Ryuhei Kitamura, Director of MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, VERSUS, & DOWNRANGE [Episode 52]
Ryuhei Kitamura is a Japanese director of such movies as Versus, Clive Barker’s Midnight Meat Train, No One Lives, Downrange, and the Mashit segment of Nightmare Cinema.
Ryuhei’s director origin story is pretty inspiring - when making his feature debut, Versus, he went through a brutal series of hardships but still managed to pull off an extremely impressive movie, loaded with highly complex zombie fight sequences and gore gags.
One of the things that stands out in Ryuhei’s career history is his relentlessness. Throughout his career, a multitude of things kept not working out, but he relentlessly pushed on and on until he became the director he is today. Overall, Ryuhei’s story is a true tale of pioneering filmmaking, and he claims that one of the main things that got him through the challenges was his Samurai spirit, which we hear more about, as well as very entertaining stories about how much boldness can pay off as well as details about Ryuhei’s collaboration with Clive Barker. All of this and so much more on this episode of The Nick Taylor Horror Show.
Here are some key takeaways from this conversation with Ryuhei:
- Blame yourself. At his lowest point, when nothing was working out and Ryuhei could have blamed producers, actors, and the Hollywood system Ryuhei instead blamed himself. This was actually an act of self-empowerment, which enabled him to pull himself up by his bootstraps and make things happen because he knew nobody was coming to save him. When things go wrong, it’s human nature to find things to blame it on, but instead, Ryuhei’s story is a reminder to take full responsibility. Hollywood is a fickle beast, loaded with liars, sharks, and parasites. When the chips are down, take the blows, learn the lessons, get back up, and take ownership of all of it. The system owes you nothing; you have to fight for every inch you get.
- Be willing to throw it all away. This is an extremely hard lesson, but on Versus, after spending tens of thousands of dollars that he raised from friends and family, Ryuhei looked at what he had shot and realized it wasn’t good enough. This led him to scrap 80% of the footage he spent months on grueling sets shooting. This is heartbreaking but an inevitable part of the journey. Yes, your material will never be perfect, but regardless of how hard you work on something or how much money you spent on it if the quality isn’t there, it’s time to scrap it and start over. You’ll have to live with each and every frame of your movie for your entire life, so you really can’t afford to put out anything that you’re not happy with.
- Make outrageous demands, and you’ll be surprised how often you get what you want. After talking to enough directors, I realized that movies are made up of a bunch of mini-miracles, and you have to believe they’re possible first. After shooting Versus on a shoestring budget, Ryuhei boldly approached one of the top editors in Japan and asked him to edit his movie for free. The guy laughed at him at first, but Ryuhei’s conviction persuaded him to do it. This substantially boosted the quality of Versus and put Ryuhei on the map, and he was eventually able to pay the guy back. To make a movie is literally to do the impossible with limited time and on a limited budget; often, the only thing that will get your movie made properly is your own boldness and determination to make the impossible possible. This means you have to be bold and make some preposterously outrageous demands, and when you do, you may be surprised how often people say yes. Despite the fact that Hollywood can be rough, don’t forget there are angels as well as demons. You’d be surprised at how often people in the industry want to help filmmakers out because they all know how difficult the job is. This is both a matter of getting out of your comfort zone and also believing in the power of possibility. So if you identify an opportunity like this, ask for it, the worst they can do is say no.
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