By Dave Gonzales
it comes to independent filmmakers, there isnÕt a simple
cookie-cutter formula on how you get your break. Sometimes
a project a filmmaker has been tinkering with suddenly
catches that all-important spark and the production
takes off, leaving the director and crew feeling like
they are always behind schedule. Other times, independent
filmmaking dawns the guise of the classic American Dream,
drawing on the perseverance and character of the filmmaker
and not the bottom line of the budget or a week in the
Yasuaki Nakajima is in the latter group.
His film After the Apocalypse is garnering a
lot of attention as a 72 minute, nearly-silent science
fiction film about 5 humans forced to live in a urban
world that has been destroyed by a unnamed catastrophe.
The air has turned toxic and they are forced to use
secondary forms of communication to band together and
ensure the survival of the human race.
SOLFIRE caught up with Yas (his preferred nickname)
to talk to him about the making of his first feature
SOLFIRE ENTERTAINMENT: You made the bold choice to make After The Apocalypse a completely dialogue-free film, why make an essentially silent film? Was it based on your experiences venturing out of Japan for the first time in 1994?
YASUAKI NAKAJIMA: After the Apocalypse is not really silent film. People in the film make sounds, but it doesn't come out as what we can recognize as language. They are communicating with the sounds of gasps and breathing, actually. And a lot of times we do communicate without language in our life. I think business communication, without common language, is especially tough. But our emotion can be communicated without having to say things. That's what I realized when I left Japan in 1994 and went to Australia by myself, hitchhiking for 6 month all around the continent. It was my first time out of Japan and I couldn't speak a word of English. It was a real struggle since I was alone and not familiar with the culture of Australia. But I had to survive - getting food, finding a place to sleep. Once I was able to get those basic needs, I needed to make some friends or have some human communication at least. But I learned that it is possible to do without really speaking. That experience was very inspirational. I always wanted to tell that story with film since I'm a filmmaker.
Around 1999, there were rumors about the Y2K issue. So, I wanted to make a film about life after catastrophe. And somehow, I came up with the idea of: "What if we lost not only electricity, houses, cars but also our voice?" I thought that way I could make an interesting science fiction story with high stakes and also could use my personal experiences with the communication issue. That's how the project started.
SFE: I understand that the majority of work on After The Apocalypse was done before you completed your film training. Is a film school necessary for aspiring filmmakers?
YK: I didn't go to film school though I did take some classes at a New York based nonprofit organization called Film/Video Arts (FVA). I learned quick and practical filmmaking from FVA, but my first filmmaking education was making a short claymation film in my apartment in Tokyo. I bought a secondhand Super 8 camera and spent a year making a 12-minute claymation film at night after work. I went to the camera shop if I didn't understand how to use camera. I wrote, shot, lit, moved the clay actor and edited it. That was my basic filmmaking school. And I also read many books about making super 8 film. I found those books at used bookstores in Japan. I also went to see films every Saturday night after work (I worked Saturday in Tokyo) and stayed in a theater till morning, slept all day Sunday and went to work Monday morning.
I believe that I could have been a better filmmaker if I went to film school. I could have learned more from classmates or teachers, you know? And connections you make at film schools are golden. But I don't have enough money to pay for film school. If had some money, IÕd want to start shooting something. So I decided to teach feature filmmaking to myself by actually spending time and money making my film. If I were rich, I would have gone to film school and learned filmmaking quicker. But there was not much choice for me. I donÕt think it is necessary to go to film school, but it may help to get a quick education in filmmaking than doing it on your own to fill in the gaps in your education. But to be honest, I have no idea what it is like to go to film school since I didn't.
SFE: How did you finance the production of your film?
YK: There was not a lot of money. It was shot on 16mm film and most of the takes were done once. Our core production crew was 4 including me. The script was written around existing locations around my place in Brooklyn and Queens. But, yes, it cost some money for food, which came out really expensive, compared to other items. Actually, I asked my parents and sister to lend me some money to make a feature film instead of going to school. And they trusted me.
SFE: Principal photography was completed in 1999, but the movie didnÕt premiere until several years later. What was happening and did you ever loose hope in your project?
YK: Post-production was mostly done by two people. I just had a lot of free time, but no money to pay anyone, so I did most of it by myself. After principal shooting was finished I started to intern at The Shooting Gallery's post-production company Gun-For-Hire Post. I leaned how to do post-production sound there. And then I kept on interning at three other post-production companies to keep learning and getting access to post production equipment.
Our film was shot MOS. There was no sound recorded during the production. My co-sound designer and I spent years creating all elements of the sound in a studio where we happened to have free access occasionally. That's why it took so long to finish. We were working on sound up until 5 days before the world premiere at SXSW Film festival in March 2004.
SFE: How did working on a post-apocalyptic movie through September 11th turn out? Ever feel like life was going to reflect your art too closely?
YK: It was very strange and frightening. I thought "Oh, my God. My film is happening!" Actually, when the first airplane hit the North Tower I was just walking on Chambers Street, a few blocks away from the World Trade Center. I heard a loud airplane sound over my head, looked up, saw an airplane flying very low, it disappeared, and I heard a crashing sound. I ran to Greenwich Street to see if the building made the sound. And there was the North Tower and I could see some smoke coming out of it, and there were lots of office papers falling through the air. It wasn't easy to figure out what was going on in front of me and that it was real, but I knew it wasnÕt safe to stick around. So I took the subway (it was working before the towers fell) and went to SoHo to the office of a post-production company where I worked as an intern at the time. So I waited in the office. An editor who worked in the company came and told me, "The twin towers are gone." He was also around the WTC site and happened to shoot what was happening with his small DV camera. He showed me the footage of buildings falling on his tiny video screen. Then I was really shocked, and I thought there might be a war. And I immediately thought poison gas might come next, as it happens in my film. So I stayed in the office until night.
Since I was in post-production on After the Apocalypse already, I couldn't really change much of my story after what I experienced from 9/11, but I witnessed what would happen when there is a catastrophe like that. I realized that our basic needs become a big issue, like in my film. We have to secure clean air, a safe place to sleep, real communication and a friend that is trustworthy. Stuff like that. It was the same when the New York Blackout happened in 2003.
SFE: In the late 90s, most science fiction was studio-produced action films like The Matrix and Minority report, what drove you to make a quiet, character driven Sci Fi film?
YK: Well, After the Apocalypse is my first feature film. First of all, nobody would give me big money to make an expensive action film when I had never made a feature film. But what I wanted to do with my first feature was kind of learn filmmaking by doing it. So I was not in a position to think about producing a studio action movie, but I had been always interested in basic human communication and I wanted to tell a story of a few survivors trying to cope with the aftermath of a catastrophe. And I didn't really need big sets or costumes for that. And we were able to do it without a lot money. It could have been a very similar looking film even if we had access to more money, I just believe simpler communication is better. We try to communicate with film because it is sometimes necessary. I would rather just say things if I can communicate by speaking, but sometimes it is necessary to write, paint or take photos to communicate better. Making a film is very expensive and takes lots of energy. Even though our film was inexpensivly made, it was a big deal for me. Almost like buying a house. I spent five years making this film. I could have done all kinds of other communications that would make this world better using that much energy.
I totally believe that what I did with this film was successful because I learned so much and I was able to prove to myself that I was a filmmaker. But did I need to spend a few million dollars for that? No. There are many things that need money in this world rather than spending unnecessary money on films.
By Dave Gonzales
Visit AfterTheApocalypse.com to learn more about the movie and find out where it's screening.
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