Learning how to panic
How I spent my Sunday
running away from Godzilla

by Andy Johnson

July 30th 2000

(updated Aug 2001, and again July 2002)

(author's note- to get the full effect, you should be humming the self defense force theme from the Godzilla films while reading this)

Today my friend Preston Nevins and I joined about 200 Japanese extras in running away from Godzilla for the lastest Godzilla flik - Godzilla X Megaguirus which will premiere in December 2000. Officially speaking, we were 'evacuating' Tokyo in advance of Godzilla's approach, though in Japan 'evacuating' apparently means "run real fast where people tell you to go."

How did we find out about this opportunity? Well, Preston's sister in law is on a screenwriters listserve and one of the calls for extras went out on that list. As Preston lives in Japan, and I would be in Yokohama, Japan for a convention the week before, it seemed like a great opportunity, so we signed up. The shooting was going to last from 8am to 3pm, in both Odaiba and Nihonbashi in Tokyo. We were told to dress casually, but that we should avoid wearing grey clothing.

Tokyo's weather forecast was partly cloudy with a low of 26C (79F) and a high of 34C (93F), and since its the end of July its very humid. There was a nice breeze by the bay so it was fairly comfortable in the morning. By the afternoon it was getting quite muggy.

Odaiba is on Tokyo bay with a nice view of the Rainbow bridge. There is a big mall there (Aqua City) and the crazy-looking Fuji TV building. Since the Fuji TV building is shown at the bottom left corner of the Godzilla X Megaguirus poster, we'll assume that it becomes a target for Godzilla.

The 'sights' of Odaiba - the Rainbow bridge on the left, and the Fuji TV building on the right

We got to the Aqua City Mall around 7am and waited until 7:50 when things started to get organized. By that time there were about 200 extras, another 50 studio 'offical' extras, and the film crew.

The Aqua City Mall in Odaiba. We knew we were in the right place as we saw a group of 'official' extras portraying members of the Japan Self Defence Force, who have aparently given up any hope of defeating Godzilla and are just trying to get people out of his way.

The extras were mostly college age or a little older, though there were a fair number of little kids and teenagers and a few old folks (like us) ... most of the people looked a lot like typical SF fans you would find in the states. Preston and I were the only obvious foreigners there - we weren't sure if this would be an advantage or not. Would it be cool to have foreigners as extras or would they prefer to just have the Japanese panicing (err evacuating)? More on this later.

The 'official' studio extras included about 10 members of the Japan Self Defense Force (JSDF) complete with fake rifles and radios, a few guys dressed in grey portraying members of the latest organization trying to destroy Godzilla, and a bunch of people dressed as mall employees and shop people. The 200 extras were broken up into 4 or 5 groups of about 50 people each, so the crew could more easily control who was running (err evacuating) in which direction. Preston and I were assigned to Team 1.

The director (Tezuka Masaaki) was there as well as one of the two screenwriters. The crew had at least three 35mm cameras rolling and were capturing live audio.

The shots in the Morning

For all of these shots, Godzilla is not nearby, but he is coming, so we are evacuating. Presumably once everyone is out of the way Godzilla will appear and stomp on a small model of the Rainbow bridge or the Fuji TV building.

Shot 1 - 8:00 to 8:45 - Outside the Aqua City Mall, we get to run up stairs and across a bridge, past the JSDF and the guys in grey who are waving us on, while we collide with the other groups of extras who are all trying to reach the 'safety' of the train station. We did this 4 times, each time moving further back and having to climb more stairs. Before the first shot they told us 'dont have fun' (as we are supposed to be evacuating.) After the first shot it was clear that this was going to be hard work and a lot of running, so the happy fun faces disappeared quickly on their own. Three cameras were rolling on this one. We might have made it into the shot on the first couple takes but by the 4th take we were near the back of Team 1, so I dont think we got into this shot.

One of the two script writers joined the extras for the running - so I'm wondering how this will affect his writing of these evacuation scenes in future films.

The steps. Running up these steps and across the bridge was OK the first time when we only had to run up half the steps, but by the time of the 4th attempt when we had to run up to the steps and then climb them, things were starting to get a little rough.

Shot 2 - 8:45 - 9:30 - Now we move over to the Aqua City Mall itself. The mall opens at 11am on Sunday morning so we need to be done by then. Curious mall patrons are already gathering, and we ocassionally have to wait and let them out of the way before proceeding with a shot. There was also a fair amount of mall security walking around, since we had access to the mall so we can evacuate from it. The mall security also seemed concerned that we would finish on time. We end up at the top of about 4 levels of panicing people rushing towards the waterfront, so we get to run down several sets of stairs (after climbing them first of course). This shot was done in one take and while doing it we realized that we were in fact running behind one of the camera crews, so I think the odds of us being in this one are pretty low.

Shot 3 - 9:30 - 9:45 - Now that we had run down onto the main mall terrace level we get to do another shot. This time we got to start inside the mall and run outside along with some of the 'official' extras portraying the mall employees. OK so we start running ... out the door, turn left, run a bit, and almost run into a group of actors playing a 3-person TV news crew who are filming people panicing on their Beta SP news camera. I'm not sure if the actress playing the reporter was good at acting being scared of being trampled, or if she really was scared of being trampled. We didnt know she would be there and several people almost tripped trying hard not to crash into that group as we ran (evacuated) past them. Maybe we got to be a blur in that shot. Again we are done in one take. This one should look pretty exciting on screen.

Shot 4 - 9:45 - 9:50 - Well, we had already run in one direction out of the mall and onto the terrace past the news crew, so now we all turn around and run back the other way. But this time they threw in a new surprise. The TV news crew is gone but there is now a 35mm camera and crew in the middle of the route for us to run around. Its hard not to look at the camera when you suddenly see it blocking your path. Maybe we made it into this shot too. Again we are done in one take.


Its 10am and this part of the shooting is done. About half of the extras get to collect their free t-shirt and leave now. Team 1 (including Preston and myself) and one of the other teams get to stay for more. We get to go to Nihonbashi (on the east side of the center of the Tokyo.) We get a map, and we have to be there by noon to get fed. No major problems , and we make it to the park where we are to meet by around 11. We know its the right park because of all the JSDF actors sitting around. They had a van. We took the train (which we were later reimbursed for.)

We get some box lunches which are quite good and now we start wondering what are we going to do.

On the left, free lunch for everybody. It tasted pretty good. On the right, the crew in the park in Nihonbashi. The director is second from the left in a blue shirt and baseball cap, one of the two writers is at the far right with red shirt and baseball cap.

During lunch we watched the various JSDF and police officer actors smoke a lot, and watched the crew smoke a lot. Preston and I get a chance to talk to one of the assistant directors - a very nice guy - he is so nice that he lets us take a look at the script and the storyboards for the film! Bonus! The storyboards made it look like this film could be quite good. No I did not look to see how it ends, but I would like to get a copy of the storyboards when its over.

The shots in the Afternoon

At 12:30 we start again. The staff started handing out a few duffel bags to various people - presumably to make the evacuation seem more real since now we aren't just refugees from the shopping mall, but people trying to leave their homes.

On the left is the street that we get to evacuate down, complete with real cars. On the right we are waiting on a sidestreet with the JSDF, the police, and the mysterious guys in grey for our chance to evacuate
Everybody lines up and we get broken into 4 new teams, A, B, C, and D (pronounced 'deh'). Preston and I are in team 'deh'. Team A gets taken off somewhere, and we wait. After about 15 minutes another one of the assistant directors comes over and moves Preston and I into group A. Ahhh, the benefits of being a foreigner.

Not only do we get moved into group A, we get moved again into a position starting out the next shot in almost direct line behind some of the real actors. This means we have a pretty good shot of actually appearing in this one. Basically there is a mother and her son who are running (evacuating) down the street and have some dialogue as they run. They crew layed track on the sidewalk to follow her with two cameras as she runs, dragging the boy with her.

Shot 5 - 1:15 - 1:45 - At this point we do a couple practice takes, running in the left lane with a bunch of cones marking the boundary of that lane. The one-way street we are running in is partially blocked off during this. That is, the left lane is blocked and the crew waves the cars in the street over to the right. This makes the practice takes rather exciting since there are real cars moving at high speed just to the right of the red cones. The director fills in for the part of the mother during the practice takes and runs with the extras to the left of the cones.

Now its time for the real take . The actress playing the mother takes her place. How do we know the young woman playing the mother is a real actor? Because she had lines, and someone held an umbrella over her and touched up her makeup between takes. I would have liked to have someone hold an umbrella over me inbetween takes.

The director (still in blue shirt and baseball cap) runs through the scene (literally) with the boy and the extras.

At this point we thought the crew would seriously block off the street and have real police redirect traffic. Nope. The crew keeps the left lane of traffic blocked, we get ready, then we see the traffic light turn red under appropriate weather conditions ... suddenly the cones are replaced by JSFD troops with red cross arm bands, and there are fake cops on the street. A fake olive drab military truck, a fake police car, and a fake jeep drive up quickly to our right into the second lane to provide a backdrop. The other groups of extras (A, B, and C) run into the lanes further out. Everybody starts jogging in place and then on cue we all run past the woman and her son and onto the next light. At this point the assistant directorss start yelling for us to stop. Then they start yelling at us to get out of the street, because the light has turned green and there is traffic coming our way. We end up doing this shot 3 to 4 times since it has dialogue and they need to make sure the actors are in camera.

Then its back to the park for a while to rest and wait for about an hour until 2:45.

The tower where the big crowd special effect shot is filmed from ... again, and again, and again.
shot 6 - 2:45 - 3:20 - Now we get to do the big multi-part special effects shot of a very large group of people running down the street. There are only 100 of us, not exactly a very large group of people, so we get to do the run several times and they will put all of us together later in post production. If it works the crowd will contain several copies of each of the extras. Note that post production on a Godzilla film is only 2 months (which may explain why the Gamera films with a 1 year post production time look so much better.)

All of the extras get lined up on a sidestreet. The traffic light turns red. We rush out into the street and line up - spaced equally apart so they can add in more copies of us later - and we run down the street. This time the director and one of the cameras are sitting on a roughly 2 story tall tower by the side of the street. After running 2 or 3 blocks they eventually yell at us to stop and then yell at us to get out of the street. We walk back down the sidewalk and we get to do it again. And then we get to do it again. Preston and I were near the front on these shots so maybe there will be a bunch of each of us here.

Now that we have the center of the street done, its time to do the sidewalks - so we do one each of those, but we were way in the back on these shots running several blocks.

While getting into position for the sidewalk shots, we were waiting at a side street with some of the crew and one of the fake police women in the street. A driver wants to turn into the sidestreet in front of us and the film crew waved him on, but he was waiting for the police woman to say it was OK. Eventually the crew convinces him to turn the car and get out of the way.

Its now 3:20. we think we are done as we go back to the park ... but no ... one more shot to go.

shot 7 - Basically we get to run down the street again, no surprise there, but this time its pretty much free form this time and everybody runs as fast as they can (without running down the people in front of them) since its the last shot. We get ready on the sidestreet and sidewalk. The traffic light turns red. We rush out, get in line, and start running. We run, and run, past the the first intersection, past the intersection with the camera, and we are still running, and we are coming up to another intersection where the traffic light is red for us but green for the crossing cars, but we keep running, through the red light, through the intersection, before finally we are told to stop and told to get out of the road, especially since we have run one entire block too far. Oops.

One of the screenwriters, after much running, relaxes in the park inbetween takes

The extras from the afternoon lining up to get their T-shirt
And finally its back to the park again, with lots of 'thank you's from the crew, many of whom are already changing the licence plates on the 'military vehicles' so drive them out of there. Along with the rest of the extras we get our Godzilla X Megaguirus t-shift from the screenwriter who has been running with us all day, and our train fare from Odaiba to Nihonbashi.

We are finally done at 3:45

Myself, on the left, and Preston, on the right, both of us very sunburned, getting on the shinkansen at Tokyo station to head back to Osaka after a hard days work of evacuating.

all in all, we got:

  1. sunburned
  2. tired
  3. a free lunch
  4. a free t-shirt

The free t-shirt Detail of the t-shirt image

I should say that throughout this entire day the crew was very professional and seemed to have good cameraderie. They were careful to keep asking if everyone was OK and made sure we knew that we should come and talk to them if we had a problem.

All in all it was a very fun, but tiring, experience and I would certainly do it again.

Fall 2001 Update

Well, its been a little over a year since I ran away from Godzilla and I have finally seen the film. So ... how much of our day of running appeared in the final print .... about 50 seconds.

The first four show several of the shots that were done in the morning in Odaiba. I haven't found any evidence of Preston or myself in these shots.

The next two show the shots that were done in the afternoon.

This first image shows the result of shot 6 above, where 100 extras were made to look like many more people by compositing out various runs together. The final shot looks pretty good. There is at least one of me in this shot -light blue shirt, lower left side of the frame, end of the row, running past the soldier standing in front of the olive-drab truck. Preston is one row of people behind me. I'm pretty sure I've spotted at least 2 other copies of me running down the street as well as the shot continues.

This second image shows the result of shot 5 above where the mother is running with her son. Now here is where being a foreigner really payed off ... pulled out of group 'Deh' and placed right behind the actress with lines. That's me in the blue shirt on the left side of the frame, and Preston in the middle of the frame over her shoulder.

Summer 2002 Update

G-Fest was held in the Chicago area again in 2002 and one of the films shown at the Pickwick theatre in Park Ridge, IL was Godzilla vs Megaguirus. This is apparently the first time this film has been shown in North America, though for strange legal reasons this was not officially the 'premiere' of the film in North America, and professional movie critics were asked to leave the theatre. Not being a professional movie critic, I stayed. Anyway, I got to see Godzilla vs Megaguirus on a big screen in a real theatre with about 400 other fans, subtitled, widescreen, with decent sound ... and I got to see myself on the big screen ... which is kind of cool.

Here are some pictures of the non-premiere

and as one final bizarre postscript to this tale, I actually signed my first autograph at G-Fest.