Tell us about yourself. What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
My artistic roots are in the theatre, but I was always interested in Film. I view it as an extension of the theatre. Contrary to the theatre, I love the freedom of this medium that is not constrained to one physical space. I love the possibilities and freedom of tempo, pace, and time. I also very much enjoy the post-production process and its infinite options. So overall, Film allows me to explore new artistic possibilities.
Talk about your last work. What are some of the challenges you faced during production?
For incarnation, my biggest challenge was being a one-person crew. My wife, Natsumi Sugiyama, and I decided to test a movement sequence/etude we had created for the theatre. We liked the etude a lot, so we decided to make a short film of it.
What makes you want to tell stories? In other words, what are the themes/issues you want to incorporate into your work?
Within my work, be it on Film or on Stage, I work on getting primal/animal energy from the performers, even if the material is based in naturalism. Primal energy is universal; everybody recognizes it when they see it, so I want the performers to be grounded and rooted. This energy is at the base of the human condition and its drama. At the same time, I also use humor to bring the audience in and remind myself not to take things too seriously.
Please tell us about your vision and your method of approaching a new project?
Because of my theatre background, I like to have a rehearsal period with the actors before the shoot. I want a play version of the piece, even in rough form. The actors that way know the material intimately and are ready to shoot when the day comes. They are also more able to adapt to new circumstances if needed. It also makes it easier to choose your angles and where to place your lighting and design elements. However, sometimes you just have to go in and steal the shot.
Who are your filmmaking influencers? What are the films that were influential for you?
I love Akira Kurosawa's many works, particularly Throne of Blood because it is a fantastic adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth.
I am also a big fan of Stanley Kubrick's work. Barry Lyndon is one of my favorites.
How do you think the industry is changing? How has COVID affected independent filmmaking/creation?
I think the industry is indeed changing. Covid might have accelerated things a bit, but I think the most significant two aspects of change are the cost of making films being significantly lower now and will continue to drop: The creative tools are being democratized. Also, filmmakers have always faced distribution bottlenecks. I think this is changing with the internet and new ways of distribution and promotion. The audience is also becoming more open to viewing content in less traditional formats.
What advice would you give to aspiring artists? What are some of the things they must follow/avoid?
The most significant challenge for a new filmmaker is to declare yourself one. You will make many mistakes, and every mistake is you mastering the process. Also, surround yourself with minded-like people with lots of enthusiasm. Beware of snobs that make you feel like you are not enough. Also, keep learning, and shoot all the time. Give yourself some homework.
Do you think films/stories can bring about a change in the world?
I do think films/stories have the power to bring change because stories depict aspects of the human condition. People have the same dreams, wants, and fears. Universal themes resonate with us all: the loss of a loved one, the achievement of a significant endeavor, etc. If they don't always apply directly, they serve as metaphors for all the characteristics and critical events that compose the essentials of human existence.
What do you think people like to watch these days? Has the pandemic changed people's taste?
I think the audience nowadays is quite sophisticated because they have internet access. Even if isolated, one can see great art online. So, I think the audience inherently knows what is good, and this sophistication forces fast evolution within the artistic medium.
I think the pandemic has legitimized nontraditional distribution methods. In the past, the audience was prone to passively getting their entertainment. Now the pandemic has created a situation where the audience proactively looks for it.
Please tell us about your upcoming projects.
I am currently involved in the post-production of a film on the Russian Poet Anna Akhmatova.
I did not direct this project; I am in charge of post-production only.
I am also in pre-production for a project that would be an adaptation of an Oscar Wilde play and will be directing this project.