Empty Your Cup

Sanj Surati and John Iwasz (the co-producers of KAISHAKUNIN, owners of this fine site, and the film’s sound man/editor and cinematographer, respectively) wisely suggested that we each keep copies of the footage we’ve shot.

So after hundreds of files, a few terabytes, and several hours later, I received an external hard drive filled with every take (and gaffe…few that they were) from the first two weekends of production.

Sanj handled the transfer — giving me the hard drive the same evening that he and I scouted a park which could serve as the location for the bulk of our exterior scenes.

(A brief aside: The location is a nonprofit-held and -maintained nature reserve with nearly 100 acres of undeveloped woods, a few creeks, many hiking trails, and a whole lot of promise for an indie film crew wanting to shoot a samurai ghost flick in a forest.

I spoke to the park’s ranger the other day about filming there, and he was enthusiastic. So I hope to have more news about our outdoor shoot in a month or two…)

Once Sanj and I finished our exploration, I headed home…the external drive safely strapped into the passenger seat beside me.

Here it was…four days of footage that would assemble into our interior scenes.

Here it was…the majority of the pages from my script, captured digitally.

Here it was…the initial results of my first attempt at directing.

And I couldn’t wait to watch.

As soon as I could, I plugged in the drive to my desktop and began to randomly select scenes. There was no way I could go through nearly 40 hours of shooting, but I did want to get a taste of what we accomplished.

Viewing turned into quite a surreal experience. I loved what I was seeing in the shots, in the performances, but from time to time, I was also seeing me in front of the camera — clapboard in hand, trying to call the scenes properly.

While the clapboard was the least sophisticated piece of equipment on set, I had never handled one prior to the first day of shooting. (Shockingly enough, we never used a clapboard at all for my first film, PAINKILLER.) I didn’t want to look like a novice…even though a novice was exactly what I was.

And that was the surreal part: Watching me doing all of this for the first time. Watching me grow more confident. Watching me learn.

The guy from the first take on June 11 was not the same guy from the last take on June 19. Gone was the guy who had wandered meekly in front of the camera, hoping that he didn’t make an ass of himself with a clapboard.

I was witnessing the evolution of a guy who had stretched far outside of his comfort zone — deciding to make his directorial debut with a B&W samurai ghost film he had written — and was beginning to find his way.

And it wasn’t just what I saw in the guy. It was what I heard off-camera. As the production went on, the guy’s voice became more and more assured when speaking to the cast and crew. It was developing more and more authority when calling “Action!” and “Cut!”

This guy didn’t sound skittish. He sounded like he was loving what he was doing.

And I was that guy.

I don’t mean to give the impression that I showed up on June 11 a nervous wreck and left on June 19 the master of all I surveyed. The change was probably subtle. The cast and crew may not have noticed any change at all.

Then again, the cast and crew may not have realized that on the very first day, I was intimidated. They knew what they were doing — in front of and behind the camera. I listened to some of their conversations slack-jawed because I did not quite comprehend the intricacies of lighting, lenses, sound, etc., etc.

Entering this situation, how could I not be nagged by self-doubt? Why would I — why should I — assume that these professionals would listen to a guy whose knowledge paled compared to theirs?

Fortunately for me, everyone involved was incredibly supportive and patient. After dealing with some real know-it-all douchebags on PAINKILLER (who, quite frankly, didn’t know jackshit and were too stupid to realize it), I was relieved to find that there were no egos on the KAISHAKUNIN set. The cast and crew explained the things I didn’t understand, answered my questions, took my direction, absorbed my ideas, and collaborated respectively.

In short, they taught me a lot, and their teaching gave a greater sense of certainty to this fledgling director.

I am grateful that I have learned so much from the people involved with KAISHAKUNIN, but I am also well aware that I’ve not learned everything I need to know.

Which brings me to the title of this post: empty your cup.

My experiences thus far remind me of a story of a Zen master sharing tea with a man who wishes to learn from him. (That seems only natural — considering that KAISHAKUNIN is set in feudal Japan, and most of the story involves one character serving tea to another.)

The man is already certain that he understands a great deal about Zen. The Zen master, listening to the man speak smugly about his knowledge, pours tea for the guest. But the Zen master doesn’t stop pouring. He pours the cup to the brim and keeps on pouring. The tea spills out of the cup and all over.

The man cries out, “Stop! The cup is overflowing! It can’t hold more!” To which the Zen master replies, “Your mind is like this cup. How can I teach you Zen when you think you know so much already? Before I can show you Zen, you must empty your cup.”

Put another way…once you think you know everything, you can learn nothing.

The KAISHAKUNIN production still has a long way to go. And every step of the way, I’ll be eager and willing to learn more.

I’ll be ready to empty my cup.

For now, please enjoy some of these stills from the first four days of shooting. They don’t necessarily represent the best moments — as I said earlier, I only sampled some of the files — but I do think they give the right vibe.

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