What is the significance of producing a short film at the same time as shooting a feature? What is the art of film production whereby you learn via the short form? We spoke to Chris Tashima , active in LA and the international film industry, and asked his opinion. We hope you will enjoy the interviews and its relevance five years on.
Tell us about your background.
Mr. Tashima: I went to film school at UC Santa Cruz to learn filmmaking but then I discovered acting. I focused on acting until I did the play version of “Visas and Virtue.” It played for four weeks at a small theater in North Hollywood. The director of the play suggested doing a short film. That’s when I realize that I could go back to my original interest of filmmaking. But now I have a great story and a really great cast and a one-act play, 13 pages so it’s perfect for a short film. So we did that and obviously it was very successful. Because I won the Academy award for that it launched me into the short film world. I became an Academy member in the short film branch. That’s when I became much more involved in short films in all aspects. The Academy is very interested in keeping shorts films alive and promoting the interest of the public. Every year I’m part of the judging of the short films at the Oscars since I joined in 1999 so it’s over 10 years now. I watch around 80 shorts, sometimes there are around 60, one year over 100 for live action, animated shorts are about 40 to 50 every year. It’s a very unique competition because you have to qualify before entering.
What is the major role of short film?
Mr. Tashima: In general, shorts are a way for artists to express themselves. Usually, when someone says I want to direct something, and it’s an easier first step than trying to make a feature. Generally it’s because “I want say something as a filmmaker.” For me short films are very good educational tools for several reasons. For one thing grants and funding are available if your short film can be categorized as educational. Not for entertainment. You can apply for grants because it’s an educational film. Usually, the story I want to tell is either a Japanese-American or an Asian-American story, but they have historical value because history books ignore this part of our community. As a supplement, short films work very well in a classroom, because they are short.
What is important in short filmmaking?
Mr. Tashima: It’s always the script. The script is everything to me. If you have a good script, people start coming to you. People will always say yes, want to help. All you can show them is the script. On shorts especially because you’re asking people to work for free, or donations, so that’s where it starts. The script will tell you where to go for money. For “Visas and Virtue,” I went to the Jewish and Japanese communities because that’s who we were honoring and also to the educational funders. That’s all in the script. The film is about storytelling. Acting is 2nd in importance. Right away if that falls short, nothing else matters because that’s where everyone is watching. You lose the audience right away. Everything else can be mediocre but if the acting is powerful, people will watch it.
When you finish the film, ask yourself, “ who is your audience”? That might determine in which direction you want to go, to what kind of festivals. Be familiar with festivals. because that’s generally what you do with shorts as a fi rst step. One particular thing that’s important to know is what the rules are at the Academy if you are interested in qualifying for the Academy Awards®. They are very strict about broadcasts which include internet broadcasts. Until your film qualifies your film cannot be broadcast in any fashion.
What is your advice to young filmmakers?
Mr. Tashima: Make sure your script is good. Another thing, and this is more about producing and directing, is surrounding yourself with really good people. It doesn’t hurt to ask the best people you can think of, even if you don’t know them or even if they’re famous. That’s how I asked Hiro Narita to shoot “Visas and Virtue.” I had grown up watching his great work. I just said I’m going to call him. Maybe he will be interested. Everyone in Hollywood is looking for good projects. Not necessary for money, but for creatively fulfilling work. At a certain age, you lose popularity for whatever reason. So there are thousands of brilliant people out of work. It doesn’t hurt to ask. It’s easy to think of actors that you want to be in your film. But it doesn’t hurt to think like that also for your composer, editor, costume designer, cinematographer, and production designer. That’s important for a director, they teach you a lot. They know the craft. That’s what I love about filmmaking, is the collaboration.
Filmmaking is a creative drive. An Oscar is a goal and it opens up doors. Good directors always know where they are going as far as the film is concerned, the way the story is told, the style, the visuals, but no matter what, what is important is the passion you have to do what you have to do. You have to immerse yourself, it’s so much hard work, and it’s so stressful, you just get burnt out. At least for me, I have to be really passionate about it.
In 1998, Chris won the Academy Award® for Best Live Action Short for “Visa to Bitoku” which he directed and starred in. Since then he has been busy as both actor and director. He is also a member of the Academy and the Director’s Guild. In 1999, he participated in the Short Shorts Film Festival (then known as the American Short Shorts Film Festival). Last year he starred in“ Half Kenneth,” directed by Ken Ochiai. The film won the Best Short Award in the Japan Competition at our festival.