Over the course of covering her work on DN, it’s been a joy to see how filmmaker Ewurakua Dawson-Amoah adapts her evolving fierce and fluid visual style to TV spots, experimental shorts and everything in between. Her latest film goes further afield formally once more, bringing her signature cinematic style to the intense arena of martial arts. It’s a short about Shito Ryu Karate and the dojo based in New Jersey, that Dawson-Amoah attended as a child. It was there that she found a sense of confidence and purpose, something she wanted to bring out in her film that expertly presents the dynamic exhilaration of the dojo in full force. DN is excited to present the film below as it in conjunction with a conversation with Dawson-Amoah about bringing her kinetic visual edge to the world of combat sports.
Watching The Knife is Sharp, it became so obvious to me how well your visual style is suited to the context of sports. Were you excited to bring your approach to that environment?
My passion lies in movement-based pieces. I’m most inspired when I can create visually experimental spots that highlight the body, so naturally, I’ve always been drawn to sports spots. But I wasn’t seeing many opportunities to create them, so I decided to make my own. I trained in Shito Ryu karate for 15 years and returned to my childhood dojo to create a piece for them. I could not wait to blend my love for karate with my drive to create a high-energy sports commercial.
I’m most inspired when I can create visually experimental spots that highlight the body.
How did you form the narrative element of the spot?
I interviewed my instructor, “Shihan” and used his interview to guide the story. When I asked Shihan what he viewed as the most important aspect of Shito Ryu he immediately told me form. “Training is only the first step, what you’re training is your form. Form is everything. Sharpen your form, every day, and they’ll know the knife is sharp.”
You mentioned at the start that this was your childhood dojo, what was it about this dojo that left such a lasting impression and made you want to make a film about it?
I’d been wanting to create sports pieces for a long time. Everybody was telling me to “do a spec do a spec!” and originally I was going to. Then I had to ask myself, “Do I really want to self-fund a project for a brand that isn’t thinking about me?” I wanted to make something that mattered. Something I was passionate about beyond it just being a sports piece. So I contact my Shihan and asked him about making a spot for his dojo. He was so excited. When I first started karate at four years old I could barely stand in the dojo without crying. I had to take private lessons with him until I gained the courage to join his main class. Over the years I built my confidence and strength and eventually started competing professionally. It was a full circle moment to go from shy student to director directing my Shihan.
Could you walk us through the process of preparing for the shoot?
I went to his dojo and interviewed him for two days. On the second day he made his “the knife is sharp” comment and I knew that was the name of the piece. I finally had a direction of where I wanted to take it. He taught me his favorite kata and I started training again. I was SO out of shape. He hadn’t missed a single class. It was so special to be back in the dojo as both student and director, learning from the man who taught me so much while also introducing him to my world as a director.
And how long were you in New York and New Jersey shooting for, and then compiling everything in the edit?
We shot over two days in New York and New Jersey in early November. In New Jersey, we filmed at the actual dojo as well as another reoccurring location in my work – see if you can find it! We locked sound edit and color in late March. A long time but post-production took so long because of the holidays. Most of my friends were doing me a big favor and I didn’t want to rush the process for them.
I wanted to make something that mattered. Something I was passionate about beyond it just being a sports piece.
We spoke for both We Are and Noitamalcer, two other spots you directed, what is it about telling stories in this format that you feel benefits you in your craft as a filmmaker?
That’s a good question, and honestly, I’m not sure it’s completely benefited me as a filmmaker! It’s a double-edged sword. I didn’t plan to enter the commercial space, so short form was never on my radar. I wanted to be a novelist and make feature films! When I entered the advertising space I realized I needed to tighten up my storytelling flow. No fluff, no expansive scene building, just the meat of the story. This really helped me hone in on my writing and practice concise storytelling. I learned how to bring huge ideas down to 60, 30, 15, and sometimes even six seconds!
On the other hand, it’s shortened my attention span. When I sit down to write for myself, I find myself falling into the habit of keeping my worlds restrained to 60 second bites. My challenge going forward is finding a balance: keeping up with my longer-form work while producing content in this bite-size style.
The shots throughout all of your films are so well composed, is that something that you feel comes naturally now or is it always a case of meticulously planning each shot ahead of the shoot?
I’m incredibly detailed, sometimes annoyingly so. Initial ideas for scenes come naturally to me, but I spend hours planning out the tiny details and nuances to make each scene feel a little different. I’m not a “figure it out on the day” kind of creator. I enjoy planning weeks, and months prior to the shoot. These weeks are my rehearsal, my figure-it-out stage. To me, by the shoot day, all the growth and prep should have been done. I look at pre-production like a pregnancy. We have the delivery date, let’s use these months to prepare ourselves and get the house in order. Come shoot day, I know the baby’s coming, I just need to deliver it.
And finally, what’s next?
Narratives and personal work!!!! I’ve been sitting on scripts and ideas. This year is all about finding the right tribe to bring these babies to life.