Q&A about Indie Film STAY with Filmmaker Darryl Wharton-Rigby

Q&A about Indie Film STAY with Filmmaker Darryl Wharton-Rigby

by Christopher Rathbone
Stripes Japan

Q: Could you introduce yourself?

DWR: My name is Darryl Wharton-Rigby. I am an American filmmaker originally from Baltimore, Maryland who now lives in Japan. I’ve written for TV in the USA, done indie film, and theatre. I like to tell stories that explore the human experience and themes of hope.

Q: As a filmmaker, how did you start your career in Japan?

DWR: My career in Japan really started in the US. I started actually filmmaking in the United States. I started making films in Baltimore and made a feature film there and moved to Los Angeles. I have also written for television in US and then when I was living in Los Angeles, I was hired by MTV to write a screen play based on based on a manga and that was my first time coming to Japan and I became interested in Japan and its culture and I came back to Japan as an English teacher on the JET Program in Fukushima. So, I came to Japan as a filmmaker. I started with a documentary when I was in Fukushima.

Q: How much do you write?

DWR: I started as a writer. So, for me, writing is the foundation for anything. I have been writing since I was seventeen years. I tell people, “I’m a writer, director, and producer” and it’s always in that order. A writer first, and then a director, and producer. Because for me it always starts with the good script. I make sure the script is the best story I can tell. And, then as a director I want to visualize how I can tell the story. As a producer I have to figure out how I can facilitate the vision that I want to make.  

Q: How do you find actors or locations to shot in Japan?

DWR: For Stay I had met our lead actor, Shogen at a screening and after that we had conversions and I told him about the movie I wanted to do and he said, “I like this. Let’s do it.” Then we started doing the casting and looking for the female lead. I looked at more than 1,000 actresses. There are a lot talented people out there. But we eventually found Ana Tanaka. She had skills and brought a certain quality to the character. She also had a real great chemistry with Shogen. This is her first role. She nailed it.

Q: What was your inspiration for making Stay?

DWR: Stay as a story was inspired by my father, a Vietnam war veteran. Although he was proud of his service, like his father before him, the experience of him going through Vietnam, had a whole chain of effects, in terms of substance abuse and alcohol abuse, going into recovery, coming out of recovery, going back into recovery. Originally, I was going to film in Baltimore or Los Angeles. Then one day I was reading an article about recovering addicts in Tokyo and the plight of their journeys trying to re-acclimate back into Japanese society. The stigma of being an addict in Japan stays with you. In the States, you can’t fire somebody because of their past. But here, it’s a whole different thing. Your past holds onto you, and people will hold your past against you. I was like, how do you move forward if nobody will forgive you for past transgressions? I thought it was an interesting backdrop for Stay.

Q: How did you technically get Stay of the ground?

DWR: In making Stay, we chose the Blackmagic Pocket Camera, which outwardly looks like a DSLR camera. As a filmmaker in Baltimore, I learned the art of guerilla filmmaking. We shot stuff on railroad tracks, with weapons on public streets, and I also did it working on project in Los Angeles. It’s a skill that has served me well over my career.

We filmed Stay in 16 days in around Tokyo. It was an exhilarating experience. Our Line Producer, Toshio Hanaoka, helped to find some wonderful key locations. We filmed on trains, platforms, restaurants, on the streets of Shimokitazawa, Tsukiji and many other places. One of my goals was to not have the film be filled with the usual places people not from Japan film. There are no beauty shots of the Scramble, Tokyo Tower, or The Robot Restaurant. We wanted Ryuu’s world to be places locals would go – the little bakeries, the ramen shops, the markets and even convenience stores.

Q: Did any films inspire you in making Stay?

DWR: Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and Barry Jenkins’ Medicine for Melancholy has some influence stylistically.

Q:  What’s the biggest difference between working in Japan and working in the States?

DWR: I’ve been fortunate to work on both side of the cameras in both Japan and the USA. I do acting work in Japan as well working as a fixer for productions looking for someone local to assist with their productions. I’m in a music video for a J-Pop group called AKB48 called Fortune Cookie that has over 200 million views on YouTube I think the biggest difference doing production in Japan and the USA is there are less rules in Japan.

In terms of films the committee system in Japan seem to kind of stifles creativity. I understand that film is also a business, but film is a director’s medium. When there’s a committee involved, it seems to dilute the process. Dilutes the director’s voice. There are some great voices out there like Takeshii Miike, Beat Takeshi, Sion Sono, Kore-Eda, and Naomi Kawase, but film has to touch a nerve and take risks. Committees are about being averse to risk. I dig working in Japan and hope to do more projects here.

Q: What lessons did you learn from Stay?

DWR: There are a whole bunch of lessons. I learned a lot more about the business. I’m still learning. With my first film, it wasn’t as complicated. In the past 20 years, with the change from film to digital, now distributors want more. I’m learning what the more is. With digital they want this type of file with this number of soundtracks and this and this and you’re like, okay. While the game has changed in some ways, the most important thing is to tell a good story.

Q:  Can you share any links or ways of seeing your films?

DWR: You can find Stay on US Amazon Prime Video https://amzn.to/2J9FmOA

Japan Amazon Prime


Tubi in Canada


And Amazon UK



Darryl Wharton-Rigby Bio

A native of Baltimore, Maryland, Darryl Wharton-Rigby has worked diligently to be a storyteller. He has an MFA in Film Directing from Chapman University and was a Lecturer for Morgan State University's Screenwriting and Animation program.

Darryl wrote for two NBC television shows, Homicide: Life On The Street and Just Deal. Recently, he has worked as a script consultant for Worldwide Nate: African Adventures and A Girl Named Joe. His debut feature film Detention received numerous honors and awards. His film, Stay, makes him the second African-American to make a feature film in Japan. He is currently working on Don Doko Don, a documentary about a taiko group that was displaced after the 2011 Great Quake as well as his next narrative feature film.

In Japan, he has worked on productions for NHK, Farfetch, Buzzfeed, Airbnb, and Usquaebach Whiskey. As an actor, he is featured at the DJ in the AKB48 music video for their hit song, Koi Suru Fortune Cookie.

Darryl is an international filmmaker who explores the human experience and builds cultural bridges. He is passionate about human and equal rights, LGBTQ issues, immigration, and those who are disenfranchised. Via his work, he’d like to create a level playing field.

Darryl lives in Saitama, Japan and credits his wife and three children as his ultimate muse.

Twitter/Instagram - @whartonrigby


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