For my debut short film, Red Skies at Night, I cast the lead role of Flower, with Japanese pop star Shizuka Nishida.
Please understand, casting a Japanese pop star in the lead surprised no one on my team. I wrote the role for a Japanese pop star on Day 1, page 1.
The reason is simple – the first film I worked on, almost a decade ago, was a Japanese-US movie, Haunted Highway, directed by Junichi Suzuki. But for a Japanese director coming to LA and showing me the way into Hollywood, I would have no film career.
So, when I became a Director, I wanted to repay Japan by casting the lead role of my film with a Japanese actress. I wanted to create a genius and special role, not simply “person X” standing with famous Hollywood actor Y and Z. And since my niche has become international film, having cast from different countries was not a hurdle, it was a hype.
Thus, Flower was born, and off we went. The search for Flower in Japan lasted a year, and ended with Shizuka Nishida. The perfect Flower.
Shooting Red Skies was am amazing but very, very difficult experience, probably the least amount of sleep in a two week period of my life.
We had four days to shoot, and we lost our set location on day two. On top of that, our Japanese friends came to set from Tokyo, their sleep cycles were nowhere close to an LA time zone yet. I didn’t sleep, but neither did anyone on the Japanese side. We had four or five languages spoken on the set at any given time, very little money in terms of a real film budget, and only four days to shoot.But we all worked hard, had fun, and when the dust settled, we created a movie that we love.
So now the point of this. Shizuka — pop star turned movie star.
Rule 1 – When I hire anyone for a film team, any actor, producer, DP, anybody – I make them promise they will give the movie 150%. I don’t add ANYONE onto a film who does not agree to that, no matter how famous, rich or important they are. Movie comes first, over all, or goodbye.
As the story goes, Shizuka agreed to give 150% effort to Red Skies at Night.
But Shizuka did not do that.
Shizuka gave 700% effort to to Red Skies at Night.
Shizuka’s performance was magical, that’s the only word that comes to mind. When you see Ave Maria and the other scenes intros film, you will understand.
One advantage to working with a professional singer, is that their “ear” is highly trained to hear even slight differences in intonation and rhythm in the dialogue. So, while the Flower dialogue is not extensive, Shizuka speaks English well, and every Flower voice and voice-over is actually Shizuka speaking English. True, it would have been easy to overdub Shizuka’s voice, but I never want to overdub a Japanese actor to be in a Hollywood movie. I want the actor’s real voice.
So, we made recordings of the Flower dialogue, and sent it to Shizuka while she was on tour in Japan with Exile and/or Egirls.
No one can learn English or Japanese in a few weeks, but Shizuka arrived in LA on set with her dialogue pretty close to perfect, and adjustments were easy and fast to make. The Flower experiment worked, I will expand the concept in the feature.
I could not be happier with my section of Flower for my first film.
I am profoundly grateful to LDH and Shizuka, for the honor to have Shizuka play Flower in Red Skies at Night.
Shizuka is a dynamite performer, I give Shizuka an A+ for talent, dedication and effort, and I will highly recommend Shizuka for the cast of any other movie, US or Japan.
2017 UPDATE – Red Skies at Night is now called FLEUR, and is in post-production in Italy. The movie will be completed in April 2017. Visit the new FB page here.