IF not for a plan that involved moving to Japan to save money so he could return to the United States for film school, Neil Hartmann may have never created his legendary Car Danchi film series or his recently released photography book ‘Bluetiful’.
His passion for the arts is something he’s had since he was 12; he has always wanted to be a film director. His other passion was realised a while later when he pointed a borrowed Burton Performer straight under a lift into light and fluffy Hokkaido powder at Rusutsu Resort in 1985. Combining filmmaking and snowboarding with persistence and ambition, Neil created something many wannabe film directors hope for – a successful life in a foreign country, doing something he wholeheartedly loves everyday.
Describe a day in the life of Neil Hartmann?
If I am on location I will usually wake up between 4 or 5am in my car. Heat up some soup and coffee while getting my gear on. We try to film while the light is good in the early morning hours, but depending on the situation a shoot can last until sunset. After a long day in the cold weather I try to always find an onsen to soak and warm up in.
What made you come to Japan?
I have half my family here in Japan. My father is a long-time expat living in Sapporo and he was the one that encouraged me to come to Hokkaido after finishing high school.
How has Japanese culture changed you and what have you taken from it?
At the end of 2011, I will have been in Japan for half of my life. I think the biggest influence Japan has had on me would be in how I feel about design in general: product design, store design, home design and clothing design. The brands I work with like The North Face, Burton and Nike all make the coolest products exclusively for the Japanese market. I think in the next few years we are going to see another wave of Japanese design taking over the world.
What do you think you’ve given to Japanese culture?
I hope I have helped some people loosen up a little bit. During my days as a radio DJ, I did my best to play music and shake people up. Through the snowboard DVD’s and Car Danchi, I hope I helped change people’s perceptions about what snowboarding and the lifestyle is really like. I hope I can continue to be a good gateway personality for both cultures.
How do you drive your creativity?
Coffee helps and hot ramen on a cold day works well too. For me, I need a lot of time and solitude combined with short bursts of interaction with other people to confirm that I am doing the right thing. The video-editing process is very intensive for me. I tend to work 18-hour days when video editing and tend to develop a rhythm. With digital photography, computers and the web – there is more than enough inspiration out there to push creativity.
What stimulates you?
Good films, especially documentary based stuff. I like magazines a lot. Listening to my analog record collection. Snowboarding, skateboarding, mountain hiking, and if I am desperate a little internet porn – ha ha!
You’re a self-confessed “modern social animal” – how has social media changed you and what
I love all the social media and all the changes that have come with it. Now that I have my iPhone, I am addicted to sharing a large portion of my life – tweeting, blogging (neilhartmannlife.wordpress.com), photo sharing whatever it takes. On the down side, the media industry is struggling to keep up with the changing times. DVD sales have dropped dramatically since YouTube came on the scene.
Where do you take a break from life?
Deep in the mountains with just a few friends and no cell phone reception – just the sound of snow crunching underneath my snowshoes.
What’s been your greatest achievement?
The birth of my two daughters Siena and Safia. Nothing can top that ever.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
Trying to turn creativity into cash money and to keep it flowing.
Do you have photographic/film-maker idols?
Basically I don’t have a photographic idol, I just have mad respect for anybody that has chosen the life of a professional photographer. And for film makers, I have a few names that I would say I am a big fan of – Michael Moore, Spike Jonze, Spike Lee, Dennis Hopper and Tarantino.
Do you think you’re lucky or have you worked hard?
Luck only comes to those who have worked their asses off. So yes I am very lucky.
What’s some advice you could give to other filmmakers or photographers trying to ‘make it’?
Work your f##king ass off. I see a lot of people wanting success but just not putting in the hours needed. If you want to succeed in Japan you had best be prepared to work. Due to Japan’s global position and history, everyone here not only has to compete with the local Japanese competition, you will also get compared to every other North American and European photographer/filmmaker out there. You have to step up your game and be prepared to be the whole package.