When indie filmmaker Michael Suan set his sights on creating a silent action movie, ThinkPad laptops came into play – not just as high-tech props but as the engine to slice and dice thousands of hours of raw footage and then the tool to stitch the digital frames into the master art form that Suan had continually imaged and reimaged in his mind. In the following Q&A, we delved into the mechanics of his latest creation and how he transformed the abstract into a 114-minute long piece of film noir.
Q. Tell me about the film – what’s it about and why the name AKP: Job 27.
A. AKP: Job 27 is one of those things that I've talked about doing since film school. Every time I mentioned the idea people would tell me how crazy I was. The notion of shooting a feature-length film without a single line of spoken dialogue in a modern setting seemed far-fetched to say the least. But having seen Luc Besson's "Le Dernier Combat" and Kim Ki Duk's "Bad Guy" I was certain that, given the right story, the film could be done. You see, unlike traditional silent cinema that contains no sound and uses title cards for dialogue, AKP: Job 27 uses a form I call modern silent which contains sound but no dialogue at all. The film plays the same as any other film with sound, but the characters do not speak on screen - ever. This is a style of filmmaking that I've been exploring throughout my career, and only now have I placed it into a feature-length form. It's kind of like watching a film where you only see the moments where people don't talk.
With that said, AKP: Job 27 is still an interesting film to those who are unfamiliar with the art-house genre. It is a hybrid of gangster, noir and romance. The story is centered around a stoic Yakuza hitman who is sent from Tokyo to North America to complete his 27th job. Upon arriving, he begins to fall in love with a local prostitute who reminds him of his lost love. I don't want to say anymore for fear of giving away too much, but needless to say the film should provide audiences with a unique experience and should be interesting to both fans of the art house genre and fans of the gangster genre.
As for the name, AKP is an abbreviation for A Killer's Path or as written in Kanji "Koroshia no Michi." It's based on two short films that I made years ago on a stoic silent hitman character from Japan. Because the feature was based off of the shorts they now share the same name AKP. Maybe this will become a canon that I can revisit later in my career as a series of silent films on the stoic hitman from Japan - who knows?
Q. Why edit the film on a ThinkPad W520?
A. We considered doing post-production on a Macbook Pro, but we realized that it was ill-suited for handling RED EPIC footage at 4K resolution so we used a ThinkPad W520 mobile workstation. There are a couple of key ways the ThinkPad really helped us.
For graphics rendering, its workstation-class GPUs and Adobe Premiere were essential. We needed a machine with a certified Quadro 2000 GPU to do the hardware acceleration of RED footage for smooth, real-time editing of 4K material. The W530’s four DIMMs for RAM (max of 32 GB) gave us plenty of memory to handle rendering the intensive workflow.
We needed a lot of CPU power for rendering and final outputting the film at 4K resolution. The W520 handled it like a champ with the Intel quad core i7 Extreme processor. This allowed us to do everything we needed in real-time. We did not have to render 99 percent of the effects in the film during editing (including color timing, transitions, grain and film filters, opticals, titles and overlays). The only ones needing rendering were advanced aerial stabilization shots that we took from a helicopter.
The W520 has three storage drive slots, whereas others have two. That allowed us to fit the ThinkPad with three SSDs: one mSata SSD for operating system and software, one SSD for rendering and one SSD for storage (minus optical drive). Having triple SSDs inside the machine made it a true editing workstation because the software and OS can run independently on their own SSD, while rendering and raw data storage run on their own dedicated SSD. You have zero bottlenecking during the editing process. This isn’t possible on any other laptop - we've checked.
The icing on the cake with the W520 is its wide gamut 95% LCD display at 1080p resolution. This let us do on-the-spot color timing through the REDs Debayer tool without having to bring along a wide gamut timing monitor. Again, no other laptop has this feature. With an Intel Extreme quad core i7 CPU, a Quadro 2000 GPU, 32 GB or RAM, three dedicated SSDs and a wide gamut 1080p display all built into one machine the W520 is the end all of mobile post production computers. We were able to compose the rough-cut, fine-tune the final cut, and output the 1080p masters, DCP 4K master and BluRay master all on the same machine. It’s the only laptop that I've ever seen be able to spit out a 4K DPX and compose a DCP in a reasonable time frame.
Q. What advice would you give filmmakers about the editing process? What are the challenges and ways to achieve success?
A. My first advice is don't ever try to edit your own film (joking)! If at all possible try to find a dedicated editor to work with you, preferably someone you can trust with your vision and someone who knows your style. The reason I say this is because as a director you always want to keep everything, so the film ends up being five hours long and nobody can sit through it. This is true of my own film. We had to do 12 different revisions to finally get the film to run under two hours. Even then I feel the film could still be trimmed a little more. This is the double-edged sword of having complete creative control, I guess. So all in all, I'd say try to find a good editor who knows you and let them do the hard cutting when you can't and make sure you have a well-built machine to keep everything running smoothly. There's nothing worse than waiting for rendering and sluggish performance to kill the creative juices.
Q. Any tips or tricks on shooting scenes with computers in them?
A. Make sure the computers make sense for the story. You don't know how many times I've seen films where a character has a Mac just because it looks cool. It's very distracting to see computers in scenes that don't fit. Authenticity is the key to any good film. Do your research and find out which computers the characters would actually use in that scene. For example, we chose ThinkPad laptops for the Yakuza characters because in real life that’s what they would use. The advanced security features, rugged chassis and matte black finish of the ThinkPads play well to syndicate types, both legal and illegal, excuse my pun. In the end, the ThinkPads in our scenes actually help create atmosphere and help establish the serious no nonsense nature of the characters. What's slicker than a Yakuza hitman dressed in black with a set of laptops that match his attire?
Q. How did you get into filmmaking? What was your inspiration?
A. I majored in film studies, which left me with no other choice but to get into film and television. Nobody told me that a film degree was useless for anything else. LOL! I can tell you the age-old story about how I love filmmaking and that filmmaking was all that I ever wanted to do, but that would only be partially true. Like all film grads, I have always loved cinema and always will. But the real reason why I studied film was because I wasn't always the greatest academic, so filmmaking was the only course of studies that I knew I could finish. It's pretty hard to fail film school. But once I finished my studies I found that I had actually found my life's calling. Film is a great medium for philosophy and allows you to create works that can entertain and simultaneously instill deep thought. This above all, is the reason I became a filmmaker. Take a film like "Ashes of Time" by Wong Kar Wai. I've seen it a hundred times yet, every time I watch it again, I find something new to dwell upon. If I can leave behind something like that, then it's all worth it.
Q. Where can we see the film?
A. AKP: Job 27 is just starting its festival run. It will have its world premiere in Europe at the 33rd Fantasporto Film Festival in March, followed by its domestic premiere in Toronto in April. In the coming months we will announce the film's full festival schedule including its American and Asian Premiere dates. For those interested in seeing the film, please follow us on Facebook and Twitter and check out the film's website where we will update the film's festival schedule for the 2013 calendar. Hopefully I'll see some of your readers at one of the premieres.
For those of you in Europe, consider checking the film out at Fantasporto 2013. They have a great lineup this year.