mainstream movie directors don't hesitate to shoot multiple takes of the same scene.


The 32 year-old Japanese director (who also stars in his film) worked with five-person cast for three months before beginning production. Because he incorporated no dialogue into his film, Nakajima relied solely on actors' facial and body movements, and gestures to express the range of emotions flowing through his film. Working through an improvisanal rehearsal process, the actors developed their roles by interpreting basic situations outlined by the director. Nakajima explained that the actors' theatre backgrounds prepared them for the constant rehearsals leading up to the actual shoot.


"We shot in ten days. Five days, Saturday, Sunday break and then another five days. Ten days in two weeks." Nakajima said. The crew shot on 2:1 ratio, meaning they captured about three hours of footage for 72-minute film. Keeping in mind the high cost of film, Nakajima filmed aggressively, giving his actors few chances at second takes. "Unless there was a big mistake, most of [the scenes] we went with one take. And then I think as you saw, most of takes are very long, they go for like five minutes."...

 

... For his feature film, Nakajima spent almost four years editing, albeit on a part-time basis. While studying at the City University of New York, the filmmaker worked at three separate internships to acquire the knowledge necessary to complete his film. Thus, for one patient year, Nakajima split his time at a film editing company, a sound editing house and post-production company to learn the technical aspects of filmmaking. During this time, he also met his sound designer, Dong Hwan Lee, with whom he worked for two years to perfect the sound, including Foley and automated dialogue replacement (ADR). Foley is the art of making sound effects, using various props to create or enhance certain movie sound we often take granted, such as the crunch of gravel under a character’s shoes or a creaky door. ADR corrects unusable sound recorded during the filming. For example, if outside noises such as traffic sound drown out an actor’s lines, ADR describes the post-filming process wherein an actor re-records those lines and an ADR editor replaces the original sound with a suitable re-recording.


Though the Nakajima and Lee spent many weekends working on the sound editing for AFTER THE APOCALYPSE, crunch time came just a few weeks before the movie’s premiere at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival in Austin, Texas. Unfortunately, by this time Lee has moved to Vancouver.


"So I called Dong-Hwan in Canada and I asked him to finish it," Nakajima explained. "He had access to a studio in Canada, so he was working on it for like two weeks non-stop, no sleeping just to finish. Two weeks before the festival he called me and told me 'I lost access to the studio.’"


The loss of the sound studio potentially devastating consequences for Nakajima, as the SXSW festival coordinator warned him that if he did not send his completed film by the Monday preceding the festival, SXSW would drop the movie. Harried and desperate, the Japanese guerilla filmmaker began re-editing the sound at Harvestworks Digital Media Arts Center, where he had been interning for four years. But re-editing brought its own list of problems. While Lee had corrected all the syncing issues in the film (making sure the sound matched the onscreen action), the procedure required him to undo half a year’s worth of Nakajima’s sound mixing (adjusting audio sound levels). Moreover, upon receiving the film’s audio file, the director realized that the 70+ audio tracks, which he had labeled with descriptive titles that referred to characters, ambient noises, sound effects and the like, now had numeric names that meant nothing to him. Lee had changed the track labels to match his audio mixing board. To make matters worse, Lee had used sound editing plug-ins in Canada that were unavailable to Nakajima at Harvestworks.


"I worked all night for two weeks," Nakajima said. "I was frustrated because we had already done this work, a lot of [Lee’s] work was wasted. … So I was really mad, crazy, screaming in the studio. But I gotta finish it myself, nobody can help me."


And finish it he did – the movie had its world premiere in March 2004 at SXSW...

 

… "It was my life vision to make one feature in my life," Nakajima said dreamily. "There was no way to stop it. I’ve got to do it, you know?"

 

 

Hemmy W. So has broken her chains of lawyerly bondage and now works as a freelance writer and editor. She is the editor of CineVue.