Editor Note: It is Friday and that means it is time for the World Famous, soon to be Intergalactic Famous, News Sushi from our very own, Hamish Downie. He brings us a decidedly different slant on Pop Culture as viewed through the lens of a non-native living in Japan. Thank you Hamish for your insights.
Greetings from Japan! I write this to you from Rainy season!
We’ve got a really great column for you today, so let’s get straight to it!
NEWS SUSHI… MEETS!
TGG: Hi Darryl, I think we met at the premiere of my short film, An American Piano, or at one of the Cutter’s parties… but I know that we move in similar circles here in the filmmaking community in Japan. For those who don’t know you, could you introduce yourself and your work?
DWR: My name is Darryl Wharton-Rigby. I am an American filmmaker originally from Baltimore, Maryland who now lives in Japan. I’ve written for TV in the USA, done indie film, and theatre. I like to tell stories that explore the human experience and themes of hope.
TGG: I know one of your early screenwriting jobs was on Homicide: Life on the Street. How did that come about, and what’s it like working on such a successful show?
DWR: I actually had three different jobs during the run of Homicide: Life on the Street. I started off on the show as a Production Assistant. During the first season, I told Tom Fontana I was going to write a spec script of the show. He surprising said, if I wrote it he would read it. So, now I actually had to write something. This was before there was any screenwriting software, so I wrote the script on an electric typewriter/word processor.
When I finished the spec script, I gave it to Tom. I left to show to go work on a feature film called Renaissance Man directed by Penny Marshall and starring Danny DeVito. While I was still waiting to get Tom’s response on my spec, I auditioned and landed a role in an episode. I got to do a scene in the infamous box, which was the interrogation scene, and one with Yaphet Kotto. It was great to be back on set and see my friends.
I then went off and worked on a few more films, including Devil in a Blue Dress directed by Carl Franklin and starring Denzel Washington and Home for the Holidays directed by Jodie Foster, which was the last feature I worked on as a Production Assistant. I figure starting my professional P.A. career with David Mamet’s Homicide and ending with Jodie Foster was a great bookend. Yet, I still waited for Tom to read the script.
Another great thing about Homicide, is that the show shot on Super 16mm film. So, at the end of each season, I would buy the short ends from the production and store them in my mother deep freezer for future shoots. Back then, we mostly shot on film as digital wasn’t a thing yet.
Then shortly after we shot my feature film Detention, I was visiting the set and saw Tom. He asked me to set up a time to meet with him. I did. I met him in his office and he said he read the script and offered me a job as a writer on the show. This was two or three years after I wrote the spec. Needless to say I was totally shocked and honored.
The Broadway show Hamilton talks about “being in the room.” I got to be in the room. To work with writers like David Simon and Jim Yoshimura was a dream come true. They all were mentors to me along with the late David Mills. I was a hometown kid from Baltimore, where the show shot and writing on a network TV show. In all honesty, I am not sure I was totally ready. It was a huge learning curve being on the show. I learned so much about writing from that experience. After my second season on the show, I had completed my film Detention and followed it on the festival circuit for about a year.
TGG: That was back in 1998. What was the experience of making your first feature film like?
DWR: Detention was a feature film inspired by working as a Substitute Teacher in the Baltimore City Public School System in between P.A. gigs. I was young and when I went to high schools, I wasn’t that much older than some of the students. I had to earn their respect quickly. It would get a little weird, when I would see students at the same clubs I frequented. But in talking with the students, I thought about doing an “urban” Breakfast Club. I wrote the script and a local theatre, the Arena Players mounted it on stage, which was a great way to workshop it. Then, my friend Maxie Collier and I came together and devised a play to do two feature films Detention and his film, Hacks. I had gotten two grants totally about 12 thousand dollars and we were on our way. Those short ends from Homicide I bought came in handy.
Our crew was also many people who worked on Homicide, including the D.P. Boots Shelton. We held auditions and put together the cast. Maxie and another friend Jon Jolles were great as producer and Line Producers so I could focus on directing.
I had wanted to film at my alma mater, Baltimore City College, but the principal at the time turned us down cold. Not dismayed we set up a meeting with the principal of Frederick Douglas High School, which was close to my house. She said, “Yes,” and welcome us with open arms. That shoot was a community effort.
My mom would help with craft services. Professional grips would do a day here and there. My lawyer, Donna Comegys, made sure all the paperwork was on point. We shot Detention in 12 days for about 12 grand. Then shortly after we wrapped as we were going into post-production, I landed the job writing on Homicide. I felt guilty that I could be fully present for Maxie when he shot Hacks later in the year, like he was on Detention.
I know they say you shouldn’t put your own money into your feature film, but some of the salary I made on Homicide helped to get the film through post-production. Then my friend real estate developer, Dean Harrison, helped us to secure more funding long with other friends.
Detention screened around the USA, Australia, and France. It won a few awards and landed a home video/DVD distribution deal with Bedford Entertainment. I still remember Dean and I closed the deal at a diner between New Jersey and New York. The film also landed a TV deal with a company called Urban Entertainment and aired for a while on BET.
TGG: I believe you are now looking at digitizing Detention and uploading it on Amazon Prime. We’ll keep in touch with you and let our readers know when it’s available. Now, they say making your second film is harder than your first, what was your experience making Stay?
DWR: Stay as a story was inspired by my father who supervised several recovery houses in Baltimore. Originally, I was going to film in Baltimore or Los Angeles. Then one day I was reading an article about recovering addicts in Tokyo and the plight of their journeys trying to re-acclimate back into Japanese society. The stigma of being an addict in Japan stays with you. I thought it was an interesting backdrop for Stay.
Yes, making the second feature has been more difficult. It’s been a long time since Detention. Almost everything is now digital. Hardly anyone shoots on film anymore. I made the transition from film to digital a while ago, but I do miss the texture and grain of film.
Yet, shooting digital in Tokyo allowed us to be virtually invisible. We chose the Blackmagic Pocket Camera, which outwardly looks like a DSLR camera. As a filmmaker in Baltimore, I learned the art of guerilla filmmaking. We shot stuff on railroad tracks, with weapons on public streets, and I also did it working on project in Los Angeles. It’s a skill that has served me well over my career.
We filmed Stay in 16 days in around Tokyo. It was an exhilarating experience. Our Line Producer, Toshio Hanaoka, helped to find some wonderful key locations. We filmed on trains, platforms, restaurants, on the streets of Shimokitazawa, Tsukiji and many other places. One of my goals was to not have the film be filled with the usual places people not from Japan film. There are no beauty shots of the Scramble, Tokyo Tower, or The Robot Restaurant. We wanted Ryuu’s world to be places locals would go – the little bakeries, the ramen shops, the markets. I think we succeeded with that. We hope the people like the film.
TGG: Your first film was an American film, and your second was a Japanese film. What’s the biggest difference between working in Japan and working in the States?
DWR: I’ve been fortunate to work on both side of the cameras in both Japan and the USA. I now do acting work in Japan as well working as a fixer for productions looking for someone local to assist with their productions.
I think the biggest difference doing production in Japan and the USA is there are less rules in Japan. There are advantages and disadvantages – I am a member of the Writer’s Guild of America, West and The Screen Actors Guild/AFTRA. I am a union guy.
In Japan, there are no unions. So, when we shot Stay, Detention and most other productions where I have a say, I try to adhere to a standard 12 hour-day. Sometimes we would go over and others we would go under. But we have a baseline. Japanese crews seem to work non-stop until the day is complete, no matter what. I like the commitment to that work ethic, but I also like sleep. And, I think a 12-hour turnaround is important for crew members.
In terms of films the committee system in Japan seem to kind of stifles creativity. I understand that film is also a business, but film is a director’s medium. When there’s a committee involved, it seems to dilute the process. Dilutes the director’s voice. There are some great voices out there like Takeshii Miike, Beat Takeshi, Sion Sono, Kore-Eda, and Naomi Kawase, but film has to touch a nerve and take risks. Committees are about being averse to risk. I dig working in Japan and hope to do more project here. But, my next project, Water Works, is set in Baltimore, so I am going back to my filmmaking roots.
TGG: I can’t let you go without asking the big questions… as you are from Baltimore, have you ever had any run ins with John Waters or Divine?
I’ve met John on several occasions. He’s a blast. I have friends who know him well and knew Divine. I worked with Barry Levinson on HLOTS.
TGG: As you know, we are huge supporters of indie creators… so, how can we support you? Can you share any links or ways of buying your films?
DWR: Currently, we are doing a crowdfunding campaign to finish Stay. Although the film has screened at several film festivals, there is still some work we must do before we can distribute it. So, we are raising funds towards that goals. The funds will go towards the final sound mix, color grade, ADR, music licenses, subtitles and a new DCP of the film. We are close to the pulling the train into the last stop and we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. So, we’re reaching out to see if we can raise the fund and build a community around the film. This is a link for our campaign, which ends soon. Every yen helps us get closer to that goal. The site is in English and Japanese.
TGG: Thanks again Darryl! We look forward to seeing what you do next!
NEWS SUSHI… EATS!
I recently went travelling with my partner down to Kumano, Japan, and near the waterfalls we had this very unusual ice cream – Brown sugar ice cream! And I had some local Kumano Blood Orange juice.
NEWS SUSHI… WATCHES!
Facebook friend, and sister of the costume designer for my short, An American Piano, Misty Brooke (and creator of the website “Flirting with Travel”) just survived a dust storm in Kuwait!
帰り道 The Way Home
A new short film from Carl Stella, an Australian filmmaker based in Japan (there’s a lot of us). It’s a mature film, so perhaps we should just say that this is NSFW.
He’s made this film available just for us, so please enjoy, and tell him we sent you!
Hot Link from Okinawa
Something to get you hot and bothered this summer (or winter depending on your part of the world)!
NEWS SUSHI… ADMIRES!
My editor Felicity has been making her first feature on weekends on top of her day job and editing my film… here’s her thoughts on this process:
Can you believe that it’s been nearly 20 years since the debut of Boys Don’t Cry? What an amazing film that was. Here is Adam J Yeend at his day job at Fox moderating the night.
My friend Seralyn, who’s an American based in Japan, has been on the talk circuit recently – talking about blockchain currency and video games. It’s a bit over my head, but I’m so proud of her, and I’m sure there’s some people who would be thrilled to listen to her presentation!
— One Perfect Shot (@OnePerfectShot) June 26, 2018
NEWS SUSHI… LAUGHS!
Come on you guys, it’s not like Starfleet it gonna spend the next couple hundred years in what amounts to a cold war with the Romulans
— Trip from FLORIDA (@from_trip) June 25, 2018
And that’s it for another week! Ciao for now!
(this one’s for Ben and Keith xx)
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