Ron Small and Felix Arceneaux onboard a jet airliner bound for Japan.

First Japan Trip

The path to producing “Mark – A Call to Action” began around a year before we shot the first frame.

Though Mark was 30 at the time, I had actually not seen him since he was 5 and Paul was instrumental in reintroducing us in the hopes he would be okay with a documentary about his life and work.  He was!

After this reintroduction, every Wednesday night (my time in Charleston, SC/Thursday morning Mark’s time in Tokyo) for about 11 months was reserved for a Zoom call with just the two of us.  Mark and I typically spent an hour going through all the pieces and parts. What he wanted…what I wanted…and everything in between. 

A project of this magnitude obviously requires a tremendous amount of advanced planning and there was a lot of minutiae to reckon with.  Plus, though I have been fortunate to have lived and worked in many countries around the world, I had never been to Japan. Thankfully, Mark was fluent in Japanese and had a vast network over there.  This certainly made my job easier.

Now we can fast forward to getting ready for the trip.  In the months prior to our late September ‘22 production schedule, the pandemic was still with us but waning, and there were rumors Japan was going to start opening up for business and tourism again very soon.  It was positive enough that Mark and I actually started scheduling the interviews with a who’s who of Japan-based Disability Advocates and Scholars, but I learned the hard way when potential pandemic-related delays could derail our production schedule, and while rescheduling such events is very common in the US, doing the same in Japan would cause Mark to “lose face” and this resulted in the only argument we ever had.  But, I realized this was Mark’s reputation at stake so we persevered with the original plan even though there was still a chance we would not be allowed into Japan.   We decided to pretend we were going and throw caution to the wind.

I first selected my old friend and ultra-talented LA- based Director of Photography Felix Arceneaux to travel with me, with the rest of the crew local hires in Tokyo.  Felix already had experience shooting in Japan with Apple so it was an easy decision, though the rest of my network of DP’s lobbied hard for the job.  2 weeks in Japan was a dream gig.  

Felix had some contacts from his previous job and he found a most remarkable Assistant Cameraman in Anthony Rilocapro, a bilingual Aussie living full time in Japan.  This turned out to be a brilliant choice. He was available and had the contacts we needed for the rest of crew.

Now, the next surprise.  Japan started letting a few tourists and business people in under rather stringent circumstances.  Namely, an ERFS document.  This was the next step to the old pre-pandemic open border, but required a Japanese company to vouch for us, and was required to get a work Visa (also no longer needed) to enter the country.  I started calling everybody I knew who had any contacts with the Japanese Embassy.  The nail-biting began in earnest.  We were sitting on plane tickets, hotel reservations, expensive equipment reserved and transportation arranged.   As luck would have it, “Rilo” as Anthony had us call him, offered another benefit…his relationship with Virgin Earth, a production company in Tokyo who employed Aaron Berman, a superstar Production Manager who was American but had lived in Japan for more than 20 years.  We hired him immediately and the ERFS documents were produced just in time.  Oh, did I mention that my Visa arrived within 24 hours, but Felix had his misdirected to a different office, and it finally arrived with about 72 hours to spare.  

On September 23, 2022 we boarded our flight to Tokyo.  We were off to Japan.

Next time:  Our remarkable Japanese experience.