One of five projects selected for last year’s Directors UK ALEXA challenge – in which filmmakers were given access to free ALEXA shooting packages for two days – Director Chris Chung brought his action-comedy experience to bear in Soho Jimbo, a tale of mistaken identity inspired by classic Kurosawa. With the film making its way online today, DN invited Chris to share how he and his team of trusted collaborators used extensive previsualisation to realise a teaser short in which the martial arts on display informed character and never left the audience disorientated.

It all started with a short film I made back in 2013 called Handuken, which was a finalist in the Virgin Media Shorts. The short film was well received and I had the pleasure of meeting Producer Christine Cheung and Director of Photography, Kit Fraser at separate festivals. I had kept in contact with both Christine and Kit over the years. After exploring a few other genres from sci-fi, drama and thriller, I found myself having way more fun creating action-comedy projects. The idea for Soho Jimbo developed from there as a loose pastiche of the Kurosawa classic, Yojimbo.

I have a team of regular collaborators who I have built strong relationships with over the years which include Greg Hayes (Editor), Dave S. Walker (Sound Design & Mixer) and Shawn Lyon (Composer). The project was continually developed between myself and Christine, when, to our fortune Directors UK & ARRI had announced the opening submissions of their Directors UK: Challenge ALEXA initiative (which I’d highly recommend). Long story, short I was selected as one of five directors for the initiative and we went on from there!

Hopefully the audience feels just as involved as the characters, because they know where they are between the kicks and punches!

As the short film was shot over two days, yep, two days, I felt it would be best to simulate my approach as I did with Handuken (which was also shot in two days) by capturing the drama on day one and the action left for day two. When it comes to action and on this short in particular I always work with a previsualisation of the entire scene, myself, Kit and Christine worked up a previs during our recce and rehearsals. So we were bullet proof for when we came to shooting.

Here is a look at the previs, most of the shots should marry up and please excuse our ropey cameos ☺

As we shot this through the Directors UK: Challenge ALEXA, we were gifted tonnes of ARRI kit, I kid you not, we had two lorries worth of kit and almost fifty people on set, I don’t know how Christine and the team managed it, but they did and certainly raised my confidence and responsibility! So, in terms of kit, we shot on the Alexa Mini and ARRI Anamorphic lenses and we were the first crew to use ARRI’s new nifty flare sets, thanks to Milan and co at ARRI!

Because of the genre and the nature of the film, it’s inherently very visual and from what you may see in some of my other work is the stylisation of where the cinematography meets the edit, as we previsualised the short and knew the cut before shooting. It allowed me to try some more ambitious shots, for example. There are two quite tricky one takers in the short, both captured on the same day (Ralph Messer and Emilio Schläppi smashed it on the focus tracking and camera operating).

Here are a few BTS shots taken by Dan Donovan illustrating the way we shot one of the one takers.

With the action you will see I like to let the action flow, build momentum and show the geography of the scene, so hopefully the audience feels just as involved as the characters, because they know where they are between the kicks and punches! For me, the way a character fights and reacts is also an attribute to the performance, a huge inspiration for the action was both Kung Fu Panda and Jackie Chan’s life’s work.

Moving on forward post-teaser. We are avidly looking to see how our audience responds to the project. A feature version of the film is in development; I am writing the script as we speak whilst Christine works her magic!

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