A Day in the Life of an Indie Film Producer: The Making of “Under the Blood Red Sun”

How a low-budget independent film set in World War II-era Hawai‘i comes together through a peek into producer Dana Hankins’ work diary.

The production team sometimes asked for help finding locations via Facebook.
Photo: Courtesy of Studio Red

 

Job

Coordinating details of an independent movie production, set in 1941, shot with a small budget requiring the period props, wardrobe and setting of World War II Hawai‘i.

• Editor Bob Bates makes picture revisions to scenes from 5 to 8 a.m., before he leaves for full-time job, then posts revisions on Vimeo for producer/director review.

• Bob makes daily 8:30 a.m. call to me while driving to work. Discuss, agree, argue, compromise. Rush through discussion of other editorial chores—music, visual effects, credits, titles, color correction, etc. Prep for his next call at 3 p.m.

• Director Tim Savage reviews same scenes, then calls with his comments, sometimes on his way in to full time job.  Repeat process: We discuss, agree, argue, compromise and review other post-production chores.

 

By the Numbers

Budget: Keep it under $500,000
Cast: 155, including background extras
Crew: 55 total (some only worked a couple days on set)
How long did it take to make the movie? 12 years to talk about it
How long did it take to shoot? 20 days, over 9 months
How long did it take to complete? 8 months to edit; one press of the button to release it

 

Photo: Courtesy of Red Sun Prods.

 

Getting it Right

In Scene 135, Mrs. Wilson brings a note to the Nakaji household saying that Papa Nakaji is being moved to Sand Island internment camp. Mama receives the note and tells Tomi (age 13 years) to read it. Tomi scans it quickly, says, “I can’t believe it” until Mama prompts Tomi again to “read it, Tomi.” I want to lose Tomi’s line as I like the pregnant pause without Tomi saying “I can’t believe it.” It’s an awkward moment with Tomi’s silence; it helps build suspense. Tim argues that we need to keep it not so much for the line itself but because we see a fraction of Tomi in the foreground (Mama in the background) and we see his chin move slightly so it would be weird without the line. After a few phone calls discussing it and reviewing the footage, we decide to keep the line but reduce it to a mumble in the sound mix to get the best of both.

 

Shot on digital video—about 6 TB.
Photo: Courtesy of Red Sun Prods.

 

9 a.m.

Phone call with Hyperspective Studios, via computer-screen sharing, to review the production footage that we’ve given to them and discuss how Tim planned for the Visual Effects of the Japanese Zeros to be added to the footage. We’re asked to select and approve computer-simulated model footage of Zero planes; I reach out to historian Burl Burlingame at the Pacific Aviation Museum to make sure we have right plane, right model, right coloring, etc.

 

 
Photo: Courtesy of Red Sun Prods.

 

Burl mentions that he’s building a 1/6 model-size radio-controlled Japanese Zero that he’s flight-testing on Ford Island. I ask permission to send Tim and DP/cameraman Shawn Hiatt over to record the test to possibly use as a cutaway in the movie or as reference material. Check how does it fly, what camera motion looks best, how does it look in sun or in clouds?

 

9:30 a.m.

Send list of to-do items to assistant editor to prep reels for the dialog editor (he cleans up the audio tracks) and go back into the volumes of footage shot in November and February and May—to find footage Band-Aids for anything missing or stuff that we want to cheat in for different scenes, etc.

 

10 a.m.

Discuss details for our preview screenings with the Pacific Historic Parks–WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument and the Pacific Aviation Museum. Invite list, cast Q&A, author/screenwriter attendance, will their bookstores have the 20th Anniversary Edition on hand from Random House, along with the author’s brand-new book for middle school readers.

 

The film required 684 pieces of wardrobe.
Photo: Courtesy of Mardi Savage

 

Need to make sure our special production partners in the 100th Battalion Veterans Club and the 442nd are included in the appropriate screenings. Feeling overwhelmed with emotion that the Sept. 20 screening will be held as an outdoor Movie in the Park on the great lawn at the Pearl Harbor Visitors Center, overlooking the USS Arizona and USS Missouri. This little movie has come a long way and we’re honored and humbled to be associated with such august company.

 

11 a.m.

Phone call with teacher/educator to research how movie will be used in classrooms. Good news—used to compare storytelling differences between book and movie. Girls like the book. Bad news—boys sluggish to read the book, say first half of book is too slow.

 

Today’s crew

Tim Savage, director (Day job: director of media at New Hope Oahu)
Bob Bates, editor (Day job: restaurant manager at Uncle’s Fishmarket)
Dana Hankins, producer (Day job: independent producer/juggler)
Shawn Hiatt, director of photography/cameraman (Day job: cinematographer)
Kyler Sakamoto,  actor (character Tomi Nakaji)(Day job: high school student)
Kalama Epstein, actor (character Billy Davis) – (Day job: high school student)

 

11:30 a.m.

Phone call with producer of Behind the Scenes segment. Need to limit the approach to what we can achieve in 8 weeks. That means focus on writer, director, talent—leaving out important productionpartners of cameraman, editorial, stylist(s), me (producer)—to interest key 8-13 year-old audiences. Schedule talent interviews and remember to run them through quick interview prep for the upcoming screening Q&A sessions and the media interviews. Include short history lesson, so everyone remembers: WW II, Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941, etc.

 

Noon

Ask author/screenwriter Graham “Sandy” Salisbury to revisit discussion of whether the movie version can benefit from a voice-over narration to bookend (the beginning and the end) of the movie. Discuss how the narration works in Stand By Me and what we would do differently.

Talk with team, including cameraman Shawn Hiatt, about a day of shooting on July 30. We need a couple small pick-ups of footage we missed getting or needs to be replaced in the edit.

 

 
Photo: Courtesy of Daniel Bailey

 

Continuity Counts

We agree to shoot Scene 27 for the third time. The first time, it was scheduled for the middle of a day in November, but we ran late so we shot it at dusk. Realizing that we couldn’t cut from dusk Sc 27 to broad sunny daylight Sc 28, we planned a reshoot day in February, when we stood around waiting for the period car—central to the scene—which didn’t show up because the owner had pneumonia.

We’ve tried everything—color correction of the footage, moving the scene to another day in the picture timeline. Nothing works. Now we have to re-create the scene 8 months after we originally shot it. Characters Tomi and Billy have grown in 8 months, as 13-year-old boys do: we see it in their faces, their height/weight. We must get their hair cut in the same style again to downplay any differences. Tomi has his braces (Invisalign) back on, which we asked his parents to take off for filming and don’t dare ask that again. We need the period car, the period wardrobe, the period hairstyles, etc. and have to make sure that the temperament and performances of this third time works with what we’ve now selected.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Mardi Savage

 

1:30 p.m.

We also have to find great baseball player doubles for the July shoot day. Our boys are tremendously talented, but not so much in baseball, so we need a great curve-ball pitcher to double for Billy and a fast catcher to double for Tomi. DP Shawn Hiatt has connections to Little League so we reach out to find players who can double and help us get a few good baseball shots. Shots of boys in baseball gear. If there are stand-ins with actors, that could be good.

 

2 p.m.

Also need to confirm another day of filming at Hawai‘i Plantation Village, a key location for us. For them, another day of disruption, with cameras and cables and lights, while they continue their daily tours. Also, have to handle small portion of shoot day at the field/park next to Hawai‘i  Plantation Village, where we shot a couple of baseball scenes. The park is base for a vagrant population and I may need to call HPD again to keep it clear and safe for my young cast.

 

2:30 p.m.

Email production stylist Amos Kotomori, now in Thailand, to borrow some key period props—his butsudan (a Buddhist altar or cabinet)—that we need for the shoot. The team will have to dig through racks of wardrobe and boxes of props, all stored at director Tim Savage’s house —in order to pull everything that we need for the July shoot date.

 

Photos: Courtesy of Daniel Bailey

 

Need  to reinforce the request for some “wondrous” pigeon shots to add to the first half of the movie. The pigeons, kept by the Nakaji family, play a huge part in the story and need to be elevated into something bigger than we’ve shown. Cam Datanagan, animal wrangler, supplied great-looking birds and showed us what they do and how to film them but we’ve cut too much out of that footage in the first half. Need more.

 

 
Location: Old Pali Road.
Photo: Courtesy of Mardi Savage

 

3:15 p.m.

Remind Tim to check in with music composer Chris Sanders; it’s his first time composing a score for a feature-length film. It was a huge leap for some of us to trust someone with whom we had no history on a key element of the film. But he did a great job scoring a 17-minute preview in May for the Hawai‘i Book and Music Festival.

 

3:30 p.m.

Talk with graphic designer Jess Johnston on ideas for the poster image. Sent him other young-adult film posters that are releasing in these next few months but all campaigns have big-name stars attached or big special-effects scenes. Not sure any of those designs nor marketing plans relevant for design for our movie.

 

4:30 p.m.

Got a call from director Dave Rosen about another film project The Fishing Club, (cast includes Kealii Reichel and Robert Kekaula) to be released in September at the Honolulu International Film Festival. It’s based on a short story, written by Catherine Tarleton for the Honolulu Magazine Annual Fiction Writing Contest some 15 years ago.

 

Photo: Courtesy of Daniel Bailey

 

Coloring the Sky

After our first round of color adjusting the film, I’m nervous. When the team added some sunrise colors to the sky in the attack scene, so much pink and purple showed up in the sky on my Retina display that I’m afraid our film will look like Under the Light-Lilac Sky. We need to calibrate the right mix since the movie will be streamed on a variety of notebooks, Nooks, iPads, computer monitors, where we can’t control the quality of the display.

 

8 p.m.

Thinking we need to add some kind of apologia to the movie credits.  We’ve had wonderful resourceful advisers but we’re a low-budget movie shooting on an island in the middle of the Pacific. We’ve had to substitute while striving to be as historically accurate as possible. (Our military jeep wasn’t on island in 1941, our gas mask is from the Korean War, our “kerosene” can looks a lot like a container to fuel a BBQ. )We’re not trying to trick anyone, but making do with what we could find and afford. Yes, apologia is a good idea.

 

9 p.m.

Last entry of day:

Get more sleep…

 

See the movie

Release date Sept. 14 online at underthebloodredsunmovie.com
Sept. 14 showing at the Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island
Sept. 20 showing  at the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument