Filmmaker. Jet Li impersonator. Kioko Ntheketha, one of the first COF visitors, along with Numskull, The gZa and Dan-0. Even though the punk barely visits the site nowadays, this interview was in stone for the following reason: his filmmaking technique is truly bad ass. Using elements from Hong Kong action films minus multiple cameras and a budget, the man rocks the house like MC Hammer used to.
Kioko put his first feature, "The Hardest Test", on the map of low-budget, hip-hop, martial-arts mayhem at it's finest. Enjoy...
What film got you into filmmaking?
It would have to be seeing Bruce Lee's unfinished "Game of Death" when I was a kid. I noticed the camera tricks and edits they used to make it seem like Bruce Lee was really in the movie, when in fact he was not. So that got me curious, the process of filmmaking. So from there I read books on films and started practicing with home video cameras. They were real expensive at the time but a Japanese friend of mine, Nagisha, let me learn with hers. I would also have to say all those extra features they have on DVDs now too, keeps me even MORE interested in filmmaking.
I can tell you're into those extra features/behind the scenes documentaries because you've got more of that stuff than GAWD on your DVD release of "The Hardest Test" - you even included "easter eggs". So, how did "The Hardest Test" come about? Talk a little about it.
Well, "The Hardest Test" was an independent study I worked on my senior year in college. I had done several short films, but they were experiemental and mediocre. You have to start somewhere, but I always wanted to make one that stood out. At that time (mid 90's) I was heavily influenced by Asian Cinema in particular Jackie Chan flicks. That was also a time when non-linear editing was introduced to the consumer market (meaning you could do what the professional guys do in the comfort of your own home. So I wanted to put 2 and 2 together. I started asking around if this person would like to help me with lighting, and this person with sound. By a years time I had a "low-budget" crew willing to help me. I also started storyboarding some Jackie Chan fight choreography by hand. All this was a year before I picked up a camera to begin filming the movie.
Pretty rough stuff eh? How long was the process?
The film took 4 months to shoot filming 3 times a week, 2 hours a day. Very tedious. At the end of every shoot we did roughcuts and emailed them to the cast members. So many things can go wrong, like an actor breaking their leg skiing before a fight scene is finished. Or your computer project crashing and having to re-edit all your footage again. But it's all part of the learning process. I remember bringing 5 pages of storyboard notes to the set one day. None of the actors knew the moves yet and we all had to pull it off with one camera.
"The Hardest Test" was great man. The cast did an excellent job. However, judging from your martial arts background, I think YOU should have played a major part in the movie. You're no Jim Kelly, but you got some moves that would give Lone Wolf McQuade a run for his money. Anyways, do we get to see you kick some ass in any future projects? Afterall, Jackie Chan directed and starred....so can you? Right?
Haha you have a good point my friend. Now that you mention it, I found a screen test tape I did with a couple friends of mine. I was trying to psyche myself into the role as director for the film. A couple buddies of mine got on one of the rooftops an reinacted the rooftop battle (or at least tried to) from Who Am I? And now that I remember, I HAVE starred in some of my earlier films. But not in awhile. I guess I have to get over the anxiety of being in front of, not just behind, the camera.
Personally, I would like to see a Blaxploitation/martial arts flick called "40oz. Drunken Master". You can wear a Japanese headband like that guy from Prince's "1999" music video. And, you can film it while really getting wasted in the process. Just stay away from the roof tops. So, what's the next project?
Man you come right out aof a comic book! LOL. The "next project" is defined by "what I'm doing now". I've been working on documentaries and concerts. I'm using those films to make money for future film projects. So none in the near future. But some soon enough. We actually shot test footage this Spring for a gun play movie based on the sport Paintball. But I want to do more with my next film - get sponsorships, original soundtracks, so it's taking time. In the meantime, not a day goes by when I'm not using a video camera or editing some film and making some extra cash in the process!
That's the way to do it! So I guess borrowing money from the mob is out of the question eh?
Tried that, ended ugly.
The beginning of "New Jack City" ugly?
No, more like the end of it. Getting thrown off a staircase hurts more than GAWD!
There are many awesome ametuer filmmakers that visit cityonfire.com. The gZa, nineballninja (from KFC) and many many others. Have you seen any of their films? If so, what do you think of their stuff?
I've seen gZa's collection and was very impressed. He was doing things with the camera before many amateurs (including myself) even thought of doing so. Sound effects, steadicam work, using wide angle lenses, filming for continuty with one camera. I was even impressed with how he did scrolling text with his mini-disc player! Ingenious! I really like his film "Kurosawa" about his friend driving around in his new car. The edits, and camera angles are on point. And I think that's what's interesting about all us "amateurs" there's ambition and drive. The film's a piece of work, whether you like it or not. And we'll keep on perfecting our talents until we get it right.
Back to your film work. How would you best describe your style of filmmaking, and what filmmakers are your main influences?
As I pointed out earlier it's strongly influenced by Asian Cinema. I like the wideshots when filming action and the dramatic cutaways. I revere the work of John Woo and Jackie Chan. And Antoine Fuqua is an outstanding director in my opinion.
What is your dream project?
Hmm, haven't really thought about it. But I've always wanted to work on the set of a Jet Li or Jackei Chan flick, I'm sure could learn so much from them. I'm learning chinese, so maybe someday...
I was hoping you'd say that "40oz. Drunken Master". Anyhow, how can one obtain a copy of your DVD release of "The Hardest Test"
Drop me an email firstname.lastname@example.org
Right on. Anything you'd like to say to all those other aspiring ameteur filmmakers like yourself?
If you want to be a filmmaker make some business cards, cut them out and send them to people. Now what? If you have a thought or idea for a film. Write it down. Get a home video camera (the cost of a Playstation video game console) and make it happen! So much is at our generation's disposal, it's like they're challenging us to make the next best film. Make those dreams a state of mind and do everything you possilbly can in the NOW! Oh, you'll mess up and make mistakes, it's expected. But hang around people that support you ideas and dreams. Get a crew you trust and that can work with you. Study those DVDs, those things are film schools on disc!
Well said man. Thanks for your time and I wish ya luck on your plans.
Thank YOU Jeff for getting this together. "I'm a cool guy.. but I'm not the only one!"
Want your films transferred to DVD, you can contact Kioko, who specializes in some serious DVD gangsta-shit! Chapter menus, trailers, commentaries, easter eggs, chapter stops, interface...he programs it all!