This week we are elated to bring you the one and only Chad Kukahiko. As WMM’s COO, he is the very definition of indispensable. His tireless devotion, integrity and industrious efforts towards creating the space that WMM occupies, is relatively unparalleled. An accomplished and multifaceted performer, director and producer, Chad elects to focus his time and energy towards the development of an ideal landscape for the independent filmmaker, while concurrently creating his own content. One of his latest directorial endeavors, TUESDAY MORNING, will enjoy a screening at the Pasadena Film Festival tomorrow. Join him there if you can & read below to learn more about him!
WMM: Where are you from, what is your background, and how do you think that informs what you do as a filmmaker?
CK: I was born in Utah and raised LDS (Latter-Day Saints), then moved to the Big Island of Hawaii right after the 7th grade. People don’t realize that there are a lot of Polynesian Mormons, but there are, and though I left the church at the age of fourteen, being raised in a religion as strict with such a clear-cut set of beliefs of the world – and yet also Hawaiian which has a whole other set of fascinating traits – created such a rich patchwork of contradictory ideals and world views that I think it almost forced me to become an artist. Or maybe a philosopher. I guess to some degree both are true about me.
WMM: When did you know you wanted to pursue your craft as a career? Were you supported in your dreams to become a filmmaker?
CK: I don’t recall how old I was when I first learned about Leonardo DaVinci, but I remember thinking that that’s what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to master more than one thing, and as a small child I had decided that I wanted to be an inventor. Later I discovered that I had a certain knack for acting. It wasn’t anything I really had much interest in. In fact, I remember being cast as Injun Joe in our elementary school production of “Huck Finn” but that I missed so many rehearsals that they replaced me. It didn’t bother me much though.
Later during high school, I tried out drama again and found that it helped me with my confidence which wasn’t great – I mean, who’s is at that age? Then during my senior year I directed my first play. It was a short one act and we had two performances of it. We had far too little rehearsal, but even so, the first performance somehow finished without too many mistakes and I was generally pleased. Then the second night, almost immediately the actors started forgetting lines and jumping around in the script. I was back stage tearing my hair out not knowing what I could do when they suddenly jumped to near the end of the piece and I realized I was supposed to do some sound effects on the other side of the stage. The sound effects obviously came late which was funny, and in a piece that’s supposed to be dramatic like this, that’s awful. The catastrophe culminated with another actor and me (because of course I couldn’t get enough actors to do the entire piece on such late notice) trying to drag the “dead body” of the lead character off the stage and failing for what seemed like hours until the audience started to laugh. I ended up just pushing his body off the stage like a push broom and of course that ended up making the audience laugh even more.
When I got off the stage, to my surprise I found that even though I was on the one hand destroyed by the embarrassment, on the other I realized that I had never before cared about something so much in my life. I knew then that I wanted to direct. Since then, that urge to direct has spread to creative produce, and also to help create the organization behind We Make Movies. That drive to master many different fields like Leonardo DaVinci is a perfect fit for directing and producing since so many different skills are needed to do either well.
WMM: Did you study anywhere in your field? Where? Any notable stories/experiences/peers/teachers?
CK: Right out of high school I was lucky enough to get into the extremely competitive acting conservatory within Boston University. I graduated from BU in ’94 and then when I moved to Los Angeles in ’97 I started to study again at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, where I stayed for about five years with Milton Katselas, Gloria Gifford, Gary Imhoff, Richard Lawson and Jeffrey Tambor. Then a few years ago I started studying again with Gary Imhoff, but obviously as a director this time. I continue to study with Gary whenever time allows. During my time at the BHP, Gary was instrumental in my development as an actor. He’s not as well-known or respected as I believe he deserves, and I think it’s because he adamantly refuses to cultivate a cult of personality around him, but I think he’s one of the very best in town regardless.
WMM: What else do you do besides your craft? Day job?
CK: I pay most of my bills by working in advertising, and more specifically by working at the Culver City office of the agency Wongdoody. When I gave up acting for good to move to directing I knew I’d need a full-time job for a bit because I was starting over and Wongdoody is a great place to work. In fact, the We Make Movies values were inspired by Wongdoody’s Corporate Values, and Wongdoody continues to support We Make Movies in a variety of ways which mostly includes letting us use their office space and giving our past two summer interns a place to sit and a computer and phone to use. It’s such a great place to work that even long after I’ve left, I’ll continue to find ways for Wongdoody and We Make Movies to work together.
WMM: What is the lowest budget you have worked with? Highest?
CK: My film school was a series of 48 hour film festivals that I started doing back in 1997 with my brother, Denny, and occasionally my girlfriend, Kendall. I can’t recall what every budget was for those 48 hour films, but I have a very strong feeling that the lowest was perhaps $100, which we probably spent on food. The thing about 48 hour film projects is that you’re basically awake for about three straight days if you’re the people at the heart of the project, which we typically were, so there are a lot of blurry moments. The biggest budgets I’ve worked on have been for clients so it’s not something I think I should get into just because I don’t think they want their budgets paraded around. Needless to say I have yet to work on a project where I feel like I have plenty of room to play. I tend to push for the time to keep our projects Good and Cheap in the old “Fast, Cheap or Good – pick two” indie spectrum.
WMM: Describe your first foray into professional film making? First screening? First show?
CK: Being in STOMP was definitely a thrill. Booking the gig in the first place was an ordeal spread over weeks and almost half a dozen call-backs, but when I finally found out that I was in the cast, I jumped up and down screaming. I was with a friend whom I’d met during the auditions and he’d listened to his phone call with an incredible poker face. This was back in the mid-90s when cell phones were still a bit of a luxury. New York actors had voicemail systems which they’d check now and then, and we’d just gotten back to my apartment from somewhere. He’d listened first, kept his composure and said nothing as I checked my own and completely lost it. Then right after losing it, I realized that he was up for a role too and shut right up. He asked me “what?” and I said I’d been offered a role in the show, assuming he hadn’t – and suddenly feeling awful for celebrating right in front of him. Calm as anything, he responds “Me too.” That was an exciting moment. It was a fun show to work on, and it taught me a lot, but I definitely think that the most memorable moment was that, learning that I’d booked it.
WMM: What is the most stressful situation you have found yourself in as an artist? Most rewarding? Most memorable?
CK: Though I moved from acting to directing back in the early 2000s, during 2011 I started working again on a one-person show which I had been working on off and on for more than half my life. I finished a full rough draft of it in early 2012 and did a three performance workshop of it in LA and then later a full run of it during the 2012 Hollywood Fringe. It was fairly well received, won some acclaim and Best of Fringe as well as a Best One-person show nomination, but for a day and a half before each performance I’d experience the most intense panic attacks. It was extremely unpleasant and reminded me part of why I’d moved away from acting. I guess the anxiety-to-joy ratio isn’t quite as optimal as it is with directing and creative producing.
WMM: What are your current project(s)?
CK: I have a few of short films and a couple episodes of a very funny web series by Krista Amigon, which I’m trying to get through post-production at the moment. I’m also starting pre-production on the first project that I’ll be doing with my new director partner, Art Chong. This will be our test project to see if this partnership will be a good one and I’m excited about it, but there are bound to be hiccups along the way. I’m also trying to help develop a few different series for We Make Movies to produce. For anybody who’s been reading my recent articles or listening to our recent Film Geeks podcasts, this is probably not a surprise as I’ve been predicting a “Gold Rush” in the independent TV world for months now. I have a particular model in mind which I think will be an excellent bridge for We Make Movies to participate in this gold rush and three separate projects have been coming up through our community which I think will fit perfectly. It’s a little too preliminary to give a ton of specifics, but I can admit to being extremely excited about it and its prospects this year.
WMM: How has WMM influenced / shaped / supported you with this process/project? [Editor’s note: This question is a bit like asking the Moon his thoughts about the Sun, as WMM would not be what it is without Chad… and yet I asked anyway.]
CK: We Make Movies has become an enormous chunk of my life and our recent move to this Patreon campaign has proven to me that our community is far more capable than I realized. If we can successfully pivot our development and community towards this opening space, and we’re able to produce enough quality content in time to take advantage of it, then we’ll have our opportunity to truly become a place where independent filmmakers can make a decent living doing exactly what they love best: making movies.
WMM: Who are your biggest influences? (directors / writers / poets / whomever)
CK: One of my favorite bloggers is Mark Suster of BothSidesOfTheTable.com. He’s a two-time entrepreneur who moved into venture capital a while ago and he was the first person I’m aware of who predicted the end of packaged cable. His blog covers all kinds of interesting and helpful tools for entrepreneurs and for people who run companies, and I read it religiously. As a director, I’m an enormous fan of David Fincher, Stanley Kubrick and Francis Ford Coppolla for all the obvious reasons.
WMM: What are your top 5 films?
CK: I’d have to say that my top five films are The Graduate, Deer Hunter, Fight Club, The Shining and The Conversation. At any given moment there’s generally movement in my favorite films, but those five have consistently rocked my world for a variety of different reasons. They would definitely be in my desert island collection.
WMM: What is your favorite project you have worked on and why?
CK: As I transition more and more nowadays towards organizing We Make Movies as a whole, I’m finding my inspiration coming from the community itself. For instance, though Nathan Paul and then later Aubrey Mozino were the consistent forces behind our sketch show last year, I was very proud of the organizational efforts I’d done during the first two shoots. Watching our cast and crew coming in to the YouTube space and then banging out four sketches during each of those four days was inspiring and exciting to me, and I felt such a surge of pride, having created the organizational structure that made it all possible. I honestly can’t wait to do even more with more resources and at a much higher level.
WMM: What would you change if you could, about your career trajectory?
CK: I’m actually very happy about my career at the moment. All the things I’ve learned as an actor on the road for years, as a musician signed to a major label, and even as a key member of a company which later failed – they’ve all taught me those things which I believe have placed me at the steps on an incredible opportunity. I believe that these next two years are going to be the most interesting of my life, and I don’t know whether or not I’d be right where I am at this very moment, if I had taken a single step differently over the years. The best point of any stage of life or of any endeavor, is to me, that moment of anticipation just before it begins, and that is exactly how I feel right now with We Make Movies. It’s very exciting.
WMM: Any advice for filmmakers?
CK: I think right now right now it’s important for anybody in our industry to recognize two things and the to act accordingly. The first is that our industry is changing faster than at any other period in its history. The coming death of packaged cable and the move toward a la carte entertainment apps and sources is huge for people at the independent level. The amount of money that’s about to start moving through different and developing channels is monumental, and everybody in the industry is trying to pivot to retain or win as big a share of that money as they possibly can. The problem is very few people have a solid concept of exactly how that money will actually start to move or exactly what they should do about it to help themselves, so to a large degree they’re forced to guess.
Those of us who actually have the skills to generate content are more in the driver’s seat than we may realize and that’s the second thing. We don’t need to be rich and famous to be successful. We just need an audience and to be ourselves. Being genuine and being really good at what we do are key to helping us develop those audiences. If we’re able to connect directly with an audience of any size of note, than that is all we need and the distribution channels are irrelevant. So at any cost, and by any means, independent artists need to build, maintain and grow their audiences. That’s where our focus needs to be.
WMM: What is your favorite thing about WMM?
CK: My favorite thing about We Make Movies is our focus on being decent to one another. We’re imperfect people with flaws for days, but organizations like WMM, which focus on improving our interaction with one another and turning those ideals into something with the actual power to get things done, is exciting. Joe, Sam & Tara built something far more powerful than I think they realize, and we were able to imbue it with those ideals through the WMM Values. As long as we continue to ensure those values are lived as well as cited, then we’ll continue to be a powerful force for good in this industry.
WMM: If you were stranded on an island for 6 months, what 5 items would you wish you had on your person?
CK: If I were stranded on a desert island I would hope first of all that I could still get the internet, because I would probably end it all without internet. That’s a joke obviously… but seriously, I might. If there were no internet, I imagine I’d just need some cyanide pills, a straight razor and a rope with a noose in it. =)
WMM: If you were not doing what you do now, what would you want to be doing?
CK: I honestly can’t think of anything I would rather be doing right now – except perhaps what I hope to be doing in another 6 to 12 months. I feel like we’re on the precipice of an exciting new time and I can’t wait for it to begin already!
WMM: What’s next for you now?
CK: I’m eager to wrap up all my projects in post right now and then finish pre-pro, principal photography & post on Interrogation so that I can begin to really dig into development, fundraising and then production on these series we’re working on.
WMM: Describe yourself with 3 adjectives.
CK: Organized, Passionate, Caring
WMM: What, other than your craft, brings you joy?
CK: My family and my pets – which are basically family – bring me an immense amount of joy.