Tokyo is an expensive city. However, many films we work on are not big budget monsters. Instead, they are run and gun favors for friends. As such, we end up doing a lot of low-budget shooting on the fly. The video above is the most recent example of such a production. Below are tips on how to let your low-budget project run smoothly.
Whatever your budget, the city itself is an incredible back-drop to shoot against. Don’t waste it. Look hard enough and you can surely find whatever you are looking for. From imperial gardens to the raunchiest Shinjuku back-alleys, there is a vibrant and unique location that will fit the needs of your story.
It doesn’t matter how good your idea is. If the people in front of the camera don’t have the chops to bring it to life, they shouldn’t be in front of the camera. It sounds cold, but it couldn’t be more simple.
When you are shooting low budget, plans a bound to change. The film you wanted to take place in a maid cafe might end up taking place in an izakaya. If this happens, just pull back and look at what your story is actually about.
If you were planning to shoot a film about love blossoming under unlikely circumstances, you might be fine with a few tweaks. If you were hired to film a maid themed segment for a news piece, put on your suit and make haste to Akiba to re-double your negotiating efforts.
In general, All Japan newsese people are much more hesitant to give a direct "no" when doing business. Sometimes, it can be difficult to tell the difference between "muzukashi" and "totemo muri" (hint: three is none). So, how can you tell if negotiations are proceeding smoothly?
The general rule of thumb I use when trying to do get clearance for something is this: If you are presented with mountains of paperwork, several trips to city hall, and half a dozen meetings with 17 different official share-holders who have a stake in the matter, you are doing excellent and chances are good you will get approved. Pretty much anything less than that I take as likely rejection and start looking elsewhere.
Many filmmakers operate under the incorrect assumption that you are free to shoot in places that are open to the public. This is not the case. Things which are clearly visible from public streets and thoroughfares are legal to film without clearance as long as you are not blocking traffic to do so.
However, you must bare in mind that not all places open to the public are public places. For example, a privately owned restaurant might be open to the public, but it is still private property and you need permission to film there. This becomes increasingly complex when that space is rented instead of owned. In such an instance, you are required not only to get the permission of the restaurant owner but also the building owner.
And, just so there is no confusion – Train stations, trains, shrines, temples, imperial property, and government buildings do not fall under public places. You are required to get permission before you shoot in these locations.
There are some excellent rental houses in Tokyo with incredibly low prices and pristine equipment. When you go to rent equipment, introduce yourself to the owner. Chat him up when you swing by (not to the point that you are wasting his time). Arrive when you say you will for pick-up and never be late for drop-off. Your diligence and kindness will be noticed and rewarded, I promise.
Filming on a low budget can be incredibly stressful, especially in the summer when the heat is murder. It can also be rewarding, exciting, invigorating, and all kinds of other wonderful adjectives. Not only do you get the experience of working closely with a team of friends and artists, but you also get a film to remember that experience for the rest of your life. On top of that, if the film is any good, other people can enjoy it too. Whatever emotions you and the rest of the crew feel throughout the day, at the end you should be happy. If you’re not, pull back and try to figure out what you can do different. Ultimately, creating art should be a pleasant experience.
Good luck filming! Feel free to send samples of whatever you’ve made in Tokyo (or anywhere else for that matter) to [email protected] We are always happy to meet other filmmakers working around here (or anywhere else for that matter).
In Word And Deed
Jesse Koester is a producer and director for Ice Block Films, a film production company based in the Kanto area. If you would like to see more samples of his work go to http://www.iceblockfilms.com. Follow @iceblockfilms.