Nice Shoes helped directors Dawn Mikkelson and Keri Pickett tell the story of the incredible women who change the beat of Taiko’s male-dominated art in the new independent documentary Finding Her Beat. The facility provided post-production services for the film – screened at this month’s DOC NYC festival – with lead colorist Oscar Oboza working directly with the two filmmakers to apply the final score.
Finding Her Beat centers on drummers Tiffany Tamanbuchi and Jennifer Weir as they organize some of the world’s best taiko artists for a gig on a winter night in St. Paul, Minnesota. The group endures hours of intense rehearsals as they strive to blend their disparate styles while sharing the pain, obstacles and joys they have experienced in pursuit of an art form where women have traditionally been excluded.
“This is a cinema verité documentary, flying off the wall, that follows these gifted women for months as they live in the same house and prepare for that momentous concert,” says Dawn, whose films previous ones include Risking Light and The Red Tail. . “There’s a lot of drama and wonderfully powerful performances.”
Like the film’s cast, most of its crew were female/non-binary and Asian, and their passion for the project shows in its colorful and exuberant spirit. “They reflected and deepened what was happening on camera,” insists Keri (First Daughter and the Black Snake, The Fabulous Ice Age), who was also the film’s principal cinematographer.
During post-production sessions at Nice Shoes, Oscar collaborated with Dawn and Keri to create a cohesive look from footage captured in the United States and Japan with a variety of cameras. “I shot in C_LOG format, which when you first see it looks flat and uninteresting, but provides the most latitude during the grading process,” says Keri, who notes that additional material has was shot by directors of photography Caroline Stucky, Shiho Fukuda and Nanne. Sorvold. “Sometimes in the field, I would change the exposition to match where it needed to be. It was fluid and moving. So Oscar had to deal with a lot of real changes and movements. This n It wasn’t a Hollywood movie where everything is ready and ready to go.
Oscar adds that his role was to make the disparate material appear both seamless and natural. “The overall look had to be cohesive so viewers wouldn’t perceive it as jumping from place to place,” he says. “And yet, it had to be done in a way that goes unnoticed. It’s a documentary, and you want people to focus on the story.
Still, there’s a lot of visual variety in the film. “The look when they’re on stage is very daring,” notes Oscar. “It has a lot of color and light changes. But other parts are very different. When they’re in Japan by the sea, the look has a lush blue quality to it. When you’re in the house in Minneapolis, it’s more neutral.
Despite the challenges, Keri says the scoring sessions were fun and went quickly. “For Oscar, what had to be done was obvious; he immediately found his rhythm,” she recalls. “We wanted to keep it within the spectrum of reality, except when they were performing on stage where it was crisp and saturated.”
Dawn says the film’s finished look captures the energy and drama of Taiko as well as the spirit of the women who relentlessly insist on their right to be a part of it. “I worked with Oscar on my first film, This Obedience and have admired his work ever since. He knows his stuff and is a generous human being,” she says. There was an unstoppable momentum from the start that continued throughout. It was exciting to see it come together.
In festival screenings, Finding Her Beat is attracting rave reviews. After its Mill Valley Film Festival premiere, San Francisco Reviewer called it “exhilarating” and CBS Bay Area called it “crowd-pleasing,” while ABC 10 Sacramento said that he was “earning the heat of the Oscars”.