How to Shoot an Indie Film in Japan
This week we’re highlighting filmmaker Austin Everett, writer-director of the upcoming Secondhand Heart. Shot in Japan and Utah on a minimal budget and using a spare crew, the film stars Ben Isaacs and Mallory Corrine in a Shakespearean love triangle. With 50% of the film in the can, Austin is currently raising funds to complete the shoot on Kickstarter. Here Everett offers tips for budding filmmakers on how to shoot a low budget indie in Japan, not looking like a tourist in a foreign location, and the wonders of Airbnb.
IP: What kind of training did you seek out?
IP: Secondhand Hearts is a character oriented piece. Did you have or did you apply any particular methods when you were working with your cast?
IP: What’s your experience /awareness/knowledge of the distribution landscape & opportunities for indie filmmakers?
IP: What is your overall plan once the film is finished?
IP: In creating a story driven by relationships, did you have any themes you wanted to discuss in particular? Which came first – the story or the drive to make a film?
IP: The film is shot partly in Japan. What were any logistical issues you may have faced when writing a story with an American cast abroad? For example, did you feel the desire to tap into the local film industry , or, did you write the script with certain elements already in place?
IP: You’re shooting in Japan and Utah. What does that budget look like?
AE: We shot in Japan for under $7000. It’s usually the first thing people ask after watching our trailer: How did you shoot in Japan at all of those sites? The questions usually double when they hear that we did it for under $7000. There’s no denying the amount of value shooting in a foreign country brings to our picture. It makes our film look really, really expensive. And in a time when making a low budget feature has never been easier, it also has never been more important to stand out amongst the crowd.
IP: You’re based in the US. How did you decide you were going to shoot an indie in a far off location?
AE: First of all, I think it’s very important to understand that I specifically wrote Japan into the story because it’s a second home to me. I’ve lived a third of my life there and I feel that I have a decent idea of how things work there. After this experience, I wouldn’t be nervous to take a crew into a country that was unfamiliar with, but I’m really glad I started in a country I had already spent time in. If you haven’t had a chance to go to another country, pick one (ideally one you’d like to shoot in) and take a week to get to know the people, the culture, and the lay of the land. You’ll be grateful you did when you have other people depending on you.
IP: Talk about the logistics -how’d you put the team together? How big was the production?
AE: We felt that it was going to be crucial that we didn’t draw attention to ourselves. So we limited ourselves to a crew of 6 people with us in Japan — that’s tiny. But I will say that it’s probably the perfect number. Any more than maybe 8 and you start to draw attention to yourselves. Next we knew that we needed to keep gear to a minimum. This meant that we weren’t going to be able to walk around with a fully rigged RED DRAGON or whatever. Which honestly, thanks to the ever expanding DSLR market was not as big of a problem as I thought it would be. We took a Sony A7rii, two of my favorite Nikon AF primes and two AF-S Nikon zooms. I also had a stripped down Ronin M that I would throw on and run around with.
IP: What was the response in the locations you were shooting in?
AE: We looked like an amateur photo group. This really helped us get our permits; and it was extremely important that we did. Last thing we wanted was to finish the movie and get into trouble by not having the image rights to national monuments or shrines. But showing up with a small crew and with the camera around my neck reassured the location owners that we weren’t going to cause a ruckus to anyone else touring the area. I try to travel frequently and whenever I do, the last thing I want is to look or act like a tourist. But I had to make a bit of an exception in this case, mostly because I wanted to take advantage of the benefits tourists get. Japan has a rail pass that you can buy for $250 a person and ride the trains for a week as much as you want. So for $1500 we took our entire team all over the country and shot at some of the most beautiful places in Japan.
IP: Sounds like a dream shoot. Any other tips for filmmakers who might want to follow in your footsteps and shoot an indie in a foreign locale?
AE: I’ll tell you probably the biggest money saver of them all: Airbnb. You may know Airbnb as the website that allows you to stay in people’s homes or spare apartments for a low price, but I know it as my locations catalogue. It’s perfectly set up for indie filmmakers! Airbnb covers the property owners if you accidentally cause damage during your stay, it processes all of the payments through a secure server, and most importantly it doubles as your place to sleep that night. So we rented a 2 million dollar, 37th floor luxury apartment looking over Osaka for 2 days and it cost us $800 total. We came and went when we wanted, we did day and night scenes and when we were done for the day, we picked a bed and slept. I always make sure the owners know we’re going to be filming, but to this day I have never run into an owner that has had a problem with it. As long as they get their payment — they’re happy.
AE: For me, our footage in Japan is worth 20 times the amount that we spent to get it. As indie filmmakers, we need every leg up we can get. It seems daunting, but shooting in another country was the best thing we did for our film. I would not hesitate for a second to do it for my next film. Be brave my friends, go explore! And make sure you take lots of pictures.
Follow Austin Everett on twitter: @foreverett
Watch the trailer
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