Sceptre productions is the brain child of Rionne McAvoy. Hailing from Australia, he intends to bring a new sensibility to Japanese film and is prepared to do it from the ground up. His latest project is almost completed and we sat down to knock out a quick interview hitting him with whatever happened to come up.
Answers weren’t the focus, more the voice itself. Identity is action, and again as with our other interviews, the subjects “Who” is defined by his “Doing–this-Now.” For some people, “Cowboy the fuck Up” is a daily life style, not just a bumper sticker. Read on and learn how day dreams can materialize into realities.
1.Why Movies? Why Japan?
Unlike quite a lot of directors, I didn`t go to film school. I also am not a self-confessed film geek like Scorsese or Tarintino. Both these guys are walking encyclopedia`s on the history of film. For me, everything stems from my love of Martial Arts.
I started Karate when I was 7, and except for the period between 16-19, I have been training all my life. I came to Japan when I was 19 to study Karate, but eventually ended up switching to Aikido when I was 21, and also started Kick Boxing around the end of 2008. Growing up, I was always watching martial arts and action flicks. As a boy, it was always my dream to one day become a big action star like Jean Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal. These guys, along with the likes of Bruce Willis, Arnie, Stallone and later on Jet Li, really shaped my passion for the action genre.
Although it was always a dream to be an actor, I really didn’t decide to do anything about it until I was well and truly addicted to the TV show 24, which is, and will always be, along with the film Heat, my biggest influence. So in early 2008, with my dream of being a big action star still fully intact, I approached an American director who I was also teaching Aikido to, with a script I had written. Looking back now, the script was horrible, but nonetheless, the director agreed to help me out and suggested we make a trailer to show potential investors.
With this in mind, I went out and started putting a team together. This was the first time that I began to notice that my skills as a producer (and later on director), someone able to put together a team to work on a film project, were far better than my skills as an actor!
After assembling a crew of 5 plus roughly 5 or 6 actors, we had our first shoot, an action scene where I was to chase a bad guy down a street and do an Aikido based fight scene, before finally jumping off an apartment building balcony. I was nervous and excited at the same time, but I really wanted to know what was going on behind the camera. As the shoot progressed, the director quite rightly told me “that`s my job, you concentrate on doing a good performance in front of the camera!”.
The director however, had some personal issues he had to deal with, and quit the project after the first shoot. I was suddenly left the task of director, producer and actor on my very first film shoot. Needless to say, I was completely out of my depth, and made every rookie mistake possible. Nonetheless, this was my film school 101. I learnt how to use a camera properly, how to treat actors properly, how to generate a vision and how to put that vision into pictures, and most importantly, how to see a project all the way through to the end.
In the end, thanks to some great editing by another friend of mine, and the help of my team, who guided me all the way, my first project ended up looking very good. As a first project, I was extremely happy with it.
The biggest problem with it however, was my acting. I sucked. Badly. It was only after showing it to a potential investor, who commented almost straight away just how bad I was, that I decided that acting wasn’t for me. I am usually not the kind of person to give up so easy, but after experiencing the entire behind the camera process, I knew that directing was exactly what I wanted to do. I went on to produce and direct a 42 minute short film called Set in Stone which was my first solo project.
2. Can you tell us a little more about your current project?
My latest film, Reverence, is a feature-length film. We are in the final stages of filming and editing right now, and expect the film to be about 110 minutes long. We started filming on December 6th, 2010, and are still going! The actors all work for free, as do the staff, and because we all have full-time jobs, filming can only be done on weekends.
The film is about two brothers, Kunihiko and Keijiro Kimura, who are hired to kill four specific Japanese law makers who hold the key to uncovering corruption within the Japanese government. When things don’t go exactly to plan and with the Japanese National Police Agency hot on their heels, the brothers are double crossed by their bosses and must find a way to get out of Japan before time runs out.
3. How difficult is it shooting what is essentially a cop thriller in a city like Tokyo?
Extremely challenging at times, yet extremely easy at other times. Japan is a very peaceful society, with very little visible crime, so shooting anything other than a Yakuza film is very tough because the crime stories that are portrayed in film, rarely happen in real life here. My film has a lot of sniper sequences, which is something that is just not realistic in Japan. The challenge, and I guess this goes for any director, is to suspend the audience’s belief and let them enter the fictional world you have created in your film.
The fact that I can pull out a replica sniper rifle on a roof for several hours at a time, on multiple days with no permission from the authorities at all, and not get in any trouble, really is a credit to Japan. Pulling out replica handguns on the street and filming is also fine, people here don`t blink an eyelid, unless its to say “oh look, they are shooting a movie!”.
The biggest challenge to shooting any kind of movie here though is undoubtedly trying to get permission to shoot. Some directors say it is easy, but on my first project, I went through all the proper channels and experienced nothing but trouble. I now shoot everything guerilla style, and make no qualms about it. Hospital scenes, police station scenes, sniper roof scenes and every other scene in my film are all shot guerilla style. I`ve been called “The Tokyo Guerilla King” by other local filmmakers here! I know I cannot go on shooting like this forever, but for the moment, the way I am doing things certainly produces the best results.
4. Up to this point, has anything happened during this shoot that you are really proud of or impressed with?
From a personal point of view, I am proud of my growth as a director. Each shoot we do is better than the last and it really is a thrill to see your vision put onto the screen. I am also proud of having been able to direct, produce, edit, location scout, audition actors, write the script, and coordinate each shooting day (actors, meeting times, shoot length, locations) almost entirely alone. I have had a little help along the way and am extremely grateful for that as well. I am also proud of the fact that I was able to put over US$5 million worth of classic and modern cars into my film, for free! You`ll see a classic 1967 Ferrari, and brand new Ferrari 580, a 1955 Mercedes Benz, a 1969 Pontiac, a brand new Ford Mustang and Bentley, as well as others in the film.
From a team point of view, I am extremely proud of our growth as a production team. The small crew that we have are fantastic, and the actors first class. We are all still learning our trade, but we come together with the same common goal of making a film that is enjoyable for others to watch. It has been a pleasure to meet new people, build meaningful relationships, and make friendships that will surely last a long time.
5. What is the most valuable lesson you have learned while working in the “underground” film industry in Japan?
The most important lessons I have learnt are two very important lessons. The first one is how to network, hustle, and talk. With little or no budget, and no studio backing, being able to make your film look like it has a much bigger budget while in reality it does not, is extremely challenging. It is however, not impossible. With the right mixture of networking, hustling, and the right words, in Japan, you can get almost anything you want.
The second lesson is that, in the end, no one will have the same amount of passion for your project as you do. To everyone else, it is understandably, just another project. Thus, I had to learn to be ready when people have to cancel on you. Things happen in daily life, sudden things come up, and sometimes people cannot be there on the day when they had previously promised. Because my actors all work for free, when they get a paid gig, of course they have to take it, and it is up to me to rejuggle everything to fit these problems in. As well as this, actors also have busy schedules, sometimes acting in 3 or 4 projects at one time, so trying to match everyone`s schedules is at times very frustrating.
6. Advice for someone at home thinking about taking a go at making their own film?
Go out and do it! Movie magic happens on all levels, so get a camera, get a script, and go out and shoot! You`ll have a blast, make a bunch of new friends, and who knows where it might take you!
7. What’s next for Rionne McAvoy and Scepter films?
First thing is to get Reverence in the can. Post production is incredibly taxing. Everything from re-recording voices, adding in previously taken location sounds, color correcting, re-editing the edit, takes a long time and I am certainly looking forward to the big wrap party we plan to hold in April.
After that, I`ll be submitting the film to as many film festivals (both in Japan and abroad) as I can. No rest for the wicked however, because my next project is already lined up, a “gaijin” (foreigner in Japan) comedy.
8. Last chance, anything you want to tell the world? Make it not suck…
People have continued to ask me, “Rionne, what can I do to help you and your crew out with this project?” There are many ways people can help us out! I currently have an online funding campaign, where I am trying to raise money to finish off the film. People can donate as little as $10 or as much as $5000 and we are extremely grateful for any donation given!. We also talk a little bit more about why we believe we can change the face of Japanese cinema on that campaign page. The link is right here, anything any of you can do is a HUGE help.
The last thing I’d like to say is thanks to the readers here at Gaijinass for taking the time to check my team and I out, and please keep your eyes open for REVERENCE in April!
UPDATE: You can “like” Rionne’s project and get all the news on facebook.
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Wow, thanks for interviewing this Mr. McAvoy. He’s doing something like what I want to do if I can ever get back to Japan. Does he still teach english for a day job or what?
Unless I’m mistaken he quit a job in banking over a year ago in order to try and totally commit to the movie stuff, but he still has some part time gigs to help with day to day expenses.
Cool, maybe I’ll try to get in touch with him, draw him some storyboards or something.
The man is always looking to work with new people. Here and abroad. Check out the SCEPTRE productions link in the article and give him a mail.
“Make it not suck.”
I have my moments.
I believe the correct quote is “Turn down the suck”
Perhaps in Canada…
Hailing from Australia – I am extremely proud to know that one of our natives has taken on the challenging role of Japanese film. More exciting is the passion that Rionne and his team draw from ‘hands-on’ only experience (it is actually rather refreshing).
Reverence sounds fantastic and over here, I know, we are all waiting to receive a copy and check it out in person (hope it has sub-titles – my Japanese is not so good :D).
I take my hat off to Ri and his team and have full faith in them that they can turn this movie and their goals into successes. I am already anticipating the next ‘comedy’…should be a real change to the sniper scenes ;-).
Kudos and good luck!
Another interesting and some might say impressive fact- the movie does have subtitles, and like so much else, guess who did them???
I was absolutely glued to this article. Directing Japanese movies…my dream. Please get as much of this kind of thing as you can on your site. This was AWESOME! I am however totaly far too affraid to comment beyond this. MY brain is frozen with terror at the thought of leaving a proper comment, I could perhaps leave robotic responses to questions like some sort of shock victim. Just donot feel worthy or in the right position to be commenting on this.
What are you talking about Potzo?!?! You are one of the family at this point. Have no fear…
God I have absolutely no buiz responding to a blog about someone who has the balls to go out and direct. I may be going to college, and atempting to become a director through it, but my grades are slipping and so is my dream. Right through my fingers. I won’t even get to the second college I need to attend if the current events become the norm. I have gone from a 4.0GPA for three consecutive terms to a 3.68GPA cumulative and a 3.33GPA last term, with mostly Cs and a few Ds on my papers and tests this term it looks like this college experiment may be over.
That said, Directing! Wow… Most people have no clue. Movie making itself, even just one, is nothing to sneeze at. It is a titanic endevour. Guerilla movies are a danger that most people do not realize till the adrenaline wears off and they find themselves in court.
First having the Director and Producer being the same person is only ever good for the Director. It creates a nightmare and causes concerns for budget, actors, investors, everyone really. Also most people, who have not had any formal Directors training, just get out and shoot what looks good to them.
You need to pay attention to the psychology of a viewer at all times. Lighting, camera angle and distance, both play very important parts in how a character is received and viewed. Mess up either and you can quickly disorientate and lose your viewers.
Speed, direction the camera comes into each shot, and music can make the action easy to follow or a complete mess. It is nearly impossible to shoot from begining to end with everything shot in the sequence order it will be shown. So keeping track of what was worn and what blood was where can become a dizzying mess as you shoot the scenes as time allows and totally out of order.
What problems really arrise from guerilla style movies? Well a million ways to get sued, often for years after the film has finished. Once you get big even the nice old lady that helped you at some point wants a chunk of money and drags you to court. It gets more serious as enough of this happens to create a class action, or lawyer who is familiar with cases against you.
The actors guild in America has a lot of power. You make a film without okaying everything through them first and your career is over. The actor may lose their guild status if they don’t go along with what the guild decides to do to the films Director and producers. They check into everything. No insurance well you endangered the actors and everyone around at time of shooting. Didn’t get permission for something well you put their actor in legal danger. No pay then you fraudulently used that actor without proper compensation (even if actor agreed to it for free, they didnt have proper legal and guild representation). Anything that goes wrong with other projects they are working on will be blaimed on your distracting the actor and will lead to more people involved with a gripe against you and those other movies will want any monetary compensation as it takes forever to a movie to make back the money it took to make it (and MOST never do).
Big deal thats the American actors guild…Whats that got to do with Japan? Well it probably does have its own form of actors guild. Even if it doesnt the guilds of whatever countries your actors are from will interfere. Japan does have one thing that is very similar and has a vested interest in all of this, talent agencies. The actors sign contracts with these agencies and it becomes a problem and breach of contract that could get those agencies pursuing both the actors and the director and producer in court.
So were proper breaks given? proper changing rooms? what about all the other stuff actors are expected to get that someone untrained would not even think to provide?
What about the difficulties he went through doing things right? Why did that even happen? Properties and buisnesses are responsible for accidents on their premises. They can also be held responsible for any illegal acts that take place on their property (taping someone whom doesnt want taped). Their customers and employees may become bothered or distracted by filming and this could hurt buisiness and productivity. What about all the various brands and such that were on premisis? Did they get contacted and okay their products appearance? even that car in the background whos logo appeared? Volkswagon did fight goldbug being a bug in the new transformers movies. You would be surprised. Ever wonder why so many T.V. shows and movies have obviously recognizeable brands, but keep the logo turned just barely away from camera?
What health experts were present during filming? Were locations shut down and roped off to prevent accidents and distractions to pedestrians and traffic? Where those that did come across camera compensated? Did they know the content of the film they were appearing in? Even the wilderness can be public or state property and if the state did not give you permission people will still assume a familiar place in the movie was promoting the content of your film, to avoid suit they would need to sue the Producer and Director.
Many cities have laws and forms that must be observed and applied for and associated costs. Later if these were not paid and you make it big… well its not pretty. Copyright and plagarism can be an issue so the proper disclaimers should always be added at the end credits (an easy fix). Oh god animal rights. One jackass in the background pulls a little too hard on their dogs leash and you will never make another movie.
All this can crop up as soon as you start getting big. Now with the costs of movies there is no way to get into it without some crazy connections so it is an elitest mens club. Guerilla is the only way for a lot. It can work too. Clerks, Blair witch, and many others. Just remember that the second you start getting real recognition you have to switch to by the books, because everyone will want to take a chunk out of your hide and grabs some fame while they are at it.
What is it with costs really? Most movies never make back all the money it took to make them. Sometimes during DVD sales it happens, but it is a miracle if you have any envolvement in the money from DVD sales. Merchandise is hard to get any rights too.
While still in theatres most movies can pay back some of the investors and the actors. Get recognized and a good agent and you might start living nicely. This all makes producers into a neccessary devil.
Right now if you really ask me, he is doing everything right. He isn’t big yet and he is learning. So he can save himself all the training bull and make a name for himself. He also has the freedom to discover what works without worrying if every failure will end his future. He is probably going to come out of it with a very unique style that could really make him stand out.
Its certainly got a higher success rate than doing it by the books. Guerilla the hell outta it and I hope you succeed big.
The net is a good quick way to see whats gonna work. Huge audience so he can test what will sell and be closer than a small test audience and some random studio dick (dick as in detective cause he is trying to research and uncover what audiences will like and dick as in DICKHEAD! Really these idiots that try to decide what people like my god…) who never leaves his office. The net can get the word out and create demand, on a massive scale, around the world. So lets all tweet and facebook and myspace and blog and email the hell outta this guy for having the balls to be an average joe taking a shot at some elitest club and hopefully winning out and succeeding without having to go through all the bull. If this guy can make it then anyone has a chance at just focusing everything on their dream and charging in headfirst through the front door screaming and clench their dream in their fist never looking back.
Sorry for the lack of quality in my post I am sick as hell and have this damn drainage problem with sore inner ear and throat and had a dizzy spell while writting this. Damn near fell over hard in this chair while sitting up. My grades slipped, the stress probably m=is what comprimised my immune system enough for me to catch whatever the hell this is and thanks to both I haven’t been eating or sleeping right. I can’t add lately and misspell a lot altogether leaving out letters and not catching it and my sentences when i speak are starting to get messed up and sound a bit off.
Whenever I get this illness (some kind of flu I think) kicked then Write an A paper, or get an A on a test and I will be able to sleep and eat and then should be getting back on track. God all my previous papers are in storage so IO cant see what mistakes I made in the past and need to avoid. All my old textbooks are in storage so I cant refer to them to recall what i’ve learned. My friends that helped me have all moved, so no math help and that english major is no longer around to proofread my papers. The biggest problem is living in a basement that makes all manner of noise, is freezing cold, and with no room to play a videogame to relax.
Anyone know how to download a free program so I can watch region 2 dvds on my pc? why the hell am i so frikin dizzy this is anoying…well got a vocab paper too right and a chapter outline…hope my post wasnt too F’D
Man, you can get killed walking your doggy.
And It’s totally convenient for me that this comment warrants the recycling of my quote for today –
“If one is forever cautious, can one remain a human being?”
Adrenaline does make life much more interesting and really reminds you what its like to feel alive, apathy kind of numbs that entire I am alive feeling. I need to go do something stupid and dangerous damn it. My world has shrunk to much and gotten to plain. A little adventure might wake me up and help me achieve more. Too much living through others….still I hope his directing career takes off, maybe some day, if all goes well, we will be commenting on eachothers movies in interviews.
Well you are in school. Have to focus and knock that out. But after that, get wild. Get outta of there for sure man.
“The net can get the word out and create demand, on a massive scale, around the world. So lets all tweet and facebook and myspace and blog and email the hell outta this guy for having the balls to be an average joe taking a shot at some elitest club and hopefully winning out and succeeding without having to go through all the bull.”
Nice article. I might have to throw him some cash for a DVD when it’s all finished.
Huge amounts of respect to people who give up security to pursue their dreams.
This guy has literally poured several thousand of his own cash into this thing. That’s what the fund raising really is, just getting some of that cash back. You know one thing everyone can do is forward this article, or recommend it or whatever. Just get the word out to as many people as possible.