John Jeffcoat turns to hybrid filmmaking for ‘Big In Japan’

John Jeffcoat’s feature film debut as a director was about as successful as an emerging filmmaker from Seattle could ask for. 'Outsourced', which had been shot in India on 35mm film, toured international film festivals, collected awards, and then attracted the attention of NBC who picked up the concept and turned it into a primetime network TV series.

In the wake of this success, John wanted to get back into production on a smaller scale project that would let him get his hands dirty. He recalls, “People started talking about these little DSLRs that were producing amazing images and that kind of intrigued me. I wanted to find a project I could play around with them on.”

'Outsourced' film trailer, directed by John Jeffcoat

He got his chance with $5 Cover: Seattle, a docudrama web series for MTV about thirteen Seattle bands performing and touring over one weekend. As director and camera-operator for all of the 'Amplified Docs' band documentaries, John led a very small crew shooting on the Canon 5D DSLR, capturing audio with a Zoom H4n audio recorder, and editing on his Mac laptop using Final Cut Pro.

John researched the workflow for DSLRs and came across the PluralEyes plug-in that would help synchronize his separately recorded audio and video files. “I used to work as an audio engineer, and I used to do location sound mixing, and a lot of syncing audio - and it always seemed to me there should be some way we could read audio wave forms and make things sync up easily. And when I saw it [PluralEyes] I was like ‘my God, why didn't this come out 10 years ago?’ It would've been so amazing. I edit as well, so when I found it, it was like this thing I'd been searching for for a decade.”
‘Amplified Docs’ Tea Cozies – MTV $5 Cover:Seattle
directed by John Jeffcoat

John is now working on his next feature film, 'Big in Japan', which tells the story of a Seattle rock band that goes to Tokyo for one last shot at international fame. The project is a hybrid of scripted and documentary material and has been financed to date through Kickstarter.

This online funding platform for creative projects allows filmmakers to set up a project profile with video clips, photos and progress reports. Supporters can then pledge money to the film in exchange for their name in the credits or more advanced participation. Kickstarter is a popular alternative to seeking private investment, which usually comes with creative strings attached.

“We had no investors or anyone holding us to anything; it was all donations. It was exciting not to have to worry about a producer or investor not wanting us to go somewhere or do a certain thing. To be able to be your own boss, it's very liberating.”

The band in question, Tennis Pro, played eight high-voltage shows over two weeks in Japan that were covered with multiple cameras. John also directed scripted and improvised dramatic scenes to carry the story forward. With such a mixed bag of shooting styles and limited time to work in, he appreciated not having to slow down to synchronize cameras or to slate on the fly.

He says, “There wasn't a worry about making sure everyone's shooting the slate at the same time, because it was more ‘make sure everyone's got the same audio feed and we'll let PluralEyes deal with it in the edit room’. And that was great because we had a really small crew and didn't have all the assistants we would've liked. When you're working with a stripped-down crew tools like that are so great.”

Currently on a writing sabbatical with his family in South Africa, John has already begun editing the feature in advance of a second shooting trip to Japan scheduled for the fall of 2011. He and his assistant editor, who is based in Seattle, have mirrored hard drives of all the footage. They work on separate scenes and share project files through Dropbox to view each other’s work. John’s post-production toolkit includes PluralEyes to sync footage, Final Cut Pro to edit, and Magic Bullet for color timing and correction.

Creation of the story structure from documentary footage often happens largely in the editing process because shooting live events reveals drama rather than dictating it the way a scripted narrative would. With the hybrid nature of ‘Big In Japan’, there was a story outline before the trip to Tokyo, but much of the casting and drama unfolded as a result of daily events and interactions.

“We actually found the bands that we want to incorporate in the film. We were using the reality of what was happening sort of as creative fodder for the story, and to bring us to places we hadn't anticipated that were hopefully going to be more unique than what we'd have come up with just sitting in a room.”
'Big In Japan' film trailer, directed by John Jeffcoat

With PluralEyes handling synchronization of all his various footage, John has been able to keep his focus on the creative editing process. He is also dedicating time to completing the script by writing scenes around what’s already been shot. This script will guide the upcoming filming back in Japan and ensure he ends up with a complete, and marketable, story.

Keep an eye on the ‘Big In Japan’ Kickstarter page for upcoming fundraising campaigns and to see trailers. Based on John’s track record so far; this will be another film you won’t want to miss.

Writer Sara McIntyre is a Communications Specialist and Filmmaker who calls Vancouver, BC 'home'.

1 comment:

  1. hi having worked with John on outsourced i have experienced the kind of dedication and focus that he generates during a shoot. Wish him all the best for all his projects. Nice article Sara.
    From India with Lotsa Song and Dance