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Bus Stop Films in Japan!
February 01, 2018

It has been my dream to bring our film studies curriculum to the global disability community and I was beside myself to see that dream come true in Japan so early on in the year! We have been fortunate enough in the past to be able to bring inclusion to the global film industry in other ways. In 2016, our board member, filmmaker and advocate Sarah Jane Johnson worked on the new Garth Davis (Lion, Top of the Lake) feature film, Mary Magdalene which is set to be released this year in March. While shooting in Italy, Sarah took it upon herself to connect with a local disability service provider and brought some of the cast and crew from the film, in for a workshop and a meet and and greet. The effect was transformative, so much so that the costume department donated many of the film’s costumes and props to the provider for future use. It’s amazing how one step towards inclusion can bear much fruit.

In the case of my recent Japanese project, we were able to go to Japan fully resourced with the opportunity to bring people with disabilities on set to work with a professional crew. Needless to say… I was nervous; how will we communicate? Will our program translate to a different culture? Will these students even like my teaching style? So many worries, but worry is never a good enough excuse to back down!

In late July 2017, I pitched for a branded content project to be made in partnership with Short Shorts Film Festival and Asia (Japan’s only Oscar Qualifying Film Festival) and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Many of the details of the project are still embargoed, so I can’t let too much fly yet, but basically the job was to make a short film to promote Tokyo as a tourist destination. The film will be launched in June to coincide with Short Short’s 20th anniversary. Upon winning the job I spoke with our Japanese producer about making the film inclusively and he was open to the idea!

I was grateful to our partner, Panavision for introducing us to the Managing Director of Sanwa, a company very similar to Panavision, which hires out top of the range film equipment to film and television projects across Japan. Generously, Sanwa agreed to provide the workshop space to us free of charge. Our Japanese producer then reached out to the Japan Down Syndrome Society which is where we found six very interested locals with an intellectual disability who were keen to learn about and be involved in filmmaking. And thanks to Short Shorts I was able to work with one of their amazing and very charismatic bilingual staff members to interpret for me, so my teaching didn’t get lost in translation!

Our first ever Japanese Bus Stop Students, at Sanwa!

A few days before the workshop, Sarah and I were invited to watch a hip hop dance class specifically designed for people with an intellectual disability. It was wonderful to go along and watch some of our participants who would be joining us for our filmmaking workshop, dance at the class.

While there, Sarah and I were able to chat with locals from the disability community, including parents about what it’s like for people with an intellectual disability living in Japan. They mentioned that inclusion in the workforce wasn’t a priority for society, many people work ‘behind the scenes’ at cafes washing up and cleaning. People felt that in many ways, being inclusive of people with disabilities in general wasn’t on the social radar. Having just done trip to the UK and Europe where I spoke at a number of events, I was able to reassure the locals that it’s not just Japan, it’s all over the world and also in Australia. We need to prioritise and include people with disabilities in the workforce, in industry, in education and socially, globally. It’s something we all have to step up in, throughout the world.

Our interpreter John Haggarty with our Ambassador Gerard O’Dwyer!

Our participants receiving a cuddly Australian gift to thank them for participating in the workshop!

Our film studies workshop was conducted two days before principal photography was set to begin on the film. The plan was to equip the participants with basic film set protocol and the confidence to work with the camera slate on set prior to each take.

The workshop began with two name games that made use of some hilarious props that Sarah and I bought from Don Quijote (a massive shop in Japan which sells pretty much anything you can think of.) After getting confident with everyone’s names, the group watched some Pixar short films so they could explore and talk about what makes for interesting characters. Then the fun really kicked in. The participants were asked to use some costumes and wigs to create their own character. The character had to have a name, they had to ‘want’ something and they had to have a flaw they which they needed to overcome – the best characters all have flaws!

Needless to say, I met many interesting characters! An old lady who fought crime, but who also stole things. I met a unicorn-man who wanted to save the world but needed to overcome his fears and self doubt and I met a school girl who was mean but wanted to be softer and learn to be friends with people!

Saki and Tomomi creating some very interesting characters!

After the characters were born it was time to learn about some make up basics! I was really excited to teach this. I didn’t want to use a professional make up kit, because I wanted to give the participants, confidence to use make up for their own projects. I bought everything I needed locally, at my favourite shop, Don Quijote. This included fake blood, face paint and some other random make up supplies! With the basic make up, I was able to show the students how to create a glamorous look, how to create an old lady and also how to create a bruise and graze with eye shadow and fake blood.

Genevieve turning Saki into a little old lady!

Hello little old lady!

We then learned about film set protocol, crew calls and each participant got to learn about the role of the Clapperloader (the person who uses the camera slate) and why we identify scenes with the slate and ‘mark’ the beginning of a take with a clap. Each person practiced and some even said the scene and take numbers in English! I was really amazed at how quickly many of our participants picked up English!

Tomomi learning all about the slate!

Two days later we were on set filming! We scheduled to have two participants on set for a block of 4 hours at a time to work in tandem with Sarah Jane on the slate. It was their very first film project and it was amazing to see them get straight into it! It is a transformative experience to work in a team and be responsible for something. Many of the participants didn’t want to leave when their time had come to an end. I give full kudos to Sarah, my right hand woman who did an amazing job of mentoring the students and helping them fulfil their role as the clapperloader. They all loved how nurturing she was.

Sarah with the lovely Kurumi working on set!

While Sarah and I are not in Japan anymore, we are forever connected to these six amazing humans who stepped out to work on a film set and do something they’ve never done before. I am so proud of them and I cannot wait to see our very first Japanese Bus Stop students and their families, once again – but on the red carpet! In June our film will premiere at Japan’s largest short film festival and I look forward to proudly sharing the results of our joint efforts when we watch our film together with an audience and celebrate all we achieved.

Inclusion is sooooo easy. Making a difference isn’t hard. It just takes an open heart, an open mind and a firm belief that everyone has potential.

By Genevieve Clay-Smith

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