How to Maintain an Indie Production Team

Indie Filmmaking
Backstory-Yamagishi-Kentaro

Yamagishi Kentaro is an independent filmmaker who has made a small number of action-oriented genre movies which have won various awards and played at festivals both at home and abroad. His most notable achievement is directing the short, Tokyo Mukokuseki Shojo which Oshii Mamoru remade into the feature-length Nowhere Girl–one of the very rare times that I am aware of an independent short being adapted to a feature in Japan. Yamagishi posted an interesting commentary on his Facebook page regarding what it takes to keep an independent filmmaking team together. His thoughts both echoes what most express as the appeal of the indie movie set, while also presenting an interesting wrinkle in those notions which I thought was interesting. Therefore, with Yamagishi’s permission I am publishing his post here in English:

I was asked, “What’s the trick to keeping an independent movie team together for a long time?” I replied, “Don’t have commercial movies call on you,” which was met with a wry grin. Now I, too, have finally made my commercial feature-length debut.
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To answer that question seriously, the secret to perpetuating an independent team is to not accept actors into the team. To do so is to begin utilizing them as filmmaking crew. The actors vow to help in return for casting them, but that vested interest doesn’t positively affect either the movie or the relationships between the crew. If they want to be a crew member, that’s what they should do. Project Yamaken (Yamagishi’s production team) has consistently declined team involvement of actors ever since Kiyoku Dorobo. As far as the exception to that rule, actors have joined under the condition of working as a dedicated member behind the scenes and not appearing in front of the camera.

Helping out means getting cast in the movie. Being cast in the movie means helping out. This association gradually distorts the interpersonal relationships of the team.

To organize a production staff full of actors by dangling acting parts as carrots would necessitate casting actors for their desire to work rather than their ability to act. Dissatisfaction would arise, actors would leave, and the team would disintegrate. On the other hand, primarily employing hard working actors means there would be insufficiencies in the crew causing the production to limp along. Being a cast member and a crew member can not be done in tandem. Realistically speaking, independent movies and low budget movies sometimes are unable to progress as planned unless the cast assists with aspects of the production. This is something that’s inevitable to some degree. But it is imperative to communicate to everyone involved of brief periods which will demand support over and beyond the norm.

One should form a relationship with actors which doesn’t engender a “vested interest” through helping out. They are cast because they’ve been acknowledged as actors. They accept the role because they believe in the director. Actors and directors should always preserve this relationship.

The commercial feature-length debut Yamagishi mentions is Misojijyo wa Romanchic na Yumei wo Miru ka? (lit.: “Do Thirty-something Women Have Romantic Dreams?”) starring Takeda Rina of High Kick Girl and A Tale of Iya fame, among others. It will open nationwide in Japan on March 31st.
Watch the trailer (Japanese) below: