Pennsylvania Literary Journal is available in full-text on EBSCO Academic Complete and ProQuest’s journal database. Each of the issues is also available for individual purchase through most online bookstores, and as part of a tri-annual subscription for $45. A few of the pieces published in PLJ should be of wider interest, as they are interviews or works from best-selling or popularly known artists in various fields, including film, literature and fine arts. Some of these pieces will be occasionally posted here, with notices about new pieces posted on Anna Faktorovich’s social media pages: Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. The PLJ page includes a full description of the journal, and of the content of its prior issues since its founding in 2009.
Anna Faktorovich is the Director and Founder of the Anaphora Literary Press, and Editor-in-Chief of the Pennsylvania Literary Journal. She taught college English for three years before focusing entirely on publishing. She has a PhD in English Literature. She published two scholarly books: Rebellion as Genre in the Novels of Scott, Dickens and Stevenson (McFarland, 2013) and The Formulas of Popular Fiction: Elements of Fantasy, Science Fiction, Romance, Religious and Mystery Novels (McFarland, 2014). She completed two other scholarly books, in which academic presses have expressed strong interest: Gender Bias in Mystery and Romance Novel Publishing: Mimicking Masculinity and Femininity and Wendell Berry’s New Agrarianism and Beyond, for which she received a Kentucky Historical Society fellowship. She previously won the MLA Bibliography and the Brown University Military Collection fellowships. She also published two poetry collections Improvisational Arguments (Fomite Press, 2011) and Battle for Athens (Anaphora, 2012), and a children’s book The Sloths and I (Anaphora, 2013).
Excerpt from Volume VI, Issue 1, Spring 2014:
Interview with Nathan Zellner (Screenwriter/ Producer) of Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, Winner of the Sundance U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Musical Score
David and Nathan Zellner are Austin-based filmmaker siblings who have written, produced, directed and edited numerous films and music videos that have screened at festivals worldwide. This includes five shorts (Flotsam/Jetsam, Redemptitude, Aftermath on Meadowlark Lane, Fiddlestixx, and Sasquatch Birth Journal 2) which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival (’05-’11).
Their feature Goliath premiered at Sundance 2008, followed by Kid-Thing, a fable-like drama starring Sydney Aguirre and Susan Tyrell, in Sundance 2012. This led to an extensive festival run, including an international premiere at the 62nd Berlinale and a retrospective of the Zellner Brothers’ work at BAFICI 2012. Kid-Thing, which received a 2012 Gotham Award nomination, was distributed theatrically around the world and domestically in the US by Factory 25. The Zellners’ latest film Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (2014) starring Rinko Kikuchi screened at Berlinale and Sundance, where it won a Special Jury Prize for Best Score.
In addition to their work behind the camera, they’ve has also acted in several notable independent films including: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Shit Year, Beeswax, Kid-Thing, Kumiko among others. Much of their work can be viewed a zellnerbros.com.
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter: Kumiko lives in a cluttered, cramped apartment in Tokyo with her pet rabbit, Bunzo. She works as an office lady, robotically preparing tea and fetching dry cleaning for her nitpicky boss. But on her own time, she obsessively watches a well-known American film on a weathered VHS tape. Rewinding and fast-forwarding repeatedly, she meticulously maps out where a briefcase of castaway loot is buried within the fictional film. After hours of intense research—convinced that her destiny depends on finding the money—Kumiko heads to the United States and into the harsh Minnesota winter to search for it. Inspired by an urban legend about a Japanese woman who took a similar journey, filmmaker brothers David and Nathan Zellner (Sundance Film Festival alums many times over) tackle their most ambitious project to date. The Zellners’ love for lonely eccentrics remains intact, and Rinko Kikuchi gives a fascinating performance as the introspective, withdrawn Kumiko, whose increasing discomfort in the world leads her to retreat ever further into isolation. Shot with breathtaking precision, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter soars to transcendence as it reveals the beauty in the quest for reality, even if that reality is just your own.
Faktorovich: You note in your press kit that this project was in development for a while before you finalized it. Were you planning on filming the movie in Tokyo from the beginning? Was the location something that was added because you were planning to be in that city? Was there another practical reason to film in Japan? Was it a unique setting that you knew would grab the viewers’ attention? How so?
Nathan Zellner: When we ran across an urban legend way back in 2001 or 2002, the Japan setting was one of the inherent parts of the legend. The legend is that a Japanese woman gets lost in the wilderness because she is looking for a mystical fortune. Our version is a modern treasure hunt, based on folklore, but interpreted in a modern motion picture. She goes on this quest. We are big fans of quest movies. It’s about the fantasy of believing in something so much, and the passion that drives people to pursue unattainable goals; this was what caught our attention at first. The film juxtaposes Japan and their ancient traditional culture, and middle-America in the wilderness of Minnesota, in the snow. She travels from a unique urban environment to a harsh rural environment. From a scheduling and financial point-of-view, it’s hard to shoot overseas and outside, on-location, especially dead-of-winter, in the tough coldness. There were only a couple of months out of the year when it became cold enough around January, and we had to mobilize crew and resources and put them in that specific place and time, coordinating around winter months and with the Japan shoot, so that there were two productions back-to-back. If somebody flipped, the schedule or whatever, then the project had to be reset. It’s hard to get a small project off the ground. The reason the project took so long to film was that there’s a fantastical element to this journey, but also everything we did had to have a naturalistic feel to it. It was essential for us to be in Japan, to be filming in the middle of Tokyo, and the same for Minnesota. We embraced the wilderness there; it was a very unique setting that needed a lot of planning, and logistical moving around.
Faktorovich: If you have producer and screenwriter credits for this film, and not a director credit, does that mean you didn’t have to be on-location in Tokyo? Clearly, you were there to play Robert in the winter section. Do you occasionally assign only one of you two Zellner brothers to travel to a given location to save on travel funds, and to give the other brother a chance to keep working on projects back home in Texas, or do you always travel to shoot and to attend festivals together?
Nathan Zellner: David is primary the director and writer. I’m the producer and editor. We’ve been making essentially home movies since we were little. The movies have gotten bigger over time. We have different strength and they work well together, so everything has overlapped. We’ve always also acted in our scripts. We’ve always tried to cast ourselves. We work together very closely, with a lot of the discussions in terms of story, script and planning. So much needs to be done when we’re on-set, making sure the schedule is all set, costumes are correct, locations, and shot selections, so we wear a lot of hats. We’re both on-set at the same time. We are working together towards a common goal that we’ve discussed. When we go to festivals, it’s the same thing. We split up interviews, based on our availability. We are constantly communicating on what’s the next thing that needs to be done on a project; it’s a close working relationship.
Faktorovich: As a screenwriter and producer, do you also intervene during filming to direct the actors, or to suggest what a character might do in a given moment? For example, if you are in a scene with a beautiful woman, such as your lead actress, Rinko Kikuchi, and you suddenly want to give her a peck, can you propose editing the script, and do you?
Nathan Zellner: David and I care about efficiency, that the schedule is on time, the budget is low. But, you have to be very flexible if something presents itself on set. We plan out in advance a blueprint for what the characters should be doing, what the shot should look like. We are both editors. When you make a film, there are three times when the direction of the film can be changed. The first of these is the writing of a script. Then, when you are on-set, you are evolving the story to put life into the words. Here, actors bring life to their roles, costumes are added, the art director is evolving it, so that you are collaborating with all of them to enhance a picture. The last time to make changes is after you capture all the footage, in the editing room. There you finish the story, and the direction of the film in the type of edits that you make because of which cut or take you decide to use. Do you choose one where the actress is more animated, or more funny, or more solemn. The editors announce at the end of the day what are the choices they want to make, and then there are too many times when we personally step in and say we want to try this… We have the initial blueprint for what we want to do. And then there are opportunities on-set for a lot of changes. We can fall back on the blueprint, or make a change if somebody has an idea, or if traffic is a certain way, or if the weather changes. Unforeseen things that can happen when you’re filmmaking, so you have to move things around, and rethink things. Being flexible is liberating. If an actor or David or myself have an idea while we are filming a particular scene, it’s easy to check it against the script to decide if we should go with it, or stick with what we originally discussed.
Faktorovich: Where did you film for the winter scenes? Was it the actual location from Fargo? I believe the 1996 film was set in Brainerd, Minnesota. Was this where you filmed? And, was this location from Fargo at the top of a ski mountain? If not, how or why does Kumiko end up on a ski lift? Why doesn’t Kumikoknow the name of the city specified in Fargo’s public synopsis, and instead keeps saying she wants to go to “Fargo”? Are you a fan of Fargo?
Nathan Zellner: That movie is an American classic. That movie is called Fargo and it takes place in Minneapolis, Minnesota. There are also scenes in the film in Fargo, which is a stretch of highway where it was supposed to take place. The location had to look similar to the one in the film, for the audience to believe the quest is to a real place. There are plenty of opportunities in the film for things to be misunderstood or misinterpreted. A lot of people who watch the film believe that it takes place in Fargo, that’s how they remember it. So that’s where the treasure is buried in the film. But the film doesn’t leave a clear indication of where it might be. She creates a map based on a VCR still. There is a fantasy about that, so that anybody can gather information from a fictional movie. She believes the red x on the map and that place with a treasure in Fargo exist. She makes a track northward towards Fargo, North Dakota. We filmed it, for logistic purposes, in and around the city of Minneapolis, which is a great city, with a lot of talented film crews that live there. One of the ways to do cheap productions, or to keep costs low, is to add as much local talent as possible. Besides us two brothers, we only brought Chris Ohlson (Producer), and Sean Porter (Director of Photography), and everybody else was all-local. Most of those in Japan were bi-lingual and they helped us make a naturalistic film, with an honest view of Tokyo. We had a local art designer and casting agent, people that could bring out what we were going for in the city. In Minnesota, the people we used were used to working and living in cold weather. Minneapolis is an urban city just like any other, with a lot of local filming talent, and just a 10-miles drive outside the city you are in the middle of nowhere, with great landscapes to film. Then, every night, they’d go home and sleep in their own beds, instead of bringing people all over the country. They were all great to work with. Now, the whole movie, up until the time when the girl gets on a ski lift, is set in reality, but from that point on she is getting closer to the dreamlike ending, so the ski lift kind of makes sense. David and I were born in Texas, and grew up in Colorado, so we have memories of snow, of beautiful dirty marks, especially after fall. And there’s something calming about how the lift’s seats sway and the air. It felt like a moment in the story that needed an interjection, with a postcard view of the wilderness, of serene nature, with a photographic view of the trees. Most of Minnesota up to that point was open, desolate streets and roads covered with snow drifting. Then suddenly, in the last part, the snow is much cleaner, whiter snow what you would see just when you wake up and you see a winter wonderland on a postcard or something like that. Everything is beautiful, and it’s a child’s view of what winter should be.
Faktorovich: Were you trying to make a similar point with this project to Cervantes’ Don Quixote, or that the quest for fantasies depicted in fiction can only lead to madness and ruin, or the opposite?
Nathan Zellner: That’s what’s so endearing about those types of stories, what we love about them. Dreams can lead to madness and ruin, but there is also something magical when people are passionate about something almost to the point of madness, driven by only one thing. We didn’t want to add an ending where she gave up on that dream because it was everything that she hoped for and believed in. There is a metaphor in that about how people attach themselves to things, and this can result in mad and ruin, but examining this obsession can be an interesting look into hopes and dreams. There are healthier ways to go after those types of things. But, there is also something hopeful for the audience, at least. The quest is doomed because the thing she is looking for doesn’t exist, but you want them to exist for her.
Faktorovich: When I started watching the film, I thought that there was a chance that the girl’s quest might have real basis because I hadn’t seen Fargo recently, and the grainy shots in the tape she found looked different from the shots she later saw in the DVD version of the film. For example, when he opens the briefcase at the beginning, there is only money and no blood. But, in later DVD shots, it’s a different shot with blood all over the place when he’s opening the briefcase. This seemed to suggest that somebody had made a tape similar to Fargo, but slightly different, and that they had hidden a treasure and left clues in their version of the film. Are all of the shots you used taken out of Fargo? Did you have any intention of convincing the viewer that the quest might have some basis in reality?
Nathan Zellner: All of the footage was from Fargo. During editing, we decided what to show and what not to show; the analog footage was much more degraded or glitchy, with muddy colors blurred together. People want to find a truth or a clue in something others wouldn’t believe in, in the process of filming some things are left in that are subconscious and unintended, and any interpretation of that is a credit. She does upgrade her image quality technically by getting a DVD, so she gets more information from that improved technology.
Faktorovich: If the production team finds a great location that doesn’t fit the events in the original script, do you edit the script to fit the location? Do you write the script after you know which locations you’ll use, or the reverse? What’s your script editing process like?
Nathan Zellner: Sometimes it’s about finding a location and saying, “Wow, this is great! We can utilize this.” There is one scene at the beginning of the film when she finds the film in a cave on the coast of Japan. We were doing a lot of research, and found out that there were these great volcanic coastlines, with amazing scenery, which suggested possible treasure hunt capabilities. So we utilized the coastline because it makes sense with the story, and now at the beginning of the film she’s on the beach in Japan. Location-hunting is all part of finding something unique and changing plans and rolling with it. You have to figure out how you can use things when you are short on funds, or when you’re trying to make a movie for little money.
Faktorovich: On the practical side, I wonder, how do you make money from independent filmmaking? In your Sundance interview you said that it was your eighth time at Sundance, but the first time that you competed. You have had a few successful films in the past, but which of these, or what type of work has made you the money you’ve used to live on and to keep investing in new film projects? In other words, if a film student hears that you’ve been to Sundance eight times before beginning to compete, he or she might be asking how you made a living for those eight years, and wondering if he or she would survive that long, or if he or she should try a more commercial approach that might put money in their pockets quicker. Is independent filmmaking a viable business? Would you recommend entering this business? Maybe you could give a general description of how the business has gone for you so far?
Nathan Zellner: It’s a very tough business. There’s not a lot of money in it, and it’s unreliable. The work is hard, so you have to surround yourself with people you trust and can rely on. It’s very hard to raise money for small projects. The smaller films we had at Sundance were all funded. From the artistic side, earlier projects taught us how to do a lot with a little. We learned about all aspects of filmmaking, and about the type of films we wanted to make. Eight years ago, we were making totally different movies; they are better now because they are based on our experience from working in independent film for so long. Our style has evolved. In the meantime, we’ve gotten jobs as editors, freelance work, worked for other companies. You have to find a way to make a living in the industry. There was a time when we filmed what doesn’t pay a lot, projects on a smaller scale, with not a lot of money coming in from the other end. Students should know that the beginning is an endurance test, with hardly any rest. Most who become successful have worked their way up through traditional studios, writing for other people, directing commercials, doing smaller projects. Only later do projects get a bit bigger, more lucrative or whatever. You have to know it’s something you have to be committed to for the long-haul. You can’t make a movie every day, but you can be writing, editing independently. Filmmaking is more than being on-set all day; it’s about figuring out how it all works. As long as you’re working towards a goal, such as making bigger films, it’s a good challenge.
Faktorovich: Was it difficult to import Bunzo, the rabbit, from Japan into America? Did you have to work with an animal trainer, or was he just acting like himself? How did the rabbit handle sitting in the Minnesota snow? Is it a type of rabbits that’s native to cold climates? Did it catch a cold? Did you do a lot of research before bringing the rabbit into the story, or was it just something you put in the script and then executed without challenges in your way? Was there a moment at the park, when Kumiko was screaming at the rabbit to run away, when he might have hopped away, or tried to? Did you have to find an especially sedate and relaxed (obese) rabbit for the part?
Nathan Zellner: For better or worse, we have a love for animals, so in one way or another they seem to creep into what we do. It’s a good idea to have no expectation for what the animal would do. They are amazing actors actually when they act naturally. If you try to make the rabbit do something, it won’t work out. So there are a lot of challenges during the casting process. We wrote the rabbit into the script from the beginning. People, who get attached to animals, can push a lot of emotions onto an animal that doesn’t really exist. They talk to the animal. They have this special relationship with the animal. We like that kind of a relationship because it says a lot about human nature. During the casting, we learned that the older a rabbit gets, the less cooperative it can be, the meaner. Also, some breeds are more docile and easier to use. The rabbit we found had to be 6 months or younger, so it was 3 months old. It just liked to hang out. It didn’t really move around a lot. It didn’t really want to run away. We just set up an environment where we hoped that it would perform appropriately, and it gave a great performance. We learned a lot about rabbit behavior when we’d pick some of them up, and they’d go berserk; some rabbits don’t like to be picked up or bothered or anything like that. When we filmed in the snow, there was somebody on-set who could keep the rabbit in her coat. The rabbit would hop around in the snow, and then she would pick it up and put it back in the coat; it wasn’t very wild.
Faktorovich: Your Goliath film was about a missing cat, so pets seem to be one of your favorite themes. Do you guys have a lot of pets; is one of you two Zellner brothers more of a pet-friendly person?
Nathan Zellner: We’ve always had tons of animals growing up: dogs, cats, fish, birds. Right now, my wife and I have a couple of dogs, a couple of cats. My parents have dogs and cats. Especially with cats, the cat adopts you. Sometimes they create a large litter, and then we have to give many of them away. Also, the older cats are feral and you can’t rally keep them. We’ve always had a close relationship with animals. In this film, we were creating a story of this woman, an outside, loner, so it makes sense that she has that sort of a connection with the animal. For that personality, the rabbit made more sense than a cat or dog; all animals have an inherent personality.
Faktorovich: You stated in the press kit that you used spherical lenses in Japan, and anamorphic lenses in Minnesota to create a contrast between the two. Did you use a digital or a non-digital camera with both spherical and anamorphic? The Red Camera’s website explains that anamorphic gives more resolution on non-digital film, and oval and otherwise unique lens flares and depth of field on digital. What are some of the specific differences you noticed between shooting on these two lenses that made the two places feel differently?
Nathan Zellner: We actually shot on digital camera, called Arri Alexa. They have been making film cameras, and recently started making a digital camera. We love the look of film, and would use it more if it was financially a viable option. It’s so expensive because of the price of the film, and because few companies develop film today. But, we also want to get away from the digital quality or feel that you see in some cameras, so we take extra care in choosing the lens we put on because the lens makes a huge difference when filming. So, we have auditions for different lenses. The Director of Photography, Sean examined different footage. The lenses he chose just had this nice warmth to them and feel to them. Spherical lenses were used in Japan, and with them everything looks a little bit more spherical in Japan, or a little bit more boxed in, with a natural quality to Tokyo and all the buildings. In Minnesota, we used a much wider lens, which captured more information, but it was squeezed into the shape on the glass, and this was great for widescreen images, and worked very well when we were in Minessota for the open landscapes. There is a subtle difference between the two. Lens glares are different, but most people won’t notice the shapes of the glares, or the technical change; its’ not jarring; you are just feeling a little bit more open about the world around you with spherical lenses.
Faktorovich: The award you won was U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Musical Score. From your information, you have previously worked with The Octopus Project on your award-winning and widely distributed 2013 film, Kid-Thing. They also live in your home-base city, Austin, Texas. What kind of directions did you give them to guide their scoring process? Did they also edit the sounds of nature (wind, water), or did they just add the score over the sound recordings you gave them from shooting on-location?
Nathan Zellner: One of the things we’ve always loved about film is how sound can enhance the story you are trying to tell. It is one of the most inexpensive tools, and it only takes time and a microphone. The Octopus Project has the tone that we were going for. We explained the process and gave them the cue to start, and they gave us a lot of sounds, clicks and elements that we needed. This way, the sound and the score kind of blend into each other. We were working on nature, then they came in and added stuff. Sometimes, listeners can’t tell the difference between the score and the ambiance, it’s kind of one thing in the film. This was what we were going for when we explained the project to them.
Faktorovich: Did The Octopus Project pick the music that played alongside the main score? Did they offer their songs instead of the more pop or Japanese songs that were included in the film?
Nathan Zellner: There were some parts in the movie that were going to have a specific song from the beginning, like a transition country western song, during the transition between Japan and Minnesota. We knew what we were going for and licensed tracks. We definitely showed the music we were going to use to The Octopus Project, and explained the tone. I don’t think they changed any of their score based on the other tracks that we used. Their normal music is more dancy, joyful, but at the same time they really speak the same language as our films. It was a good collaboration in that regard.
Faktorovich: Both of the films that The Octopus Project helped you with were not exactly a fit with “joyous party music” because of their glum subjects, and yet the story in Kumiko is lifted into a tragi-comedy in part because of sudden bursts of more upbeat music, out of darker notes. Can you explain how you think the music works well together with the style, genre, and mood of the film? It is clear that The Octopus Project is just brilliant at making musical scores, but maybe you can describe what it was like to work with them, and why, aside from their brilliance, you choose to work with them?
Nathan Zellner: It’s important for us to work with people with whom we are on the same page. They understood the tone we were going for, that it’s not a horror film, and that it has a complex tone, as it’s not straight comedy. There are things that are comedic and tragic, life is like that, with ups and downs, with complexity. We were editing as they were scoring. Traditionally, we would edit the whole thing and then they would score it. But, we work with sound and music together because we like having the ability to work on it all at the same time. There was a four-piece band, and two people were writing the musical score, all while we were editing the film. So we would finish editing a section of the film, and would go over to their studio on the other side of town to work with them on it there. Usually, we were not working in the same space, while trying to get things technically together by sharing what we were working on. Then, they’d go off in their studio, play with instruments, and sounds. Then, they would give it to us for editing, and we’d see what they have in sound, and would work with their audio, then give them notes. It was a collaboration. Usually, on a lot of films, the score doesn’t happen until later, after you’ve locked the picture, and stopped all editorial changes. But, we wanted sounds and images to work together.
Faktorovich: I recently saw Pacific Rim, and really liked that action science fiction blockbuster. However, I watched your entire film without realizing that your lead was the acrobatic supporting actress, Rinko Kikuchi, from Pacific Rim. Were you tempted to ask her to do some flips or gymnastics by editing these into the script, once you knew who your lead would be? You also mention in your press release that she is a sword fighter, motorcyclist, and horseback rider… none of these could be utilized? What about a pet horse, instead of a pet rabbit? And, did you have to work pretty hard to get her eyes to look that tired, in contrast with how she usually looks on the red carpet and in bigger budget films? Did she look tired because of the freezing cold? Did you ask her to sleep for only four hours a night? Were you at all tempted to have at least a few scenes where she wears tighter clothing? It’s wonderful to see a bit less flesh and more substance from a feminist perspective, but how can you resist moving towards the standard Hollywood formula that sexiness sells, when you are trying to make a living from filmmaking?
Nathan Zellner: That would essentially be a different film. In Hollywood, there is a place for that. While she’s very cute, for our film tight clothing would have been insincere, and it would have hurt the setup and the dynamic. The girl believes in a fantasy; if we made her into a fantasy type character, the story would be less believable, and the audience wouldn’t have been with her on the journey. She is a beautiful actress, with a striking face, and she is also surprisingly good with comedy, as well as physicality. When we cast her, we had to find a way to get past the language barrier, so there are a lot of moments when she’s by herself. We like characters who think, and the thinking process, and people who think about things and work through problems. It is important for actors to be able to emote things with their physicality, without her saying it with internal dialogue, where you would hear what is going on inside a character’s head; instead, we have a visual experience, where we see what she’s going through, without it being spelled out with monologue or dialogue.
Faktorovich: Why did you make Rinko Kikuchi your Executive Producer; what, practically, did she do in this role? I know you guys are actors too, and there are many actors (i.e. Woody Allen) who switch hats. But, I’m curious if she has any producing experience behind her, or if she helped with fund-raising, or organizing production in Japan, where you couldn’t speak the language, or if there were other reasons she was great in this job.
Nathan Zellner: We met her in 2008, and we filmed in the winter between 2012 and 2013. It wasn’t a long audition process; once we met her, we knew we had the same sensibilities, liked the same movies, and she was up for working in the snow. We made her Executive Producer because in independent filmmaking, the agents can add clauses to a contract during negotiations. We didn’t really have any say in it because she was instrumental for the film when she joined prior to us finding funding, and once we had her attached we could talk with people, and say, “Imagine this script with this actress in-place.” An executive producer is different from a regular producer; it’s given to somebody who just lent their names to a project, without having done a lot on it. The regular producer is on the ground, working out fundraising, and on the physical aspects of putting the film together, and the production process. The executive producer is somebody who has an association with the film, without actual doing producing work.
Faktorovich: How did you write a screenplay with such a large portion of it in Japanese? Did you write the whole thing in English, and then hire a translator to translate portions into Japanese? What if you had to edit the script while on-location in Japanese, if something changed, what did you do?
Nathan Zellner: We wrote it all in English, after doing a lot of research on Japanese culture. We had only been to Japan as tourists once. We don’t speak Japanese. The office lady culture still exists now-a-days, and we did a lot of research on that. The Japanese crew told us when something didn’t make sense, and we corrected it. They were great about giving us a lot of feedback. They were surprised at how close we got on a lot of things, like Kumiko’s relationship with her mother. We talked with Reiko about that; then, we changed some things to make her into a more stereotypical Japanese mom character-type.
Faktorovich: What were some of the challenges you faced with hiring cast and crew members in Japan? Did you have to trust a local filmmaker with many of these decisions?
Nathan Zellner: Most of the people we hired in Japan made a living from working in TV, which is more theatrical, louder, and the acting style is a bit broader. But, the kind of film we were making, actors had to be more natural in terms of their performances. This was an American project that they wouldn’t normally get to do, so we got a good international production services company, which provided a bi-lingual crew, so translation wasn’t as difficult as we were worried it would be.