Yarning for Love

This project was officially the first film done under the Studio Revolt label. The production happened in 2009 of spring. What made it the first Studio Revolt production? The camera. Canon 5D Mark II. It’s a camera I bought around that time. 5DMk2 was out only about a month when I bought it. I was broke and we just had a child. It took a lot of thinking to decide if I should get the camera. I believed for the longest time that a real filmmaker does not own a camera. It was something that was pointed out to me when I was volunteering for film project in my early college years. This guy, Terry, said nobody who ended up spending lots of money on buying a camera never justified their purchase in their productivity. And it was true. I observed those who spent thousands of dollars to buy camera, thinking the lack of access was the cause for their low output. And turned out they were as unproductive as before the purchase. Anyhow, it was my superstition that you go down as a filmmaker if you owned a camera of your own. You are supposed to rent cameras for filming. You are supposed to have that sort of project-mindedness to make and finish a film. If you were someone who had to rely on the whim or passion, then you wouldn’t get anything done.

So it was against my belief to buy this camera, but I tell you, it seemed ready. I’m talking about this “don’t buy camera” philosophy from the perspective of the total real film production experience. When I started making films, there was no digital cameras at all. And these digital cameras started popping out in mid-90s. It was still video cameras. They were getting cheaper, but image was nowhere near films. I knew one thing. Film captures images on light sensitive particles, which are basically molecules. Video captures images on sensors, that are constructed in factory by human design. There was no way a pixel of sensor, which has to perform complex tasks, can be as small as a single molecule of silver halide crystal, the secret of photo films. Even if it was to happen, it would take 20 – 30 years. Well… I was wrong. I don’t know where it went wrong but I was wrong on the image resolution. Digital cameras began to pump out images that was as good as 35 mm films in resolution, and some began to go tapeless. The time was getting ripe.

And there is another factor that was coming ripe other than the resolution of the image. It was … the depth of field… What!?

Depth of field is a photographic term that refers to the “zone” that fall in a certain distance from the camera, where objects appear in focus. How “deep” or “shallow” this field becomes is determined by several optical factors, but one stands essential in defining its potential. That is the size of the film or sensor. It is commonly believed that having things in focus is the right way to photograph. Yes, that is true. But good photography is also defined by what you keep out of focus so that we can pay attention to the objects that matter in the photograph. When the camera is capable of producing “shallow” depth of field, the photographer can choose the central object/person to be in focus while the background and foreground can be thrown out of focus. It is one of the ways to separate your subject from the background, and it works well. You can produce that beautiful sense of focal concentration with 35mm film, but not very well with 16mm film, because the gauge, the size of film or sensor is much smaller. You need a big “gauge” to produce that wonderful shallow focus.

Well…. Canon 5D Mk2 was the first digital video camera to offer that 35mm gauge size sensor for like $2500 for the body. It was the first enabler of the prohibitively expensive artistic expression, the shallow depth of field, to be available to general public. Until then you had to rent cameras in the range of $100,000 to just have that expression on your palette.

The ways to exploit “shallow depth of field” had been experimented for a few years prior to arrival of 5D Mk2 by video/film enthusiasts by adding enormous optical gears in front of the camera to create 35mm film like shallow depth of field. The idea was brilliant, but the set-up was way too cumbersome, and it was butt ugly. So when Canon came up with the idea to add 1080p video capacity to their second generation of Canon 5D, the whole photographic world and the video/film world paid attention. If the image was to turn out right, this was going to be the game changer. And many of us watched clips that were released prior to its release. It looked darn good. What won me over was the promo video put together by Canon Japan (most of my Western counterparts were won over by this video done by this one guy in California who was given access to a test version of 5D Mk2. I wasn’t that impressed by his stuff). The short film was a visual documentation of “Noh” theater from its prep to the show. It blew me away. I thought I was watching a footage shot with Panavision. It was ill. I knew I had to get one.

But I was a father of a little infant girl and my wife was still in grad school and my freelance wasn’t a stable source of income. So I was like, Oh, man, I would have to wait like 5 years. I consulted with my wife and she basically pushed me to get one. I thought of debts and credit cards and all that. I’m an old school Japanese. I have low tolerance to debt. My wife is a suburban American by association. She puts money where her heart goes and worries about the payments later. She firmly believed I should get a camera, a very darn decent camera, if I though that could give me tools of expression without confinement. You see, until then, a professional level camera was a thing you had to rent or check-out from school to access. I knew 5D Mk2 was what I needed, but I still wasn’t sure. I had that belief once you owned your own camera, you stop being productive. I struggled. But I went for it. I needed a turning point. My first feature had gone nowhere since its debut at Pusan Int’l Film Fesitval in 2006. I had not made anything since. I needed something.

And I bought the camera as a collective investment with my wife. She wanted it to be a business expense for the two of us. We’d use the camera for our projects. That’s when we started entertaining the idea that we needed a legal entity to write off the cost for our own production. I never ever never wanted to collaborate with my wife. For the longest time, I did not believe in collaborations. I especially disliked the egalitarian ideas of art making. That was B.S. and weak. Art creation requires a vision and the artist takes the final responsibility for it, whether it’s a success or failure. My wife believed in communal way of art making. It’s okay. But I’m not one of those people. So the idea of “collaboration” dreaded me. But I knew I had ways of not getting involved. I would just offer her tech service. I do my own things. So I would not be contaminated by the community art business.

Anyhow, that’s where the foundation of Studio Revolt was laid. It was the necessity based around the purchase of this camera, Canon 5D Mark II.

Yarning for Love was born out of the need to put this camera into use. I had already shot quite a bit of footage for my baby so I knew the camera was good. By the way, filming kids is one of the best ways to train your photographic skills. Film your kids all the time. You’ll be good at focusing, exposure control and composition. Best training. I tell you. So I had ton of kid footage. But no narrative. I knew I was ready. But I had no crew or sound equipment. That’s when I learned my wife’s friend Kristina Wong was coming to Chicago to do her performance at University of Chicago. I knew that was the opportunity for me to put the camera into test.

The story was conceived at a coffee shop by University of Chicago campus, where apparently President Obama used to frequent when he as a senator. I met up with Kristina Wong and another person who ended up bailing out at the last minute. Anyhow, Kristina and I went though some ideas, and came up with the basic story life of this couple.

Kristina ( http://www.kristinawong.com/ ) is an accomplished performance artist. She’s also a very good writer. She is productive like a crazy artist person, which is somewhat true. Watch some of her YouTube stuff (http://www.youtube.com/user/kristinawong). She does those skits fast. Imagine what she can do with full production. I wish HBO would give her a chance. I think Kristina is 20 times funnier than Cho. Kristina Wong and Robert Karimi (http://www.kaoticgood.com/bio.html) are two friends of my wife’s whom I believe should be producing at the national scale and making real good money. I hate how they have to accept being not included due to their race. Really. I know talent when I see one. I tell you.

The filming took place in one morning and one afternoon, total of maybe 6 hours. I edited it in a day or two. I was happy with how it came out, although I had little control over the camera. You see. Canon did not allow photographers to control some aspects of the camera during the video shoot. There was a big international movement by the photographers to pressure Canon into lifting the electronic ban on the full camera control. Obviously, Canon was not sure what this beast would do to the video industry, so it kept a stupid cap on the camera’s ability by not allowing the manual control of exposure during the video shoot. It’s a funny page in camera history. Thousands of people posted how to go around it on YouTube, most of it involved disengaging the lens halfway after setting exposure, etc. It was crazy but it showed how committed people were to this camera. It’s really a good phenomenon to study as a chapter in cinema history.

I had no sound. It was scripted and filmed as a silent movie. I just needed a good score to go along with it. I didn’t know who to turn to and I had very little money to offer. Then I remembered this man I ran into at Cannes back in 2001. His name was Laurent. We were just waiting to get tickets for the day’s screening, when he struck up a conversation with me. He was a local guy. He said he was a chemist or something but wanting to join the film industry as a music composer. We met one more time at some restaurant and that was it. We kept in contact via e-mail. I had learned that he got into UC Berkeley to study music. It took several years to realize he actually ended up going to Berklee College of Music somewhere on the east coast. I had no idea what he was doing and how good he was, but we e-mailed each other and entertained the day when we would work together on a film. I knew he was an accomplished pianist by training. I contacted Laurent and asked if he would write a score for my little comedy. He was very happy to put out a piece for me.

Thus this little experiment of my new stage in filmmaking came about. And this film became quite popular in the film festival circuit. I ended up traveling to Switzerland the following year by invitation to present the film near where Roman Polanski was hiding. I owe its success to Kristina and Laurent. Dwight Sora also saved the ship for me. Thanks. And my wife… your adventurous financial outlook brought this joint venture called Studio Revolt. Yes, we lost a condo along the way, but what the heck. We’re here in Cambodia, making films and art we ought to be making.

So thanks credit cards.

(Masahiro, November 2, 2011)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *