LAAPFF Interview: Director Dean Yamada On His Second Feature Film, ‘Anjing (The Dogs)’
In a country of haves and have nots, the fates of two dogs from opposite ends of society have profound effects on the families who own them. – IMDb Film Synopsis
Could you tell us a little bit about where the idea for the film came from?
So, my wife and I own dogs, love dogs, and love dog stories, so that’s the heart of it because I feel like as an artist our job is to make people feel something. We feel very strongly about our dogs. And it just so happened that one of my students, former students because I teach film, invited us to Indonesia to make this film. He wrote it specifically for us so that we could shoot it overseas in Jakarta.
What was the journey like getting it from paper onto the big screen?
It was a pretty easy journey in terms of just knowing that this film was going to get made–all we had to do was write it. And so once we wrote it, we traveled to Jakarta to location scout. I was teaching a pre-production class during the spring semester so my students and I were planning for this film. And then, when summer hit, we went to Jakarta for a month and we shot this film in ten days. Then we brought the footage back and we edited it for the fall semester. It was a pretty quick process, actually, in terms of getting it off the ground and getting it shot.
That’s awesome! Sometimes it takes a while for films to lift off, but it sounds like this one went pretty smoothly. Where do you teach?
I teach at this school called Biola University. It’s on the way to Disneyland. I’ve actually made four short films and two feature films with my students. And so, the last feature film we made was called Cicada, shot in Tokyo with a class of Biola students. That ended up winning the Grand Jury prize here at this festival. And then we made a short film before that called Jitensha–which means bicycle in Japanese–and that film won the Golden Reel here at this festival, too.
One of the things that I noticed, especially with this film, is that you work directly with kids and animals. And one of the things that I’ve learned from speaking to a lot of filmmakers, is that you shouldn’t work with kids and animals if you’re not used to it. What was that like, given that word of warning?
The kids weren’t too difficult. The lead actor who was about maybe eleven years old did a great job–he was a natural. But animals… working with dogs, that was a little different because we didn’t have real animal wranglers and these weren’t really trained dogs. One of them was literally a stray dog that found a home with the student producer after the shoot ended. [su_spoiler title=”Click to reveal SPOILERS.”] But, having that dog in some scenes was a challenge because, this is a spoiler, but there’s a scene when the dog is supposed to be dead. And so we thought we would hire a vet to help us administer something to just put it to sleep for like an hour. That didn’t work out, so we decided not to do that. There were people on the Indonesia crew that thought the sleeping pills would work to help make it feel groggy. That only made the dog more agitated.[/su_spoiler] And so we were shooting all night. It was around 3 am and these big rats started to venture out into clear spaces while we were walking around and jumping out of trashcans. The dog was hyper-sensitive to every movement. So it was a challenge to get our shots, but we did it, we pulled it off.
Would you recommend people work with dogs when there are no animal wranglers on set?
No…I don’t recommend that unless you have an animal wrangler, yeah. But we’re pretty guerrilla. There’s not many rules in Indonesia, although the dog’s safety and the dog’s life was our highest priority during those days. But I don’t recommend it.
When it comes to Indonesian films, a lot of people don’t really know about what goes on there in the film industry. What was your experience like working in Indonesia?
So we were working with one of my former students who was running a mini studio, and he had a production company that was churning out content for their cable channel. They were trying to create lots and lots of content, which meant that he was hiring production crews to shoot stories constantly throughout the year, so they were shooting features like in four days, basically. So when they invited us, we were like, “Well, we need at least ten days.” And ten days is actually pretty quick, cause we were shooting upwards to thirteen pages a day. So we had to negotiate twice as long as what some of the other features take. But another part of that is the Indonesian crew was used to working around the clock. They were used to working twenty hour days. But here, we only want to work twelve hour days. We would wrap everyday after twelve hours, and the Indonesian crew would be like, “That’s it?” And then they’d go off and party and enjoy the rest of the night. The rest of us would all be exhausted. It’s sort of a different working culture there.
What Indonesian production company did you work with?
It’s called First Media. And First Media has their hands in a lot of things. They do news, they do movies, they do lots of stuff.
Ultimately, what do you hope that your viewers will take away from the film?
Well I hope that the film will cause them to think. Then there’s certain themes that the film deals with in terms of the importance of the dog’s life, about the role of a nanny in a family, and the definition of family. So hopefully it’s a film that will make people talk. I hope it’s a film that also moves people–as a filmmaker I always definitely want to make the audience feel something.
Follow the director on Twitter: @deanyamada
This brief interview was conducted by Li-Wei Chu during Press Day at the 2019 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
Special thanks to Jonathan Liu for transcribing this interview, and to Derrek Chow for providing the featured image.