new movie Yamasong:
March of the Hollows - in a few words, what is it about?
March of the Hollows is about discovering a new world and seeing
through anotherís eyes. Learning to understand the Other. This is a theme that
began in the short film and the audience is literally thrown into a fantasy
without explanation. Now with the feature, we return to the world thatís
in peril. Once we set up
the backstory, we jump in to save paradise from being overrun by machines! And itís the
outcasts and misfits that do the saving!
I don't think it's too wild a guess saying that Yamasong:
March of the Hollows is somehow based on an earlier short of
yours, Yamasong - so how closely are these two films connected, and
what made you want to return to the world of Yamasong?
Yes, the two main characters Nani and Shojun meet by
accident in the short film. The feature basically picks up weeks or a month after
the short. The two met, had a short adventure, developed a bond, and were forced back to
their former lives. Nani is trapped back in the Prison Moon and Shojun back on the shores where
he fishes. It could almost be considered an answer to the shortís ďDid this meeting actually
happen?Ē And the answer is given in the feature film - ďYES!Ē
I didnít think Iíd ever get to explore this world
again. I shopped it around L.A. for a while, hoping to get a series or movie, but the
response was bleak. ďItís too artsyĒ ďItís not mainstreamĒ ďItís not a reboot
or remake of a beloved 80s TV showĒ So I shelved it until the fortunate
day when I met Sultan Saeed
Al Darmaki, my future producer, who loved the short film and wanted to make the
sources of inspiration when writing Yamasong:
March of the Hollows?
I love a lot of Hayao Miyazakiís animated films,
Mononoke. Some of the visual inspiration comes from Japanese
woodblock artists like Yoshitoshi, and classic comic art by Jack Kirby. I vividly
remember Jim Hensonís Dark Crystal from my childhood and that dark Brian Froud style.
I love Star Wars and
Star Trek, so the sci-fi inspiration comes from those
stories, as well as
Doctor Who. And the epic quality of my stories reflects Lord of the
So itĎs all of these
influences rolled into one big sushi puppet film!
Basic question, why
puppets? And did you ever consider going all digital for Yamasong:
March of the Hollows?
I never considered all digital. The real love here is
for the puppets! Thereís a magic here that I think is rather untapped. There are a lot
of assumptions about puppets, and disrespect for the artform. I wanted to make
March of the Hollows to show people just how AMAZING puppetry can be, together with digital
What are the main
challenges but maybe also advantages of making a movie with an all puppet
First, you find no divas among puppets. They do what
you tell them - LOL! In puppetry thereís a joke about ďmeat puppetsĒ, in other
words living actors, which I donít often work with. But for those familiar with shooting puppet film,
the puppets can be challenging. They only do certain things. What makes working with puppets
fulfilling, in part, is when you have such super talented puppeteers that can make them do
flips, or fight, or complicated choreography, DESPITE the limited construction of the
puppet. These artists are magicians that bring these inanimate characters to life. And thatís
the real joy for me to witness, as the director.
What can you tell us about your overall
directorial approach to your story at hand?
Generally I start with a few sketches. Concepts or
ideas on paper. Then I stare at the paper. Listen to music. And stare a lot, until I
start to see a world and characters emerging from the page. Then I start writing some situations
or dialogues. Then I go back to sketching. Eventually I get inspired enough that
I start sculpting character heads. Then writing some more, connecting all the separate chunks
As the shoot approaches, I storyboard A LOT! I find
storyboards are key to communicating the camera direction, composition and action
of the story to all the departments. And then I let the performers do their jobs
- and give them my trust they understand what the shot calls for and how to make those
puppets move in this imaginary world. Then I become the audience and enjoy
the show as we record
also responsible for production and character design on Yamasong:
March of the Hollows - so do talk about your designs and their
inspirations for a bit!
Iíve been drawing forever! My mom has sketches from
when I was 5 or 6 years of dinosaurs, superheroes and monsters. Once I saw
Star Wars, I was crazy about that fantastic universe - especially the droids, spaceships and
Wookies. And comic books
- those were a big inspiration too and my connection to the outside
world. I grew up in the countryside looking up at the stars at night and wondering
whatís out there. So I spent a lot of time making up alien races and
assigning them to worlds
around distant suns. I guess Iím still doing that, and also infusing
them with both a feudal
Japanese and steampunk quality. I donít feel like I have a specific
style, but many may disagree. I
just havenít solidified it in a way
that would make it a formula. I hate formulas! The funny thing is when I was
living in Japan, people called my art ďAmerican-style.Ē When I make art here in
the U.S., people call it ďJapanese-style!Ē I canít win! LOL!
So what can you tell us about
the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
I love the energy of a shoot! Itís intense and
focused. You assemble a pro team of artists with a razor sharp goal and you dive in! Iíve
been working with this same team, on and off, for five or six years, so we have
developed a kind of short hand for making the magic happen. Itís still
puppets, so that can
make things slow, but when we get those shots, especially the hard ones,
we celebrate! Itís paying
adults to play with action figures, and we love it! Iíve been told I
make a sandbox and invite some
of my favorite people to come and play for a few days or weeks. Itís
hard work but such a
March of the Hollows, you have assembled quite a stellar voice
cast - so do talk about your voice actors a bit, and why exactly them? And
how did you get them even?
Let me just say the voices we got were thanks to my
producers at Dark Dunes
Productions. They gifted me with all these super-talented
voices, starting with Malcolm McDowell, who had previously been in Sultanís film
vs. Monsters. After a few voices, it just snowballed and got bigger!
The $64-question of course,
where can your movie be seen?
March of the Hollows is now available
on VOD and DVD. Itís also playing in select theaters through MyCinema and
(where you request the film to your local cinema). I know for sure itís on
iTunes and Amazon worldwide. Iím very excited - it just launched!
Anything you can tell us
about audience and critical reception of Yamasong:
March of the Hollows?
Itís been very well-received! The reviews are
overwhelmingly positive and people have been very curious about it. I think once people
hear more and more about it, and then find it and watch it, theyíll be really
impressed by the world of Yamasong:
March of the Hollows! We premiered it at Atlanta Film
Festival last year and
had a reception at the Atlanta Center for Puppetry Arts afterward. People
had so many questions
and comments about the movie. I hope this enthusiasm continues to grow and grow, as there are
more stories Iíd like to tell!
Any future projects you'd
like to share?
In my free time, I work on my Kickstarter short film Monster of the Sky. I got the funding just a few months before I started contract
negotiations for Yamasong:
March of the Hollows. And that took me 3-4 years to complete,
so Iím hoping to circle back and finish up Monster of the Sky, as
I have backers waiting for it!
I have a couple other projects Iím hoping to get off the ground, all
puppets with digital enhancement
March of the Hollows. Of course, the pie-in-the-sky dream is to have 2 or 3 shows all running at
once, right? I also produce puppet
short films for Ibex Puppetry, called the Handmade Puppet Dreams series.
We make 2-3 films a year
which are distributed by Jim Henson Company. Every year is a different group of
directors, so we end up with an amazing variety of artistsí work through
puppets! Iím working
to advance the art of puppetry one film and filmmaker at a time.
From what I know, you entered the
filmworld as a visual effects artist - so what can you tell us about that
aspect of your career, and did you receive any formal training on the
I actually started as an illustrator, trained at
Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Did some digital art then, learned Photoshop,
Illustrator, etc. When I moved to LA, there was more work for visual effects, so started
working in that field. I worked for years in stop-motion animation doing VFX and
cleanup. Iím mostly self-taught from books and instructional videos like
Creative Cow. I
naturally started thinking about ways to bridge both the world of puppets
and VFX, as Iím
experienced in both.
What made you want to branch out into directing
I thought Iíd go in to producing at first. And I am
a producer of short films for Heather Hensonís company Ibex Puppetry, producing close to
20 short films. But early on when I was writing, building, puppeteering and producing with
a directing partner, I found I wasnít able to tell the stories fully. I hate to say it, but I had
one bad partner that inspired me to branch off on my own. I needed to direct to
realize my style and vision. It was when I got to direct the Yamasong short film for Heather, that I
finally got to express the full story in my head. And that experience gave
me the confidence that I
could be a director!
What can you tell us about your filmwork
prior to Yamasong:
March of the Hollows, in whatever position?
I worked for years at Chiodo
from a production assistant all the way up to production manager. Theyíre the guys
that made Killer Klowns from Outer
Space, Critters, and made the puppets for Team
America. Working for them I got to touch a lot of movie and TV pilots, commercials, many with live
puppets, stop-motion animation, mixed media and costume creatures. I worked in VFX for a
Disney Jr. show called Bite-Sized Adventures of Sam Sandwich and the
Amazon show Tumble Leaf, a Disney XD show called
Team Smithereen, and digital art director for Annoying
Orange on Cartoon Network. I got to help design the studio for
Annoying Orange, which was
exciting to be on the ground level of a show, but discovered in time that production was
underfunded and artists overworked. I left after a season, carrying my experience
in management and as a creative with me to start doing my own stuff, with aspirations of
forming an artist-friendly studio. That is my current evolving company
called Mighty Pug Studio.
I produced the original Yamasong
short under this name and look
forward to making more
puppet adventures through this studio!
would you describe yourself as a director?
It may be clichť, I hate using the term, but I have
ďvisionĒ. Literally the imagery in my head that I have to get out. Itís the vehicle of
puppets that has allowed me that full range of idea expression. Iím a director that can
create a new reality thatís different and fresh. Tell stories that can be adventurous and
explore deep ideas, without being heavy-handed. I also hope people will
remember me as being
generous in sharing the creative process. The good director can only
direct well if he has a
crew he can trust, and I try to nurture that.
effects artists, whoever else who inspire you?
I really appreciate the artistry of film prior to the
rise of digital. Limitations forced artists to be creative and to problem-solve. When you
set up shots, you had to get them right because there wasnít a such thing as ďfix it in
post.Ē Not everything was inside a monitor with virtual sliders and nodes and keyframes.
You had to physically handle the objects and work out solutions in the
I have a soft spot for Jim Henson and his team of
artists - the people who created the worlds of Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and
The Storyteller. But I also see the use for new technologies, like Jim Henson or
George Lucas, who pioneered early digital effects. I just feel the
pendulum has swung too far in the
direction of digital, and Iíd like through my work to bring back
practical effects. I appreciate when filmmakers show their love for
effects like Sam Raimi, Guillermo Del Toro, Spike
Jonze and others.
Too many to list! Many of Hayao Miyazakiís animated
films. Also Satoshi Kon. Classic Kurosawa movies. Really digging the work
of directors like Taika Waititi, Tarsem Singh (The Fall), Guillermo Del Toro, Alfonso
Cuaron, and Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer). Dark Crystal and Empire Strikes
Back will always be old favorites. And anything with time travel - I LOVE
... and of course, films you really
I hate films done by formula. Thereís a book out
there thatís kinda a bible for writing stories Ė I think Spike Jonzeís
made fun of that book, and Hollywood mentality of cookie cutter storytelling. Remakes and reboots
drive me nuts! Oh, and stories made by committee. I prefer a smaller team of artists and the
indie spirit of storytelling and story-making.
Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
Best place to find me is Instagram at samkojihale. You can also follow the
March of the Hollows Facebook page at YamasongOfficial as
well as Dark Dunes
Productions announcements at
Darkdunesproductions.com and their
Twitter Page DarkDunesFilms
Anything else you're dying to mention and I have
merely forgotten to ask?
I really have to plug the Yamasong:
March of the Hollows music. Everything
started with the original song Yamasong and then expanded in the feature, created
by my friend Shoji Kameda and his group On Ensemble. Itís so cool and a blend of
Asian instruments, throat singing, all kinds of percussion and modern western
instruments. Iím a big fan!
I also have to thank my puppeteers, the unsung,
invisible force that breathes life into the characters, and my director of
photography, Alex Griffin, for his talent, his eyes and his expertise. Couldnít do
this without them!
Thanks for the interview!