Lifelong friends create film on stuntman Imada, other untold stories

FILM ON CELEBRATED STUNTMAN — (Left to right): “Jeff Imada: Breaking Barriers By Design” writer Richard Imamura, stuntman Jeff Imada, director Cory Shiozaki. photo courtesy of
Cory Shiozaki

To complete “Jeff Imada: Breaking Barriers By Design”— a documentary film about longtime stuntman and stunt coordinator Jeff Imada, director Cory Shiozaki reached into his own past to help him complete the 10-minute short film that premiered last month at the Visual Communications’ Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival as part of its Digital Histories shorts program.

Originally planning to produce a film on his 100-year-old mother’s experience with Alzheimer’s disease, funding cuts forced Shiozaki to scrap his idea, leaving the 68-year-old without a project … until a chance encounter unveiled an opportunity.

“Gary Gabisan (the Digital Histories Media Instructor) and I saw Jeff at a fundraiser,” Shiozaki said. “I had worked with Jeff on projects over the years — I think the first time we got to know each other was when we were working on (the 1980s television program) ‘Airwolf.’ Knowing how much work he had done over the years, I asked him if we could film him to make this project and he agreed.”

With 190 credits as either a stuntman, fight choreographer, and stunt coordinator, along with nearly five dozen listings as an actor and extra, Imada’s Internet Movie Database (IMDB.com) page lists more than four decades worth of television programs and films — from those with box office mojo (including the “Fast and the Furious” and Jason Bourne franchises) to Oscar nominees like “L.A. Confidential”— showing that he has been one active performer.

Faced with starting his project behind — his fellow Digital Histories filmmakers who were well into production of their projects — Shiozaki enlisted writer Richard Imamura and a few others from the feature documentary he directed, 2012’s “The Manzanar Fishing Club,” to work on this film. While enjoying the security of filming with people he had already worked with, his pairing with Imamura dated six decades beyond that project — all the way back to their elementary school days when they were best friends.

It was a friendship that endured despite going to different colleges and having divergent career paths — Imamura was a journalist and writer, while Shiozaki did virtually everything on a television or movie set as a jack-of-all-trades crew member, including camera operator and even extra on films from “Back to the Future” to “Training Day” and generation-spanning television programs from “Happy Days” to “2 Broke Girls.”

The duo added Larry Blumenthal to narrate and compose the music, David DeMore to edit and construct the sound design, Sharon Mori to be production coordinator, while Gabisan oversaw this and the other films in the Visual Communications Digital Histories program. But it was the dynamic between this duo that proved to be the driving force of the film.

“I think the reason why we work well with each other is the fact that we have developed different skill sets throughout our personal and professional experiences,” Shiozaki said.

“I would say that the key is having known each other for nearly 60 years, we know each other well and respected each other’s strong points and our own weaker points,” Imamura said. “We know how to get along.”

Despite the disadvantages of a tight deadline, where Shiozaki expressed a wish to have more time to interview Imada, who had to work around a tight schedule of his own, the filmmaker artfully incorporated the use of a green screen to project clips of Imada’s work behind him while he spoke directly into the camera. The technique worked in a film that was both informative and entertaining.

The Next Project
While there are a few free screenings planned for this film, Shiozaki and Imamura are already putting the finishing touches on their next project — a film about scientist Robert A. Emerson’s employment of Japanese scientists for research on extracting much-needed rubber from guayule plants in and around the Manzanar, Calif. concentration camp during World War II.

Since each set of their parents were incarcerated in camps during World War II, the subject matter appealed to their desire to inform about their families’ respective pasts.

“I got interested in becoming a filmmaker because my parents never talked about their experiences in camp,” Shiozaki said. “I made this my lifetime goal to tell stories like these. I also want to encourage new filmmakers to come forward and make an effort to share the untold stories of their heritage.”

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