Newbies urged to grab cam, get rollin'
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
Take a school class, and start doing.
Develop storylines, and get going.
But start small, think big later.
These are simple guidelines on how best to launch your own movie, from local independent filmmakers who've been there, done that.
With the 2003 'Ohina Short Film Showcase (which collates films by budding artists) this weekend, we thought it might be helpful to ferret out tips from local filmmakers who've taken baby steps and crossed the bridge to the professional level of filmmaking, to spur interest in local filmmaking and inspire future directors of homegrown movies.
Digital cameras or VHS for first-timers? How to formulate a story? Fiction vs. documentary?
We posed these questions, and more, to Edgy Lee, award-winning documentary filmmaker, whose recent "Ice: Hawaii's Crystal Meth Epidemic," made local TV history when it was simulcast on 11 stations in prime time; Eric Byler, whose "Charlotte Sometimes" is helping him cross the bridge from obscurity to newfound fame; and Aaron Yamasato, whose childhood favorites horror films and chambara (samurai sword-play) classics inspired him to do a feature that has evolved into a cable series.
Shoot early, often
"Buy what you can afford; use an old video camera if that's all you've got, but do whatever you can to tell a story," said Lee. You don't have to spend big bucks to acquire high-tech digital in your entry-level film. "The more you practice, the better you get."
Byler said starting young, while still in school, is helpful. He did just that at Moanalua Intermediate School, where he recalls writing 30-page screenplays on the theme "Don't litter," and his entry, "The Trash Blob," was chosen for production. "I was a geek; but when I became a director, (they) all listened to me; it was a good experience that helped shape my future."
Yamasato initially shot video for the fun of it a natural way to become a moviemaker. "When I was in high school, I would use my friends and do all these really silly and really fun video parodies of '80s action and horror movies," he said. "Nothing serious; but I felt that I learned a lot from doing those crazy things."
Indeed, life experiences contribute to a filmmaker's vision.
"School courses are good, but there's nothing like learning by experience," said Lee. If you aren't the principal filmmaker, you could volunteer to help. "Try 'Olelo; it's free to the public," she said.
"Film school helped me out a great deal, just to learn all the rules and technical aspects of filmmaking," said Yamasato. "Learn the rules ... then break or bend them, heh heh heh. Most importantly, pick up a camera and shoot video."
And if people say they don't have the resources, that's a lame excuse, said Yamasato.
"My family didn't have a video camera at first (too expensive way back when) so I would borrow my friend's," he said. "And we didn't have a computer with an editing system like Avid, Final Cut Pro or iMovie; there were no such things that existed back then in the '80s. So I would do it VHS-to-VHS.ÊAnd use a cassette tape player, a CD player and a sound mixer to add in the soundtrack."
Crude? Perhaps. "My point is that anyone can pick up a camera and edit if they really wanted to; if they really wish to learn."
Start with a story
"It's important to learn how to tell a story well, and learn how to translate this into this visual medium," said Lee. "Who cares how pretty the picture looks; if there's no good story, it's a weak film. The script is everything. Even when you're doing a real slice-of-life (documentary vs. dramatic film), you need structure. Without a plan, it would be like building a house without a design."
If you've got ideas, focus on writing; start a journal or explore creative-writing courses, said Byler.
"I was editor of the newspaper and yearbook in high school," said Byler, "so I didn't have much time to write, but I helped produce a daily bulletin news show every morning, which was closed-captioned for TV, as part of journalism class."
He recalled a partnership with the media class, where he had to write a show promoting a yearbook signing party, and wound up starring in it. "It's about a guy who forgets to go to the yearbook party, falls off a cliff (a dummy was a stand-in), running up and falling down stairs, and run over by a security golf cart. When I make it to the party, it's a day early.
"Kids in my class won't remember me for being a baseball all-star, but they'll know me for this yearbook commercial. There was a story, we created a storyboard and we did this small movie."
Lee said a script needs to be pliable and open for rewrites. "Be prepared to change with the event of the day," she said. "Maybe you find yourself short in the budget or maybe your key on-camera person gets sick. ... Be prepared for anything; it will usually occur."
Byler sees value in partnerships. "Often, you can't get what you want done without involving others," he said.
With the growing appeal of digital technology, Byler hopes schools invest in filmmaking resources and courses. "Wouldn't it be really motivational to do a film, and have fun, say as a group project for four, five or six kids, instead of a traditional book report?"
And how best to make an entry into the film world?
Testing the waters and shopping the film might flag viewer interest, said Yamasato.
"How did I know 'Samurai' had potential? I shopped the idea around and asked various friends in the Hawai'i film industry (Anderson Le, Donne Dawson, Walea Constantinau, JN Productions) and they all excitedly said that I had to do it," said Yamasato. "They said I should hurry before someone else did it."
And budding filmmakers should take advantage of outlets such as 'Ohina. "Make a short film and enter it into film festivals," said Yamasato. "It shows others what you can do as a filmmaker. Before I did 'Blood of the Samurai,' I had made short animated films ("Iceberg," "Spermy," etc.) that played in film festivals." He first was "noticed" in the Kaua'i wing of the 1st Annual Hawai'i Student Film Festival, where Jeff Katts, 'Ohina organizer, recognized Ya-
masato's artistry. "My name was 'out there' in Hawai'i because of those things." The exposure also enabled him to get a spot in the Hawaii International Film Festival.
Documentaries are more challenging to launch, said Lee, who specializes in the genre.
"Often times, it's more difficult (than fictional films) because you can't put words in people's mouths when it's a documentary piece," she said. "It's real life and inevitably, you need to make adjustments. Production funding can also be more difficult as the majority of these kinds of films don't make money. They educate, preserve and perpetuate culture, and good docs also entertain diverse audiences."
Reach Wayne Harada at email@example.com.
- "Bummer," directed by Scott Kikuta/Ryan Duncan. Boy meets monster on the subway; animated.
- "The Right Spot," directed by Jeff Katts. A housewife tries to save her marriage by giving her husband amnesia and new memories.
- "Ipo Lei Manu," directed by Daniel N.L. Boulos. A Hawaiian musical animation piece based on the mele by Queen Kapi'olani.
- "The Marrying Type," directed by George Russell. A single woman comes home for her 10-year high school reunion.
- "Sugar Raid," created by students at Kapiolani Community College. Mutant candies in a post-apocalyptic supermarket; animated.
- "A Legacy," directed by Mane. A Samoan woman and the violent legacy of her family.
- "The Making of a Karaoke Video," directed by Gerard Elmore. Mockumentary looks at a karaoke video in the making.
- "Kava Kultcha," directed by Leah Kihara. It's the year 2015, and an underground group struggles to perpetuate its Kava Kultcha.
- "Autumn," directed by Shane Curtis. A young man looks into a mirror and sees his father.
- "Ebb and Flow," directed by Michael Ogasawara. A day in the life of a city.
- "One Night in Bangkok," directed by Brent Anbe. A music video a la "Moulin Rouge" with Honolulu landmarks.
- "Saul & Mia," directed by Tony Pisculli. A relationship tale: Mia learns the awful truth about Saul.
- "Notes with a Beat," directed by Aran Higa. A live-action piece about a college student and music.
- "When We Were Ten," directed by Jules Nathan. A music video about youthfulness.
- "Ricky the Robot," directed by Hank West. A college student tries to create a superstar robot.
Source: 'Ohina Short Film Showcase
- Her "Ice: Hawai'i's Crystal Meth Epidemic" documentary is being expanded into a Part 2 version targeting youths and is expected to be available in early 2004.
- A video of the original "Ice" is on sale at Borders, Bestsellers and Book Gallery locations; also at www.filmworkspacific.com.
- She is working with stations on a re-broadcast of "Ice," in a close-captioned version.
- The Bainum Foundation grant has enabled Lee to provide all public schools with a free tape of the "Ice" documentary.
- Teachers and other community groups may download a free film guide at www.helpwithice.org.
- Currently writing a segment for "American Knees," a Showtime film, on the theme of infidelity, with an Asian-American storyline; based on a Shawn Wong novel.
- Pegged to direct two set-in-Hawai'i projects, "Tattoo" (based on the book by O'ahu author Chris McKinney) and "Kealoha: the Beloved" (based on Byler's screenplay).
- Promoting "Blood of the Samurai" DVD, which was released Tuesday; it is based on his original indie feature film.
- His "Blood of the Samurai" TV series on Oceanic Cable 16 has been postponed until mid-November.
- He's editing final chapters of the "Blood of the Samurai" series.