Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Set Photography Unleashed!

Recently, I decided to expand my photography work and took the job as set photographer on Noboru Iguchi's new film (unannounced as of yet, so don't look for the title here). 

I've been taking set photos as long as I've been doing sets visits. My first stab at it was in 1997 on the George Romero directed TV commercial for the "Biohazard 2" ("Resident Evil 2" in the US) video game. Of course I didn't just grab a camera and hope I'd get decent shots of maestro director Romero directing or moody shots of stumbling zombies, I learned to take photos in the mid-90s with a used, glorious full-manual Nikon FE, going to Kyoto from then home Osaka, shooting stills at every temple that would allow this mangy foreigner within their compound. (The photo of the red leaves on green moss on the below right is one of my favorites I took in Kyoto during this period.)

Although I've been doing the set visit thing for over ten years, the Iguchi set marked a shift in my normal role as set photographer as it was the first time for me to be the "official" still cameraman on a feature film.

Normally, I go to sets for anywhere from a day to a week or more and take shots for my articles or take them as a favor for the director / producer / studio. For example, with Nishimura's "Helldriver" I took a load of photos that Nikkatsu liked and used on various ads / program books / whatnots relating to the film. In the case of the many Godzilla sets I practically lived on in the early 2000s, the photos I took were for articles and to document the productions for the staff (and myself).

In other cases, I take them because I can. That is, I'm allowed on set, I have a camera, I like taking photos, and no one seems to mind if I just do my thing. I did this on the Ultraman Max set, visiting when I had the time and shooting this and that to stay in shape. (Yes, "stay in shape." People who don't do this work have no idea that the skills required for set photographer differ from other types of photography. It's not just the ability to take a good photo, it's also knowing how to move about a set, knowing what to look for, knowing how to shoot it without imposing on the crew and cast, and mostly, having the ability to get a nicely framed shot with only a second or two in which to do so. I've found that if I don't do set visits regularly I get rusty, not finding my fit into the crew as quickly as I'd like.)

Over the summer, I decided to try my hand as sole photographer, taking on the responsibility for the still look of two short films. These were "Bailout!" (Dir. Yoshiki Takahashi) and "Catch Me If You Can" (Dir. Hiroshi Ota), two films that now appear on the "Helldriver" Blu-ray. Both jobs went well and when I was asked to work on the Iguchi film I felt I was ready to take a stab at this important creative contribution.

For the shoot, we traveled up to Tochigi prefecture and into the city of Nasu, a sleepy, onsen town a few hours up north from the Tokyo area. I don't think I saw a single convenience store there it was that far removed from life as I know it in Tokyo. Fortunately, the hotel we stayed in was also the location for most of the shoot. With days running 20 hours or more, and sleep averaging 3 hours a night, the closer your bed was to the set the quicker it was to dash under the covers for a few winks.

I bunked with Demo Tanaka, the tall, bearded actor who is a regular in Iguchi and Nishimura productions. In addition to acting, Demo shoots and edits the "behind the scenes" films for the Pabaan people. Demo had a small role in the film and managed to coax me into shooting video when he was working before the camera. 

I first met Demo on the set of "Machine Girl." He's a character, a true original; a hard drinker, a hard worker, Demo is one of my favorite people in the Pabaan group. And his loyalty, love and dedication to the scene is without question. For example, when Iguchi called "cut" on the last shot of the film and then proceeded to give a "thanks" speech to the crew (an insanely cool moment as the sun was just rising and bathed the large tatami mat hall we were working in with golden sun beams), Demo was doing his usual by shooting it for his "behind the scenes" piece. However, I noticed streams of tears running down his face. Man, I freakin' love this guy!

In any case, the film is still not officially announced. Once it is, I'll be able to share photos and detail more of the amazing time I had on the set.

Another project I'm involved with is the American compilation film, The ABCs of DEATH. This is a collection of short films by 26 directors from around the world, each making a film about death culled from one of the 26 letters of the alphabet. Just just two days before leaving for Tochigi, and as seemingly warm-up for the above-mentioned Iguchi shoot in Nasu, I worked as still set photographer and also shoot / directed a "behind the scenes" piece on Iguchi's ABCs entry.

A one-day shoot, the staff met up in the Hachioji area at the crack of dawn and proceeded to work into the late evening. Again, as a job I don't know what I can or cannot reveal, I'll have to side with caution and refrain from writing anything for now. Let's just say the piece will be the zany kind of cinema you'd expect from director Iguchi.

The "Helldriver" Blu-ray has finally come out in the US and my "Sushi Typhoon: Tokyo Invasion!" piece mentioned in previous blog entries can be found in the extras on the disc. Here's a link to distributor Well Go's page:

Overall, this disc represents a lot of work on my part. In addition to writing the film's English subtitles, I have a small speaking cameo in the film itself. For two of the spinoffs ("Catch Me If You Can" and "Bailout!") I did acting (Catch Me), and set stills (mentioned above), as well as the English stuff for "Bailout!". And of course, there is my own 20min video entry in the extras section.

All in all, the "Helldriver" disc is a nice looking package with plenty under the hood. I don't know if the content is for everyone, but I think people into the kind of extreme cinema that director Nishimura serves up will enjoy the sheer outrageous audacity of the whole endeavor. As draining as it all was, I'm glad to have been a part of the "Helldriver" production. And with this release, I think I can officially put it behind me. 

On a side note, I've begun shooting my first narrative film in two years. My staff and I put in a day of exterior shooting two weeks ago. Things were hurried, but went well. I'm happy to announce that the lovely Ayano, whom I met when I subtitled her film "Natural Woman 2010," plays my lead. We've been looking to work together since first meeting at the premiere of "Natural Woman" and I finally came up with a story / project that I feel exploits her talent. The main shoot will commence at the start of January. I'm very excited by it all as I've assembled a terrific cast and staff. For now, though, I think I should just leave it at this brief announcement. More to come in future entries!

I'm not sure if I'll be able to update the blog until after the shoot in January, as I have at least five Fangoria articles due, and two more "behind the scenes" to shoot (one for Yudai Yamaguchi, the other for Nishimura, their ABCs of DEATH entries) as well as having about 15,000 set photos to wade through and edit. Oh, and I've got four feature films waiting to be subtitled. I'm also set to "debut" as a staff writer in an ultra-cool, major Japanese film magazine this February. Looking forward to officially announcing that as well in the next entry.

So yeah... the blog has to take a backseat to my real work. 

In any case, I don't know if I should be knocking on wood, but it seems as if my workload has actually increased since the March 11th earthquake. I doubt there is any connection, but I am always grateful for every job I receive and enjoy the uniqueness of every work situation.

Until the next entry... 

1 comment:

  1. Wow! You sound really busy. Congrats on all your triumphs and success. Though your posts may be infrequent, it is good to see the volume and quality you put in to the posts you do write. A little bit of quality is worth a boat load of drivel.

    I'd be interested in seeing more of your set photography.