Lucy Shauman: Filmmaking Club

For my CIP activity I joined a film club at Kyoto University called “雪だるまプロ.” I have experience working on film sets, so I was hoping that I could use my technical knowledge to make some lasting friendships with Japanese people who share my interests.

Since I joined at the beginning of Kyoto University’s spring break, it took a little while for the club to start making any films; the members where engaged in final exams for the first few weeks I attended their meetings. However, I did finally get to work on one upperclassman’s film set and was offered the role of sound recorder right off the bat. The club’s weekly meetings were usually very short, and I found it difficult to talk to the few members who showed up. However, the set dynamic was much more relaxed, and I was able to interact with people more easily. I definitely felt like part of the team when I could contribute my skills and work with the other members to create a film.

Although I only got to participate in my CIP for about two months due to the unfortunate spread of the Coronavirus, I think I had a very valuable experience. I learned a lot about the differences in how a Japanese film set is run, and was able to develop a Japanese vocabulary pertaining to film terms and equipment; for example, lights (照明), shotgun mic (ガンマイク), and storyboard (絵コンテ) were all words members often used. To my surprise, the club did not begin a take with the classic “lights, camera, action!” directive, but instead started filming after recording the sound file number and counting down following an exclamation of “演技おおい!” I also got to practice operating sound on set, which is something I did not have a lot of experience doing before I arrived in Japan.

While I would say that overall my CIP experience was positive, I had some trouble with this group at the beginning and considered switching activities. My first interaction with the club was very welcoming; I was shown the clubroom and two club members asked me out to dinner with them. However, by the second meeting I felt like that initial interest had altogether vanished, and I spent what short time of the weekly meetings I could trying to get other people to interact with me without coming off as creepy. I usually managed to hold a short conversation with one or two people each meeting, but it was stressful to be the only one asking questions. I decided to stick it out until the first film shoot, and my experience drastically improved once I was able to demonstrate my abilities by participating on set, but for a while I had a pretty isolating experience.

My advice to subsequent students would be to find a group with members who seem genuinely interested in you. If you are not able to make connections within the first few meetings, try a different activity. Your time at KCJS is not nearly as long as you think it is, and ultimately, I think it is more beneficial to find a group that facilitates your ability to practice your Japanese rather than an activity that is directly in line with your interests. In the end, I was disappointed that we were called back from our study abroad just when I was starting to build relationships with my peers in the club. If I had had more time, I think I would have had an even more rewarding experience.

8 thoughts on “Lucy Shauman: Filmmaking Club

  1. Being able to work on a set sounds super exciting! I’m glad that your experience got better with time and I really like the advice that you give to students. I think most students are shocked by how quickly the semester goes by. Your CIP really should be a place where you can make new friends and practice Japanese by doing something you find interesting.

    • Yes, it was very fun to do some hands-on work while in Japan and learn about the filmmaking dynamic in another country!

  2. That sounds like an amazing experience even given the unfortunate circumstances. I think in joining almost any new activity like that it can be very difficult at first to really find the best way to fit in — even without the added difficulty of a language barrier — so I find it super impressive that you were able to stick it out during those first couple weeks and ultimately have a great time with the people in the club. I was just wondering in what other ways you thought that filming in Japan was either the same or different from the US? I have never been on a film set or anything, but I do enjoy watching a lot of movies and I’ve noticed definite differences between Japanese and US films in general, I was wondering if this difference is also reflected in how they are ultimately shot.

    • I think the differences you see in the final product are probably more due to filmmakers’ distinct styles rather than differences in how the set is run. Besides small differences like direction of camera and sound recording, it was mostly the same, which is why I think finally working on the set helped me ease into the club more easily as it was a dynamic I was used to.

  3. It sounds like you had a very valuable experience here! Does this club post their films online? I’m sorry that you struggled with getting to know and relate with the other students at first, but I’m glad it was better towards the end. Even though the experience was cut short, it’s cool that you got to be on a set and try something new.

    • They have a YouTube channel under 「雪だるまプロ」but I don’t think any of the projects I worked on have been posted yet because they are probably still being edited.

  4. It’s interesting reading about your experiences in a college club! Since my CIP was volunteering at a Jidoukan, I didn’t spend as much time hanging out with people my own age. It’s a shame that you felt so much pressure to make conversations happen on your own, but I’m glad things picked up once you were able to get on set.

    When I read it, the differences between English and Japanese in technical language used on set and in filmmaking also surprised me! Besides language, did you notice any big differences in the filmmaking process compared to what you’ve experienced in America?

    • There were not a lot of differences in the filmmaking process that I noticed, although one thing that stood out to me was that all club members were expected to help cover the costs of any props used during the filming; one guy did a shoot with food, and at the end of the night he asked us all to pitch in, which was expensive considering I did not even eat any of it! In America I am used to the director covering the cost of their own production, because it’s assumed (on a student set) that everyone is helping out of their own good will and not being paid.