Field Notes Interview #98: Kerwin Kuniyoshi, Producer + Filmmaker

A still from Kerwin's independent film,   Roman's Way  , premiered at the 168 Film Festival, 2012.

A still from Kerwin's independent film, Roman's Way, premiered at the 168 Film Festival, 2012.

You are not defined by your output.

Behind every moving picture lies a producer who spent hours and hours putting the pieces together to ensure the best possible outcome. Kerwin Kuniyoshi is one of those people. A producer and part-time filmmaker, his work ranges from short films to major advertisements for the likes of Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter and has included time at agencies like Avocados and Coconuts and Eleven, Inc. We chatted with him about what it’s like being the person (behind the person) behind the camera, and how social media is changing the way to look at music in advertising. Enjoy.

What’s your story? How did you get into producing?

Kerwin Kuniyoshi: In high school when I went to pick a major for college, film seemed like the best thing for me, and once I owned that I was going to do this path, I was super passionate about it…Eventually, when I was doing my own short films, I needed someone to produce it and no one would step up to the plate, so I had to do it myself. Suddenly I had this new skill set and there seemed to be more of a demand for a producer than an editor or filmmaker.

Would you say there’s a specific skill or set of skills that you learned that have served you well as a producer?

KK: Yeah…. I can use an analogy. I used to play chess. The objective in chess is to be thinking at least ten moves in advance -- and that’s the essential element of producing. You sit at a project and you think it out until you’ve exhausted every possibility. A really solid producer is someone who is a Swiss-army knife; they do whatever they need to do to get the job done.

What would you say are some of the main differences between working in advertising and working on a film?

KK: In advertising, there’s a creative aspect, but you have to think about what’s best for the client. At the end of the day, it’s the client and the ad agency that have the final cut….With film, you’re making it for yourself and with commercials you’re making it for the client.

Are you working on any films currently?

KK: I had a script I wrote that advanced in the Austin Film Festival competition and I thought I was going to make [the film]… at some point I decided it’s time for me to move away from short films.  I’m ready to hop into the big boys, so to speak.  The short was a complementary piece to a feature that I’ve been considering making for a while and am ready to start working on soon.

Can you think of any projects or situations that stand out for you as a learning experience?

KK: Every project -- I’ve learned from every project, no matter how big or small.

You recently worked for a spot that was only broadcasted on Twitter. Do you think that the rise of social media has changed the way you produce or look for music?

KK: Oh, absolutely. It’s actually changed the fabric of advertising.  Before social media and YouTube, typically commercials were in the $250-500k range on average. The main outlets for video were broadcast, so a ton of resources were put into it to make sure it was the best quality. And then all of a sudden, we had this boom in the Internet, and you had a free platform to show your client’s work… But what happened was clients were like “Why are we spending money when we can do this?” and simultaneously we had the DSLR revolution that drove the cost down to producing high quality video content. So these two things together have driven down the price of video and content creation. As a producer, I typically get a lot of low budget projects…going back to that thing of being a swiss army knife,  [I’ll] go out with a DP and a PA and I’ll come back and edit the whole piece myself, because financially it makes more sense.

"As consumers of content we’re not that phased anymore -- there has to be something really interesting or unique to catch our attention.  I feel like a big way that’s done is through music."

Would you say this low budget mentality influences what music you use?

KK: Totally -- what seems sadder is some clients will suggest online, royalty-free music sites, because they know how much money they’re giving you and it somehow shapes the mindset of “well-this works” – but like, no.

I think the biggest challenge with all of this is there is so much content being put out there on a daily basis that a lot of it is just white noise. As consumers of content we’re not that phased anymore -- there has to be something really interesting or unique to catch our attention.  I feel like a big way that’s done is through music.

Speaking of music that catches your attention, do you have a process for finding that perfect track?

KK: In advertising, I’m like a waiter in a fine dining restaurant -- my job is to give the client the best experience possible. Yes, I bring my talents and capabilities, but what I really need to bring is my ear. I need to listen to what they want and need.

What’s some of the best advice you’ve ever been given?

KK: That I am not defined by my output.

Posted on September 23, 2016 and filed under Field Notes, Filmmaking.