June 19, 2024

Tokyo Vice producer/director Alan Poul

The acclaimed crime drama Tokyo Vice on Max follows American journalist, Jake Adelstein (Ansel Elgort.) As a reporter for a large Japanese newspaper in the 1990’s, he dives into the dangerous world of the Yakuza, the Japanese organized crime syndicate. The series is based on the book and real life experiences of Jake Adelstein, who named his memoir Tokyo Vice as a wink to the 1980’s show, Miami Vice. Michael Mann, creator of Miami Vice, was interested in the show and came on board to executive produce the series and to shoot the pilot.

Producer and director Alan Poul joined the Tokyo Vice team later into the development process. “I was aware of Tokyo Vice because of course I had read Jake’s book when it came out,” says Alan. With a college degree in Japanese literature and a background in Japanese cinema and theater, Alan began his film career in Japan when director Paul Schrader hired him as an associate producer on Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. The movie Black Rain, directed by Ridley Scott, quickly followed for him, but Alan didn’t want to become known as “the Japan guy” in Hollywood. He built his career producing episodic television for shows like Tales of the City, My So-Called Life, Six Feet Under, and The Newsroom. But Tokyo Vice creator J.T. Rogers knew they needed someone with experience in Japanese production, language and episodic television, so Alan was asked to join the project. “It represented a kind of full circle closure/homecoming,” says Alan, about going back to produce in Japan. “It doesn’t happen very often in one’s career and so it became an extraordinarily fulfilling experience for me.”

The first season of Tokyo Vice began location scouting in 2019 and shooting began in March 2020- for only 6 days before the pandemic shut everything down. Production resumed in October 2020, and the team had to shoot the entire first season under strict Japanese quarantine and COVID testing rules. As a result, Season One uses tighter shots and fewer locations, with more closeups on Jake and the other characters who shape the story. By Season Two, Alan was excited that they were able to expand the visual range of the show, shooting more of Tokyo and the surrounding area. Alan had the opportunity to direct episodes one and two of the second season. “When I am directing, it is always an incredible joy. At least during those 12 hours I try to let go of all the other hats that I have to wear and just wear the hat that allows me to focus 100% on what is taking place in front of the camera.”

Though Tokyo Vice has completed its series run on Max, Alan and creator J.T. Rogers are optimistic about the show’s future on another platform.

Find Alan Poul: Instagram @alanpoul

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March 13, 2024

House of Ninjas showrunner and executive producer Dave Boyle

The Netflix series House of Ninjas has become a hit show, rising to #1 in the streaming service’s top 10 list. The story follows the Tawara family, who have been ninjas, or shinobi, for generations. Tragically, the oldest son and brother disappeared six years before in a battle with their rivals, leading the Tawaras to stop being ninjas. But the family must fight together again as the rival clan gets more powerful and threatens the entire country.

Showrunner Dave Boyle was first brought on as showrunner for House of Ninjas by an executive at Netflix Japan, who knew he was familiar with the culture. Dave’s second language is Japanese, which he studied as a Mormon missionary in Australia. He had written and directed a few independent Japanese American and Japanese language films, such as Man from Reno, Daylight Savings and Surrogate Valentine, which all took place in the U.S. This was his first experience with shooting anything in Japan. He was drawn to the tone of House of Ninjas, which combines both drama, action and violence with comedy and warmhearted playfulness. “Tone was the reason why we all wanted to make this project. It’s more than the plot mechanics and the story. It was all about creating this atmosphere, this tone that an audience could sink into and enjoy for many, many episodes. And so I think that tone was something that we were talking about from the very, very get-go and something that we really wanted to nail and get right.”

Once he was on board, Dave began working on the preproduction and show bible for House of Ninjas. The show bible had to be written in three weeks, which is a very fast process, especially since Dave knew the show’s foundation required a deep understanding of shinobi culture and history. He found the preproduction process in Japan to be much different from the U.S., with casting happening even before the show’s scripts were written. The script format in Japan read from right to left, and the top half of the page is left blank for the director to draw storyboards and a shotlist, as a clear way for the director to show what they’re planning to do.

House of Ninjas is available on Netflix.

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June 14, 2023

Abbott Elementary, The Office, Parks and Recreation director, producer and cinematographer Randall Einhorn

Multihyphenate producer-director-cinematographer and all around talented guy Randall Einhorn is currently the executive producer and director of the award-winning ABC show, Abbott Elementary. Randall began his career in series television first as the DP of The Office, then became one of the most frequent directors of the series. He got to know the mockumentary style intimately, and carried it onto many other shows such as Parks and Recreation, The Muppets, and Modern Family.

Quinta Brunson, show creator and star of Abbott Elementary, was a huge fan of The Office and pitched her idea to executive producers Randall Einhorn and Patrick Schumacker. Randall immediately knew that the mockumentary format would work well as they followed the everyday drama of teachers in an underprivileged elementary school in Philadelphia. They began shooting the pilot in August 2021, working with kids who were mostly non-actors and hadn’t been inside a classroom for an entire year due to COVID. Working with kids made everything harder, but also made everything better, and Randall emphasized that they would have a good time every day. The children were so happy and excited to see each other and to be in a classroom, even if it was a set.

On Abbott Elementary, Randall wanted the teachers to be treated like heroes, so they chose to use ARRI cameras and Angenieux Optimo Zoom lenses. The classrooms look inviting, with wood, warm earth tones and bright light coming in from the windows. By contrast, on The Office they would “dirty up” the frame to make it seem more spontaneous, as though something unexpected was actually caught. Randall would pan to someone, purposely defocus, then bring the actor into focus, to make it seem as though it was just caught. For Abbott Elementary, the camera crew keeps everything mostly in focus, but they will make a conscious effort to keep a piece of doorway in the shot, for example, to imply that people are having a private moment with the cameras hanging back. Randall feels that there’s an honesty to using a long lens and backing up so it would look like the actors are having an intimate conversation.

Randall naturally developed his mockumentary shooting style after working on reality and extreme sports shows. Executive producer Ben Silverman saw his work and thought his verite style would work well for The Office. Randall met with executive producer Greg Daniels, and they hit it off. Since he’d never worked on scripted shows before, Randall broke lots of rules that were considered “normal” for series television on The Office, such as operating himself and pulling his own focus. Blocking and planning the camera placement ahead of time was also essential- the camera crew would never put a camera where it couldn’t or wouldn’t be. He also figured out how to add to the improvisational comedy through the camera’s movement and focus. Randall would keep one eye on the eyepiece and another on the actors to see who was going to improv. He’d lean in with the camera on an actor, stepping in closer to make a moment even more awkward. Unlike the British version of The Office, which was always carefully rehearsed, they would just shoot the scenes and reactions, in true documentary style.

Randall’s company, Sad Unicorn, has a multi-year first look deal at Warner Bros. and he will continue executive producing and directing Abbott Elementary.

Abbot Elementary is in its second season on ABC and Hulu, and season three will likely be delayed due to the writers strike.

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