The Proceedings is the latest project for writer-director John Williams, who has established a successful filmmaking career in Japan since relocating from the UK in 1988. From his lyrical coming-of-age drama Firefly Dreams (2001) to the seductive nocturnal mystery Starfish Hotel (2001) and the Shakespeare-inspired dystopian fantasy Sado Tempest (2013), Williams has endeavored to develop the kind of personal material that is increasingly at odds with the homogenized nature of Japan’s mainstream entertainment industry. His features have won awards at various international festivals and represent a significant achievement in a cinematic territory that is especially challenging for independent filmmakers since the major studios are focused on branded properties while government subsidies are hard to come by.
Williams has now turned to crowd funding to finance The Proceedings. This planned adaptation of Franz Kafka’s existential nightmare The Trial updates the bureaucratic machinations of the classic 1914 novel to present day Tokyo with a man waking up in his suburban apartment to find that he is under arrest for an unspecified crime. Williams aims to remain faithful to the structure of the original novel while creating the atmosphere and pacing of a paranoid thriller.
The film will serve as a metaphor for a contemporary Japanese society where expressions of divergent opinion are suppressed, thereby resulting in a mood of self-censorship. As Williams elaborates in the notes accompanying the project’s campaign,
This very soft culture of non-offensiveness has its good sides but it also means there is little room for dissent, and recently we’ve seen how the government is actively trying to clamp down on these divergent voices and opinions, actively muzzling the media and passing laws that threaten journalists’ freedom. My version of Kafka’s book is set in a very real contemporary Japan where these things are happening and I think the echoes and the sub-texts are quite clear as critiques of these problems in Japan now.
In a refreshingly minimalist crowd funding strategy, the campaign for The Proceedings is more about the film itself and the collaborative process than posting out related merchandise with the streamlined rewards for contributing to the production budget being access to the film itself or a chance to become a creative participant. As Williams explains,
Our crowd funding approach is slightly different from others I think – we aren’t giving away T-shirts or DVD’s or signed posters. I think there’s too much stuff in the world anyway, so I don’t want to clutter it up with more stuff. The thing is the film itself and a sense of participation in the making of the film, so not only are we selling tickets and streamed online versions, but also an ability to get involved in screenings through pre-buying local screening rights, or even to become a co- producer and be involved in the development of the script, the shoot and the marketing. So we’re actually offering a kind of boot camp for filmmakers too.
Williams has setup the campaign at Japanese crowd funding website Motion Gallery but you can also find out more about The Proceedings and back the project through website of his production company 100 Meter Films website.
For an overview of how crowd funding is changing Japan’s independent filmmaking sector, see this excellent The Japan Times article by Mark Schilling with comments from Williams, Motion Gallery founder Takeshi Otaka, and Third Window Films’ managing director Adam Torel, who used Kickstarter to fund Eiji Uchida’s gangster comedy Lowlife Love (2015).