"Just expect things to go wrong and find solutions. That's my job as a director"
Kommando 1944 is one of LAFA's most awarded films ever. In this periodic drama, an Asian American soldier Corporal Soo is thrown into a Nazi work camp on a farm in Germany as his family back home in America are forced into an American Japanese concentration camp in Manzanar California. The allied soldiers think Soo is a Japanese soldier and segregate him. Soo must fight to let go of the past in order to be set free.
The film won no less than 10 awards at LAFA, including Best Drama, Best Ensemble and more. Here's the interview with Writer-Director Derek Quick.
Derek, It's an honor to have you with us! You have a fascinating background. Please tell us about yourself- where did you grow up, and what made you decide to pursue visual storytelling after serving the U.S Coast Guard for many years?
Thank you. I was born in Miami Oklahoma but I grew up all over the U.S. including England. I rarely stayed at a school for more than a year. I am actually still active duty in the U.S. Coast guard in San Francisco, I am about to be getting out soon after 10 years of service. I have been making films for 22 years, starting with skate videos as a kid. I love telling stories, I believe films are more powerful in shaping and healing ones mind than what we give them credit for. A very powerful tool I plan to use to help heal the world, after all helping others is the one true thing that can bring happiness.
Growing up as a Native American, do you feel your heritage shaped your creative personality? In what ways?
Yes, As an Ottawa Native American, storytelling is a big part of the culture. I remember being told amazing stories as a kid at the local Pow wow's. Would you say film school is a necessary training in order to become a good director? From your experience in Los Angeles, was it helpful/ beneficial?
I feel that film school is beneficial in certain aspects, one of them being given equipment and free crew to help make your films. It's not necessary. I think in order to become a good director you need to connect with your actors and build trust. I studied for a few years at one of the best acting conservatories in the world, The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in LA. I understand acting on a different level now and my actors trust me. Some directors expect an actor to regurgitate an emotion rather than have an authentic experience while doing a scene.
You already completed several short films before approaching Kommando 1944. How did you first get involved in filmmaking? What were some of your first gigs?
Well I made small films most of my life. Usually documentary types of projects and skate videos. I would videotape myself and my friends skateboarding and edit it with a VCR, splicing it to a new VHS tape and adding music by red and white av cables. It's funny thinking back the editing process. While I was attending AADA I would volunteer on film sets doing anything, Acting, Pa, Grip, Driver etc. Once I graduated AADA I decided to attend The New York Film Academy where I was given a camera and told to go forth and be fruitful and multiply thy films.
Take us through a day in the busy life of Derek Quick. What does your schedule look like?
I wake up at 4:00 AM every morning. I currently stand duty two days on two days off like a firefighter. We do search and rescue for people in danger on the water here in San Francisco. I am also an engineer so I fix the boats and do preventative maintenance. I like to intermittent fast so I can use my time wisely and not worry about eating. In the evening after everything is done I hit up the gym, answer emails and do Pre production planning for my feature Documentary "Seid" that's coming up.
What drove you to tell the story of Kommando 1944? The last scene in the movie is simply heartbreaking. Is it based on true events?
In recent years I was made aware of Manzanar and the Japanese internment here in America. We are not always taught this type of history in schools. I feel with our current political climate we could learn from our past mistakes and inspire others to come together so we do not make the same mistakes again. With 26,000 Japanese American men fighting in WWII while their families were in these internment camps it happened many times.
How did you recruit your cast and crew?
I went to AADA in LA for a few years with six of my cast members including Daniel Joo. I acted in many plays with Joo and even put on a mini boot camp to get them ready to play 1940s soldiers. As for crew, I like to hire people that I've worked with before, I put up a few listings for a few positions, I read through 100's of emails. My selection process is not to find the most talented or experienced rather the most passion for their craft. I Usually only hire people that stick to their key position. I feel a lot of people in the industry try and have their hands in too many positions and it takes away from their craft. Example DP that is also a "director and a writer". Too many Chiefs and not enough Indians.
Kommando 1944 - Trailer
There are so many WWII films out there - what are some of the films that inspired the overall look / color / design / sound / music / camera work of your film, and how?
I loved Hacksaw Ridge, I not only think it is one of the best war films of all time but it is my top 5 films of all time. It was done for around seventeen million. The acting really inspired me, Andrew Garfield did an amazing job. I wanted to have the same authenticity Hacksaw ridge had. Gibson told me and a few other veterans in a special screening that due to their small budget some of the scenes, like the cave scene with the flamethrower, they came up with an idea to shoot it in a large warehouse with a black blanket behind the men as they were running. This inspired me as an Indie film maker to be creative. You don't need Hollywood money to make amazing films. The music has a Hans Zimmer feel to it because my good friend and composer Ahmed Arifin worked with Zimmer for years and learned a lot from him.
What did you love the most about being on set?
Out of the entire process, principle photography is my favorite. I love seeing everything come together. I love the passion the actors bring to set. It is a magical process.
Did anything go wrong on set? Or, simply not the way you planned? How did you cope with it?
Well, one of the Grips scratched the 1944 Buick Car we rented. It was the final take of the Scene for the day, Complacency set in. Thankfully the owner was a nice gentlemen. I ended up paying that week for the panel to get a new paint job so he was happy. It looks better than it did so I was happy. Just expect things to go wrong and find solutions. That's our job as a director. Hire the right team and things will be fine. I remember Guillermo del toro expressing this in an interview. Torro said he had a car from the scene he was shooting on set crash into video village and almost hit him, everyone was terrified and looked to him and he just smiled and told the crew to setup for another take. Keep your composure even if inside you are terrified, that's what leaders do.
If you could change anything in the movie, what would it be?
I would have changed one of the Rifles to an automatic Sub Machine gun. We had this reserved but there was a mix up at the prop house. I feel it would have intensified the Scenes more, but still a German Semi automatic rifle is intense.
What do you want audiences to take away from this film?
I Want the audience to do some exploring, I want them to see that everyone at some point or another has had some form of Prejudice against another person. I want them to understand what happened in the past ,whether it was right or wrong we need to come together and find a better solution and never make the same mistakes ever again.
You're in the middle of a successful festival run. How do you feel about the film's popularity so far?
I am graciously thankful for all of the attention it is getting. I told my team from the start that we would be successful and they knew our goals from the beginning. One of our goals is to set the Guinness world record for most wins for a short film. The record is 324. It took the film six years to complete and we feel we will break the record by 2020. Currently (October 14th) we have won over 80 awards. Passion is everything to success. I spent years working on this and it attracted greatness.
What is something you wish you knew before getting into filmmaking? Do you have any advice for beginners?
I wish I knew that most positions on a film set is learned on the job and not taught in a classroom. Just get out there and make films you are passionate about. Technology has made it possible to shoot a film by yourself, edit it and post it for the world to see for free.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years? What kind of movies would you be working on, and in what role? Director, writer, producer, actor- or maybe a combination of everything?
I see myself working in the studio system. Writing and Directing. My passion is directing but writing opens doors. As a story teller its best to tell your own story versus someone else's if you can. Your crew and cast can tell the difference when you are directing something you wrote, you get more respect.
Tell us about your upcoming projects. What's in the menu for 2019?
Well, we have had distributors for Netflix asking for the Seid documentary I am doing next. Jeff Seid and I released the teaser trailer on his Instagram and it got 3.5 million views and 160,000 likes the first day. The fans want it sooner than later so we might do a premiere in Los Angeles at the TLC Chinese theater when we are finished. Seid and I are about to reboot his YouTube channel that has over 120 million views and 1 million subscribers with some of the highest quality production. The goal is to get to 5 million subscribers for the channel within a year. Not many filmmakers can have an audience in the millions daily and that is why YouTube is here to stay.
I have also recently completed a few feature screenplays and a TV pilot episode. I plan on doing the TV pilot episode after Seid. It is set in the early 1990's, A Sci- fi thriller that takes place in the Pacific Northwest.
The premiere of Kommando 1944 is coming very soon. You must be so excited! Could you share more details?
- October 20th we play at the Marina del Rey Film Festival, Cinemark 18 near LAX Noon.
- La Skins fest November 13th-18th TCL Chinese Theater In Hollywood. TBD times.
- HollyShorts - November 29th 9:00pm at the TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood.
Where readers can follow your work?