We knew location scouting for KAISHAKUNIN would be a challenge. It’s set in feudal Japan. Recreating a period look and feel is a challenge for any project and doubly so for a low budget production. An authentic tea house was ruled out early in preproduction. Philadelphia isn’t exactly known for ancient Japanese architecture.
We contacted the only authentic location we could find at the time and quickly found they were out of our budget. Shofuso in Fairmount Park wanted $4,000 a day. We estimated four days of shooting putting us at a grand total of $16,000 – a stunning location with a stunning price tag far out of our modest reach.
We anticipated having to construct a set – not an easy or inexpensive prospect, but certainly less than $16,000. The location shifted to a tavern. If we couldn’t build out a set we would have to revisit the script or even change the genre to something that could be done with obtainable locations. Maybe we would be shooting a mob film instead or move the story into a post apocalyptic feudal state and shoot in a warehouse.
There and Back Again
While at the Fantastic Horror Film Festival in San Diego last year we had a conversation with Matt Chassin, a friend of ours and talent manager. He put us in touch with the parents of one of his clients, Rory Nicole, who pointed us to Gessha in York, PA. It took us a trip out to San Diego to find a viable tea house location within driving distance of Philadelphia.
We contacted Todd Frey, the owner, and had an initial visit a few months ago to see if the location is a good fit for the story and if Todd would be open to have a film shot on his property. Todd uses the house to give tea ceremony demonstrations. None of us had participated in an authentic tea ceremony and were happy we took him up on it.
Watches and clocks were discouraged and the passage of time became immaterial as we focused on the tradition and manners. Todd is well-versed in the practice and will be officiating a tea ceremony at Dai Bosatsu Zendo Kongo-ji celebrating the 40 year anniversary of its founding.
The location proved to be better than we had hoped. The space accommodates six people and the tea master. It’s just enough to film a dramatic conversation between two people and fit camera equipment and a director of photography (yours truly). There’s no room for a boom pole, so lavalier mics it is.
In retrospect, the tavern we were envisioning would not have worked as well. It would have been an open space hard to fill with two people. The ambiance fits the story perfectly with the paper window shades, natural wood and bamboo mats. Gessha is almost another character in and of itself.
Tea House Revisited
Last weekend, we returned to Gessha one last time prior to filming. Introducing our actors to the location ahead of the shoot would help them get in the minds of their characters, the setting and the time period.
Todd thoughtfully offered to do a tea ceremony designed to honor samurai. Of course, Michael Bird was the honored guest as he’s playing the traveling ronin. Jeffrey Swisher got a sense of the manners and motions of offering tea and Mae Claire got a feel for the location where she will be channeling a spirit in a dramatic scene.
We finalized our shooting dates for June 11-12 and 18-19 and took opportunity to film a crowd funding video. Coming up in early June, we’ll be launching a crowd funding effort and hope you contribute, share it or both.