FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Vince Keala Lucero prepares to shoot a scene for "Quick Fix," featuring, from center, Kade Pittman, Chanelle Kukona and Christina Simpkins.
Shoot ’em up
"Showdown in Chinatown" gives filmmakers 24 hours to produce a five-minute movie
The text message arrived simultaneously to 200 cell phones and Blackberries at 9:30 p.m. sharp on a Friday night. The mission, should the receivers accept, was to make a film -- using mirrors and a set of keys as key props -- based on the theme "A Secret Society."
'Showdown in Chinatown'
» Where: thirtyninehotel
» When: Public viewing at 10 p.m. July 22
» Admission: $5
Oh, and complete it in 24 hours.
Nine teams would start, but only four would complete their films in time to be shown the following night at thirtyninehotel.
Those who imagine filmmaking requires a crew and cast of thousands are living in the Cecil B. DeMille dark ages. These days, it seems anyone with a video camera and a good story to tell can do it. No excuses.
For filmmakers the monthly "Showdown in Chinatown" is the equivalent of a marathon. Extreme moviemaking madness. But for event creator Torry Tukuafu, it was the best way to get out and be creative, instead of just talking about it.
Tukuafu, a cameraman and photogenic 6-foot-6 former University of Hawaii volleyball star (1999-2001) who has doubled for The Rock and worked behind the camera on "Lost," said he and his friends in the entertainment industry were eager to work on their own projects but never could find the time.
"One day on set, I just got tired of listening to it again, so I said, 'Next month. 24 hours. We're gonna make a film.'"
Eight months and a collective 45 to 50 five-minute films later, "Showdown" is going strong, taking place the third Friday and Saturday each month (the next will be July 21 and 22).
"We've never had less than four teams participating, even though I haven't advertised it, haven't made any fliers. It's all been through word of mouth," Tukuafu said by phone from L.A., where he's picked up commercial work for the summer. He plans to be at the next event, even if it means flying in and out, within 24 hours.
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
The short film directed by Andrew Ma, shown with Lucero, will be included in the Hawai'i International Film Festival's fall lineup.
IN THE BEGINNING, teams converged on thirtyninehotel on a Friday night to pick up the theme, then shot their stories and returned the next evening to share their results.
Now teams meet on their own before or after receiving the theme, drawn from 35 ideas gleaned from Tukuafu's first brainstorming session. "We had a whole bunch of ideas and talked about films. Like, if you boiled one of them down, what's it about? Finding love, losing love, revenge, a secret society -- that was in reference to 'Fight Club.'"
"Showdown" now draws creative types of all stripes. A team might include a director, camera operators, writers, lighting and sound specialists, stuntmen and editors -- sometimes all rolled into two or three bodies.
The youngest to participate last month was Mike Broady,* who just graduated from Mililani High School. He and his friends didn't start plotting their film until noon Saturday, with 9 1/2 hours until deadline, demonstrating the comfort level of an old pro, having joined in the competition from the start. Broady has known Tukuafu since working as a cameraman on "Lost."
His "Secret Society of Mimes" was perhaps the most physically challenging to film, encompassing multiple sites and scenes, moving cars, apartment rooms and a radio station sound booth. The finished work depicted an alternative universe of people who go about their daily lives as mimes but who provide the voices most familiar to us, delivering morning surf and traffic reports, for instance.
"The way we work is we go to Zippy's Vineyard, and while we're eating we collaborate on a script, making sure it's planned from start to finish," Broady said. "I'm a real stickler for plot. I'm a bit anal."
Broady, who plans to attend the University of Hawaii for two years and then explore film programs at New York University, USC or UCLA, will keep showing up at "Showdown." Last month, his team was hoping to present a horror film, but that wouldn't have fit the theme.
He's already scripted a zombie tale and believes he's developed the perfect recipe for blood, which only costs $12 to make with such ordinary kitchen fare as peanut butter, vegetable oil and food coloring.
Starting by outlining the shape of scars on his body and then filling them in with the faux blood, he said, "It even fooled my dad, who's a medic."
ON THE OPPOSITE end of the spectrum are pros like Brett Wagner, who brings his narrative abilities to prime-time TV commercials such as the KFC commercial that spoofs "Lost," and the "Inter-island Steve" spots for Island Air. His short film "Chief," about a Samoan chief who flees his village in despair following his daughter's death, also screened at HIFF.*
He turned up the second night of June's "Showdown" to screen his film, "Her," which didn't meet deadline in May because of a last-minute DVD transfer snafu. The taut, beautifully executed tale was of a woman, played by Christina Simpkins, who takes revenge on her cross-dressing beau.
Wagner was 4 when he made his first stop-motion film using "Planet of the Apes" action figures, before moving on to more serious studies at New York University. He moved here four years ago as a freelance director and filmmaker. One of his recent projects, "Five Years," about a youth who returns home to rural Ohio after spending five years in juvenile prison, was picked up for national distribution last year.
"'Showdown in Chinatown' has been very interesting because it's made me realize that it is possible to do creative work very quickly. ... When you're working so fast, you have to forget about ego and do as much as you can," he said. "I actually wish I could work at this speed all the time, but with a completed script so I could know that I'm doing a story worth telling. It would be nice to see what can be done with a really solid idea."
Andrew Ma's 10-person team commandeered a couple of tables at Panya at Ala Moana Center last month. They already had permission to shoot on the premises if it worked with the theme.
Ma's crew included filmmaker Scott Mason; actors Kade Pittman, Christina Simpkins, Chanelle Kukona and Andrew Magoulick; and Ronson Akina, who recently returned from Australia after working on the latest "Superman" film. Fellow filmmaker Vince Keala Lucero was also recruited as cinematographer.
Darin Fujimori, a stuntman who's appeared in "The Rock," "The Last Samurai" and the soon-to-be-released "Flags of our Fathers," Clint Eastwood's WWII drama about the six men who raised the American flag at the Battle of Iwo Jima, showed up in anticipation of filming an action sequence. "If we can't fit it in, I'll do something else, contribute," he said.
After getting his start working as an extra on the set of "Wind-talkers," partially filmed on Oahu, Fujimori said he talked to many crew members about a career in the film industry, and bottom line, he said, "You have to be able to do multiple things."
Even for those who simply want to act, he said learning editing, lighting and other technical aspects of the craft will improve their camera presence, as well as understanding how directors and others work.
"It's hard for people who don't know what it's like in California. It's so competitive, even for extra work, as ridiculous as that sounds."
COURTESY CHRISTINA SIMPKINS
Torry Tukuafu got tired of hearing people complain about a lack of time to make films, so he started "Showdown in Chinatown" to show what could be done in 24 hours.
AFTER THROWING out ideas until 10 p.m. on Friday, it was decided no action sequence would be needed for "The Quick Fix," a story about a prostitute taking the first step toward reclaiming her humanity.
Initial plans called for shooting on the streets of Chinatown, but to save time, Panya was used for a bar setting. Lights were set up at midnight for shooting that continued to 2:30 a.m., when the crew moved on to garage and bedroom scenes.
Although the film was marred by lighting and audio problems, Ma called on film editor Troy Gomes to work his magic, and the final version will be seen this fall as part of the Hawaii International Film Festival.
For Ma the project was an important one, marking his first short film since being among the first graduates of the new University of Hawaii film school -- but it will probably be his last "Showdown" for a while. He and Lucero are committed to finishing individual projects.
Lucero, who had a record six films accepted into HIFF in 2003, is working on the docu-drama "Holo Mua."
Ma is working on a film entitled "Love Abrasive," a takeoff on his company name, Love Abrasive Films. He expects to finish it in two months and shop it on the film festival circuit.
IT WOULDN'T BE a showdown without a little competition, and while no prize is offered, filmmakers do have the reward of applause, which determines the evening's winner. Last month, it was David J. Merritt's collaboration with artist and actor Fabio Cardoso and video/documentary maker Blake Pedersen, "Now Chucky Now," about a man battling a secret society in his mind.
Merritt, an artist and video producer who moved here recently from Chicago, said it was the first "Showdown" for his team. "We're definitely participating next month. We've got to defend our title!"
For Merritt the task seemed like a casual romp. The group, which had just completed a music video for the local band Epic Session, didn't even start on its Showdown film until 3 p.m. Saturday, 6 1/2 hours till deadline.
"For us it was just, 'Let's do it.' It could either work out or not, but it's not real pressure. We just wanted to finish."
He was disappointed that so many teams failed to deliver their films -- attributing that to peer pressure and a fear of showing a less than spectacular work. "To me it's a healthy, fun project. It's not like this is going to make or break us. It's not Sundance."
Right now, Tukuafu is doing his best to raise funds to keep "Showdown" going. Last month's viewing-night cover charge of $5 went toward defraying the cost of staging the event -- which has cost him about $9,000 out of pocket to date -- and to set up an Internet database of profiles and contact information for local cinematographers, screenwriters, editors and actors.
"There's a lot of people who say, 'I want to do this, but I don't have access to a camera,' or, 'I want to do this, but I don't know how to edit,' and they all call me," Tukuafu said. "It's very time-consuming. But if we have a Web page and database, they can contact each other. It'll get bigger and better."
Chief among his goals is a 72-hour championship round of filmmaking tied in with Cinema Paradise or HIFF in September.
"Ideally, in a perfect world, we would show the finished films at Hawaii Theatre and people would cheer, in the end, for the one they like best, the same way we do it now," he said. "If it doesn't happen this year, it'll happen next year.
"For me it's about a love for filmmaking and seeing what happens when you put creative people in a room together."
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
» "Chief" is a project of filmmaker Brett Wagner. A Page E1 story Sunday misattributed the work-in-progress to another filmmaker. Also, Mike Broady's name was misspelled.