The Words of the Tsubata Family
S. Smith and Mie Tsubata of Washington, D.C., second generation Unificationists, are a husband and wife filmmaking team determined to create positive media. Together: they started Lightsmith Productions, and have produced numerous video projects with a variety of clients.
They have produced three feature-length films, including Ai Means Love, an east-meets-west romantic comedy.
Question: How did you decide that filmmaking is what you wanted to do professionally?
S. Smith: My brothers and I used to make kung fu movies when we were kids. In high school, I worked with the county access cable channel and studied mass communications in college, focusing on learning everything I could about video production.
Mie Tsubata: As a kid, I loved to make videos with my siblings as well, creating silly characters and practicing simple special effects. I volunteered with WAIT (Washington AIDS International Teens), during high school which teaches HIV/ AIDS prevention through performing arts. During that time, I taught myself how to create promotional and documentary-style videos. When the time came, it wasn't difficult to decide that video allowed me to combine the things I loved to do: music, dance, visual arts and technology.
Question: What inspired you to start Lightsmith Productions?
S. Smith: During my sophomore year of college, I started doing some freelance video work and felt that it was a great time to get really serious and start a business with Mie. Ever since, we've been working together on video projects, commercials, films, animation and more. I felt very lucky to have been blessed in marriage to someone with whom I can share my creative and professional work. We both felt that video was a great way to share positive, inspirational stories with a wide audience. Our mission statement as a company is to help make a positive impact in the world through the media that we produce.
Question: Let's talk about your 2010 film, Cashing Out. Can you explain the basic premise of the story?
S. Smith: Cashing Out is a story about a grandfather who asks his grandson to give his money away to people in desperate circumstances. The FBI suspects sinister motives behind the cash gifts, and the grandson and his friends become targets for arrest.
Question: How did this film begin?
S. Smith: As we were researching new ideas for our second film, we remembered seeing some news articles about a man in Japan who had anonymously given cash gifts to people in need. As we followed the story, we found out that police were trying to catch this person. Additional research led us to an article written by Ben Franklin, which is referenced in the film. Franklin gives a friend in need money, saying: "Times are difficult, but I know you will one day be successful. Pay back my loan to you by helping another person in need." Reading these stories and letters, we felt we could tell a great story about helping those in need.
Question: What impact do you think films like this can have?
S. Smith: Cashing Out was made right before the recession hit our country. We hoped the movie would inspire people to think outside the box and have a heart of giving. Also, we wanted America to see that, when we have a public attitude about money, God blesses us.
Question: Are there any filmmakers or other individuals who inspire you?
Mie Tsubata: I feel very inspired by people like Steven Spielberg, Robert Rodriguez, and Max Hsu. They all started very small, but they had big ideas and a strong passion for what they wanted to create and yielded impressive results. People like them remind me that you don't need millions of dollars to make a good movie. You just need to be creative with what you have, never give up, and focus on the heart.
S. Smith: Many artists work only for the money, even if they have to do something that is against what they believe. Mie and I are constantly inspiring and building off each other, because we have the same reasons for doing video, and we'll never compromise that. Question: What types of clients have you worked with? Are there any interesting stories you have about working with a client?
S. Smith: We have worked with everyone from ministers to corporate executives. It's interesting to learn about what the client wants to share through video: business ideas, charity events, peace initiatives, or causes. We did a promotional video for some Lutheran ministers who traveled the country on a handmade bicycle built for three to raise money and awareness for world hunger. We wanted to do something visually interesting, so we shot out of the hatchback of my SUV. Other clients are a total surprise. We started this oral history project with a large family that can trace their ancestry back to the 1700's. Not only does this family have a fascinating background, but one of their relatives happens to be Stedman Graham, bestselling author of You Can Make It Happen and longtime partner of Oprah Winfrey. I have to say, it was cool to interview a fairly famous person.
Question: What are some of the challenges you have faced? How did you overcome these challenges?
S. Smith: We went through some trial and error during startup. For example, with one of our first clients, we had to make 100 DVD copies of a live event we had filmed. We tried to cut our costs and borrow computers to burn the discs. However, almost all of those DVDs skipped when played, and we had to redo them. Needless to say, our client was not happy. We learned that to make a good product, we need to be serious about investing money and time to make the best quality product for our customers. It's about considering the customers first, and making sure we are doing our best to serve them.
Question: What advice would you give any of our readers who are interested in following a similar path?
S. Smith: Filmmaking is fun, but it is also difficult, and takes commitment. When it gets difficult for us, we always return to why we decided to do film: to make a positive difference in the world of media and to inspire goodness in others. If we didn't have determination, I don't know if we would still be doing this. I think that for many people studying film, it's easy to get influenced negatively and lose your spiritual focus. It's good to set up your standard and purpose ahead of time, so that everything you create can be a reflection of God. We know that God is guiding us, and allowing us to reach people through film. We hope that His heart can be expressed through everything we do.