Justin Joo> As a first-generation Korean American, I experienced first-hand what it felt like to fear for your family and loved ones’ safety. That every new attack and victim could have been me or my parents, or my grandparents. And as part of the new generation of Asian Americans in this country, I felt like I had a duty to use my voice to speak on it which is why Unite The Bay is the story of the next generation of Asians and Asian Americans finding their voice amid the rising hate against our community - to organise and speak out for themselves, and the generations before them. I’m honoured to have been a small part in telling that narrative.
Jon Krippahne> For me, when I see news clips of innocent people being violently attacked in public it makes me sick to my stomach. I fear for my Asian friends out there. It’s a scary time and I can’t imagine what it must feel like walking outside your door as an Asian person right now. We wanted to make a film that illustrated that anxiety but also inspired people to band together against this hate.
Denis Kilty> Despite being from Ireland, I think the issue of racism is ubiquitous, and so condemning racism in all forms goes beyond borders - we are all responsible for condemning it when it happens, no matter your age, race or creed. Racism and the actions that propagate because of it are archaic and simply shouldn’t even exist anymore. For this reason, I had absolutely no problem getting involved on Unite The Bay. Anything that fosters support against racism is fundamentally a good thing to do.
LBB> What was your ideation process like? How did you break it down, and what were your inspirations?
Justin> The idea for the film actually started with a Stop Asian Hate campaign we collaborated on with STASHED, a local streetwear boutique in San Francisco. The campaign was called “Unite The Bay” and we united fourteen Asian, San Francisco based designers to create a Stop Asian Hate t-shirt collection to raise money for the Asian community. Taylor Takahashi was actually one of the designers of the collection.
As soon as we knew we were hosting a Unite The Bay Bike Rally with Oakland based bike crew, Another Bike Club, Jon and I wrote and put together a treatment for our script featuring Taylor as our lead. When we pitched the story to Taylor, we explained how this story is really just a day in the life of an Asian person in America today.
Jon> We felt like we had a unique opportunity to film a piece that spoke to activism in this particular city but could be relatable to anyone who’s been targeted by racism or anyone trying to stand up as an ally anywhere in the world.
Denis> The film itself is a vignette into the main character’s life before the protest, so the soundtrack spends time establishing his personal context and the reason why what was happening applied to him.
As the narrative gets more chaotic throughout, the sounds cross into a more tense and frantic crescendo, reflective of the overbearing amount of Asian hate crime that is happening at the moment. I wanted to emphasise that this is only getting worse, to highlight how it is time to stand up, lest the social fabric unravels so far as to be irreparably damaged. The whole film is rounded off with pointed optimism - a story like this is best delivered when it shows us, the viewer, what we can tangibly do to change the social culture for the better.
LBB> What was it like working with Taylor Takahashi and what did he bring to his role?
Justin> Taylor is an absolute pro. And as a native born and raised San Franciscan, he really represented his city well and added an additional layer to the story and overall role. All I remember is, it was an early morning shoot and the crew were all pretty tired, but as soon as we saw Taylor’s first take through the monitors, we knew we were on to something special. He really is the heart and soul of this film.
Jon> Taylor was incredible on set. He was able to convey so much emotion with just body language and facial expression. Watching him perform was inspiring, you could really feel the importance he put on this project. This is a topic that’s very close to him, having grown up in the Bay Area so it was an honour to be able to tell this story with him.
LBB> This is a very emotionally driven film which includes real footage of Asian hate crimes - how did you craft the narrative and the shots to really resonate with people on an emotional level?
Justin> It’s a shame to say this, but we really didn’t have any shortage of real footage of Asian hate crimes to choose from. We knew going into the edit that we wanted to represent the constant replaying of these hate crimes to build that anxiety inducing feeling, and counter it with footage of our bike rally and audio clips of chanting and support. Our editor, Moss Eletreby from Cut+Run took it from there and crafted the edit to be the perfect balance of both.
Jon> We never wanted to be too heavy handed with the news clips. Taylor’s emotional performance really carried the story here. But it was very important for us to show the brutality. We need to wake people up to these injustices. There is a swell of news clips that we wanted to create which would evoke this bubbling anxiety taking over Taylor’s inner thoughts. He tries to outrun them, but ultimately it reaches an overwhelming breaking point. That’s a feeling we think everyone can relate to, no matter your background.
LBB> And Denis, how did you shape the sound design and music around the changing emotions through the narrative?
Denis> The sound design was a complex wave of moments containing real newscast dialogue and sound design to support the narrative. The film was expertly edited together by Moss Eletreby and shot by Matt Lucier. The story was compelling to begin with, which gave me great scope to mark out the individual moments.
The music is a cross between a boiling pot of oil and a caged animal. It churns throughout the middle section, with growling electronics rearing their head, only to pull back again. I tried to make it analogous to the undertones of tension within the Bay Area community at the moment, and the sound design serves to sling us through his journey from street to street. I even managed to sync some bodily impacts to the ‘Asian piece of s***’ sound bite, another subtle nod to the threat of actual violence.
LBB> The sound design in the film is very raw and sharp. How did you achieve this on a technical level, and what were the creative decisions behind it?
Denis> Each scene is comprehensive, even on the molecular level - I never leave anything empty in the cut. Instead, I treat each transition or moment as an opportunity to highlight something or offer stark relief to the preceding or succeeding moments. It’s a delicate balance, but the key was to remember that this is an actual threatening event that is happening - if the viewer isn’t comfortable watching it, then the job has been done right.
LBB> And when the film cuts to a more positive and uplifting tone, did you treat the sound design and music differently?
Denis> Justin and Jon had the foresight to record a few audio clips from the rally we see at the film’s end. As I composed the music, I time-stretched these raw recordings to sync their natural pace with the rhythm of the music - it completely unlocked the sounds and synchronised the energy and impact of the final scenes. This really helped bring home the message.
LBB> And what were some of the technical and creative decisions made on the directing side?
Jon> Well we had an incredible team of people working on this thing across the board. Everyone added something special and we could not have made anything close to this film without them. Certain creative decisions we made really pushed this over the edge I think. One in particular is when Taylor looks at the news clips on his phone in the film, he’s actually seeing these for the first time on set. We made it a point to find clips for him to react to for every new take. So the emotion you see is genuine and raw.
LBB> What was your favourite moment in the film and what scene stands out to you most?
Denis> I love the beginning of the cycling montage. It has dizziness to it, latent aggression and unease that leaves you wondering what’s going to happen.
Jon> For me one of the most emotional scenes to watch and shoot was him sitting on the edge of his bed watching clips of these attacks. It was heartbreaking, but also the reason we were making this film. It was one of the first shots we captured and it really set the tone for the rest of the film.
Justin> Being on set, getting to see Taylor bring the words on a page to life was incredible. It sounds cheesy, but there is a clip of Taylor at the end of our film nervously smirking while surrounded by all the bikers who showed up at our rally. To me, that was the resolution moment the film needed. To see that our protagonist felt hopeful and empowered around allies and people from his community is exactly how I feel whenever I show up to a rally, whether it’s for Stop Asian Hate, Black Lives Matter, or any other fight in support of a marginalised community.
LBB> What was the trickiest part to get right? Or most time-consuming?
Denis> The crescendo that cuts to black before the final chapter was the most challenging part sound-wise - primarily because we had to decide what dialogue should stay and what should go. There were so many high energy visuals and audio soundbites with equally effective messages, so we prioritised. I panned certain elements left and right in the mix to introduce a three-dimensionality to the sound mix, giving us a little more space to get everything sitting exactly where it needed to be.
Jon> Besides shooting fast paced biking in SF Chinatown on a Sunday without permits, I’d say the edit was the trickiest. Luckily we had Moss Eletreby editing this so we were in good hands. But I always find editing to be the most difficult part of the process because you can cut it a thousand ways but conveying the right emotion in the right places is very difficult. A lot of time and exploration went into the editing process.
Justin> I agree with Jon. The edit was definitely tricky. But I’d also add that the sound design was a huge part of the film. And luckily for us Denis really mastered both sound design and composition. Which really helped to set the tone and guide the viewers on our journey.
LBB> What was your reaction to the finished piece, and how has it been received?
Justin> I am beyond proud of the film. And also proud to be able to represent my community. I remember sharing the film out to people and them understanding right away the message we were trying to convey. Some even told us they cried. That was really something.
Jon> I’m very proud of where we were all able to bring this film. And the fact that everyone donated their time and skillset to create this made it all the more special. It was an emotional experience and it resonated with people inside and outside of the Asian community which was our goal from the start.
Denis> Frankly, I was delighted with the result. Justin and Jon were highly trustworthy and really respected the craft. It meant I was empowered to do the best I could, and we got a high impact film out of it across the board.
LBB> What are some things that have really stuck with you since completing this project and do you have any words of support / awareness you’d like to share with our readers?
Jon> Stand up for the Asian community. Show your support in any way you can, whether that’s spreading awareness, checking in with Asian friends, protesting, or donating to organisations that help in ways you can’t.
Justin> I remember being constantly overwhelmed with emotion every time another person agreed to donate their time and talents to making this film a reality. From editors, to colourists, to sound designers, to executive producers, to animators, to DPs, to PAs, to reporters, to designers, and all who were involved, I can’t thank you enough for bringing this project to life.
To allies, check up on and show up for your Asian friends. To Asian people, organise and use your voice to speak up on behalf of your people and your community. We can only do this together.
Denis> Be kind. It’s that simple. Don’t turn on your community. It’s astounding the damage that has been done worldwide by misinformation regarding Covid - it’s unearthed neanderthal levels of latent bigotry. That’s part of why we wanted this to be so impactful. To show people that it’s not meant to be like this, and we can do much better as a society. If this film contributes anything towards improving the awareness of Asian hate crime and improves the life of even one person affected, then that’s enough.