Interview with Director Takeshi Fukunaga

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Takeshi-Fukunaga directorTakeshi Fukunaga is a filmmaker from Hokkaido, Japan, and currently based in New York. The shorts he’s written, directed and edited have screened in numerous festivals and won critical acclaim. He is currently leading the first feature to be made in association with the Liberia Movie Union.

How did you get interested in filmmaking?

Quite simply when I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey I was blown away. I never forgot that movie and when I went to college it just felt like a natural choice to study film.

Please tell us about your latest project, your first feature movie Out of my Hand.

This is the second narrative feature film ever shot in Liberia by a foreign production, and it’s also the first to be made with the Liberia Movie Union. It’s about a Liberian rubber plantation worker whose job is disrupted by a worker’s strike and so decides to move to New York. In this big city he joins the local Liberian community and he is forced to confront his own sense of self when he meets two Liberians with vastly different backgrounds: one a child soldier and the other a wealthy businessman.

What are the challenges of making a film with a low budget?

There were some restrictions that we face due to the budget, but I’ve only ever made films with a low budget so I’m used to that by now. The relationship I’ve built over the years with crew and some vendors made it possible to do what we did at low cost, and I can’t be thankful enough for that.

How hard is it to get funding?

This is something I’ve never really had to deal with. It’s incredibly difficult to attract any investor when you don’t have any clear commercial value. This film is not a genre film that’s appealing to a niche market, nor does it have any famous actors attached. Crowdfunding was really the only option we had, but it is very challenging to make it successful. We’ve made a good start on this campaign we are running now, but still have a long way to go to reach the pledged goal. It’ll be a very intense two weeks before it ends.

Can you give an anecdote about something unexpected that has happened on a set?

One day, we were shooting on the road in the plantation trying to get shots of the main character walking to his work field. It was completely dark before dawn and we were walking around with flashlights on our hands. All of a sudden, there was this big truck with full of tappers standing in the back appeared and lit us with the car light. They had no idea what we were doing and just saw us as a group of random people stopping them from going to work, so they started yelling at us from the truck as they pounded on their buckets and the truck. We moved from the road right away, and let them go, but were stunned by the scene for a little while after they are gone. It was pretty intense moment and we felt like we were in a movie.

What would be your typical day be like when directing a movie?

Making sure your vision is clear and that it’s clear to crew and cast. Staying healthy and strong-willed to realise your vision. When you have an incredible team of crew and cast, that’s all you need.

What was the best aspect about filming in Liberia?

In our case, it was the people we’ve had an opportunity to work with. All of the Liberian crew and cast were so excited about the project and put everything they had into it. Having that level of commitment and trust into the project from them was incredible and it made the experience of shooting there so special.

How did you find your actors for Out of my Hand?

Before I first arrived in Liberia by myself for casting, I was in contact with the Liberia Movie Union and they were making an announcement for the audition through local radio and TV. The result was overwhelming and we saw hundreds of amazing actors in a couple days of auditions. It was really impressive to see so many incredibly talented actors, and I was very happy and fortunate to find such a brilliant cast. We also casted some non-actors for smaller roles and I was glad that I made the choice and how they brought naturalistic tone to the movie.

Find out more about Takeshi’s work here.

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