1. What was the inspiration for your story?
Steven: I’ve always had an affinity for stories of adolescence, many of which are from Japan. Anime shows such as Clannad and Clannad After Story, Your Lie in April, Anohana, and Kids on the Slope all were big influences upon me. On top of that, live action Western films such as The Fault in Our Stars, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and all the Harry Potter films were probably lingering in my subconscious. I was already working on early drafts of Another Yesterday by the beginning of 2015, but when I spent the summer in Japan later in the same year, that whole experience provided tons of powerful new inspiration.
2. What were some of the creative influences shaping this film?
Steven: I’m an enormous fan of filmmakers such as Sergio Leone, Akira Kurosawa, Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, Shinichiro Watanabe, Hayao Miyazaki, and Joe Wright. Throughout my life, I’ve spent countless hours studying their direction and trying to absorb everything like a sponge. One of my greatest goals as a storyteller is to always allow the audience to experience a roller coaster of different emotions irrespective of genre. In my opinion, these filmmakers are all masters in striking the perfect balance between drama and humor.
3. What was the biggest challenge in making this film?
Steven: Almost all of our main actors came from Sarah Clark of Compass Casting, and our two parents were recommended by Scott Eriksson of Asian Cinema Entertainment. It seemed like a dream cast and I was so excited, except for one important detail . . . It was less than a month before production, and we still didn’t have the lead role cast! I was really starting to panic until my mother mentioned that “actors know other actors,” and suggested I appeal to Naoyuki and Akiko (the actors playing the father and mother). Through Naoyuki we met Kento, and after an arduously long search, we finally had our perfect leading man!
Doug: The other challenge was finding a tree that was big, old, and undeniably spectacular. We visited parks and forest preserves across the state, scoured the internet, and had naturalists emailing us tree images. Nothing fit the bill: either the lower branches had been sawed off, or the tree bordered a residential area, or it was inaccessibly buried in the wilds. Finally a family friend (Charles Plueddeman) asked if we had scouted the Paine Prairie Woodlands. We went there to take a look, and as I was mulling over one option, Diane said, “Forget that tree; here’s what we want!” I turned and there stood the tree of our dreams — a mere half mile from home!
4. How did you find other cast members and crew?
Doug: Steven had met actor Rex Sikes at the Wildwood Film Festival, and he was the one who recommended Compass Casting in Chicago. We were blessed with several lucky breaks on this production, and when casting director Sarah Clark was drawn to Steven’s script, that was perhaps the biggest. She picks one indie film project at a time to augment her commercial work, and in the summer of 2016, she chose Another Yesterday. Except for the Japanese actors and two Oshkosh actors, all major parts were cast from a terrific pool of Chicago actors gathered by Sarah. The result was a “dream team” cast.
Smaller parts were largely filled by my students and by students from Jennifer Henselin’s acting class at Oshkosh North High School (she had been one of Steven’s favorite high school teachers). The last person cast was the bully’s second henchman. Surprisingly, bad guy parts are tough to fill: on the one hand, you need a threatening physicality, but you also want charisma. We had both qualities in spades with Robert Caez, who played the main bully, but we wanted to arm him with worthy sidekicks, too — like the way Alan Rickman had Alexander Godunov in Die Hard. With one day to go before the first bully shoot, we still didn’t have henchman #2. So while my students were taking an exam in my 100-level gateway course, I was frantically reviewing recent class rosters in search of a solution. And then plop: an exam was deposited on my desk, I looked up, and there stood Brandon Clark. Like manna from heaven. He really threw himself into his part and gave Steven exactly what he wanted. In fact, Steven told me his cool slide across the hood of the car at the climax was Brandon’s idea. (Robert and Brandon are at far right below.)
As for crew, one of the great advantages of shooting a feature so soon after college is that classmates still haven’t been locked down by unbreakable family and career responsibilities. So Steven could gather talented, reliable people he had enjoyed working with on college shoots. On my end, I could reach out to talented alumni I had once taught, while also recruiting current students looking for more experience. The shoot was virtually a college reunion, with 17 alumni, 15 students, and five colleagues participating.
5. Tell us more about the three leads from that “dream cast”?
Steven: All of the actors were so incredibly talented and such an absolute pleasure to work with. With Kento, I knew I would be getting a fantastic lead actor, but I wasn’t expecting to meet one of my very best friends. Ever since shooting ended in November of 2016, we regularly talk and help each other over Skype. He helps me practice speaking Japanese, and I help him rehearse for upcoming auditions.
Diane: As soon as he saw her audition, Steven knew Lucía Rodriguez-Nelson was perfect for Elizabeth. However, after we chose her, our casting director (Sarah Clark) revealed Lucía was still in high school. Since we were shooting in Wisconsin in October and Lucía was an Illinois resident, we were horrified: we were sure we wouldn’t be able to hire her. But Lucía’s incredible parents supported her being in the film and helped clear a schedule with the school that allowed her to miss class. Academically, Lucía still won high grades despite being the lead actress.
Doug: When you’re a producer, the place you’re least likely to be is near the camera: you’re either off set preparing for the next day or you’re tucked in a corner with the production manager and 2nd AD, reshaping the production schedule. I was absorbed in the latter when suddenly I discovered Steven at my side. “You absolutely have to put that down and come watch a couple takes. I’ve turned Billy loose and he’s just slaying me.” From the start, Steven had conceived Scott Dahse as a character who sustained a sense of humor in the face of tough challenges. Billy Chengary had already thoroughly absorbed that essence by the time he auditioned, which is exactly why he was cast. So I followed Steven over to where he was filming, and within moments, I was laughing so hard, I had to bite down on my wrist so I wouldn’t spoil the take. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see that Steven was dying, as well, and I thought if we actually exchanged a glance, we’d be goners. Later, I told him it was like Robin Williams had come back to earth and been reincarnated as Billy.
Onscreen chemistry is something you pray for, and in this instance, that remarkable chemistry was real: Kento, Naoyuki, and Akiko had a great affection for each other that preceded their trip to Oshkosh . . .
. . . and off-camera, Kento, Lucía, and Billy were inseparable; they massively enjoyed each other’s company, as documented by the following set photos:
6. How did you pull off such a low budget shoot so far from any major production center?
Doug: The support from the community and university was phenomenal. Whether it was a bar, a school, a library, a woods, an art gallery, or a sports park, we were welcome. Even the weather was accommodating, and whenever we had an dramatic outdoor scene, the wind magically kicked up.
Diane: The support from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh was indeed phenomenal. Our entire cast of actors and crew were able to stay at the University’s Gruenhagen Conference Center for a fraction of the cost of local hotels. All the staff at Gruenhagen were so accommodating and kind.
Doug: On an ultra-low budget shoot, you quickly learn to sacrifice the inessential. Bus scenes, for instance, were scrapped to save time. You also learn to swap “ideal” locations in Madison or Sheboygan for interesting alternatives nearby. In the end, all but two locations were within seven minutes of our home, which doubled up as production headquarters and Akira's home . . .
For Scott’s home and Elizabeth's bedroom, we used the house of Iris Jacobson, our co-producer, which is just a few blocks away; by happy coincidence, John Beam, who played Scott’s father, lived right next door. It’s a small universe in Oshkosh, and nothing could be more advantageous for a movie made on “nickels and dimes.”
7. How was music created for the film?
Doug: Naoyuki Ikeda steered Steven to Asuka Ito for the movie's score. She had been the music arranger on the Nintendo video game Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, and she composed the original music for Nintendo games Tomodachi Life, Pilotwings Resort, and Rhythm Heaven Fever. She has also composed original music for one feature film, a documentary, a web series, and seven short films. She won Best Original Score at the 2016 Asians on Film Festival and a Music Score Award of Recognition at the 2016 Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival. Asuka’s music samples can be heard here. Steven loved working with her, and plans to further collaborate in the future. Strangely, we just discovered that music composition suffers the greatest gender bias of any major filmmaking responsibility; about 96% of all composers are male. We predict this will change after Naoyuki's stupendous score is heard; we would pay top dollar to hear her work — such as her Another Yesterday end credits suite — in a concert hall!
I volunteered to write the forest song. I had really liked Steven's script title Another Yesterday and so I wanted to uncover its meaning within the song. When we say, “Tomorrow is another day,” we’re signaling that we need to put a bad experience behind us and move forward. In contrast, “another yesterday” is just the flip: you cannot shake off what has happened and you can’t free yourself from the past. In writing the lyrics, I detailed a near-universal experience: most of us have been graced with at least one transformative relationship in life — whether a romance or a friendship — that helps us withstand adversity. Yet through circumstance or misunderstanding, that wonderful bond can be dissolved and the relationship can end — and dissolution always leaves a void. Knowing that Japanese aesthetics were shaping Steven’s direction, I felt a parallel approach would be appropriate for the lyrics. Accordingly, I studied anime credit sequence songs, and I noticed there is often a connection between feelings and nature, so I drew upon that for the first verse. There also is a frequent use of metaphor, which inspired the “magic wand” line in the second verse. To slide into the metaphor, I put into play three successive laterals (“laughingly like”) — which I consider the “love” phoneme. The original demo of the song was arranged and performed by Tom Theabo, sung by Janet Planet, and recorded, mixed, & mastered by Tom Washatka at Steel Moon Productions. (They're the best!) The demo helped Lucía draw a bead on the song; she really “got” it, far exceeding our expectations. Both the demo and an a cappella version sung by Lucía and recorded, mixed, & mastered by Nate Edwards at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh can be heard here.
Steven needed incidental music for both Akira and Scott's car ride to the pool hall, and for the pool hall itself. Fortunately, he had a great "go-to" singer/songwriter: M.A. Johnson, who also happened to be our 1st A.C. Steven and Mario got to know each other through shared classes at UW Oshkosh, where they discovered a creative kinship. Steven had previously made a music video of one of Mario's songs, and the result had been nominated for Best Music Video at the NBS-AERho National Undergraduate Student Electronic Media Competition.
8. How strange was it to make a movie with other family members?
Doug: There have been many lifelong filmmaking brother teams (Coen, Dardenne, Farrelly, Hughes, Maysles, Taviani, Zucker, etc.), but multi-generational teams behind the camera are infrequent and they’re more likely to be one-shot endeavors. One is hard-pressed to come up with anyone beyond Jónas and Alfonso Cuarón in Gravity and Desierto, Jason and Ivan Reitman on Up in the Air, Hallie Meyers-Shyer and Nancy Meyers on Home Again, or Francis and Carmine Coppola on The Godfather movies. But collaboration makes sense because we all long ago figured out how to get along with each other; disagreements are simply taken in stride. Surprisingly, each of us gravitated toward different production facets, so we all ended up chipping away at different mountains without getting in each other’s way!
9. Share a fun or interesting story from the production.
Diane: Kathy Bryne (the head of Television and Theatrical) at the Chicago office of The Screen Actors Guild was particularly helpful with the logistics of hiring Guild actors. We were talking on the phone when I referred to growing up in Clarendon Hills. There was a pause, and suddenly Kathy asked, “Which street?” Unbelievably, she had grown up only two blocks from me. Sometimes it really is true: the world is a small place!
Doug: I’m a lifelong Cubs fan who values “Swiss army knife” players like Ben Zobrist; you put him anywhere on the diamond and he excels. Low budget indie film crews are just like baseball teams: you need those Swiss army knives. One of ours was Vic Velazquez: you’ll find his name all over the place in the credits.
Another was Eve Funnell, who was the production designer, costume supervisor, and sketch artist who drew the heroine’s demonic images; she even pinch-hit on makeup when Rob Schwalen wasn’t available.
She held down production costs by sharing her family van for equipment transportation. And when it came to the art gallery scene, she absolutely saved the day. We had been given permission to shoot at the Steinhilber Gallery on the day in between two exhibits. We were set to use University-owned paintings before discovering we also needed permission from each painter, which put the kibosh on that option. Diane’s father had acquired several 19th century paintings, so we at least had a running start on stocking the gallery, but there was still plenty of space to fill. And that’s when Eve rode to the rescue: artistic talent runs deep within her family, and she told us she could easily equip the gallery with family paintings, sketches, and sculptures. The memorable woman with the lantern was drawn by her sister Sonja, and that glorious yellow landscape near Lucía during the spider bit was created by her grandfather.
Speaking of the Cubs, our lead actor Kento Matsunami was the first cast or crew member to arrive on set (he and Steven rehearsed for a couple days before shooting began) and as fate would have it, he was also the last person to leave Oshkosh. He’s a big baseball fan, so on his last evening, we all watched the seventh game of the World Series, where the Cubs finally broke the Billy Goat Curse. Talk about a great wrap!
Photos #1, #5, #7, #8, #14, and #17 were taken by Vic Velazquez
Photos #4, #6, #9, #10, and #15 were taken by Jeff Mankini
Photos #2 and #3 were taken by Doug Heil
Photo #11 and #16 were taken by Eve Funnell
Photo #12 was taken by Heidi De La Teja
Photo #13 was taken by Matthew Oquendo