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Michael Goro Takeuchi


Mike Goro Takeuchi is a professional journalist who has written on film and sports  for numerous outlets sincr 2000. An award-winning creative non-fiction writer, Tak also pens a weekly sports column for a newspaper based in Southern California.

 

He was the production manager for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival from 2006-2015. 

Twitter-@irontak


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A Bit of Trash Talk and a Lot of Guidance Helped Coogler on His Journey Towards Making FRUITVALE STATION

http://www.filmfestivals.com/files/Fruitvale.mp4

To view the FRUITVALE STATION trailer please click link above
 

 

By Mike "Tak" Takeuchi

 

This film was really something that I hoped people will just connect with by seeing themselves in the characters. As human beings we generally have way more in common than we don't.  However, we finger point at things that we don't have in common and harp on them. But at the end of the day we have so much in common to the point where if we give ourselves a chance we would connect with almost anybody.  I hope that the audience can see themselves in Oscar and the rest of the characters and see Oscars relationships through their own experiences.   And through that I hope it will trigger a thought process in how we treat the people not only close to us, but also to those we aren't close with at all . Writer/director Ryan Coogler speaking to filmfestivals.com about his film FRUITVALE STATION

 

 

Ten years ago, Ryan Coogler was a 17-year-old freshman college football player who had designs on becoming a doctor. But a little bit of trash talk from an unlikely source helped put him down a different path.  And now  after Coogler’s first feature film FRUITVALE STATION has made a successful festival run that included rave reviews, awards  at both the Sundance Film Festival and Cannes, and  a distribution deal from the Weinstein Company that included a U.S. theatrical release that began last weekend, medicine’s loss is proving to be filmmaking’s gain.

  The critically acclaimed film that won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at Sundance as well as the Prix de L'Avenir d'Un Certain Regard (Best First Film Award) at Cannes, chronicles the real life shooting of unarmed Oakland California resident Oscar Grant by a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officer at Fruitvale subway station in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2009.  Coogler’s film was produced by Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker and Nina Yang Bongiovi, and stars Michael B. Jordan and Oscar winning actress Octavia Spencer (who is also an executive producer on the film).

  “Since Sundance, it’s all been a blur, things are just going crazy,” Coogler said by phone. “Sometimes I still can’t believe this is happening.”

  It most likely wouldn’t have occurred if not for a bit of smack talk in the classroom from someone considerably smaller than Ray Lewis.

  The scholarship football player  walked into his freshman English class at Saint Mary's College of California (Moraga)  expecting to blend in with his class.  Instead he and a teammate's very existence on campus were immediately challenged by a decidedly anti- football English professor named Rosemary Graham.

 

 

                                Coogler and Graham at the Grand Lake Theatre (Oakland) screening of

                                       FRUITVALE STATION (Photo by Zinzi Evans) 

“At first I thought (Graham) was a little crazy,” Coogler said. “Because the first thing she said to me was that   she wasn’t a football fan because she thought it was barbaric and we got into a little bit of an argument.  But even though we started off on the wrong foot there was something I immediately liked about her. Because not only was she smart, I knew she was going to let me know what’s what." 

 Graham-a writer who has published three novels among many other works-admittedly came on a bit strong.

  "I'm never going to live that down," she said with a chuckle. "I thought about that moment  and not being a big football fan I was being a little snotty  calling football barbaric and a blood sport and he was looking at me like ‘what are you thinking?’.                            

 

                                                              

"Even though I was just kind of running my mouth, I remember Ryan didn't just get pissed off and dismiss this white lady who had ideas about football players. He actually was genuinely interested in what I was thinking and wanted to discuss why I felt the way I did. Even though it still embarrasses me a little bit, I think I've come to really appreciate that moment because that captured who he was and who he still is now."

   While intrigued by Coogler’s natural curiosity and desire to get to the heart of matters, it wasn’t until Graham assigned the class to write a paper did the she fully realize her student’s potential.

  “The theme was to write about an emotional moment in their lives and Ryan wrote an incredible story about his father (Ira) nearly bleeding to death in his arms,” Graham said. “When I read it, I thought it could be a movie because this guy knew how to write a scene. And by that, I mean there was action and there was emotion.  And the emotion was in the action in a way where he brought the scene to life. I believe it was written in the first person from his viewpoint as the oldest brother who was holding his father while   craziness was going on all around him that really made the story.”

  Wanting to express her thoughts, Graham summoned Coogler into her office.

  “When she called me in to talk, my initial thought was that I was in trouble,” Coogler said.  “And she surprised me by saying she thought I should be a writer, specifically screenplays.  That came out of left field.  I thought she was kind of running off, being kind of crazy because I didn’t know the first thing about writing screenplays.  But when I thought about it after I left her office I thought maybe she knew something I didn't even know about myself.”

 “I really just wanted him to hear me say in person that he was a really good writer,” Graham said. “I teach creative writing to upper division and graduate school and am a fiction writer myself so I know when things work and his piece did. I wanted him to know that writer to writer. I also wanted to tell him that he should really think about writing screenplays.”

 Graham’s classroom guidance ended after that first year when to the new Gaels gridiron fan’s chagrin, the school dropped football as a sport-prompting Coogler to transfer to Sacramento State University. Here he excelled not only in the classroom as a finance major while taking film classes, but on the field as well, twice-earning all-Big Sky Conference honors as a wide receiver. While he didn’t move onto the NFL, Coogler used his on-field experiences in a different way when he studied in the graduate film program at the University of Southern California.

  “Ryan said that playing football prepped him for grad school in that it made him able to hear criticism in ways that others were not quite able to hear,” Graham said. “By hearing a coach say great, you made a touchdown now next time let's try to do this, he didn’t take it personally and it translated to filmmaking. He was just so grateful for any input because he knew that it would help him. . Instead of sulking, he wanted to know why something didn’t work while welcoming suggestions on making his projects better.  There is an art to taking criticism and the really good writers don’t worry if they’re good or not, they just concentrate on servicing their story.”

Michael B. Jordan as Oscar Grant in FRUITVALE STATION

Photo courtesy of the Weinstein Company

 

When Coogler was writing FRUITVALE STATION (which was originally titled simply FRUITVALE), he sought out Graham’s feedback before the director entered the Sundance Lab.  Later, she also read the finished project and knew it was a winner.

 

 “One of the many things that  impressed me about his writing is he did something that all good novelists and short story writers do-he wanted to know what moves people and what motivated them in their actions-something that actors want to know,” Graham said. “All of his talents came together during the final platform scene of his movie where among all the chaos and emotion of the scene, you saw everything.  It was just THERE.”

 

 

 

FRUITVALE STATION Director Ryan Coogler (far right) goes over a scene with actors Michael B. Jordan (left) and Octavia Spencer.  Courtesy of the Weinstein Company 

 

While at Sundance garnishing very positive reviews from critics and approval from the Grant family who were in attendance, the makers of FRUITVALE STATION got a $2 million distribution deal from the Weinstein Company.  When the film won both the Grand Jury and Audience honors, Graham was teaching halfway across the world in County Limerick, Ireland.

  “I was trying to stay up as late as I could because I had a sense he was going to win the audience award,” Graham said. “And when I saw that he won both, I may have shouted in the hotel a little bit.  The thrilling part was I got to share it with the students who went on the trip. I told them that they needed to listen to me, I know some things (laughs).”

  After Cannes in May, FRUITVALE STATION played at the Grand Lake Theatre in Oakland, the city where the tragic shooting of the unarmed Grant occurred.  Amongst an audience filled with the city’s dignitaries sat a certain English professor from Saint Mary’s College.

  “I was really marveling because here was this onetime 17-year-old student getting praised by Forest Whitaker as a visionary filmmaker,” Graham said. “I felt like shouting, you and me Forest, we saw it!   What we, as well as his teachers at Sacramento State, USC and the Sundance Lab saw, was someone who not only had all of that talent and wonderful support from his amazing parents (Ira and Joselyn Coogler) and fiancée’ (Zinzi Evans), but a teachability and a never-ending desire to improve.”

  Because he was swamped by well-wishers, Coogler was unable to connect with Graham after the screening. Instead he received a long, heartfelt text message he plans on keeping for a long time.  Since then the two have been in constant touch. In a turnabout of sorts, Coogler gave Graham feedback on her latest project. It was a moment that indicated that the two were now peers in writing. It also said something else about their relationship.

“To this day, she is one of my best friends,” Coogler said.”

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About Michael Goro Takeuchi

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