Trying to resurrect a short film project

It's already the second week of classes. This semester is shaping up to be much less stressful compared to the previous one. There's no hardcore 13-session intensive Japanese courses where I have to wake up at 8 in the morning to attend. Just four sessions of what I think is important to me (one oral class, one listening class, two grammar classes)

It's not stress that I cannot handle, but the repetition. By being so wrapped up with my Japanese classes then, I was in a slight lull. I felt that the world had been passing me by in Malaysia while I was sitting in a classroom learning Japanese. Hence my desperation in trying to do something, well, anything. Anything just to connect myself with filmmaking again.

That's why I tried to develop a short film back in May (tentatively titled YUKI). A Japanese-language film based loosely on a Yasunari Kawabata short story I read (like my latest, LOVE SUICIDES). Unfortunately, things hadn't progressed much since then.


YUKI was put on hiatus despite my attempts to impose a deadline upon myself and my poor producer/assistant director Maiko. It had been hard for her to find a child actress, and I guess it was a little unfair to have all these things piled upon her suddenly. She never had any experience in filmmaking, just a Japanese literature student who started studying film half a year earlier. She was unfortunate to be one of the rare ones who could speak Japanese well enough, unfortunate enough to be able to communicate with me. But with her expertise, I managed to write the script well enough, and she did a fine job translating it to Japanese.

While she was able to maybe secure financial assistance from the film department in my university, she was unable to find child actresses for me. And the talent agencies she called have child actresses so expensive that their per-day rate will probably take away the two thirds of the entire film budget.

But I was never really looking for professionals, and I was a little baffled by the fact that other students in my film department were unable to help her in this matter. (checking their student films, I realized that most of them normally cast their own friends or classmates e.g. people their own age for their films... something I often avoid)

Also, YUKI had been placed in constant hiatus because Maiko had gone off for her internship at Kyoto (with Toei? Or Toho? Not sure) And she won't return until November. I last met her in August, a week before I returned to Malaysia, when she asked me to wait for her to return so I can do my shoot. It was reasonable. I knew well enough that there's no way I can do it earlier anyway. This month (Oct) I'll be busy with semester starting, and besides, I'll be returning to Malaysia and fly off to the Rome Film Festival end of this month anyway.

Yet I begin to find myself in a sticky situation when others in the film department begin to ask when I'll be able to do my film. Do I intend to cancel it now that I've done LOVE SUICIDES while I was in Malaysia? Do I want any support for the post-production? (They're willing to pay if I were to buy myself an external hard drive etc.) They told me that the finances they can provide me has a time limit.

"WHEN'S the deadline?" I asked.

They weren't so sure. "Maybe this year? Do you know when's Maiko coming back?"

I shook my head no. She left pretty abruptly, and hadn't been replying to my text messages or emails. "What about you guys?"

They didn't know either. Of course they didn't.

"Look, I really want to do this film by the end of November. I just don't know when is she coming back."

Or whether I should do it without her.

Maiko's intentions were noble. I believe that while she's in Kyoto now, she's probably still trying to help me find the cast members that I want. And that she really wants to be around when I shoot the film.

But it's hard to wait. Is it really THIS difficult to do a film in Tokyo? Or am I handicapped by my own ambitions?

Unlike my previous works, where I was still tweaking and fixing the screenplays as I was shooting (the ending of LOVE SUICIDES was literally improvised on the spot, many lines in CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY were improvised too, Suanie knows) The screenplay for YUKI is concrete. There's nothing about it that I intend to change at all. I just need the actors and a location. A few rehearsals and voila.

While I was waiting for YUKI, I've already made FLEETING IMAGES and LOVE SUICIDES, so it's been a ridiculously long period. It's not my style to wait on a project for that long, especially a SHORT FILM PROJECT. Hell, it's not my style to wait at all. Ask Mei Fen. She showed me a script last week, I saw some potential, and when she went off to sleep, I immediately called for a quick MSN meeting with regular crew members Lesly, Miharu and Han. The next day, she was totally shocked that so much had transpired regarding her script while she was sleeping.

During my short time as a producer, I've managed to learn that striking while the iron is still hot is the way to go. Timing is important, motivation is important, deadline fuels creativity and motivation, so that's important too.

I've been placing self-imposed deadlines for YUKI. First, it was end of June, for the KUROSAWA FOUNDATION contest. Didn't happen. Then, it was end of August, during summer holidays, before I return to Malaysia. Didn't happen either. (I've probably missed the deadlines for Rotterdam and Berlin film fests too)

So now I want it to be end of November. Before the deadline of the PIA Film Festival (the most important for indie or self-financed films in Japan, you can read about this and this for reviews of the films I saw there) Whether I can enter it is one thing, but at least I can get a film done.

I want to shoot this on either the 22nd or 23rd of November. The biggest obstacle for me had been my inability to speak Japanese well. If I can, I'll probably be able to produce this myself. But over the past weeks, I'm already starting to seek help from my new course mates from China (who have experience in filmmaking, + speak Japanese really well), I'm trying to set things in motion. To get things done before I return to Malaysia on the 23rd of October. (meanwhile, there's also this feature film project I'm developing with Ming Jin, but more on that later)

I've already made three short films this year (four, if you count FROM BHOL LE WITH LOVE, the opening video for the PC.com Awards Ceremony). Prolific for some, I guess, and yes, probably the most prolific I've ever been in my life.

But can't it be one more?