Sushi Girl screenwriters, Kern Saxton (who also directed) and Destin Pfaff, sat down with Movie Fanatic for an exclusive interview and something powerful struck us. These two have a passion for movie making that is culled from years of being, well, movie fanatics. “We’re just both blindly in love with cinema,” Pfaff said.
As teased in the Sushi Girl trailer, their first feature film features a group of gangsters meeting for a dinner where things might not go so well for one attendee. Fish has just got out of jail and after years of incarceration his former heist mates throw a special meal for him. Seems they want to know for sure if he sang like a canary on the inside and ratted them out.
Making up that group is a classic movie actor bevy of talent from screen icon Mark Hamill, Terminator’s Michael Biehn, Lawnmower Man Jeff Fahey and Mr. Machete (Danny Trejo). Sushi Girl is now available on DVD, Blu-Ray and digital download.
Movie Fanatic: Have to start by asking where on earth this wild idea for a movie came from?
Kern Saxton: Jack Daniels…
Destin Pfaff: What [laughs]?
Kern Saxton: I want a case of Jack Daniels sent to me, I figure if I say it enough, I’ll get one [they both laugh]. We were at a bar and we were talking about another script that we were working on that was too big for its britches. We were having trouble raising the money for it. So, Destin said, "Let’s do a one room movie." I said, "That is a terrible idea." But, we went with it and that’s where we came up with the idea to have a room full of gangsters and there’s a naked girl covered in sushi in the middle of it. I remember thinking how wonderful the idea of having such a vulnerable character was… and it mutated from there.
Movie Fanatic: How’d you two meet and what’s it like to write as a team, normally a solitary process?
Destin Pfaff: Back when I first came to LA years and years ago, Kern and I shared the same manager. The development assistant in the manager’s office was a friend of both of ours and we were at a bar -- man, lots of bars in these stories -- and I hated Kern when I met him.
Kern Saxton: Yeah, we hated each other.
Destin Pfaff: He’s so pompous and thinks he knows it all. [Laughs] Eventually we got to know each other and became best friends.We think a lot alike in a lot of areas, and we’re really different too. There’s a really good checks and balances system. Writing can be a solitary and lonely thing that if you have a partner that you feel comfortable with sharing ideas, and can call you on your (expletive) when you need it, it becomes a wonderful relationship. If I was only successful writing with Kern for the rest of my life, I’d be happy.
Kern Saxton: I like bouncing ideas off of people. I don’t like sitting in a room by myself. I don’t have all the answers. What’s great about Destin is we get together and spit ball and have a volley back and forth. We had a huge argument about Sushi Girl early on in the process about how to handle flashbacks. I think Destin didn’t want to have any flashbacks.
Destin Pfaff: You wanted to layer a bunch of them throughout the movie.
Kern Saxton: And we compromised. It was the sort of situation where we both saw each other’s side and eventually listened to reason. I always feel like when we work together we’re creating a horror movie with a broader audience than just horror. Sushi Girl is definitely not a horror movie, but it definitely has traces of horror in it that has enough to make the horror community fall in love with it. They have been the largest vocal supporter of this movie.
Movie Fanatic: What films influenced you guys in general and for Sushi Girl?
Kern Saxton: Destin has his references and I have my references. Sometimes they match up and sometimes they don’t. We both love 1970s exploitation movies and serious ones. For me, Point Blank was a big reference point for this movie.
Destin Pfaff: For me, I was raised on 1970s films as well as the 1980s movies. And the Italian American crime thrillers, zombie films… and all that were impactful for me. Kern likes to bring up Branded to Kill. These ideas that we have just become part of my life -- much like other writers, directors and producers out there. That’s where Sushi Girl came from. Oh, then there’s the elephant in the room… Reservoir Dogs. The same way Tarantino was influenced by these movies, Tarantino has also become an influence on us. This is going to go on for filmmakers for the rest of eternity.
Kern Saxton: Like Destin said with Tarantino, it’s important to note that filmmakers are socialized to tell stories by the movies that they consumed when they were younger. We’re part of one of the first generations to be socialized by Tarantino. He’s been a mainstay as long as I can remember. Reservoir Dogs came out when I was like ten or eleven. That’s a movie that has always been seen as done right. But I’m also influenced by others like David Fincher and Paul Thomas Anderson, but also Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick.
Movie Fanatic: Well, you can see it in Sushi Girl.
Kern Saxton: Yes, that does come through in Sushi Girl! It’s kind of a big melting pot of all the stuff that goes in and gets processed and comes out a different way.
Movie Fanatic: How did your expectations filming a feature versus a short film differ from what you experienced?
Destin Pfaff: We had goals in mind. When we first started writing this movie, the main goal was we wanted to tell a smart story on a low budget. We wanted to do it to convince people that we could make movies and give us more money to make more movies. For us, the real action is making stuff. We’re all about telling stories. We just want to make more.
Kern Saxton: That’s the big difference between a short film and a feature. There’s a lot more that comes with it: Responsibility and expectation. But you have to also be mindful that you want to make something to sell. You’re making art, but you have to sell it to make more. For us, we grew up watching movies that we were fanatic about -- we wanted to give another one of those to the world.