ALMOST THERE, 5min,. Japan, Action
Directed by Chuck Johnson
Two refugees from a broken land have to fight their way into civilization.
As an immigrant to Japan myself, I created this film to be a visual representation of the struggle of immigrants and refugees told through the lens of fight choreography. Beyond that, I had 3 other objectives in creating this film:
1) I also sought to utilize a traditional Japanese weapon (The "Yari" or Japanese spear) that is rarely used in film choreography and to do so in a modern context.
2) To create a historically accurate portrayal of how the weapon was used (held above the head and often used to attack the legs to take away mobility)
3) To tell a deeply human story and to do so without a word of dialog.
Get to know the filmmaker:
1. What motivated you to make this film?
The original concept for "Almost There" came about when I had found that bridge. At the time, I was taking a lessons for a motorcycle license at a driving school and I saw it in the distance. I walked over to it to take a look and the look and feel of the location itself was the original spark for the idea of the film. It stayed in the back of my head for a while; but after seeing what was happening in the Ukraine and the number of people that were becoming displaced; I wanted to make it a story about refugees. And given that I am an immigrant to Japan myself, it was already a topic that was close to my heart.
2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?
It was about 3 years. I had tried to produce it before that but had issues with getting the right people for the feel of the film that would make it feel believable and with high enough stakes to really pull people into the story. By chance I had the opportunity to meet two different Japanese stunt women (one by one) who were both extremely talented, but under 5' tall and because of that were really struggling to get decent work. I realized that the two of them together would be the key.
At the time, I was also in the process of producing my first feature now (a story about sex trafficking) and there was a Japanese festival that offered a cash prize of $30,000 to put towards a feature and
I thought that would be very helpful. That was the final impetus to pull the trigger and try to make it.
3. How would you describe your film in two words!?
Emotionally intelligent. At the end of the day, any film has to be about the characters and their story; and I wanted this film, despite revolving around action to be that way as well. I wanted people to cheer for these two broken underdogs while also understanding and having sympathy for the person who's job it is to stop them.
4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?
The weather. We lost half of our first day to rain and on our back-up day it was extremely hot. This caused our camera to overheat and kept killing our batteries. We went from about 12 hours of battery to about 7. I had brought my PC with me so I could check the dailies while I let my actors rest, and I ended it using it to charge my batteries so that we could just keep shooting.
5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?
Honestly, it made me teary-eyed. There were so many layers to the messages I was trying to convey; and it felt like everyone got all of them. And I never anticipated so much praise for my sound design. That's something I've always loved to do in film-making; but I never would have imagined the amount of amazing feedback I got for it.
6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?
Originally I was just a foreign actor in Japan, who just wanted to work; and I wasn't getting much work, so I just picked up a camera and started shooting for practice. Once I started training other stunt men I started creating choreography and shooting for them as well, and eventually through YouTube I was offered a chance to produce my first film. It all snowballed from there.
7. What film have you seen the most in your life?
Interstellar. I don't even know how many times I have watched it. Beyond that, the Matrix Trilogy.
8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?
I thought this festival was simply fantastic and the video feedback is great. I thought the only element of my experience with this festival that could be better is your Laurels. My website has a black background; so trying to convert them all to gold is really troublesome. And as filmfreeway only has so many options in their Laurels generator, after a while, they look kind of generic. The best ones are when festivals have their own unique and high quality custom laurels.
9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?
10. What is your favorite meal?
Korean style BBQ or meat-lovers pizza😁
11. What is next for you? A new film?
Right now I am working on producing my first feature film; Eastbound Traffic. It's a story about sex trafficking based off of the real experiences of people who have been trafficked or worked in Japan's sex industry. That will also be an action film. This is something I've been working on for 7 years and it's been a challenge the whole way; but it's a labor of love. I am really looking forward to making that film a reality.