Kaz Nakajima is one of few born and raised Calgarians. An artist by nature, he works in YYC’s film industry.
What he does in film ranges from writing and shooting his own indie films to freelancing as a key grip and most recently, a best boy on the Heartland set. For context, best boys are responsible for the day-to-day operation and administration of the lighting or grip department on set. He is also an active member of the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers (CSIF) production committee. CSIF is a non-for-profit that provides local filmmakers access to workshops, rental equipment, mentorship, and programming.
Kaz has worked on countless productions including small weekend shoots, commercials, big Hollywood productions, and TV series. Hells on Wheels, Fargo, Heartland, Circle of Steel, and Ghostbusters: Afterlife are some of the high-profile projects he’s been part of.
This summer Kaz worked as the best person on the set of Heartland. It was an opportunity that resulted from the flurry of film productions including Last of Us and Billy the Kid which came to Calgary in summer 2021.
“There are so many productions happening in Calgary right now, but a lot of our crew members have gotten jobs elsewhere. We ended up hiring- crew members who are fresh out of school to keep up. It’s a great opportunity for them, but it is challenging,” says Kaz.
In my interview with Kaz, he talks about his experience working in Calgary’s film industry, particularly on the Ghostbuster: Afterlife set and the perks of working for a feature film that brought $1 million in revenue to Drumheller, Alberta.
Q: As a key grip, what is the most important thing to keep in mind when on set?
A: I can’t think of one important thing as my department (Grip) is vast. To put it in very simple terms though, the official job description is camera support and non-electrical modifications of lighting. But to answer the question, the most important thing to keep in mind is what the director of photography wants to fulfill the director’s vision.
Q: In general, what is the film and TV scene like in Calgary and what sets our crews apart from others?
A: Because Calgary is still small compared to Vancouver, Toronto, and even Montreal, I find our film industry to be very independent or “indie” oriented. Films here are, often, self-funded with smaller crews, and fewer resources. Because of these factors, I find Calgary to be more of a close-knit community as opposed to Vancouver. I do believe Calgary isn’t as “industrial” or a “machine” like any other jurisdiction in Canada. It feels like we’re a part of a loving, caring family that looks out for each other and helps each other out.
Q: How was it working alongside some A-list actors?
A: I do admit, whenever I see A-listers, I become my 12-year-old self and become star-struck. However, the truth is I’m going into work, not Comic-Con, so I treat A-listers the same way I would treat any other co-workers. Because of my position on set, I rarely work with those actors. My job is to support my department and department head, not actors.
There were days I just wanted to go and have a conversation with the actors (not as stars but as people) but if I have done that, I probably will never be hired on a film set again. Maintaining professionalism is very important for film crews in Alberta.
Q: What was the experience like on Ghostbusters?
A: Although I’ve been in the industry for about 10 years and am a member of the local film union IATSE 212, I’ve rarely worked on something as big as Ghostbusters. Alberta, believe it or not, has been the backdrop of many Hollywood films (Superman, Cool Runnings, Brokeback Mountain, Inception, Interstellar, Fargo season 1-3). But when I was asked to join the crew for Ghostbusters, I was excited, and at the same time a little nervous.
Still, as the days progressed it became another job for me, just bigger in scale. My philosophy is, no matter what project I work on, I intend to give it my best, and there is no such thing as a job too big or small.
Q: What impressed you the most about the production of Ghostbusters?
A: It’s hard to tell because in large-scale films (or even small-scale films), there is so much happening at the same time. I guess to answer the question, I’ll always be amazed at how anything as spectacular as a film production can be pulled off. It’s never smooth by any stretch of the imagination but it never ceases to amaze me how all the logistics, finance, and hard work make it all happen.
Q: What locations did you travel to while working on Ghostbusters?
A: We were shooting all over the place, and unfortunately, I wasn’t a part of the entire shoot. They were in Fort Macleod, Turner Valley, Beiseker, Drumheller, and of course, Calgary.
Q: Who was the most famous person you met while on set? What was the experience like?
Anyways, I was minding my own business and tidying up when he walked by. I moved out of the way to give him room, but he came straight towards me, shook my hand and asked what I did. I answered his question and he introduced himself to me and moved towards the set, but not before replying in a dry tone, “It was nice meeting you Kaz. Now get back to work.” The interaction didn’t strike me until seconds after he walked away. I was delighted to hear I made my whole department jealous. It was a highlight on Ghostbusters.