My first interview in a series of unsung heroes in the entertainment industry started in sunny, eclectic Venice, California.
Pathfinder Pictures maintains a low profile even with offices just off the famous Venice boardwalk.
While Pathfinders' founder, Taka Arai, talks about his secret to staying in the film biz for the long haul, the family dog Daisy makes a few passes to collect some head rubs from me. The Pathfinder office is about as unpretentious as you can get.
Michelle Williams: How long have you been involved in film and where did you get your start?
Taka Arai: I started in 1990 working for Warner Bros. in Japan. I moved my family there for three years. I had the opportunity to work with many talented film industry people and others and got great experience there. I opened Pathfinder Pictures here in Venice in 1999, with a focus on independent theatrical production and distribution.
MW: What does it take to stay in this business for so many years and maintain success?
TA: Luckily, I am part of a niche market that centers on classic titles, foreign films, and often independent titles that would be otherwise hard to find in the US. I made the commitment long ago to stay in it, and practice being in the film business. This for me means just doing this business. Not part-time a restaurant or a car dealership, because it would take me out of the center of what's happening. Our shift in 2002 to distribution of DVD titles has been the core of the work. It was a bit of a late start, with DVD being largely popular in 2000, but again the niche of cult titles, Japanese, Korean, French films and classics have been successful for us. I work with only a handful of wholesalers in the US and Canada to distribute the titles. They land in places from businesses like Vidiots in Santa Monica, to Amazon, to education sources. We release 2-5 titles a month right now.
MW: What do you see for the future in film production, funding, distribution?
TA: Well, now literally anyone can make a film. There is so much available in equipment and the outlets, including VOD (video on demand) markets that almost anyone can make film and distribute. Only a handful of the film festivals really offer more than a "pat on the back," but we still participate sometimes in those. I think if you have a good script, and are savvy with production, you can make a film for a small budget.
MW: That leads me to my next question, what do think of no-budget, low-budget, crowdfunding, and other alternative financing for film?
TA: I think there will be some changes in the future. Right now, friends and family largely contribute to some of these projects through Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and similar sites. These are donations, but I think the changes from the new JOBS Act, specifically the CROWDFUND Act will change how investors will look at putting their money into film. There is opportunity there, but I think it will change things in the long term for small independent filmmaking.
Pathfinder Pictures continues to make independent films, albeit very selectively. Taka revealed more about their methods...
TA: I keep a circle of directors, and writers and other talented crew. I think there are two important points in deciding to make a film;
1. You will make a film and do what you want to, without thinking too much about the outcome, and
2. To be more business-minded and pay attention to and catch some of the current trends. Because once you decide to make the film, it becomes your life, baby, sibling, etc.
MW: How do you like being in Venice all these years? Has it changed?
TA: It hasn't changed that much, actually. We get a lot of tourists visiting the beach every day. It's a community of weird people.
Taka gave me a few DVD titles to watch, documentary subject matter, because I expressed an interest in that. I had not heard of the titles, but am eager to view them. Taka is knowledgeable, efficient, polite and approachable. All qualities that I’m sure have contributed to his working with so many different people.
The experience gained from our brief meeting could be summed up in one wise phrase from Taka about staying in the industry, "Keep everything in the back yard."
Find out more about Pathfinder Pictures and their wonderful catalog of movies at PathfinderPictures.com
Michelle Williams lives in Los Angeles and is a former youth footballer star. Michelle's modern girl maxim? “Read lots, and always dress right for your motorbike!”