17 Jan

It’s official. We’ve been to Japan and back, wrapped on the filming of “Persimmon” and are now entering into the post-production process. It has been an amazing journey and one of the best experiences I’ve had in film school thus far.

It was amazing to see the crew come together as a cohesive whole. Over the course of many long days of shooting and what seems like a thousand train stations, every person on this crew gave their all to “Persimmon.” It was especially cool to see the way that the Biola crew and the Japan-side crew collaborated despite our differences for the good of the project. We truly could not have made this film work without assistance from Yu, Takaki, John, Steven, Izumi, Maki, Kevin, Julie, Eric and all the others. As we worked together, ate together, traveled, laughed and even sang together, I was able to experience a unique kinship between crew members that I don’t think I will ever forget. I love the fact that Osusowake (sharing) became far more than just a theme of the short film we were making: We truly put it into action together every day. I can only hope that I will take what I learned and allow it to change the way I work and interact with others in the future.

After Japan, there are countless memories…far too many to be expressed here. We shared experiences, travels, inside jokes, new and exciting foods, and the excitement of convenience stores and vending machines together. We exercised creativity, creating beautiful images with the RED and probably thousands others with our brigade of SLRs. We froze on a metal roof for a night, we experienced Japanese karaoke to the fullest, we ate food from a street fair and drank pancakes out of a can. These are a few of countless memories I will never forget, and I am so grateful for the people I got to share them with.


– Joey Kennedy

Camera Operator

You know Osusowake?

17 Jan

I grew up thinking that Japan had something that I didn’t and by going there, a part of me, maybe some cultural identity section of my existence, would be completed. I suppose this wasn’t inaccurate, but I expected to visit solely as a recipient, not as a benefactor. It was a reminder and a wake up call arriving in Japan hearing Yu Shibuya state the heart he wanted us to have on this shoot: something along the lines that we are here to bring hope to a land that has wandered into an ether of tradition, naturalism, and unsteady spirituality, starving for a beacon to an absolute truth. We were commissioned here by something greater than ourselves to tell a story hinting at the ultimate and the real. We were not here to just receive from Japan, but we were here to bring a gift.

I became ill on the way to the airport to Japan and my immune system only deteriorated over the long flight. I remained sick for the first location scouting day, and with my nose incessantly draining runny battery acid into my neck, I had little hope of recovering in 4 degrees celsius weather on five hours of sleep a night. Eventually I had to take a day off, my body revolting against my audacious behavior, and I felt like I was betraying the team. My job was to be present, physical, and at the ready, and instead I was unable to even move out of my bed to eat. I began to despair, and wondered why would God bring me here to just waste a chance to experience the land of my ancestors, and to not fulfill the role that this entire family of friends entrusted me with? But I remembered that this was a mission for Japan, not just a film for our benefit.

Sick in Tokyo

Spiritual warfare is real, and I saw this sickness as well as that of some of the other crew as confirmation that this film was a maneuver that was important enough to be noticed. It made me realize this is something the opposition doesn’t want made. Which probably means we are doing something right. Going over the gorgeous dailies when the rest of the crew got back that night, it made sense. What we were seeing was almost too good to have been made by our mere hands. We had gotten some kind of help elsewhere. We needed God and we needed each other to do this, and it was a project and a process that would only be possible if it was shared. There was not one person who would or wanted it to be about them.

I think this theme of sharing with a neighbor some of a large gift you’ve received, or Osusowake as it’s called in Japanese, really became the theme of the shoot. Our mission in Japan was not merely to make a film, but it was to share the gift we’ve received from God with the people of Japan and everyone who would see this film. We were living the beauty of the message of the film each day: the beauty of what death can be and the enrichment it can bring to life. I think the knowledge that this film would have a death, that it wouldn’t be everlasting made each day something worth cherishing, and the death of the shoot is in a way the birth of the film, and we were all working towards this paradoxical goal as a team, sharing with one another everything. From food, to jokes, to even a cohesive attitude of tenacity and trust, we were all there to serve each other.


Even our director Dean Yamada, who could have easily tried to micromanage the many creative and technical aspects of the film which he delegated to mere college students, he trusted us in doing our jobs and granted us the honor of truly being able to give ourselves to this project as much as we wanted within our roles.

Happy Camera Teams come from La Mirada

Jordan Crabtree cut together a beautiful montage of scenes from the film just for the first wrap party to see, and it’s been a very long time since I’ve felt the kinds of emotions that I did while watching that preview. Dean did a brilliant job directing the actors and orchestrating the story, Yugo’s performances were arresting, Zack and Nick’s work composing the shots and dressing the set and look of the film was visibly effective and gorgeous… I could go on. But I didn’t see names. I saw all of us all at once. I saw Joey and Trevor helping Zack compose the shots that even were inspired by the lights Jordan set up with Steven and I, and that couldn’t be divorced from the energy that Nick, Takaki or Angela displayed at a lunch break, which we had because Rachel, Ellie, Maki or Brian were all doing their jobs so our worries were minimized to our own tasks, which is rare for a crew that small. I couldn’t be more proud of everyone and honored to be serving such a God in such a way, with people like this crew.

About to get our Oishii on

So in the end Japan did give me a lot. It gave all of us a lot, and others can talk about that here, and I really hope that we can give back like how I know the crew has been giving to each other during this entire trip.

Persimmon. A film by a family who received much and just had to share.

– Jordan Nakamura.

After The Bitter Comes The Sweet

14 Jan

It feels surreal to be wrapped. We arrived just over a week ago; after six amazing days of production, we have a film in the can– one that we are all extremely proud of. We collaborated; we pressed on through the long hours and cold days; we created art and built relationships that will exist forever.

On Monday and Tuesday, the team had the incredible privilege of being in the presence of three brilliant actors. As director, I needed to create a safe environment and give them the space to do their best work. Without authentic performances, this film would be nothing but beautiful, empty images. It was important for the students to see their process as we searched for inspiration and blocked our scenes. Because these actors understand their craft deeply, they need to find ways to put themselves in the scene, whether through connecting with a piece of wardrobe or wanting to know why their character would stand in a specific place of the frame.

Our lead actor Yugo Saso made the film happen with his generosity and his performance. Throughout our rigorous shooting schedule, I never heard one complaint from him. He trusted our process of making this film and was always ready to go. After working with Masayuki Yui (who plays Hasegawa), it was easy to see why Akira Kurosawa would want to cast him in four of his final five films. Yui-san is a naturally gifted actor who can read a line ten different ways and still keep it fresh while making it his own. Sakae Kimura (who plays Hasegawa’s son) is the consummate professional, who came well prepared with many ideas about his relationship to each character.

It was an invigorating time of creating art. Production was like a 144-hour long day with three hour naps interspersed throughout. When we wrapped our final scene at the convenience store, the owners wanted all of us to sign a commemorative card and take a photo with them. It was such a surprise to have them bring us coffee and dried persimmons. As I bit into the dried persimmon, it was a bittersweet moment to know that our time, though not without its challenges, had come to an end. We have made it through production without much compromise, and I’m so excited to begin our journey through post-production and into the festival world.

Thank you for sharing in our joy.

Dean Yamada

Shooting on the roof of the abandoned clinic.

Camera Con

14 Jan

Two days ago marked the end of our shoot, and also stands out in my mind as one of the most ridiculous, hysterical days of filmmaking I have ever lived through.

We needed to get a few shots inside the Mitaka train station as well as on the train, but we had no permits. Without permits, we were told we’d be shut down within a matter of minutes. The Japanese metro officers inside the stations are on constant lookout for large groups of caucasians with giant cameras and no documents.

My job was to distract these vultures while Trevor, Zack, and Joey set up the camera and pulled off the shots. Imagine the Ocean’s 11 Crew shooting a film instead of robbing casinos. We had a blueprint plan the we formulated beforehand, and we had to be quick and secretive.

I rushed into the station first, obviously wearing my tuxedo and sunglasses, and approached the observation/help desk that happened to be yards from our camera setup. I stepped up to the Japanese officer on duty, feeling a hundred percent like James Bond, except this is a James Bond who is nervous, lanky, and can only speak English. I immediately blocked his view of the camera position by leaning so far across the counter that my feet left the ground. It was a rather flirtatious position, and I think he thought the same because he almost tripped over his feet to avoid my maneuver. At this point, I hadn’t said a word to the guy, but had already established with my body language that I was interested in a mild friendship at the very least. My first question was how to get to Mount Fuji. He didn’t understand a word of the question, though, so I asked again. Still no response, so I asked again. Still no response, so I started making the universal shape for a mountain with my hands while saying “Fuji, Fuji, Fuji” over and over again. Finally he got the idea, so he pulled out a map and showed me how to get there. I didn’t understand a word of it.

Ten minutes later, I glanced over my shoulder and realized they weren’t done shooting, and I didn’t know how to distract him any longer, but one of the few phrases I know in Japanese is how to ask someone’s name. “O namae wa,” I said. He stared blankly at me for at least a good, awkward five seconds, then he told me his name. Then I told him mine. We shook hands and I was gone. I’m pretty certain he didn’t sleep that night. Call me a creep, but at least we got the shots.


Good for Camera

14 Jan

There it is folks, we have officially wrapped on production. After months of preparation, countless hours of inspired creative processes, long days of work, short nights of sleep, and plenty of rice and melon bread, we have shot a film.

The crew has worked very well together under some pretty extreme conditions. We have been shooting in some of the smallest locations ever with some of the biggest equipment ever. Carrying a 400 pound  dolly up a tiny, nearly  vertical flight of stairs in bare feet, standing on a roof for hours in the cold wind, running across the streets of Nippori Tokyo to catch a shot before the sun sets, and standing in the middle of street or a train station praying we dont get arrested.

Shooting a film in a foreign country is hard work. It’s hard to know what the locations look like or how much room you have to move the camera around or if it is possible to set up lights outside a window until you actually  arrive on set. It requires quick thinking and creative problem solving to capture the scene properly and convey the right emotion and mood. The camera team, along with grip and electric have done an outstanding job of working together to capture something truly beautiful. Everyone worked extremely hard and gave all they had to help this story in the best way we can. Joey, Trevor and Aaron are simply the best camera team. They are so good at what they do and I trust them completely. Jordan and Jordan both worked so hard in making this film a reality by lighting the locations and making the shots happen. We all collaborated and communicated well with each other. It is unfortunately a rare experience to have this many quality people working so closely together. They are not only talented, but they have good hearts and that will hopefully show through the visuals of this film.

One of the many things I learned is that the sun moves differently in Japan… or is slightly more unpredictable. We battled the sun many times. It was a race against time and mother nature trying to keep the sun light out of our shots when we didnt want it and then recreating it when it disappeared. But we did it. All in all, I think we have captured a small part of a really beautiful world and I am excited for you to see it.

Here is a tiny taste of the magic.

Persimmon is good for camera. Let’s move on.

-Zachary Gladwin

We’re making a movie in Tokyo, Japan…no sweat.

11 Jan

A few days ago, we filmed our lead actor as he trudged up a quaint street on a hill bathed in the rosy hues of a Tokyo sunset. Behind him, Mt Fuji stood defiantly along the skyline, despite the city buildings slowly attempting to dominate its horizon.

The following day, our crew spent the day balancing precariously on the roof of an abandoned clinic, in order to capture the conversation of our lead actor and actress on neighboring verandas.

Yesterday, we set up camp in Eda Memorial Hospital and filmed our hospital and clinic scenes. We had almost free reign over the main floor, due to a Japanese public holiday.

Today, we find ourselves in a charming Japanese home, shuffling from room to room in our socks while our shoes line up patiently outside. Delicately decorated paper stretches across wooden lattice frames, forming shoji screen doors that divide the house into neat geometric shapes. The entire house is filled with strong lines boldly breaking every surface into squares and rectangles, right down to the floors which are hidden beneath carefully placed tatami mats. Yes, carefully placed – apparently if tatami mats are not intentionally placed, they can bring bad fortune to a household.

Welcome to life on a film set in Japan.

I’ve had many crazy experiences on film sets in the past, but the past week just earned itself a position at the top of my list. Every day, each crew member has had to face numerous challenges of unusual nature – many requiring considerable physical exertion. Bear in mind, our days have ended late and begun early-around 5:30am- and the temperature outside is frigid. Occasionally our locations are inside and heated, but this has not been a constant guarantee. Yet, everyone has diligently pushed through each day and I’m immensely proud of them.

We have one more day to go and the craziness continues. Pray for our camera team as we attempt to capture some shots at the train station and on the train tomorrow morning. They’re fairly simple shots, but we’ll have to film guerrilla style.

Thanks for reading and jaa mata!
Rachel van der Merwe
One of the producers.

The verandas. Photo taken from the roof of the abandoned clinic.

Today's location

Oishii, desu ne?

10 Jan

As the First AD my primary concerns on set are the two “S’s” – safety and schedule. Thus far on this crazy Japan Film adventure we’ve had two crew members out sick and we’ve wrapped late pretty much every day. That being said, I’m having an absolutely amazing time and we’re getting some of the most beautiful footage I’ve ever seen.

While the days have been long (and for the most part really, really cold – I didn’t think I’d be missing the So Cal sun so soon), I couldn’t be more proud of the crew and how hard they’ve been working. Everyone has been in good spirits, even after three hours of sleep.

I’ve found myself surprised at how much I enjoy getting to know the city of Tokyo. The train rides to and from location have been an interesting window into the population, albeit sometimes much more tightly packed than I would like 🙂 Meals have also been a fun experience. During lunch you can pretty much plan on hearing “What is this?” “I don’t know, just put it in your mouth.” Snack times at the Family Mart or Lawsons have been a veritable cornucopia of the most exciting cuisine Japan has to offer. From the magical melon bread to the best mochi on this earth, it can al be found at these convenience stores.

Well, that 6:00 call time is just around the corner so I’m off to bed. Oyasumi nasai!

Alicia Gaynor

1st AD

Pictures from the 1st Assistant Camera

8 Jan

Pictures speak louder than words

-Trevor Smith

Day 1, Recap

8 Jan

So, today was the first day of shooting (written yesterday, but wasn’t able to post due to lack of internet)! 😀 We started with an outside scene at a little CD and record store not far from the Team Center where we’ve been staying, and… it was pretty cold.  We unloaded the van as quickly as possible, dumping all the equipment on the side of the road, as other cars and bikes crept past, right next to our piles of equipment. The cold ate the batteries for my Roland field recorder faster than our crew at dinner, but we got the shots we needed, packed up out equipment fast as we could, rushed to the train station, Steven Lee leading the way (he’s awesome!), eating our snack on the way, and started our long trek (or train ride, actually) to our next location. On the long train ride, when we were finally able to sit down, we found that the seats had seat warmers, which was super cool, but made us all dread the cold that we would have to return to once we stepped out of the train. When we did, we saw a flock of school children getting on. Dozens of little boys and girls in their uniforms, boarding the train. Nick, Zak, and Ellie instantly fell in love with the children’s little backpacks and uniforms. A few posed for picture from the funny,crazy white people, then Yu met us outside and we moved on to the next location. To get to the apartment, we climbed a hill, and, at the top of the hill,, with a great view, was that apartment, a tiny place that we managed to cram dolly, track, lights, and the rest of our equipment and crew into. We got in, got setup, took a lunch break, during which Trevor gave out quote of the day (“I haven’t even taken a shower. Why would I wash my garbage?”) Then back to the tiniest, fullest apartment I’ve ever been in, to shoot all the scenes in Tomatsu’s kitchen!

After our first, long day of shooting , our first time really working on set together as a crew, we learned some valuable lesson, as well as getting some pretty amazing shots (just looked over dailies)!  We made some mistakes, but learned from them, and applied our new knowledge to better our film.

Now, after two very long, but successful days of shooting, it’s late, and we have another early call time ahead of us, so… good night world!

Brian Ulrich

Production Sound


yoroshiku onegaishimasu, Tokyo. (thoughts from production design)

6 Jan

Hello out there!

I have to say, today was one of the most invigorating days I’ve had in a very long time. Today was my one and only day to get my last minute shopping done for this film, and I did my absolute best to acquire all of the things that I needed. Accompanied by Yu Shibuya (the writer of the screenplay) I was toured around different parts of this incredible city and was able to see some sights while also getting business done.

There are so many things that first jumped out at me the minute I step outside. First is the architecture, which has a strong yet odd combination of modern and old. The back and forth staircases appearing on the outside, the colors which stand out against the sky made my eyes get big and my inspiration-o-meter go through the roof. These buildings are what give Tokyo it’s sense of distinction, I think.

The next, and most obvious thing that stands out to me is the eclectic style of dress here. You’ll notice business men,  the youth population, school girls, average professionals, and old people. While these may seem like normal groups, there is something very special and put together about the way everyone is dressed. Everything is tailored and coordinated to the “T” for the business man. There is a certain “organized haphazard” that the young people of Tokyo have down to a science. Even the old people seem prepared for anything that could come there way.

Walking through the streets it was almost hard to focus on what I needed to do because there seems to be so much to distract my attention in this city. Everything seems to be a piece of art, requiring much time, precision, and craftsmanship. I am so glad that I had this opportunity to not only have some one-on-one time with the writer himself, but also to have someone who knows the city so well to show me around. I absolutely got the good end of the deal today, even having the pleasure of meeting his mother (and enjoying her delicious cooking).

After some location scouting, lots of train traveling, dinner, production meetings, planning and packing for tomorrow, it is time for bed. Tomorrow is our very first day of shooting, and I’m definitely going to need my rest!

Being in Tokyo for the first time was an experience that I would consider both inspiring and enlightening, and it was certainly a day that I won’t forget. I couldn’t be more thankful for this experience, this crew, this story, and most importantly for our God, whose has brought this project thus far and will continue to provide.

Goodnight from Tokyo!


Production Designer