November 15, 2008

Things I didn't know last week - November 15th 2008 - Japanese film sets are different

This is a post in a regular weekly series about things I've learned or come to realise during the previous week.

This week "Making films with Japanese film crews: It's different"

I've been on several film set's in my life - both big budget, medium budget, low budget and - indeed - no budget.

All film set's are pretty much identical in the people, the activities and the setting

There is a strict hierarchy on a set. The Director is at the top then the Director of Photography, the assistant director then the heads of department. Everyone watches what happens above them and goes with that.

Or so I thought

I worked this week on a Japanese film. Or to be more precise it was a Japanese war drama of 13 episodes which is being shot all around the world. They were in the UK shooting scenes that were set in the sea off Cuba(!) and I was acting as a military attache (for pictures see my posterous blog).

The Japanese hierarchy is very different. They work on age. This particular production had 3 directors (as each was filming different parts of their different episodes as part of the shoot). These three directors ranged in age from youngish to not-so-young to quite old. On top of that the rest of the cast and crew was mixed in Japanese (with interpreters), English, Italian, French and American. (In fact I was acting with a gentlemen who was Italian, playing a Russian, speaking English, in a Japanese movie. Very bizzare).

But what was interesting was watching the Japanese folks working. They are - of course - very efficient. Things get done quickly, but it's the little things that I noticed. For example they were shooting on High Definition using a Sony HD Video camera. Normally sound is recorded separately and a clapper board is used to synch the two together in post. However, none of the takes were boarded on this production. The English crew were getting concerned about this and mentioned it to the Japanese Assistant Director. He subsequently appeared with a miniature clapper board as a means of identifying the start and end of shots (including rehearsals). However he didn't hold it in front of the camera where it could be seen, he just held it next to him as he called the shots: This was punctuated by him calling "Oy.......Tak!" as he clacked the board together. Very peculiar... I can only assume the takes and other information were being auto generated on the HD recording system. This is the Japanese we are talking about, after all!

Furthermore the script was different to any other I had seen. Everybody had a version of the script that was graphical. By that I mean it had a storyboard for every shot including the dialogue (in Japanese and English) next to it rather than the conventional script format. This actually made it very easy to work out what was happening as the 1st AD would announce "Shot 8" and we would all check the script and know where the camera was going to be and what the dialogue was at that moment.

And everything is checked and re-checked with everyone else. For example

Actor 1: "Do you want me to use this cane in the next take?"
1st AD: "Hai. Please wait" (Turns to director, speaks quick and violent sounding Japanese)
Director: "Hai. Yes, Actor-San. I think cane will be used. Moment.." (Turns to older director, speaks quick and violent sounding Japanese)
Older Director: Nods
Director: "Yes, Actor-San. Please use cane"
1st AD: "Yes. Please use. Sorry for English"
Translator "The director would like you to use the cane in this scene, please"
Actor: "Thank you"

Let's hope I get an opportunity to do something like this again. It was fun!

To see all the "Things I didn't know" posts, just click here.


  1. fella,

    I'm going to hate myself for saying this, but:

    Please remove the extraneous apostrophe from the title... it makes me nervous...

    Everyone has their pet hates, and this is one of mine.

    Hope you're well otherwise


  2. Oh, go on then. 'Cos you asked so nicely.....