What happens when a paranormal curse is born from the ashes of nuclear warfare? Filmmaker Brandon Walker explores this dark conceit in the upcoming feature film, Ghosts of Hiroshima. Produced by Ashley Park, Brandon Walker and Nathan Church for Ghost Machine Pictures, this unapologetically indie faire is an East meets West thriller in the tradition of Ju-On: The Grudge. The film stars Robert Palmer Watkins (The Walking Dead: World Beyond), Akihiro Kitamura (The Human Centipede) and Ashley Park (Los Angeles Overnight). We recently spoke to director Brandon Walker about the challenges of “world building” on a shoestring budget.
HF: As the title suggests, the story takes place on the other side of the globe. How do you depict a distant land on a “no budget” production?
BW: Traveling abroad was out of the question for GOH. As a frugal filmmaker, the mandate is simple: Find creative solutions to expensive problems. While researching locations, I discovered a small Japanese tea house on private property. This vintage structure doubled nicely for rural Japan while being just minutes from Los Angeles. As a rule, we make movies with the resources at hand… allowing these projects to go from page to screen more quickly.
HF: How much production design was required to make the space usable?
BW: The place had good bones but needed more living history to feel authentic. Because every item had to be transported in compact vehicles, I focused on making artifacts that were small in scale but detailed in execution. Sourcing and fabricating personal effects such as letters and family photos is something I enjoy.
HF: Can you point to any other creative solutions that would be useful to ultra-indie filmmakers?
BW: On my previous film, I worked with a talented makeup artist for demonic creature effects. While the experience was great, the time and expense of SFX makeup is considerable. On this project, I opted to go with high quality silicone masks for the transformations. While masks aren’t cheap, they allow me to have monsters on demand. They also accommodate different wearers and can be reused many times. We’re a bespoke movie making company with limited manpower. As such, less is more when facing extreme time pressure.
HF: What can you tell us about the cast of Ghosts of Hiroshima?
BW: Robert Palmer Watkins stars as Eric Kage, a young man who unexpectedly inherits property in Japan. After learning about this unusual windfall, Eric travels to Hiroshima, where he discovers that a blessing can sometimes be a curse. Audiences may recognize Robert as Dillon Quartermaine on General Hospital, or from The Walking Dead: World Beyond, where he played Lt. Frank Newton. Robert joined this project in the eleventh hour and accepted the challenge with enthusiasm. Despite not having the customary preparation time, he infused this character with a distinctive brand of sensitivity and humor. Professionals like Robert are more than just actors, they are artistic collaborators throughout the production.
HF: You have a small cast. Is that by design?
BW: Most definitely. Filmmakers talk about limiting shoot locations as a cost savings measure, but keeping a cast small is an indie director’s secret weapon. It’s also important to source the best talent available. We were fortunate to work with Akihiro Kitamura (The Human Centipede) in the demanding role of Mr. Yamahura. Aki’s performance conveys the sorrow of an H-bomb survivor while foreshadowing a terrifying secret that lingers in the background radiation of his life. We’re also proud to introduce a special young actor named Max Bishop to the horror film community. Playing the role of Yoshio, Max appears on screen in both conspicuous and subtle ways. Watch carefully to spot his Kabuki- masked face lurking in the shadows. Finally, our company’s co-founder Ashley Park appears as the duplicitous estate representative, Nori. A former Miss Asia USA, Ashley has appeared in primetime television shows such as Rosewood.
HF: What would surprise horror fans to know about the filming of Ghosts of Hiroshima?
BW: On set, we are a small, 5-person filmmaking unit. Everyone performs multiple duties onscreen and behind the scenes. While I direct, operate the camera and run the sound, my producer Nate is puppeteering the scare gags and tweaking the lights. You might even spot talented designer Lauren Dani dressing the set one moment, playing a monster the next! It’s an all hands on deck approach. Ultimately, it’s about producing frightening films that rise above their budgetary constraints.
HF: When and where can audiences see Ghosts of Hiroshima?
BW: GOH will arrive on multiple streaming platforms this autumn with a physical media release to follow in early 2023.