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Making my first documentary – Tanaka Kyokusho: a bamboo artist

Before YouTube existed I made DVDs. These DVDs were made up of a collection of videos — I’d generally consider them complete when I’d made enough content to fill 30 minutes.

I might start off with some time lapses, then some rollerblading set to music, maybe a couple of travel videos, an interview with somebody, and a guest spot. I also made a couple of DVDs that exclusively showcased trips that I’d taken to China and Thailand respectively.

One day my dad said to me, “Dave, those videos are funny and I enjoy them, but if you want to be a journalist why don’t you try making a documentary? You could do one on your bamboo teacher.”

He was, of course, referring to Tanaka Kyokusho, the celebrated bamboo artist who had taught me every Monday when I lived in Tokyo.

I’d since moved to Osaka, but my father’s suggestion was a solid one so I grabbed my gear — consumer-grade video camera, flimsy tripod designed for stills cameras, and a handful of tapes — and jumped on a Tokyo-bound bullet train.

I had no idea what I was doing, but I learned so much in actually getting outside my comfort zone and actually doing the thing that I claimed I wanted to get paid for doing.

I shot hours and hours of footage — including interviews — and I had to digitise it all in real-time, playing it at regular speed as I captured the vision and saved it onto an external hard drive plugged into my laptop.

This was a good opportunity for me to log all of my shots as the footage was ingested.

I had so much footage that it was a bit overwhelming. How did I structure this story? Where did I start?

Over the following months, I lay the footage on my timeline and worked out a rough order and an even rougher script.

I really struggled with this stage and now it’s all a bit of a blur, but I went through some old emails that I sent to my video mentor that give a taste of my frustration.

“I have taken a technical break and i am currently trying to get the skeleton worked out.. I have put the major parts down, cut out the crap and I am working out a basic order now…”

“had a few major structural changes which I am now doing… lots of work! but nothing on yours. I only have 5/6 hours of vision to go through.”

I ended up going into some bamboo groves near Osaka to get some shots for the opening montage and then I felt I was ready to record the narration and get this video finished.

Then I could start burning the DVDs and sending them out around the world. It was played at the AGM for the premier bamboo society in New Zealand and another in the US. But, more importantly, Tanaka Kyokusho loved the documentary — he told me it surpassed his expectations — and he used it at a number of events in Japan and the US to celebrate 100 years of the family bamboo business.

And now that YouTube exists, I’ve uploaded it there too. Enjoy!




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