A haunting in Hawaii with Christopher Makoto Yogi’s “I Was a Simple Man”

Screengrab from "I Was a Simple Man".
Image source: Christopher Makoto Yogi/Strand Releasing.

An official selection at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, I Was a Simple Man, is a haunting drama about a family’s patriarch who grapples with the ghosts of his past as he nears the end of his life.

To coincide with the film’s Los Angeles debut, we spoke with Christopher Makoto Yogi who wrote, directed and edited the film. Read on to hear how he used Premiere Pro to craft his stirring story of life and loss set alongside the lush landscape of Hawaii.

How and where did you first learn to edit?

When I bought my first MiniDV camera — saving up all my tips from delivering pizzas — I started shooting parties, skate videos, and experimental films. It was on these short fun pieces that I taught myself to edit on Premiere Pro and I fell in love with the process of playing with footage on a timeline. I realized how much artistry goes into editing.

How do you begin a project/set up your workspace?

I keep a project pretty simple, usually just a bin for cuts, a bin for dailies, a bin for music, a bin for sfx, etc. I watch dailies by production day and while watching I will sort by scene. Other than that, my workspace includes a cup of coffee and a notepad and pen!

Christopher Makoto Yogi.

Image source: Christopher Makoto Yogi/Strand Releasing.

Tell us about a favorite scene or moment from this project and why it stands out to you.

One of my favorite moments is an edit that comes about two-thirds through the film: it is a match cut that takes us from the past to the present, the feet of one character running in the past cut to the feet of another character skating in the present. It's a simple idea, planned from the pre-production, but really comes to life because of the sound design! Our sound designer added the sound of a wave crashing on the cut and it makes that one edit so powerful.

What were some specific post-production challenges you faced that were unique to your project? How did you go about solving them?

The biggest post-production challenge was finishing during COVID. We had planned to picture lock in April of 2020 and move on to color and sound in April and May. Of course, with everything shutting down this didn't happen. We ultimately had to finish almost everything remotely, from picture lock to sound to color. This was a very arduous process at the time, but one that I think we've all become accustomed to, on some level.

What Adobe tools did you use on this project and why did you originally choose them? Why were they the best choice for this project?

Premiere Pro. I find the ease of editing on Premiere Pro so perfect for indie projects like I Was a Simple Man. And I've been using it for decades!

What do you like about Premiere Pro, and/or any of the other tools you used?

Ease of use. I especially love the updated subtitling features that make it so much easier to create subtitles and closed captions. This has saved me a bunch of time on recent projects.

Who is your creative inspiration and why?

My main creative inspiration is Sarah Kim, my partner in life and in film. Her taste and her understanding of cinema is deep, and I'm grateful and honored to be able to work with her.

Christopher Makoto Yogi

Image source: Christopher Makoto Yogi/Strand Releasing.

What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to face in your career and how did you overcome it? What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers or content creators?

The constant rejection that we all face as creators can be tough but I've learned that more often than not, "No" does not mean, "No, get out of my face!" but instead usually means, "Not yet" or "Not right now." Be patient, be persistent, be kind to yourself.

I Was a Simple Man is now playing in select theatres.