Paul Daisuke Goodman of Eight East Productions: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became…

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Paul Daisuke Goodman of Eight East Productions: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker

Trust yourself. When I first started pursuing film there was no way I could have predicted what my path along this career would take me to. Filming docu-series around the world to being trapped in a hospital room fighting for my life. So far, I feel like I am still just beginning but what has helped is having the trust in myself and to know I am capable of pushing farther than I ever thought possible.

As a part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Paul Daisuke Goodman, of Eight East Productions.

Paul Daisuke Goodman is a filmmaker and two time cancer survivor. He began his career as a camera operator on the high seas for Discovery’s Whale Wars until his first cancer diagnosis at age 25. For the next six years he would undergo treatments for his Leukemia that would achieve remission and then relapse and remission again. During that time, Goodman began writing and editing from his hospital room and would shoot films in his months as an outpatient. Eventually, and to the occasional frustration of his doctors, he was able to make his first feature film, Evergreen. They would shoot on the road for 28 days and on the 30th, he was back in the hospital for more chemotherapy. Late in 2020 and at the height of the pandemic, his Leukemia would relapse. This time spreading to his spinal cord and brain. The initial outlook was bleak but after the first rounds of chemotherapy, it showed the cancer responding to the treatment and set him on a road towards bone marrow transplant and recovery. During this time, Goodman would write his second feature film, No No Girl, and through chemo, radiation and the transplant he would find another remission and shoot the film six months after being discharged from the hospital. Today, Paul lives in Los Angeles with his fiance and manages his own production company, Eight East Productions, named for the wing of the hospital where he made his first films.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?

I grew up in Tustin, a smaller town in Orange County in a mixed race family. My mom’s side is Japanese and we spent a lot of our childhood within the Japanese American community here in Southern California. That included growing up Buddhist at Orange County Buddhist Church and playing SEYO basketball and baseball. We would visit Little Tokyo in LA for events or to get food; there was always something to do.

Volleyball was a big part of my life as well. My parents met while playing volleyball and I played volleyball competitively even into college at UCSB. My mom was the athlete of the family and taught me hand eye coordination and fair play and respect in competition. I remember the first time I beat her at one on one basketball as a turning point in my athletic career. If I asked her to play hard she would body me down and go hard to the hoop. I’m 6’4” and even to this day I won’t ask her to play hard.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I was 25 I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. It’s a blood cancer that affects your white blood cells and can be harder to treat in adults. I still deal with this disease today, nearly six years later. At the time, I was working in the film industry and set to embark on my second season of Discovery’s Whale Wars (later Eco Warriors) as a camera operator and sound mixer. Once my diagnosis came and I began chemotherapy, I had to give up that part of my career and wasn’t even considering what my life could look like past treatment. Being told you have cancer in your 20’s — it’s hard to imagine how to incorporate that into your life or what it would even take to start your career as a person with limitations.

When I was in the hospital and connected to all my tubes I decided to focus instead on what I could do: write scripts and edit. It allowed me to be creative while also setting a precedent for believing in a future — despite the doubts of my health and potential for disaster. Over the first three years I would write scripts and then shoot them as an outpatient. We made two short films and then finally a feature film, Evergreen. That began the path which I am on right now of making long form narrative content through our production company, Eight East Productions.

In 2020, my leukemia would relapse at the height of the pandemic. This time, it would spread to my spine and brain and this diagnosis was much more serious than my first; the doctors would tell me that this presentation was: “not good”. In the hospital, you learn to speak in code. “Not good” are two words you never want to hear.

It would take more chemo, full body radiation and a bone marrow transplant before I was able to shoot our second feature film, No No Girl. I finished writing it through the transplant and after I was discharged, began pre production. Our first casting was Oscar winner, Chris Tashima and we would wrap principle photography barely eight months after I had been wheeled out of the hospital.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?

While filming No No Girl, we had a moment in the first week of shooting that made us all realize how special it was to be filming with a majority AAPI cast and crew. We were shooting one of the last scenes of the film and — slight spoilers here — it involved the family finally coming face to face with certain objects from their past. Chris Tashima, who plays Uncle Bob (the patriarch of the family) confronts our main character and the rest of their family just as they are discovering these pieces of forgotten family history; heirlooms and mementos from their ancestors’ lives before the camps.

Sitting behind the monitor, I’m watching as Chris takes out the contents in front of the family, but then I notice he begins to cry. Then the rest of the cast starts to cry and before I know it I realize there are tears behind the camera too. I’m crying and the crew is crying and my parents and sibling and those watching on the wings. The scene was moving but what we realized that day is that Chris’ character and the family in this story got to experience something that far too fewJapanese Americans ever get to experience.

There was this closure and catharsis in the shared acknowledgement that our lives before the camps existed and our grandparents and parents who were incarcerated lived through this trauma that we are still experiencing the effects of today. That moment on set was lived out in reality as we all got to experience the healing of this family in a way none of our families ever gotto.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

When we were embedded with the Sea Shepherd crew for Whale Wars, everyone was interesting. It was made into a show for a reason but every person on board was dedicated, talented and had life stories so far outside of anything I had experienced in my own life. Our captain, Sid Chakravarty, was an amazing person to be around. He was a leader that inspired confidence and had an enormous amount of responsibility to manage. As a camera operator and sound mixer, I had a lot of access to him throughout his day-to-day and to the interviews where he opened up about his personal thoughts and statuses of every mission and so on. We would even exercise and play board games- on a ship you end up doing everything together. His poise as he dealt with the variables of each mission and the things that would inevitably go wrong while also maintaining a healthy moral and atmosphere on the ship was something I’ll never forget in our experience as a part of that crew.

I was filming him when something strange appeared on the radar: two things in formation, coming straight for us. On the horizon we could see a faint silhouette that almost looked like two islands. As they got closer we saw the guns and the steel and realized they were two, enormous, Chinese warships. They hailed the Steve Irwin and in perfect English asked who we were and what we were doing. Sid, without any hesitation or fear took the coms and said to the effect: “We are the M/Y Steve Irwin and our mission is to stop illegal fishing.” They sailed right past and not because there would have been an international incident but I believe Sid’s demeanor in that moment defined what kind of captain he was and what this journey meant for him and everyone he served on that ship. Against the might of the world they were one small ship but they spoke with a loud voice and didn’t back down.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My sibling, Laurie, was only a 50 percent bone marrow match before she donated her bone marrow to me for my transplant. One of the potential cures for Leukemia is a bone marrow transplant but it is a fairly risky procedure. Most cases develop a reaction called Graft Vs Host Disease (GVHD). It is when the donor’s immune system attacks your body as a forein threat. This can lead to organ failure and death in the worst scenarios. Having a less than 100% bone marrow match can increase the severity of GVHD and in my case, we only had 50%. Today, post transplant and with the GVHD to a minimum, Laurie’s bone marrow saved my life. My blood type is now the same as hers and without her blood, without her support through making our films, I don’t think any of it would be possible.

My entire family helped get me through my multiple cancer diagnoses and then to shoot two feature films during that time — it is all thanks to the support I have around me and to believe in me when I push my body and my health to pursue a dream that this disease is trying to stand in the way of. Our second feature film, No No Girl, is a story about a Japanese American family who discovers something buried in their past and it was made possible by not only my family, but the community in which I grew up. The same Japanese American community that taught me how to play basketball and dance at Obon — they helped bring me back from six years of cancer treatment. They inspire me to tell more stories about our culture and help represent Japanese American history through film and storytelling.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“There’s a technique to everything.” My mom would say this to me all the time (still does) but as a kid, this quote was attached to everything that required patience. There is a technique to every thing in life and there is a way that is either the most efficient or the most enjoyable or the least destructive. I take this with me throughout life in my adulthood as it reminds me to be observant and coachable. “There is a technique to everything” implies there is the potential to do what you are doing better but that requires being open to learning. Some techniques go against your instincts or what’s easiest, but sometimes it is breaking those bad habits that will lead you to the best outcomes.

I am very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

The wealth of human experience and stories to be told from communities that identify as diverse or minority cannot be ignored. Our latest film, No No Girl, follows a Japanese American family that live with the trauma of the Japanese American Concentration Camps during World War II. So many people don’t even know that a whole community of Americans were rounded up, evicted and sent to concentration camps in some of the harshest climates in the United States. Kept there for years behind barbed wire and under the watch of the American military and threatened with death if they tried to escape or evade persecution.

As a filmmaker with family that were in those camps, it sometimes can feel like a responsibility to share these stories. To tell the world that this happened. I have never seen any mainstream film that has addressed the impact or even the existence of these camps, let alone what it meant to an entire group of American citizens. Some of those incarcerated would go on to serve in the most decorated unit in American military history, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, made up of almost entirely Japanese American men who volunteered for service while incarcerated in the concentration camps. They fought in Europe during WWII and were given the nickname the “Purple Heart Battalion”. Not much has been spoken about them either.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Right now, we are just wrapping up on our second feature film No No Girl.

No No Girl is a generational drama about a Japanese American family who stumble upon a mystery tracing back to their family’s incarceration and tragic history in the Japanese American Concentration Camps during WWII. Set in present day Southern California, No No Girl follows the efforts of the youngest daughter, Sue (Mika Dyo), as she tries to piece together the past and uncover the secrets that have been buried within their family for nearly a century.

When American families were uprooted and evicted from their homes in the wake of Pearl Harbor, they lost everything. Their homes, their jobs, their friends and neighbors. Some were separated from family and had everything taken away from them, just for being of Japanese ancestry. No No Girl is about the generations today that are the most removed from that terrible period in history, yet still have to deal with the consequences of incarceration. The family in the film discovers that there is still something to be learned about themselves and their history, but in order to do so they have to work together to face their trauma and discover what has been lost.

Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?

The fact that we’ve been able to accomplish so much while being faced with such adversity. I’ve had two separate cancer diagnoses and what that has led to is two feature films. It took a lot to make these projects — between gathering the funds and organizing the crew, to booking locations and committing to month long shoots. All while doing chemotherapy and fighting the sickness and pain that comes with all the different types of cancer treatments. I’m proud — not only that we did it, but that we are able to see the growth in our craft on screen. With each film we got better, I got healthier, and now I can stand back next to my crew and confidently smile at how far we’ve come with the impossible odds we faced.

Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Trust yourself. When I first started pursuing film there was no way I could have predicted what my path along this career would take me to. Filming docu-series around the world to being trapped in a hospital room fighting for my life. So far, I feel like I am still just beginning but what has helped is having the trust in myself and to know I am capable of pushing farther than I ever thought possible.

Trust Mom. My mother has an almost supernatural intuition. I have always respected her advice but after the last decade, it is almost oracle. One great example is when she met a “nice boy” at a neighborhood christmas party and thought that I should talk to him because he was a musician and liked movies and thought we’d get along. That person was Brandon Lew, an immensely talented composer and he has been scoring our films for four years.

Consider getting a bone marrow transplant first. This one is a little niche but I did three years of chemotherapy before relapsing and doing more chemo and then a bone marrow transplant. It might be true that if I did the bone marrow transplant right away, it is possible I would have never relapsed. Although, in 2016, CAR-Tcell therapy did not exist and blinatumomab was still only just approved by the FDA. With a 50% bone marrow match the stem cell transplant would have been much more risky and with a higher chance of relapse post transplant. Relapse would then lead to more chemo and radiation and another bone marrow transplant except this time I would be completely without matches as Laurie is my only sibling. Maybe I did things the right way, I’ll never know. All that matters is that I am alive and in a healthy remission.

The support of the Japanese American community will be enormous. I always wanted to make films that represented me and Laurie and the culture we grew up in. Not until No No Girl did it show just how encouraging and enthusiastic, our friends and family and community show just how passionate they can be to support more AAPI and JA stories in film. There is such a tapestry of human experience to be explored and I plan on doing many, many more.

Learn Blender. I love blender. If I could have started learning that software when I started learning After Effects, I would be much better at it than I am now. Getting a leg up on the software and the tech only opens the door to becoming a better filmmaker. I edit all my films as I feel like that is the most creative part of the entire movie making process. In the edit you can shape the story and define the tone and look of what it is you are saying on screen. I’ve built custom keyboards in order to be able to edit quicker and to get the flow from my brain to the screen. It might have been one of the most important improvements in the style and efficiency in the editing room besides the software you chose to edit on. I was always passionate about editing and 3D software but it is interesting to wonder where we would be and what films we would be capable of if the proficiency was higher.

When you create a film, which stakeholders have the greatest impact on the artistic and cinematic choices you make? Is it the viewers, the critics, the financiers, or your own personal artistic vision? Can you share a story with us or give an example about what you mean?

It’s a large collective of talents and people that influence the final product. In the edit and in the later stages of the film it is a more narrow pool but throughout the process, there are a ton of people who shape the story. Characters change through drafts of the script and then to the actors who take over and ultimately deliver the life of the character. Overall, I would think that I have the most impact on the artistic vision of the film since, on our last projects, I wrote, directed and edited. But I stand by that all I am doing is funneling the enormous talent around me into a cohesive vision. Many choices on set and in post are simply other people’s amazing work that I then shape into something that resembles the best possible story we can create.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to see more AAPI stories and representation in mainstream film culture. With No No Girl, we had a Japanese American family at the center of a story about Japanese American history and as we’ve shown the film to audiences, a common reaction is that they had no idea this existed or have never seen a story like this before. Not only the type of story we are trying to tell but the reality of the trauma experienced during incarceration and the concentration camps in America. The history of an entire people swept under the rug. There are so many important histories to be explored within the AAPI community and I hope this film will elevate and encourage more budding filmmakers to realize what their access to their childhood and community truly means in the context of media and representation.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Tomokazu Komiya is an artist I admire a great deal, not only for his paintings but for his influence in my life and that of my community. His style is primitivism mixed with modern and contemporary elements but I would describe it as an almost satirical commentary on children’s art and what nostalgia becomes as it ages. My collection of his works is very modest but I hope to expand that throughout my life. Everything he does is truly amazing and I’ve been trying to meet him for years.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Our films can be found at our production company’s website

You can follow my instagram @notsogoodman

No No Girl can be found on instagram @nonogirl_movie

Paul Daisuke Goodman of Eight East Productions: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.