As you can see, director, Bueno, is no stranger to the release of finishing a daunting task like shoestring indie filmmaking. His efforts in 2014 with Gun Caliber and his latest sequel, Strega, are no exception as they’ve both proven significantly for Bueno in his hard-earned efforts to turn a new page for the suit-action genre.
The latter, in which he stars alongside AV idol and actress Mai Miori, is coming soon this year, and I even had the opportunity to review Strega, as well as share photos from the Yubari screening. Bueno talks about the screening, the movie, his goals and much more in our first ever interview, and you are more than welcome to check out a review by clicking here for further reading.
Greetings Bueno and thanks for taking the time to talk to us. As often as I follow independent films I can’t begin to imagine the tedious process of it all from development to actual production, post and deal making afterwards. How are you holding it together?
We’re still a small group of only five-to-eight people, but you can imagine the amount of turnover in a ten-year span. That’s how long I’ve been doing this. I’m pretty much the only original member of Garage Hero these days. The original crew moved out of Tokyo for various reasons, but I stuck it out here ’cause it just feels like Tokyo is the place with more opportunity for me. But I’ve networked at all sorts of events/venues and met lots of people to help me film over the years and I seem to have a pretty solid crew at the moment. For anyone who wants to make films but has no money, you better start practicing how to make friends because those are the kinds of people who will help you achieve things that you wouldn’t be able to do all by yourself.
And as you stated, you’ve been making movies for roughly a decade now. And I think I remember you telling me you tried climbing the entertainment ladder until around 2010 when you just pretty much said “screw it” and then went and did your own thing. How do you see things now in terms of how far you’ve come since then?
I’m really glad I dived headfirst into many situations because it really opened my eyes to many things. There’s been people who think I’m an utter boob for it while others see it as crazy yet courageous. And that’s actually one of the many ways to gain charisma, that essence of adoration that allows your to become an influence to the people you meet or have even met before, but didn’t notice you until you started taking risks. I feel that me and my crew (who I call “the boys”) have become battle hardened and fearless because of the fact that we’ve dealt with cranky old cleaners trying to kick us out of locations and talking our way out of getting tickets from the cops. Sure, we’ve made a lot of shit along the way for some clients, but we’ve always managed to see what knowledge and resources we could gain any given project be it good or bad.
Talk about Garage Hero and what it is you guys do next to filmmaking – I know you guys also livestream tutorials for creatives on how to make their own tokusatsu, which is something I’m largely alien to aside from Power Rangers and Guyver and the sort.
Garage Hero is a team of creatives who just wanna make the stuff they want to make. If we wanna make an action movie, a comedy, or a movie about me eating sushi off a naked Japanese girl, we will. One company I really admire is Image Comics owned by Todd McFarlane. They get to create any kind of comics they want, but they have to sell it themselves. In a way, it’s as if you’re gambling on yourself which is both scary and exciting at the same time. I want to try doing that but with movies. The aim of Garage Hero is to be a hub for sensical creators to gather, share resources, and help each other throughout their productions whether it be a superhero film, an action film, or a comedy.
What’s the competition out there like these days in your particular field and genre?
There’s literally nobody out here (at least in Tokyo) with the technical skill, imagination, and business sense to do what we do. I’ve met SO many people who talked shit, only to come up empty handed. There’s this clique of “Tokyo Filmmakers” which is made up of these artsy-fartsy foreigners or half-Japanese snobs and all they do is talk about how nice their film equipment is. Meanwhile, if I say I’m gonna make a movie, I’m gonna make a fuckin’ movie. Doesn’t matter how cheap it is, I want to eventually have a film in my hands by the end rather than be a poser and let it sit on my hard drive only for nobody else to see it.
Let’s talk about Strega, your new movie – it rolled out at Yubari a few weekends ago which is quite the big deal based on what you’ve told me. I’ve only ever heard of the event before this and I know Steve Wang even won big earlier in his career years ago with Drive.
Yeah, Yubari International Fantastic Film is the biggest genre film festival in Japan. Apparently, Quentin Tarantino wrote Pulp Fiction in his hotel room there and also named Chiaki Kuriyama’s character, “Gogo Yubari” from Kill Bill, after it. A lot of people have been telling me to go there as its a huge epicenter for networking with people in the film industry from all around the world.
So how did the festival go? You had a few actors make some surprise appearances and you had Yoshihiro Nishimura, and he pretty much warmed up the crowd from what I hear and have reported from you.
His history lesson really helped but a lot of people were there because I was touring around town in the suit all day long the day before. Whenever someone sees a superhero walking around, they can’t help but want to ask what the hell he’s supposed to be, take a photo, or both. I used this chance to also hand out fliers to whoever even glared at me. Having the titular character be right in front of you is a tangible experience that really engages more people to want to see the movie.
But Nishimura’s intro was the icing on the cake. He really knows his stuff.
On a scale of 1 to 10…how fucked up was the crowd after Strega?
It was a fifteen! [laughs] They loved the movie and wanted more. Surprisingly, there were a lot of couples there who enjoyed the movie. Everybody went buck wild on twitter after the movie too, talking about how it was one of the most underrated films in the festival and can’t wait for the sequel. They couldn’t stop laughing the whole time through and whenever an action sequence came up, they were so focused on it, which was good. Because that’s what I was aiming for.
Did you win anything for this year’s festival?
We didn’t. But whoever came up with that slogan “Winning isn’t everything” was dead right. SOOO much more things to gain from just winning money from that place. I got to meet other filmmakers from around the world who are able to help me look for festivals and venues abroad to screen Strega. Also met a couple of filmmakers from Korea who are willing to collaborate.
I’ve known some filmmakers who have won an award and a paycheck and then they take it easy, thinking that a three-picture contract is gonna come their way. But that’s not how things work in reality. You gotta hustle. Sure, winning money helps, but making a connection with someone in which you’re able to create something that would be ten times bigger than a simple paycheck has way more value in the long run.
Don’t go to a festival with the hopes of winning an award. Go there with the mindset of networking and being focused on gaining resources which will help push your projects and career further.
Strega has a brand new, sleeker, more of a hero look than Gun Caliber. You’re wearing a cool suit, and you’re armed to the teeth in loads of cool shit!
All resources gained over a ten-year period. When I got scouted to work in Giga (That Superheroine porno production company) I met with Daisuke Komatsu. He used to work at Rainbow Zoukei which is the studio that makes the suits for Power Rangers/Super Sentai and Kamen Rider. On average, it costs $7,000 dollars to make a suit plus items like weapons, accessories and things like that. Luckily for me, Daisuke quit Giga before I got fired from the company. He and I became freelance and figured we should help each other out. He gave me a discount on my suits if I help him start up his own superhero project afterwards. We’ve been at it for years ever since.
Straightforward asking, why Strega and not Gun Caliber 2?
Back in 2009, I had a choice between making two characters, Gun Caliber or Strega. I took a look at my resources at the time and it just wasn’t enough to create the vision that I had for Strega since it required manpower, locations, costumes and of course money. All of which I didn’t have. I started by making Gun Caliber’s suit myself and shortly after, people started to follow the project and pitch in to help out. With everything that I’ve learned from producing Gun Caliber, I feel that Strega is like its own thing because its a more polished version of my prototype which is Gun Caliber. People can watch Strega without having seen Gun Caliber and still enjoy it, but when they get curious over certain references to the first film, they can go back to it and see the connection. I really hope to continue Strega as a series of shows and films from here on in, and so labeling it as Strega seemed to make more sense to me.
You also cast AV actress Mai Miori in the role of Virsago. Talk about how she came aboard this project and the process of gearing her up to battle evil.
I first met Mai back when I was working in Giga as an action director and my director introduced me to her. She was a former ballet champion in Europe and from my experiences in action, dancers are usually better at doing action than martial artists are. She was a natural. It only took me a day to teach her how to do basic punches and kicks. She was surprised when she found out I got fired from the company, but I kept in contact with her managers and hired her on other projects that I worked on. When the time was ripe, I called up her agency to tell them about Strega and that it will be fully produced by me. It took awhile to arrange her scheduling, but in the end everything worked out. She was amazing on set too. She was able to follow up with all the jokes since she has a sense of humor and even came up with a few on her own. I didn’t even need to train her in action that much since her body still remembers how to move.
For the suit action though, I had an action member, Megumi Takarae be in the suit. This was mostly due to time constraints and cost. Both girls have the same body though, so it all worked out.
You have some racy scenes in both films, and especially in Strega. 😆 What encourages you to push the envelope so far as you have? And you’re casting AV models for specific roles too, which I think is phenomenal in some ways. Do you vet a lot of AV actresses looking to stretch their film muscles?
I just believe in utilizing all the resources you have to create something towards what you envision. For me, I’ve been planning this film in my head for the past ten years, so I knew that by working in AV that I’d literally be meeting hundreds of girls. I have folders and folders of profiles for these girls and usually select potted the ones that I’ve worked with before. I’ve tried using normal actresses before and they’re usually limited in terms of what they can do. Not just in a physical sense, but also by what their Agency allows them to do. Most Agencies act as an actor/actress’ parents and won’t let them do roles that they feel would tarnish their reputation.
AV girls on the other hand, have agencies that allow them to do more on screen. I personally feel that a lot of Japanese AV girls that I choose to work with are some of the most beautiful, talented and kindest girls I’ve ever met in my life. They’re also hard workers and are able to keep up with the shoot. While AV is their main profession, many girls are in that part of the entertainment industry in hopes of breaking into other areas such as music, videogames, and even mainstream media/TV. Since I’m aiming to export my work outside of Japan, I’m hoping that Garage Hero can be a window for some of these girls to get fans internationally.
I remember when we last spoke heavily on matters pertaining to training that you weren’t doing as much as you used to. And you can correct me if I’m wrong there, but did that change with Strega?
It changed a LOT. For two years and even while filming, I went to the gym while training with veteran stuntman Seiji Takaiwa. He’s currently the lead suit actor for suit actor for Kamen Rider for over two decades now and people call him “Mr. Kamen Rider”. Back when I did Gun Caliber, I didn’t really need to train since he just shoots everyone in the dick. But this time around, I wanted to do more hand-to-hand, so I went back to my roots and reviewed my Jeet Kune Do while practicing action under Mr. Takaiwa’s tutelage and conditioning myself at the gym. I wanted to get bigger, but not super muscular because I still wanna show people that Soma Kusanagi is a lazy but strong person. Hence the Al Bundy-esque “dad build” that he has.
One of the weapons in Strega’s arsenal is a huge Buster Sword. It was made to be as light as possible but still required a bit of arm and torso strength. So I had to work on my upper body in order to even swing the damn thing. But since it was made out of wood and foam, there’s a possibility that it could snap in half. So I had to figure out a way to even hold it properly let alone swing it around. Thankfully, Mr. Takaiwa helped me come up with a sword style from the ground up so that I can confidently use the sword without breaking it. He and I both did Chinese Wushu, so we blended Southern Broadsword with Staff and Spear mixed with Japanese Kenjutsu. It took a lot of time and research, but was SO worth it in the end.
What would you say were some of the biggest key hurdles you faced during this production? And I ask because indies can take a reeeeally long time, especially when you’re trying to get certain shots right or schedules get in the way…
Scheduling is definitely one of the hardest parts of it. For every person who can’t make it to a shoot, you have to find two other people that could cover up for that one person not being there.
ALWAYS have a plan B, C, D, etc. Because there WILL be times when something fucks up and you have to fix it within a short amount of time. I’ve had ten years of practicing this, so its easier said than done, but yeah. You get my drift. I’d say film production is like…thirty-percent problem solving, forty-percent socializing, fifteen-percent creativity, and fifteen-percent technical skill. At least to me.
Another hurdle is post. Although I’m pretty confident in making something entertaining, I still have no idea how to sell it. So I’d say that’s the next hurdle actually. Finding out ways to get this movie out to as many people as possible. Doesn’t matter if they like it or not, the goal is to get the exposure and screen it as much as possible. We’re always looking for people to help us book screenings, so if you have or know of a place (doesn’t matter where you are in the world), let us know.
What was the most hilarious moment on set for you? And I’ve seen the bloopers you’ve shown me but-can you reflect on maybe one or two moments for readers? The banana incident maybe? 😆
There’s too many! Although we had a script this time around, we ad-libbed half of the movie anyway. One funny moment was during a scene with Mai. I blurted out something about handjobs to her and she got so caught off guard by it that she kept on fumbling her lines!
We created a dummy this time around and it was pretty fun trying to figure out numerous ways in which we could maim the thing in the action scenes. We inaugurated it into the Garage Hero Action Team and called it “Junior”.
What’s the biggest lesson you take with you going forward?
As cliché and obvious as it sounds, I wouldn’t have been able to do this without my team. They’re just super awesome. A lot of lazy, jealous nerds bang on my stuff just because they see me on screen. But the fact of the matter is that they don’t know jack shit about my my team making me look good ONLY because they’re good at what they do. My cameramen, my action team, my cast, the extras, my crew, everybody. I’m glad to call the lot of them my personal friends and that’s what a lot of people who want to try and achieve something like this will need. Friends. If you can’t pay your crew, you better at least be able to feed them or be a sociable, charismatic dude because people don’t wanna follow someone who’s all-talk and turns out to be a lazy arrogant asshole.
Is there room for Soma Kusanagi’s evolution of Gun Caliber post-Strega?
Guess you’ll have to buy Strega first to find out!