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Goh Iromoto

Filmmaker / Cinematographer

Goh Iromoto is a self-taught director, filmmaker and cinematographer who brings his visual narrative style to the world of marketing and advertising through his work. He shares how he got started working in his medium and the industry, as well as the challenges he's faced in his career over the last year. Goh gives insight into the balance between creating and everything else that goes along with being self-employed-like marketing yourself and communicating with clients. His honesty and passion for the work he does is inspiring, enjoy.

Tell us a little bit about what you do.

I'm a director / cinematographer and I do some photography as well. I specifically work in the marketing and advertising field as opposed to television or long format filmmaking. What that means is I specialize in the art of filmmaking specifically for commercials. The commercial realm today isn’t just TV like it used to be, it has broadened out to cover mediums like the web. The web allows for a variety of story formats, not just the 30-second commercial. It includes things like 12-minute short films that have a completely different narrative. Web-based commercials are not a product-selling tool like traditional 30-second TV spots are. For example, the commercials can be short stories about surviving in the wilderness that indirectly promotes a region of Ontario. That’s what I’ve done a few times for Ontario Tourism. It's a really neat market to be in. It's definitely something that's relevant to our day and age. This new commercial format didn't exist 10 years ago when I started in the industry.

What was your path to becoming a filmmaker/cinematographer?

I didn't go to film school; I was very much self-taught. I guess the journey began when I was a kid. My mom and dad were journalists and they were a part of a Toronto community newspaper, so I had cameras around me all the time. My dad would always have different video cameras, not just for work but to shoot home movies as well. My parents were, by no means, artistic filmmakers but they had the equipment and I think that had a big influence on me.

When I was in university I got involved in a freediving community–which is where you dive underwater and hold your breath instead of using oxygen tanks. One summer before my paying job started I volunteered my time to create a promo video for a diving organization. They gave me about 50 hours of tapes they had lying around and I edited the best parts into a 3 to 4-minute promo video. That video was really well received in the diving community and because of it I was asked to cover the freediving world championships. I ended up filming the competition by day and then editing at night so that a video was out by the next morning. The following spring the freedivers funded me to do my first short documentary. It was about 60 minutes long and was shot in the Cayman Islands for about 2 and a half months. Every day I was filming and editing and I was only about 19 at the time. Kirk Krack–who is still a good friend of mine–was the world championship free diving coach and he treated his staff very intensively. He had high expectations and high demands and I was just like any other athlete to him. I definitely wanted to please him and meet or beat his expectations. I probably slept very little during that time. [laughs]

Closer to the end of that summer, I got an internship at a downtown advertising post house called School Editing. That company had a similar expectation level as Kirk. I still remember my first day as an assistant editor, I ended up pulling an all-nighter at the office. At the time I thought that type of work schedule was normal. Maybe the standards were a bit different, but I didn't think that was abnormal. The way I was working was definitely getting attention. I saw myself getting praised, moving up quick in the company, and what not. It was a grind though.

“It's not to say that creativity is dead and we’re all doomed, but it's definitely more of a challenge to stand out. Overall, it's a good thing, it's a good challenge. It pushes me but it can be really intimidating, even for someone has been doing this for a while.”

What are some of the challenges that you’ve been facing over the past year and how did you overcome them?

I'd say the biggest challenge, or insecurity, is a creative one. Thinking back 5 or 10 years, I would have no problem thinking creatively and attacking ideas with new tricks and techniques. Perhaps it's just where I am in my career or perhaps it’s more about modern times with Vimeo and YouTube and everyone having access to amazing technology. I'm at a place now where I'm trying to come up with new creative material and I'm actually finding it hard to stand out. There is so much great talent out there, and again, I want to say this more as an insecurity and vulnerability than a complaint. Any editing style you can think of will have been reproduced or refined or creatively done better. It feels like almost everything that can be done, is already out there. It's not to say that creativity is dead and we’re all doomed, but it's definitely more of a challenge to stand out. Overall, it's a good thing, it's a good challenge. It pushes me but it can be really intimidating, even for someone has been doing this for a while.

Along those lines, I've encountered in the photography world this idea of comparison paralysis. Like you said, there's so many great people doing great things. You look at your own work and you compare it to other people and can’t help but think you’re not good enough. You've alluded to something similar, how do you pull yourself out of that head space?

I'm trying to figure that one out. It's funny because I don't get that way that often and from the outside you might think that I have a healthy ego. I get some really great comments and I get recognized, and all that. You're actually catching me in the middle of one of those periods right now which is why it's hard to put it into words. I'm very much in a self-reflective mode. I released this short film called “The Path of Grey Owl” and I was in a really depressed funky place editing it; it was a real challenge. I hit blocks constantly. On top of that, I was burnt out from another editing project that was really tough on me. The only answer that I have is what I'm doing now and that is just being persistent and not giving up. I'm doing little things bit by bit and clawing away at it. I saw the Revenant recently and it got me inspired to test out a couple new pieces of gear. I called up some friends and we figured some things out and that helped trigger some creativity.

I think the worst thing I could do is do nothing and sit around all day. Again, it's hard. I get frustrated with the cliche of "don't give up and just keep at it," it's definitely not as simple as that. My girlfriend Courtney and I are heading to Montreal this weekend and I'm forcing myself to sit in a café and write. It’s something I’ve never really done a lot of before. Doing new things brings me back to when I was in high school when I used to just try new things because I could. I think it’ll help a lot.

It's literally an artist's temporary depression. Be persistent and don’t give up.

“Every job I’ve landed can be somehow traced back to those first 2 jobs I had in my professional career. It doesn't work like that for everyone but I would say, hard work goes a long way when building a career in this industry.”

How do you balance the creative work, the field work and going out and producing these things and then coming home and doing admin work and marketing of yourself, etc.?

It's definitely a challenge. I have absolutely no rhyme or reason or process to the marketing side. As of last week, I put in my calendar post on Instagram, Facebook once a week. My account now has a repetitive notice. Up to this point though the process has been very fluid.

I’ve followed the cinematographer of the Revenant, Emmanuel Lubezki, since his Terrence Malick days and he's the guy that I aspire to be. He mentioned that that's what he started doing; posting something on social media once a week. I've just got to do it. I've tried in the past and it didn't work [laughs]. The balance is too hard and I'm not one to post every bit of my journey. I try to post only my best work and I try to consciously think about what might be a good series or brand or imaging.

When I'm passionate about a project like “The Path of Grey Owl”, I naturally will find time to promote it. I also have these other pieces that I'm scared to release because I think it might be a little too rough and maybe not make me look good. If I have it in my calendar, I’ll usually end up pushing it back a couple weeks and then I’ll just say, "You know what, it's not meant to be." Overall my marketing process is organic, which is funny because most of the other things in my life are very controlled and very scheduled and very thought through. Marketing and public self-promotion is still and unnatural thing for me. I hope to reach the holy grail of being awesome at self-promotion and being incredibly busy at the same time. I've definitely seen people who are creative guys and are phenomenal at marketing themselves but they may not actually be that busy. When things are slow I’m pretty good at the marketing thing but when I'm busy, it all goes out the window. When I’m on set I'm so busy that I can't even consciously think about which image to choose, what to write, how to post it on social media. My brain is so focused on shooting that I have a hard time doing that.

Fortunately, for me, I’ve kept busy mostly through word of mouth. Every job I’ve landed can be somehow traced back to those first 2 jobs I had in my professional career. It doesn't work like that for everyone but I would say, hard work goes a long way when building a career in this industry.

How do you manage your time emailing versus other things you need to do in a regular day? I know dealing with email can be such a time consuming task.

I don't like email in my inbox. I've read some Fast Company articles about the top 5 things CEOs do or successful people do and one of them is always clearing out your inbox. I have one of those inboxes where as soon as I'm done with an email, it gets sent to a folder. My inbox usually either looks empty or just has the emails I haven't replied to in it. There is a bit of a “clearing-of-the-conscience” workflow to it. When I see email pile up it makes me a bit anxious and I'll start to plow through them. If I’m on set I’ll just pump through some of the easier ones and some of the bigger ones about jobs or pitches, I’ll wait and reply to those when I get back to the studio. Sometimes I do let them pile up because there is something gratifying about ploughing through a bunch of easy ones.

“Filmmaking is a great way to make connections that are probably deeper than I normally would make without a camera.”

What are some of the productivity tools you use to keep organized?

Dropbox - I use Dropbox not just as a file delivery system but as my file management and synchronizer. It’s how I work in multiple places at once. It's also great because it's got quite a good backup system. If I accidentally deleted a document Dropbox will archive it for a certain amount of time so I can recover it. It has been key.

Evernote - I also use Evernote quite a bit. I've got a lot of to-do lists so Evernote's been key on that. Plus, I share them with my crew or freelancers or assistants. It's been a key way to communicate. That's been really helpful in building my efficiency.

Screens - For what I do in the freelancing world my iMac usually is the heavy workload rendering machine. For example, “The Path of Grey Owl” was a 4K film. It's about 10 minutes long. To export that on my laptop would take 8 hours and on my iMac, it would take maybe 2 or 3. Normally, I'll do a lot of heavy workload on the iMac but it’s located at my studio. Screens allows me to have a remote desktop so I can connect to my iMac at the studio and start an export there. I can go home, and I can connect from my other laptops or my iPhone, I can see what the progress and if it failed for whatever reason. It frees up a huge amount of time.

Magical Miles - This one is great for any business owner. I've recently learned that CRA (Canadian Revenue Agency) requires you to log all your mileage from start to finish. Usually you would have this little booklet in the car and you would literally log every trip from the office to Home Depot or the office to the restaurant for a meeting and back. Magical Miles is a great app that the moment you start driving, it'll start logging.

Sun Seeker - This app is basically a 3D or a camera augmented app that almost all DPs now use. You hold the iPhone up where you're standing and you can see the path of the sun. What's great about it is when you're scouting and say you're scouting at 3 PM and you're shooting at 9AM, you could see where the sun would be. One time I needed to see when the sun was going to peek through 2 buildings and the app nailed it. Moon Seeker is the same for the moon. I remember when I did that night astrophotography shoot last year, I needed to see when the moon is going to set because it was way too bright. That's a great tool.

Do you have any specific processes or routines that you go through to accomplish all things you need to do in a given week or day?

Do I have a routine? [laughs]. I'm laughing because I think that's been another challenge of mine. In my line of work there isn’t really a way to have a routine. The last couple months–simply because I’ve been home in Toronto–is one of the few times I could even consider having a routine. Right now I wake up, have cereal, go to Starbucks, come to the studio, spend a day here; it’s been different for sure. Up until two months ago there was no way I could have anything resembling a routine and it was something I always craved.

I use an app called NoteMaster which it's like the most generic note-taking app. I use that as a way to build my schedule. I don't use any of these task master scheduling apps. I use iCal but NoteMaster is what I actually use for my daily tasks. I've turned the notepad into my daily calendar and to-do list. I go over the list quite a few times a day to remember what tasks I have to do. The app only shows me the to-do list for a week, which is nice. iCal is for bigger picture planning and NoteMaster is where I put every little thing like: grab this lens from the shelf or eat cereal [laughs]. Anytime I can remember to do things, even the menial tasks, I'll put it on the list. That's the way I make sure to keep on track and make sure I don't forget important things. I think amongst peers forgetting something is not a huge deal but in client relations it’s probably one of the biggest no-nos. Apart from hard work, I think reliability and trust is the other reason why I've succeeded. All that note-taking I would attribute to helping me build that trust of the clients.

“It might be in my personality but my industry and my craft pushes this self discovery process further and it forces me to dig deeper. I know that, even to this day, I'm not one to approach people and start talking. Having assignments, having a camera, having a motive to talk and interact with people in an intimate way really does bring value to my life.”

More recently was there a time when you had to go outside your comfort zone or do something that was a bit frightening?

I've been asked to speak a lot lately. I did a talk a couple weeks ago at the Belljar Café and then I've been asked to do another one on invoicing and contract writing for freelancers. There's also the big Toronto Adventure Outdoor Show coming up. It’s an outdoor adventure type convention and they've asked me to do a talk there. I have two time slots where I’ll be talking about "The Essence of Adventure". It should be a lot of fun. For many reasons, I'm a behind the camera type of guy. I do love to teach and help people out and I always meet with people who have questions but speaking publicly is definitely nerve wracking, totally new to me and out of my comfort zone. I said yes because from a marketing standpoint and from a business standpoint, it is something that I want to do more often. Not that I want to be a celebrity photographer but the idea of having that presence, in even the slightest way, is something I feel like I'd like to try out. It might be an abysmal failure, but I'm willing to try.

More on the creative side of things, I went back to editing last year. For a while I would just hire the editing out. But last year with “We Belong To It” I decided to get back into it because it's where I got my start. I am consciously trying to stay a bit more grounded or literally grounded, staying at home November, December last year, which I know I mentioned led to a little bit of my artistic lows in editing, but I think it is part of the journey. “The Path of Grey Owl” edit was hard for me for many reasons because of the amount of footage I shot and the storyline was hard to configure because it's not something I had beforehand; it was something that came through in the editing process. Taking that on creatively was a challenge but something I find deeply satisfying in the end.

Why do you do what you do? What makes it all worth it or what makes it so meaningful?

Without sounding too cheesy or pretentious, this process I'm going through now, in a way, forces me to learn about myself and give me experiences that I wouldn’t have otherwise. It might be in my personality but my industry and my craft pushes this self discovery process further and it forces me to dig deeper. I know that, even to this day, I'm not one to approach people and start talking. Having assignments, having a camera, having a motive to talk and interact with people in an intimate way really does bring value to my life. I wouldn't say I'm a hermit but I definitely am not a socialite. I don't go out every day and chat with people just for the sake of it. Filmmaking is a great way to make connections that are probably deeper than I normally would make without a camera.

Who would you say has been an influence in your career so far or inspires you to do what you do?

I'll have to say James Nachtwey. He's a photojournalist and he starred in an Oscar-nominated documentary called War Photographer. It inspired me to leave editing and it got me out into the world to cover real issues and stories. He said this famous quote, it’s not his, but I remember it being in his film and it's: “if your photos aren't good enough, then you're not close enough.” James took that both figuratively and literally and he would get really close to whatever he was shooting. In a war zone, he would be a foot or two away from the gun as opposed to using a telephoto lens and standing far away. He'd build a connection with the people instead of just stealing their images and running away. If you look at “The Path of Grey Owl” I didn’t use a telephoto lens anywhere. Most of my work is wide angle or macro, really up close. I definitely attribute his philosophy, his lifestyle, his way of life, everything to what I do today.

Then without being overly cheesy, my girlfriend Courtney has been a very important inspiration for many reasons. I think it's her work ethic and her determination. Like me, she goes through the struggles of business ownership but she always gets through it. I really admire that.

Who would you like to see featured on Ways We Work?

His name is Eliot Rausch. He's a director, and filmmaker that I found on Vimeo. He's one of the young guys that I spoke about that's incredibly successful. He did a short film documentary about his friend who was putting his dog down and there was imagery of him cycling in the rain. I think it's called “Last Minutes with Oden.” I've been following him throughout the years and he became a commercial director. I admire that he knows himself, knows what his style is, knows who he is, at least seemingly through his work. That's everyone's struggle; trying to find who you are. More recently I was watching a side documentary about the Revenant on YouTube. It's a 45-minute piece and I was really impressed with how it was shot. I looked at the end credits and sure enough, it was Eliot Rausch's documentary.

6 years ago he was shooting these DSLR shaky camera stories on Vimeo and 6 years later, he's doing this film. I don't think he's a celebrity director but I'm very much in awe of his work and his career.