12th June 2018


Filming in Japan for Fight Like A Girl

Earlier this year, in a first for Raise the Roof, we sent a team of two to Japan to film a new BBC Scotland documentary.  Self-shooting Producer Director Katy Bird and Production Manager Chris Hall travelled to Tokyo and Osaka for Fight Like a Girl, following Kimberly Benson, Scotland’s hottest female wrestler, Viper. We were with her in the ring and behind the scenes, at home and in Japan, as she fought in some of the most important matches of her career.  Here, we catch up with Chris about his experience of setting up the shoot in Japan and how he found working in one of the world’s most magnetic and fascinating countries.

Do you require Visas to film in Japan?

No! This seemed unusual, so we did do a lot of research and double checking to ensure this was the case. We checked with other production companies and people who had previously filmed in Japan and the Japanese embassy. UK companies working for a British broadcaster (i.e. not being employed by a Japanese based company) don’t need visas as there is an agreement between the Japan and UK governments. What we did need though was an ATA carnet for our filming kit. A carnet essentially acts as a passport for your kit and enables you to clear customs. It is designed to stop people bringing goods into a country to sell them without paying tax. To obtain a carnet you need to supplya list of your equipment, serial numbers, value, country of origin and the purpose the items are to be used for. This meant we had to agree on our kit very early on and submit all the necessary details of absolutely everything we were taking. The kit and carnet details are checked and stamped before leaving the UK and on arrival in Japan. It’s the same process on the return journey back to the UK to ensure you take home the same kit. Very logical really.

Are the Japanese flexible with filming requests?

No, not really. From our research, we learnt that culturally, the Japanese like to stick to plans and organised events. It’s considered to be disrespectful to be late or even worse to change a plan at the last minute. As such, we made sure the plans and times of meetings we’d arranged were met.In some ways it helped that there were certain places we had to be at certain times. Strictly, nothing was subject to change. 

How easy was it to organise filming on locations?

The locations and people we wanted to film with were very open and happy to accommodate us. However, at some of the wrestling events, we did have occasions when we were asked to move out of the way when we were potentially blocking views.We did, as usual, have to ensure we had appropriate clearance for the locations and this was generally organised by our fixer. We also translated our usual release forms into Japanese, so we could be sure that the people reading and signing them had a full understanding of what they were signing; otherwise the signatures would have been meaningless. 

What locations did you film in?

Primarily in and around Tokyo including beautiful parks and streets and we spent a day in filming Nagoya (around 4 hours West of Tokyo). We were trying to capture a sense of Kim’s life in Japan, so we were with her at her gym, the flat she lives in, on a night out in town, and, of course, at matches in large sports arenas.

How did you find the transport?

Japan has a great train network, however, due to the amount of kit had, we mostly travelled by taxi. It would’ve been far too crammed and difficult to carry the kit on and off the busy trains in Tokyo.We had a driver and a large hire car that we utilised on our day filming the sights of Tokyo as well as when we travelled to and from Nagoya.

What was the climate like?

About a month before we started filming a major snow-storm hit Japan, so we were worried about the weather and that’s saying something coming from Scotland. However, we got lucky. It was sunny and warm and a nice feeling to need sun cream in March!

You were in Tokyo for cherry blossom season – what effect did that have on filming?

A very positive one! We hit ‘peak’ cherry blossom season. This meant we got beautiful shots of the blossom on the trees as well as lots of snow-type effect shots of it falling.We filmed in a beautiful park in the heart of Tokyo and have to say, it looked incredible. We’re pleased to show a side one of the world’s busiest cities that is not immediately recognisable with the hustle and bustle. These shots will really add something to the programme.

How did you deal with the language barrier?

We relied on our wonderful fixer, Elena, a lot! Few people in Tokyo spoke English, which we were quite surprised about. Even at our hotel, where you might expect English to be spoken, we struggled. However, in true fashion we got by with the use of small phrases repeated continuously, smiles and nods, when we didn’t have Elena with us. We did pick up some key phrases like yes, no, thank you and excuse me!

How was the food? 

The food was incredible. I don’t think we had a single dish that we didn’t like! We had a lot of fish (as you might suspect) but also tried vegetables cooked in ways I’d never had thought of.  We ate so much but it was generally pretty healthy food, so thankfully I came home largely unaffected by my gluttonous ways!

What are the main cultural differences you noticed when there?

Everything works. The Japanese are very compliant to rules and regulations and are extremely efficient. You could be standing at a cross-road with no cars anywhere to be seen but people will still not cross if it’s a red-man!They are also incredible tidy. I don’t think I saw any litter the whole time I was there, which was amazing as public bins are extremely hard to come-by!It’s expected that if you have litter, you take it home and dispose of it then.

Did anything surprise you about Japanese customs?

Not massively as I had done a lot of research. I did notice that they seem to employ around three people to do a job when one would do, however, this might explain their efficiency.They also love giving out plastic bags – buy a packet of gum; they’ll give you a plastic bag!

How did you find the filming experience on the whole?

I loved it. I was apprehensive about filming in a foreign country, especially one so different from the UK. However, we had invested a lot of time in the early stages of the production finding an absolutely incredible fixer, rather than the first one who was recommended to us. That turned out to be time well spent, as she made everything very easy for us. The people in Japan were friendly and largely very accommodating.

We captured some great footage that we feel will lift our programme to the next level. I’m extremely proud of what we have achieved with this production. It’s like nothing we’ve ever filmed at Raise the Roof before, so it’s great to be part of the team that has accomplished this.

What did you learn from this experience?

I’ve learnt to be open to new experiences. Just because something isn’t familiar, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t going to work or be a success.It is important to be prepared and to fully research a place before you film there.I also learnt that if you go to a Japanese bath/hot spring (an Onsen) then it is expected that you go in – completely nude!

What one piece of advice would you give to anyone planning a filming trip to Japan?

 Without a shadow of any doubt, you need to find a good fixer.  We really wouldn’t have gotten the access or the information we required had Elena, our fixer not understood the nature of our programme and what we were trying to achieve. She was integral to the trip’s success.



Carrie Hunter