Today’s guest on CSReview is an internationally acclaimed film producer and director Joe Kawasaki, talking about one of his recent works – a science fiction cyberpunk short film REBOOT.
CS: Welcome to CSReview, Joe! You’ve recently worked on a science fiction production Reboot. In your Kickstarter fundraising video for the project, you mentioned that in today’s world there’s very little of what can be called science fiction and most of what we have now is science fact. How is this channeled into Reboot?
It wasn’t that the idea (that we’re no longer living in a world where the science fiction genre has transformed into science fact) was channeled directly into Reboot so much as it was meant to shape expectations of what a cyberpunk science fiction film may be construed as by our Kickstarter backers. I didn’t ever want to imply that this was going to be an attempt at creating an entire “future” world like Blade Runner. I thought it was important to emphasize that with everything advancing the way it is today, you needn’t be in a space opera or some fashionable dystopic future – that future is already happening today.
CS: Being a science fiction fan, do you look up to classic science fiction writers, filmmakers? Who is your favorite, the one you can relate to the most?
Joe Kawasaki: William Gibson has definitely shaped my mind, from film school onward. It’s amazing how much of a pulse his writing has with our contemporary times, and he has a wonderful voice, a truly gifted writer. I grew up on the classics: Herbert’s Dune series, Tolkien’s LOTR (though that’s fantasy), and David Wingrove’s Chung Kuo series, which I think is brilliant as well, and definitely shaped what I gravitate toward in terms of genres and stories.
Filmmakers. Too many to name. Truffaut, Kubrick, Kurosawa, Hitchcock, Wenders, Cassavetes, Redford, Spielberg, Scorsese, Lynch, both Coppola’s, Zemeckis, Ridley Scott, Tarantino, Fincher, Spike Jonze, Guiseppe Capotondi’s The Double Hour, the list can go on forever. They’ve all influenced me or moved me in some way through different periods of my life.
CS: Reboot is entertaining, but also deep, built on symbols and signs. What did you have to do as the film’s producer to ensure Reboot’s message got across?
Joe Kawasaki: As it’s writer, I was just trying to get this down in less than 40 minutes, and the irony is that the deeper I got in, the more I wanted to say, the more I wanted to cover. So much of what is happening around us back then, and now, was feeding the story, and so every day there was something that would ignite some idea or thought. There was a real fear of misrepresenting the hacker sub-culture, as well as a fear of creating something vapid. It really just chipped the block.
As its director, I wanted to shoot the writer sometimes, but in the end it was a great experience. We really had a blast with the little nods and homages we stuck within the frames and scenes. You know, at the core of the story is this fun little jibe about a woman who wakes up with a smart phone glued to her hand, and so I didn’t want to lose sight of that and make this into something that was a soap box for whatever. I think the balancing act for me was to keep it entertaining, but to walk that line without shirking whatever it did have to say. What did we do to ensure this? We worked our asses off. Really. No one on this project had it easy or didn’t work their ass off. I may have missed some things, but it certainly wasn’t from a lack of effort.
I really have Sidney (our producer) to thank for making it happen; as well as our backers, friends, and family who supported it, continue to support it; and to the amazing group of talented artisans I’m so lucky to know and work with.
CS: Just from the trailer alone I get an impression that the team of Reboot worked really hard to put the film together. What were the absolute highlights of production, what didn’t go too well? Did the team have to improvise, do something unplanned, unforeseen?
Joe Kawasaki: Things were planned out fairly well going in, but you always have something happen during production. It’s a given really. I wake up on any shoot day, hopefully rested, with my game-plan in place and all worked out, and that allows me to not freak out when something goes wrong – and something always goes wrong. I couldn’t name a filmmaker out there who hasn’t faced a moment where things are literally teetering on an edge and you’re just pushing for what you want, despite all. I think half of directing is really just keeping a ship afloat and moving in the right direction while its sails are on fire. I grew up with some very passionate filmmakers throughout my career, and you just get used to the idea that the days should be hard, they should be pushing something. I get worried when a day goes too easily. So yes, we had our challenges, but they’re really not anything outside of the norm. We had long days. We shot principal in five, and had to come back for two more days for inserts, and some pick-ups on a green-screen stage (because the original location was no longer available to us). That was a challenge, and certainly a lot of kudos goes to our post ninja team: Adel Gandomikal and Aleem Parkar, for making that work seamlessly.
In thinking back, not a lot of improvisation. I don’t think our schedule allowed for any. I normally do like to work with scenes once we get the base down, but this one pretty much had to go by the clock.
Highlights? Too many to name really. Walking on and seeing Shannon Kennedy and her team shaping up Jesse’s room the way we discussed was a real thrill. Watching all the actors click in and be there for the film, as well as bring their own ideas to the table.
The post production process, though extremely arduous and long, was also magical. Working with all these people who I’ve had the pleasure of working with for so many years, was a real treat. Everyone put in 100%.
What didn’t go too well? We laugh about it now, but we had location issues. I mean, we literally didn’t lock the main Stat/Jesse location until probably three days before shooting was to begin. Even landing that great conference room location was quite an interesting journey.
Once we got rolling, all during the shoot there were sound conflicts on the main location. On one day, we had Batman shooting down the street with pyrotechnics and helicopters, a porno shooting above us (booming music), and the City coming in to do tests on the fire sprinkler systems in the building. Sidney must have popped a vein or two during that day.
CS: Joe, you spent a lot of time in the Arabian part of our world where you produces amazing commercials and shorts. What was the highlight of your work there? What of the experience did you take with you when you left?
Joe Kawasaki: Wow, you did your homework. I spent about 13 years living in the Arabian Gulf (with a three-year break back in LA in between), and it was a great experience for me. It opens your perspectives, and I had met so many gracious and hard-working folks that I can definitely see as life-long friends. Adel, our post super; Aleem, our VFX Lead (who is Indian), and Raid Qabundi, our composer; and Umair Aijaz, our code consultant, are all people I had met and had the great fortune of working with while out there; and I will continue to work with them as long as I can.
Culturally, it was surprisingly not that different than my own Japanese background in terms of basic etiquette and social norms. The Arab people can be extremely gracious hosts, and I was treated very well. And we did a lot out there. We were shooting on 35mm for many projects, posting in Italy, India, Dubai, Egypt, London, Lebanon. It was a terrific experience.
CS: Arabic cinematography has a long history and tradition. What in your opinion makes Arabic cinema stand out – and what connects it with film traditions worldwide?
Joe Kawasaki: Arabic cinema dates back to the golden age of Hollywood, and when you see the films from Egypt of that period, you’ll be amazed. Very slick, very much a Hollywood standard, just in a different language and cultural setting. Somewhere along the line, with all the wars and disruption in that area, I think something was lost. But you can see a genuine need and push toward revitalizing that aspect of their arts back into the forefront. I was very pleased to see the new generations being so actively engaged, there are quite a few wonderful works that come out of Lebanon, Jordan, Dubai; and you can only hope it will continue to grow and nurture beyond all the other stuff going on there.
Ironically, all that makes for a powerful perspective that can be translated to great stories and messages – the fact that so many of them have literally been in the middle of some kind of war or oppression. FIlm can help ignite the silent majority into action, even if it must gain momentum from the rest of the world. But you need that. They need that. In that, film connects us all. It is a global cultural movement, and in this age of YouTube, there is nothing that is quite as provocative (once you cut through the reams of banality) as some moment captured or some designed element that literally came from the backyard of a village in the middle of nowhere and is then published to the world. Film and media in general has always, for better or worse, been a lens that shapes the way we perceive and behave socially and politically. There is an immense responsibility there that can go beyond simply entertaining if you choose to go there.
CS: Losing Leelo, an experimental project, appeared very promising, at least in my view, and I would love to see it on screen. Do you have regrets the project never came to fruition? If the project is resumed, would you be re-called to work on it, and would you want to?
Joe Kawasaki: Thanks for taking the time to watch it!
Losing Leelo was something fashioned from the kernel of something else I’ve been developing on and off for over ten years. It was a reaction against the kind of stuff that people were saying I needed to do for audiences there, and to simply try something that interested me and what seemed to interest a good chunk of the younger generation, as well as with my contemporaries there. I think it was pretty cool, and could have done something; it could have flown pretty high I think. There are a lot of exciting ideas attached to that project.
The company I was running at the time, Integra Films, was behind it all the way. We spent a good two or three months working on that and the presentation to get it funded. But alas, cyberpunk and the whole sci-fi aspect of it didn’t fly too well there. You find a lot of people who are interested in that genre in the region; but generally, I guess they really don’t (like it); and it was an expensive idea. So it never got made.
It was frustrating at the time, but in hindsight I think it was just the wrong project for the wrong region, at the wrong time. Would I be interested in resuming it? Hell yes. It was a lot of fun crafting the ideas, to shoot and construct the trailer for it, and we had a good platform to start, but there it stands.
CS: Speaking of Reboot, how would you evaluate your work, is there anything you think you could have done differently with this film – or not? And ultimately – who will be interested in watching Reboot?
Joe Kawasaki: Oh God, where do I start? There’s quite a bit I would work on further, or change… probably too much to speak of here on your blog, and just not very interesting to read. Sidney had asked me where this film was in terms of my personal expectations, and I had replied with 60%. I think it’s enough to say I can watch it without feeling like I want to throw up.
Someone once said that a film is never really finished. You just stop working on it. I mean, I could still be tweaking it today, nine months after we screened at Raleigh. So somewhere in late January of this year we all looked at each other, and decided it was done. And you move on. You get on to the next one.
Who will be interested? Hopefully anyone who can find relevance within its construct. I think there is a lot in there to chew on for a short. Ultimately, we’ve been getting a great response from the infosec/hacker community, and that has been very gratifying and pleasing to see.
CS: Looking forward into the future, where is Joe Kawasaki five years from now? Ten?
Joe Kawasaki: I have a hard time knowing what I’ll be doing six months from now, let alone that long. Hopefully continuing to be in the amazing position to actually make a living doing what I love, and to be making stuff that interests me, gets me excited. I mean, life is hard enough as it is… it may as well be something that gets you going every day. I could see myself doing a lot of things in the future, most of it quite interesting and pleasurable, but very little of it would be something that wasn’t about making images and telling stories.
CS: That would be awesome, Joe. I wish you good luck with everything you decide to do, and thank you very much for being on CSReview today.
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