Yasuaki Nakajima: Director, Writer, Producer, and Star of
Erin: When did you decide to be a filmmaker, and what was your beginning work like?
Yas: When I decided... I think I was inspired a lot by watching Kung Fu movies when I was a kid. I used to watch a lot of Jackie Chan movies. I enjoyed those movies when I was in elementary school. When I found out that Jackie Chan was not just an actor, he'd also direct, write, and edit, and when I realized that I started realizing a filmmaker has to do everything. Writing, directing, acting, everything. After I graduated high school I went to Tokyo to work, but I started making movies. I bought a tiny camera, and then I started to shoot animation movies. I started making little short movies, clay animation, shooting, writing, choreographing clay, just making 12 minute short animation movies, and that's when I really learned how to make movies. I used everything I knew on one movie.
Erin: Do you think your early work influenced After the Apocalypse at all?
Yas: I think so. My first movie was shot in one room, in my house and I did everything. I was doing a lot of things myself, and I made a couple of movies where I would play everything by myself, the parts. So we shot After the Apocalypse also in an area of control with limited location, limited crew. I'm kind of used to it, limited budget, limited environment. This movie I was just shooting with my money and with friends of mine as crew. We had the Director of Photography, Carolyn MaCartney, the Production Manager Frank, Arthur as Assistant Camera... they're all my friends. Just four people doing everything. We had a lot of control because we had a small crew.
Erin: You were friends with Carolyn MaCartney before the film?
Yas: I found her a month before shooting. We spent three months of rehearsal with actors like you would do in theatre. I went to drama school, so I'm used to doing a lot of rehearsal and preparations. So we got Carolyn really familiar with the story [through rehearsal]. I actually met other photographers, but when I showed them the script - the script is very experimental cause you know there's no dialogue at all, and we had about 40 pages of script - and said that my schedule was two weeks, they said they'd have to shoot further than two weeks. Carolyn went to school in Chicago and she's used to doing experimental filmmaking, and had done commercial work as well. She was very comfortable doing challenging things. So I told her the film is about survivors after a nuclear war dealing with basic needs, and I wanted to capture the survivors like documentary, like animals surviving in a deserted area. She got it.
Erin: What was the inspiration for the story?
Yas: The inspiration was I went to Australia in 94. I was living there for 6 months, and that was my first trip outside of Japan. I couldn't speak English at all at the time and everything was a strange discovery. Although I couldn't speak English I needed to communicate, just to survive, to get food, to find a doctor, or basic needs you have to communicate. And then I developed an embargo on communication with people. And that was the inspiration. I really wanted to express that embargo in a no dialogue, no speaking movie.
I discovered people when they lost their voice because of a nuclear gas, you know, science fiction environment. And I found a couple of locations around my neighborhood in Queens and New York. Where I used to live in Brooklyn, there were a lot of warehouses and deserted areas, and when I found those locations I thought I can do this with a very low budget cause everything's around my area. Just a train ride from New York City. Everything's around my area. When the story takes place after a nuclear war, you don't need a costume or a set, you just need a deserted area and a few people. And I knew I could do this.
Erin: How is the final form of the film different from your original vision of it?
Yas: When I was writing the script I thought it was going to be a comedy film. But somehow it came out pretty serious. I was writing for it to be a comedy, and I was coming up with titles for each chapter in the story, but when I thought about it I realized it doesn't work because it's actually really serious. I decided not to use chapters, and just use the reality.
Erin: Can you pinpoint a time during the filmmaking when it changed from being comedy to being drama?
Yas: I think it happened because of people involved. The DP, Carolyn, her involvement was a really big part, and I think she shot it in a serious way. The environment where we shot just came out that way, but I can see a comedy aspect still.
Erin: I know you entered the film in the south by southwest film festival. Are there any other festivals in which you're planning on entering over the next year?
Yas: We're going to the Lake Placid Film Festival tomorrow, and then a week after that the Asian Film Festival in Dallas, and at the end of June we're going to the Los Angeles film festival, that's June 21-25. We're entering the feature competition section. And at the end of July there will be an Asian American Film Festival in New York. I'm very excited.
Erin: What would you say has been the most rewarding part of your experience with the film?
Yas: I worked on this movie for 5 years till now, it was such a big learning experience and everything was new, so every aspect. The shooting part was the easiest part because we had rehearsed so much. Shooting was 12 days in November 1999. It was kind of like the opening night for theatre. Small crew, we got everything in one or two takes. And also we did a technical rehearsal one week before shooting with Carolyn, the DP. We showed Carolyn what we have to do, so she can figure out how to shoot it. So I gave her video camera before we brought the film camera, cause once you bring the film camera it's too much expense. We basically shot video for weeks for her to figure out what to shoot. Once we brought film, everyone knew what to do. We had it down to shooting in one take, and we did most everything in one take unless there was a huge mistake. I didn't see the point in shooting two takes if you get a good take. So we just kept on shooting and shooting.
This movie is shot on MOS, no sound at all, because they aren't talking, it really doesn't have to record a voice. So once we shot the film we had to work on a lot of the sound effects. We couldn't record a sound because there were too many airplanes, cars, the train was running down under the tunnel, you know, very close to the city. We just decided to shoot MOS. I didn't know what to do at the time so I started an internship with an action company called Gun For Hire Post. It's a production company and they had machines for the studio for sound effects. I just watched how the artist creates sound from anything. I started another internship at a company called Harvestworks [Digital Media Arts Center in SOHO] and I was able to learn audio, audio mixing, anything. I met Dong Hwan Lee who is Korean, and used to go to NYU, who was studying sound for film at the time. He really liked the rough cut of After the Apocalypse and he just happened to have access to a recording studio in New Jersey, so once I was ready to go to sound we went to New Jersey once a week.
We spent time recording, but on and off because he had a baby at the time and sometimes he had to go back to Korea and stuff, so we recorded once a week, but sometimes I'd get material from Harvestworks on weekends and that's kind of interning and making movies on the weekend, that went on for four years. I started to go to college and so weekly I was studying and interning, and weekend I was making the movie in the studio. Interning at the Gun For Hire Post and Harvestworks, which is where I got access to editing. Harvestworks is a nonprofit organization, and they teach photoshop and other applications. So I was taking free classes there and I learned how to use those applications.
Erin: Do you have any plans for future projects?
Yas: That's a good question. I really want to sell this movie, that's a big project. Bring it to festivals and promote, I think that's going to take another year. I have another idea, I want to make, but I need the time to sit down and write so it's not going to happen soon. I just have to sell this movie.
Erin Paulson is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker in Chicago.