About this project
Heading Towards the Finish
We would like to extend an enormous "Thank you!" to everyone that has backed and shared this project so far. We had a very successful period during pledge matching that helped bring us closer to our our $15,000 stretch goal. With just minutes left to go in the campaign for Nekko, we would love to make it all the way to the stretch goal so that we can bring enhancements to the project like a live score and superior quality camera lenses. Please continue to spread the word, make sure to enter our Facebook giveaway, and be sure to check out the latest update to hear a bit from all of us!
What is Nekko?
Nekko is a short film being developed by a tight knit group of talented young filmmakers with experience ranging from feature films to music videos and commercials. The title of the film, “根っこ”, pronounced “nekko”, is a Japanese translation of the English word “roots” that captures the important role that both physical and familial roots play in the film. The story, which has been in development for nearly a year, has blossomed into a passionate tale that appeals to all ages.
Set on a remote farm in Feudal Japan, nine-year-old Kue wishes to be free from the strict regimen of manual labor imposed by her widowed mother. When strange roots begin to overrun their crops, Kue’s mother mysteriously disappears, leaving Kue to revel in her newfound freedom. She finds an unlikely friend in a magical origami hummingbird, but when the sinister roots steal her new companion, Kue decides to attempt a rescue. Descending into a subterranean world below the roots, Kue is confronted by a reality that is more complex than she ever could have imagined.
The ambitious nature of this project is matched with a talented team of creatives and careful planning has gone into researching the best way to tell this story with as little artistic compromise as possible. Three sets (the house, garden, and underground lair) have been designed to be historically accurate and are currently being built. Principal photography will take place at the Marion Knott Studios using these sets. A separate mountainside location in Northern California has already been chosen as the virtual “setting” for the film. By building the sets to match the exact dimensions of the Northern California location, wrapping those sets in blue screen, and then shooting footage (or “’plates”) of that mountainside after-the-fact, the visual effects artists will be able to composite the actors and sets shot in Orange County with the photography of the mountainside in Northern California. The mountainside footage will be digitally enhanced with Japanese details to fully realize this fantasy world.
In addition to creating the setting, visual effects play a large role in other areas of the project. Kue’s friend, the hummingbird, as well as many other origami creatures will be entirely computer generated and are currently in production. Bringing these original CG characters to life will require 3D modeling, animation, and compositing to be done in entirety from the ground up. These characters will seamlessly interact with live actors to produce a cohesive visual language.
One unique aspect of the film is an entirely animated segment which transitions Kue from the normal world to the dark and magical world of the paper roots. The animation and textures will be highly stylized to emphasize the rush of emotion that Kue feels in this sequence. We are excited to be using this mixed medium approach in order to create a more abstract and impressionistic sequence within the film.
The production has already obtained a significant amount of resources. Access to a soundstage, camera package, lights, grip supplies, and electrical equipment, as well as insurance will be fully provided by Marion Knott Studios in September and October. On the digital side, visual effects artists are hard at work already designing characters on state-of-the-art computers utilizing the latest hardware and software.
While much of the production is accounted for, there are significant costs that we do not currently have the funds to cover. First, we do not have the money to cast or compensate any of our actors. Second, without over 2000 square feet of chroma-key bluescreen, we will not be able to place our actors and sets into a virtual environment. Though the funds needed for blue screen and cast are not insignificant, the vast majority of our budgetary need is due to the high cost of materials needed for building our historically accurate and elaborate sets. Creating the physical sets for the farm, home, and underground root caves from scratch will be a massive undertaking, and though we have a full production design team consisting entirely of unpaid volunteers, the simple cost of materials is daunting. We want to create an immersive environment for the viewer, but doing so practically will not be feasible without help from the Kickstarter community.
From The Director:
When I was first shown an early draft of the script, what interested me the most about the story was the striking relationship between Kue and her mother. Hidden in the heart of this crazy-cool Japanese fantasy adventure was a simple story about the way our relationships change during childhood and the difficulties of growing up. After a great deal of research, we chose to set the film in Feudal Japan. I have had a fascination with Japanese culture since a young age. My parents worked for a Japanese company while I was growing up, and as a teenager I was lucky enough to do a Japanese exchange program which gave me the opportunity to live with a Japanese family on the island of Kagawa. Though my time there was brief, the value of respect and the aesthetics of simplicity left lasting impressions on me.
On their small farm in Feudal Japan, with no man and little money, Kue and her widowed mother are barely able to scrape by. In those times, a season's harvest could be the difference between life and death and because of this, Kue is forced to work constantly by her mother. Simultaneously, Kue’s mother tries to teach Kue the skills and behaviors that will enable her to marry up out of her situation. Kue loathes what she feels is a double standard imposed by her mother and it is this resentment that burns at their relationship. It is very important to me that the film not only be universal in its message, but authentically Japanese in its content. For that reason, all of the dialogue in the film will be in Japanese and we are working with translators and advisors to ensure accuracy and artistry.
As both a director and cinematographer, my passion in film has always been for visual storytelling. Whether it's in the performance, framing, or editing, the magic of watching a story unfold without words or explanation is what for me separates cinema from all other media. For this reason, screenwriter Dag Shapshak and I chose to rarely utilize dialogue, focusing on progressing the story nonverbally. Dag and I have been constant collaborators for over six years now, and this project is the culmination of our work up until now.
It is impossible for me to discuss collaboration without introducing the incredibly talented team of young creative professionals who will be helming this project beside me. At the center of the project from its inception have been Hunter Schmidt and Phil McGuire, the visual effects supervisors. Both prodigies in the fields of 3D modeling, animation, and compositing, the two of them are responsible for bringing the magic in the story to life. Production designer Alex Lubow has an equally daunting task: building both the environments of Fuedal Japan and an entirely fantastical underground world through physical sets and props. Composer Trevor Doherty, who just recently finished his undergraduate degree in music composition from The Juliard School has collaborated with me on every film I’ve ever directed. A music scholar as well as a composer, Trevor’s knowledge of Japanese music combined with his talent for composing for film will be a fundamental asset to the emotional resonance of the film. As a cinematographer myself, I’m looking forward to be teaming with Brian White, the most dedicated DP I've ever met. Esther Sokolow, the film’s editor was on the project even before I was and she has had her finger on the story’s pulse since the original inception of the concept. Finally, at the head of this beast, is producer Brandon Padveen who is responsible for making sure everything gets done (even things like this director statement for Kickstarter). As you can see, he's doing an amazing job so far.
I couldn't be more excited to share this story and with your help I know that we can bring these paper pages to life.
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