True Story Sort of

The woman paused on the path, her dog loyally stopping by her side.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“We’re making a samurai film,” I answered.

She looked past me, past our crew, past our camera, to the man standing on the large rock in the middle of the creek. He was wearing geta, gi, hakama, and kasa, and swinging a katana.

“Yeah,” she said, “I figured that much.”

The above is a true story. Or is it? A woman definitely did ask us what we were doing in the forest. But was she walking a dog or jogging? Did she speak to me or someone else? Do those details really matter? Do they change the story at all?

Those types of questions are at the heart of KAISHAKUNIN. As the film unfolds, an old man tells a samurai the legend of a haunted forest. Through a series of flashbacks, we see what the old man saw — the supernatural occurrences he experienced. Or did he? How much of memory is accurate? How much is embellished? And who decides what is fact and what is fiction?

Here are some facts.


On September 10, cast and crew assembled at McKaig Nature Education Center to shoot the majority of the exterior scenes that will serve as the flashbacks mentioned above. Weather was cooperative, the good folks at McKaig even more so, and after a grueling day, we left the woods with some amazing footage.

We began shooting at approximately 9:00 a.m.

We arrived at 8:00 a.m.

At 9:30 a.m., a hornet stung the top of my head.

At 9:31 a.m., I screamed curses at the heavens, danced about with a complete lack of dignity, swatted the buzzing bugger (Ha! Bugger! Get it?) from my hair, stomped him into the mud, and fled before his friends could exact revenge.

I spent the rest of the day fishing ice from our cooler of bottled water, wrapping the ice in paper towels, and pressing the makeshift ice pack against my burning skull. (OK, it wasn’t exactly APOCALYPSE NOW conditions, but still…ow.)

I also spent part of the day cutting the action or holding takes when joggers, dog walkers (and dog walkees), hikers, Boy Scouts, and families got too close. Most of them eyed us with friendly curiosity, many greeted us before continuing on their way, and a few stopped to chat for a minute or two.

We called it a day at approximately 6:00 p.m., having shot a half-dozen scenes with four characters — five, if you count the forest itself. McKaig most definitely added a great deal of character to the film.

Shooting at McKaig was like being a kid in a candy store (pardon the cliché). The tough part wasn’t finding places to set up shots; the tough part was deciding which areas to skip. The woods were a treasure trove. We fell in love with gnarled trees, bone-white branches, rotted logs (one housing a nest of ornery hornets…you already know how that turned out), and rock formations settled upon clear creeks.

Here I’ll give McKaig a plug. If you can get to Wayne, Pennsylvania, you really should pay McKaig a visit. It’s beautiful. And it’s run by a nonprofit organization to which we gave a donation for treating us so well and helping us so much.

I’d especially like to thank Vytas Masalaitis, the ranger who coordinated the visit (and did everything possible to make us as comfortable as possible). He kindly invited us to screen the finished film to McKaig’s supporters — and we enthusiastically agreed.

Vytas also shot some behind-the-scenes stuff. Here’s a taste:

We have one more day of shooting left (October 8) — mostly for green-screen compositing — then it’s on to post-production.

It seems our story is nearing its end.

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