A young man is stalked by something across the Pacific Northwest through increasingly surreal environments in this skateboarding-inspired short film.
*Available as a free download on vimeo!
"ichi-go ichi-e" is inspired by my lifelong love of skateboarding. For years I've wanted to take skate films in a more narrative/surreal direction and explore it through other visual means but kept putting it off due to work, life, and perceived time or quality restraints.
After the sudden death of my best friend, Cory Thoresen, in October (2013), I decided that I needed to make something, anything. This film is a tribute to him and his tenacity for life, love, music, and whatever project he threw himself into. Nothing worth doing ever comes easy or without personal cost. Fail better, Fail often.
"ichi-go ichi-e" is a Japanese phrase that translates to english as "one time, one meeting" and infers that each moment we experience occurs immediately and only once. I love this observation and it's suggestion, through our awareness of it, that we make time for friends, family, and the small moments that usually pass unnoticed.
The opening quote, "Nothing is real except that which concerns the working of our minds," by Kakuzo Okakura comes from a book that changed my outlook on life several years ago, The Book Of Tea (free as a kindle download). If you have a moment, I highly suggest you give it a read!
After deciding to make this film, I contacted my buddy Parker Garrett, then living in Arizona, pitched him the idea, and got him a ticket that night to Seattle with less than 6 weeks notice; he had never acted before. At that point I only had a kernel idea of what I wanted this film to be about; There was no script, locations, or anything. There was just an unquenchable desire to go out and create something.
Parker had never been to Seattle so I looked around for a wide variety of locations throughout the state to incorporate into the script for him. Over the next 6 weeks, I wrote a rough script, travelled 800 miles scouting locations in my car, built a mini-ramp with my dad, called in some favors, finalized a rough script, and storyboarded/test shot the entire film with my buddy Norm Tumolva, a local Seattle director.
"ichi-go ichi-e" was shot over three days in early February (2014) throughout Seattle and the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas over one of the winter's coldest snaps. It got down to single digits in some locations, a far cry from Arizona’s 80 degree weather Parker was accustomed to. If we had shifted the shoot days around in any way we would have been shooting in awful rain and/or snowy conditions, instead we were treated to gorgeous light and crisp air.
On the first day, I picked up Parker at the SeaTac airport and a few hours later we shot from 4pm to 1am in 14 degree weather. Our main locations dropped out at the last minute that afternoon and we scrambled to find replacements between Downtown Seattle and the Fremont neighborhood just north of it. These locations ended up being perfect while fitting the look and feel of what the script needed. The first day of shooting, we used only available light at each location.
The next day we were joined by Chris Cummins and Eric Schofhauser; the five of us made up the entirety of the production for the two final days on the western peninsulas. This was my first time really directing and they all stepped up and made it a much easier job by providing fantastic creative input, keeping me on track, pulling off some complex shots with moving lights on monopods, and helping make the best possible film that we could given the budget, circumstances, and time allotted.
Parker, Norm, and I left Seattle and met up with Eric on an early morning ferry ride the second day. I had timed this out for the sunrise and with the anticipation of few cars traveling west on the boat. I chose the Bainbridge ferry for two reasons: First, I knew that as it pulled out of the docks it would turn and create a very surreal shot of Parker on the end of what seemed to be an empty boat with the Seattle skyline drifting towards him. This was shot with a Nikon AIS 135mm lens at around f/11 from the middle of the boat. I wanted to have Parker compressed against the city as it scraped by while being framed by the ferry's interior. Second, It was the quickest route to our backup location on Bainbridge Island across the Puget Sound.
Our next location was great, but due to a large missing piece of the building's side I was very limited in how much of the space we could show. Directly outside was wetlands, trails, and water, a far cry from the city I wanted him to be in storywise. The light was changing very quickly so we had to rehearse then shoot accordingly during the first hour. To our surprise, about an hour into shooting, several elementary school buses showed up and then there were over 100 young kids roaming around outside. From that point on on-set sound recording became irrelevant and I made notes of stuff to record in post. We were able to get one flight in at this location, with a DJI Phantom quadcopter and GoPro Hero3, after the kids went to the other side of the area for lunch.
After that we drove to my parents house out in the Silverdale/Bremerton area about 20 mins away and got to work setting up our two locations there. The first to be shot was Parker walking through the woods with christmas lights strung up all along a path as the primary light source. This took a few hours to set-up as we had to go out and buy more lights to finish the scene so it could be shot mostly in one take on a Glidecam HD4000. We weren't going to have time to take down and move lights around after the sun set. While I set those up the holiday lights with Eric, Norm was using a borrowed Arri kit with a couple 650W with 1/2 CTB setup shooting into the woods for side/back light. We powered them from my parents garage and another outbuilding with several stinger runs. Inside the woods we used F&V 1x1 LED lights powered by Antaun Bauer batteries with 250 diffusion for quick lighting changes. Two of these were placed in treehouses my father, my brothers and I built when I was in elementary school.
Once we set-up, we waited for sunset then ran the scene 4 times on the Glidecam. Half way through the first shot it started snowing, we stopped and then reshot everything while the snow kept falling. By the end of the scene my arm was a little sore and I still had a couple more hours of glidecam work to go. The final set of wood shots were filmed from an 8-step ladder with a small smoke machine dispersed through the scene by the wind.
After the woods, we moved into the barn that I had mostly pre-rigged the weekend before. All of the practical and holiday lights inside were on dimmers. We used an Arri 650w gelled party red on a dimmier outside the door, all the interior mini ramp stuff was lit with the practical incadescent bulbs and holiday lights, with the 5600K light panels being used outside addiitonally gelled with 1/4 CTB. For the skating portion we used practicals with a light haze for atmosphere to warm up the room, decrease the visible contrast, and help bloom out the lights a little more. Once set up, we shot until around 11:30pm, then called it a night as we had to be up early for an hour long drive to our first location, where we needed to arrive at least an hour before sunrise to take advantage of the light.
At the first location, on the third and final day, we had some equipment failures due to cold; the DJI Phantom had two batteries fail in a row when it was around 12 Degrees F + wind chill. With time and light being critical, we ended up scrapping the aerial shots and going straight into the rest of the scene. As our sky brightened quickly, we only had 1-2 quick takes for each of the shots I had planned. Several shots were combined into one in order to make everything work and meet our time restraints. Once the sun rose, we jumped into the cars and headed out to our next location, an underground bunker another hour or so away.
After arriving and then hiking the 20 minutes out to the underground location we realized that I had brought the wrong hoodie. We lost some time having to go back and get the right hoodie and then we were only able to shoot one take with the flare because our next location was over 2 hours away. We had timed each location and scene to the Sun's position and didn't have really any room for error. But, due to the awesome crew and talent, we got what we needed in that one take and were able to make it out to the coast for the final scene of the day just in time.
On the coast, there was only a little of the haze that I ran into on the tech scout (which looked incredibly beautiful), but we were lucky enough to have clear skies. The Washington coastline is usually socked in with wind, rain, and fog this time of year. When we arrived, we went right to work and shot until sunset. The glidecam played for the most of the scene with the final shot of the film being handheld on my knee with the 135mm Nikon AIS lens again. I had planned on an ending aerial shot, but to due to the battery failures earlier in the morning and a strong wind, we decided to call it a day.
After wrapping, we enjoyed an amazing sunset then got back in the car, drove the several hours to my parents house to grab gear, and then caught a ferry back to Seattle. We were all pretty tuckered out, haha.
Over the next three days, Parker and I went and hit up most of the skateparks and explored spots around Seattle to decompress before he flew back to Arizona that weekend.
Visually, I wanted to tell a story that moved from tighter lenses, closed spaces, and complex urban environments to wider, smoother, and more natural spaces. The colors were meant to switch from grays, reds, and sodium vapor light sources to greens and blues.
I shot "ichi-go ichi-e" with a Canon 5D Mark III (standard picture profile to crush the noise during night scenes), L-Series Glass (24mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.2, 85mm f/1.2) and a set of Nikon AIS manual lenses (20mm, 28mm, 50mm, 55mm macro, 85mm, 135mm) using the Foto-Diox Pro Nikon - EF adapters. Day scenes were shot at ISO 320 while night scenes used ISO 2500 (no de-noiser was used in post with minimal color grading overall). I used a custom-built shoulder mount from Berkey System parts and pulled focus off the lens barrel as I went with a SmallHD DP4 monitor. Stabilized shots were done with a Glidecam HD4000.
Artificial lighting was only used in a few scenes, for these I used a set of three F&V 1x1 LED light panels with Antaun Bauer Gold Mount batteries for portability, a borrowed Arri Kit (2-650w, 2-300w, 1-150w), existing practical lights, over 15 strands of white holiday lights on dimmers, and a 15-minute road flare. The entire scene with the flare was done in one take.
I had previously pre-ordered the Freefly Systems Movi M5 with the expectation that it would ship in January about a week before we were supposed to start production. The delivery date was pushed to April, so we had to rewrite the script a little and adjust/cut several of the more ambitious shots to accommodate not having it. In it’s place I used my small glidecam HD4000, but most of the "ichi-go ichi-e" was shot handheld.
After I received the Movi M5 a few months later, I went out and shot the surreal city sequences over an hour while driving around Seattle with Norm one night. These were the final shots for the film and enabled me to really start cutting and finalizing the storyline.
After defining the visuals for the project I worked with my longtime friend, Chris Cummins, who designed and engrave the boards we used on the shoot. My mom, Lisa Nystrom, came in and helped to find the wardrobe and practical lights while I was tech scouting and building the mini-ramp. During construction I got a piece of metal jammed in my thumb and had to get it cut out at the doctors . I tried to pull it out with some pliers but with no luck, haha.
Before editing, I waited several weeks to even look at the footage, I was shooting another short film and went to several commercials immediately after, so I wanted a little distance to think about the project. By mid-March I had all the footage culled, organized, and transcoded so I cut together a short teaser to give everyone an idea of what we had done and the feel I was going for with the story.
I spent the next 6 months on and off editing, sound designing, and re-cutting “ichi-go ichi-e” into the film it is now whenever I had time available between other shoots. The first cut was 21 minutes long, which is pretty ridiculous now that I look back on it. It took a while, and some great feedback from friends and other filmmakers, but I finally was able to cut it down to the bare necessities.
I had originally thought of using a narration in the style of Sweetgrass Productions snowboard film "Valhalla," but I became more and more drawn into exploring the spaces with Parker. I ended up wanting the audience to come to their own conclusions, to fill in the blanks, and hopefully be drawn more into the film as a participant. To me, less is more and dialogue should only be included if it's intentional and required for the story. If it's not revealing something about a character or driving the plot, I can't include it. I ended going with a very minimal sound design because I wanted play with the idea of points and counterpoints between noise and silence. Originally I had lined up some friends to do music but their time was random and I wanted to have the first cut done by June, so I did this myself.
To record and mix I used a Tascam DR-40 4-track recorder, a Sennheiser MKE 600 Shotgun Mic, Animoog and GarageBand on an iPad mini, Final Cut Pro X, and a lot of patience while using Youtube to problem solve issues and questions. I didn’t have Plural Eyes at the time so I had to sync up everything in post on my own without any script notes. That took a while but helped by making me think about what sounds were crucial and which others were extraneous to the story. Many times I would export a small clip, put in on my phone and the go out and record the sounds I needed while watching it in real time. In the end I wanted the film to sound great and create an atmosphere of tension and release. Below is a photo of the final cut of the film with a focus on the sound layering.
Fast forward to now, I’ve learned an incredible amount over the course of this project and am extremely happy to share it here with everyone!
Many, many, many thanks to everyone that helped (physically and emotionally) make this film possible. I’m excited to see where this goes and what other projects come out of this. I hope it inspires you to go out and make something for yourself!
Our time here is short and unpredictable; life is in the details, enjoy the small moments!
P.S. Please share and download “ichi-go ichi-e” if you like it! :)
Tracy Nystrom - Director / Director of Photography
Norman Tumolva - 1st Assistant to Director / Gaffer
Eric Shofhauser - Camera Assistant / Electrician / Sound
Chris Cummins - Aerial Assistant / Art Design /Sweetbeard
Michael Nystrom and Jesse Nystrom - Set Construction
Lisa Nystrom - Production Design
Special Thanks - Jeremy Mackie, Niall James, Ken Jensen