Acclaimed Japanese producer of over 60 film productions, Takenori Sentou has worked for over 20 years in the film industry. He has contributed extensively to the surge of Japanese film to an international audience. Among the films credited to his name include Ringu (1998), Eureka (2000), Boy’s Choir (2000), Otogiriso (2001), Thank You (2006) and The Kiss (2007). The producer is also greatly respected for introducing young Japanese filmmakers to the global audience. It was thus a great honour and privilege to be part of the seminar and listen to his perspectives when The Puttnam School of Film organised a two-day event on 20 and 21 January 2012 at our LASALLE College of the Arts campus. It was certainly a fruitful learning experience for The Puttnam School of Film students and guests from other film schools as well as members of the film community. This was Sentou-san’s maiden visit to the island.
Students from the Puttnam School of Film spent the first day, with a screening of Ringu, a classic J-horror film produced by Sentou-san and directed by Hideo Nakata. This was followed with a short question and answer session. The producer was right at home as he shared the unimaginable success of the horror film and remarked that the antagonist, Sadako is now a common name for ghost in Japan!
The Producer’s Seminar was then held in the afternoon. During this session, film students had the rare opportunity to tap into Sentou-san’s vast knowledge and experience through questions, mostly angled towards areas such as producing and the business of film, as well as a few personal questions.
During The Producer’s Seminar, the audience consisted of student producers from respective levels who were majoring in production for the First, Diploma and Thesis films, as well as students who are interested in the area of producing. Questions that were brought up were then dissected by Sentou-san and his answers were extensive and often overlapping with other interesting relevant topics that would then inspire new questions from the floor.
Never tiring or showing any signs of fatigue from the intensive one-day session, he highlighted several important factors. One of which is regarding the essential qualities of a Producer. His reply to that was that there are no factual answers, as each person is uniquely different, and instead it is within the person’s characteristics that determine it. As he elaborates on this, it is somewhat like the “Producer’s instincts”, for example, how that person deals with situations and problems, how they solve it and how their personality causes he or she to adapt. He concludes, that experience on the other hand, will then refine it even further.
A child can be talented in areas like music, but there are none that are born just to make movies. In fact, there is no such thing as “talent” in filmmaking.
During some moment in-between, another interesting question was raised regarding the confusion between the role of a Producer and Director, and here Sentou-san’s reply humoured the crowd as he asked students to think of themselves as the parents of a baby, which in this case, the baby would be the film. The producer would be the “Father” and the director would be the “Mother”. And the parents are responsible for the baby and they will have to decide whether to send the baby overseas or stay local. He also mentioned that all films were made with the intention to succeed, no films were made intentionally to fail, but it is really just down to luck whether or not it would be a success. However, one thing is crucial, he pinpointed out, that is “Make what you believe is a good film and leave the rest down to luck with no regrets”. Such analogy certainly tickled the crowd and at the same time, made the point he wanted to make, much stronger!
Another point that we took was that for Sentou-san, building relationships with people, as well as hard work and determination is vital when it comes to filmmaking. One of the comments he made to students was “A child can be talented in areas like music, but there are none that are born just to make movies, in fact, there is no such thing as ‘talent’ in filmmaking”. I personally, resonated with this point as film in a multi-faceted medium.
The second day (Saturday 21 January 2012) started off with the Asian Film Market Seminar. This was an open seminar aimed at the film community, and this intimate dialogue session was facilitated by local producer and Assistant Director of Talent Development Division at Media Development Authority (MDA), Juan Foo. Guests came from other film schools such as New York University (NYU) and Singapore Polytechnic, as well as industry practitioners and of course, students from The Puttnam School of Film. Issues discussed were related to the business and marketing of film, dealing with investors, pre-production workflow in Japan. Sentou-san who used to work in a steel factory but later pursued his love for film shared his experience of going into the international film scene. For him, there is no big difference working in the former and behind-the-scenes of film productions – every department is co-dependent on one another. With his past experiences marketing his films through film festivals, the story behind the production of Ringu and Eureka as well as dealing with foreign film businesses from an independent filmmaker’s point-of-view, he stressed continually on the importance of forging good relationships between collaborators and financiers.
After a lunch break, Eureka, the award-winning feature film by Shinji Aoyama, was screened and this screening was followed by another question and answer dialogue with its famed producer. Even though it was a short visit, his replies, comments and advices shared through his years of experience in the industry was well received by the audience and certainly valued by The Puttnam School of Film students!
As for aspiring students to be Producers, it has certainly given them plenty of information to think about.
Tan Song Yeow (on Takenori Sentou’s right) is a Level 2 student. He is interested in the areas of directing and producing as well as cinematography and is currently focused on his final semester projects, in particular two Diploma films productions, Polling Day, and Behind Closed Doors as Assistant Director and Editor respectively.