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Santa Maria Sun / Cover Story

The following article was posted on October 10th, 2012, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 13, Issue 31 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 13, Issue 31

Take 1

Though he's just started out as a filmmaker, this Righetti High School student is already a success


The sun hangs low as 5 p.m. traffic overtakes the Donovan overpass in Santa Maria. Westbound cars slow, and drivers squint into the sun while cars on the freeway below honk, puzzled by the young man dancing on the bridge. The man continues to move and mouth lyrics to a song as another young man inches into the street.

Staff photographer Steve E. Miller borrowed Nik Koyama’s primary shooting lens to get this flaring portrait while Nik was filming Yung Deem’s “Swervin’” video in Santa Maria.

His back toward the traffic, Nik Koyama points a camera at the musician, repositioning it every few minutes for the next hour and a half. Then he announces he’s got enough “filler” shots to add to the hours of footage he already has to create a music video.

“I try to make it as fun as possible,” Koyama said. “Repeating a song over and over isn’t maybe as fun as it sounds, so we try to goof off a little bit between takes to make it fun.”

He said it takes hours and hours of footage to create a single video. Often the musician has to lip sync the same song several times in different angles or positions to create enough footage. For this particular video, Koyama had already filmed at several different locations. He likes to use small markers in the background of his shots to identify the location, he said. It can be a local landmark or a highway sign or other item associated with a certain location.

Koyama uses dramatic natural light, like a sunrise or sunset, to create a mood in his videos. He also likes to use the effect the sun makes on film, especially lens flares.

“I like those. Light tells a story in itself,” Koyama said, adding that it’s his mark in a lot of videos.

Then, of course, after all of the hours of filming, there are many more hours of editing before the project is complete.

The musician Koyama was recently filming on the Donovan overpass—Yung Deem, Tha Master Barber—is familiar with Koyama’s techniques. In fact, he’s hired Koyama to produce other videos.

“Nik uses his expertise to bring my music to life in my videos,” he said. “He has definitely brought the Central Coast music scene to life.”

Koyama has also produced videos for Dustin the Kid, Mary Valencia, Public Defendaz, Chris Rose, Liquid Grasshoppers, and others, plus he handles sports highlight reels and weddings.

And he also manages to fit in his schoolwork.

Koyama is a senior at Righetti High School, but the aspiring filmmaker is already gaining notoriety for his work on both the Central Coast and in Southern California.

Nik Koyama has an HD TV hooked up to his IMAC editing workstation to facilitate visualization of his video productions.

Rising star
Check out Nik Koyama’s work at or

His videos have accumulated more than 1.5 million YouTube views. He went to Rob Dyrdeks’ fantasy factory to film a private tour. He shot a Ford commercial that aired on Channel 12. He’s won awards at the Allan Hancock College Wired Competition for two years in a row, earning a second place the first time and a first place the second year. He also got the Righetti High School Film Festival Academic Choice Award and Best Director Award last year.

Everyone who knows Koyama knows this is just the beginning.

Koyama first picked up a video camera to further his skateboarding career. He was a sponsored skater, and his sponsors naturally wanted video of him skateboarding while using their merchandise. From there, a lucky connection led to a more lucrative experience. A friend of the family worked for the Hollywood Reporter, and soon Koyama was given the opportunity to become an intern there—the youngest the publication ever accepted. That’s not to say, however, that the opportunity was simply handed to him. Instead, he realized the significance of the chance and seized it.

“I would drive down to L.A. at 16 years old at 5 in the morning, work three hours, and then drive back,” he said. “I knew I wouldn’t be getting a chance like that again.”

Then there was the time he was shooting a video in Venice and he got a flat tire. He finished his shoot, dealt with the tire afterward, and drove home. He said he can’t let anything get in the way of his work.

Cassidy “Taktical” Wright performs his new song “Don’t End Up Runnin’” for the Nik’s camera on an early evening at Bubblegum Alley in San Luis Obispo.

That’s the kind of dedication Koyama’s advanced film teacher recognized from the start. Koyama has taken Robert J. Garcia’s film class for four years. Garcia said he’s seen many of his students go on to achieve successful film careers, working on films like Sin City and Avatar or getting a job with Sony. He said a student can have the talent, but also needs to have the dedication.

Koyama, he explained, has both.

“The film business is the kind of business that’s not an 8-to-5 kind of job,” Garcia said. “Sometimes you work 14-hour days. It’s run on deadlines, so no matter what it takes, you have to get the job done. Nik wants it, so he puts the time in. He’s also good with people, which helps in the business.”

Garcia said Koyama is a good editor with a good head for images and how they go together. He also has a good eye for cinematography.

“He’s got a good opportunity with these music videos he’s doing,” the teacher noted. “I think he’ll do well if he keeps it up.”

As a result of his efforts, Koyama also had the opportunity to get access to events that many up-and-coming photographers and videographers don’t ever get the chance to attend, like Hollywood red carpet events.

On the Donovan Road overpass in Santa Maria, Yung Deem not only performs for his video of the song “Swervin’,” but also provides crew support along with Nik’s girlfriend Kaitlyn in hauling equipment to the location.

With all he’s already experienced, Koyama reminds himself of the many people who have supported him along the way. His family, of course, is made up of big supporters. He calls Victor Klaus, the man who gave him his first internship at the Hollywood Reporter, one of his main mentors. He said he’s thankful for the Howell family for helping him get his first camera and equipment.

His friends also bear some of the sacrifice: “It’s hard. He has to go almost every weekend, so a lot of the time I have to stay home with my friends,” his girlfriend Caitlyn Sampson said.

Koyama said he often tries to bring Sampson or other friends on shoots, especially if he has to travel to L.A. They help out by hauling equipment around. Still, that’s often not possible, but they always offer support in any way they can.

“My career is just a collection of people who believe in me,” Koyama said.

Those people won’t let him forget his aspirations either. He said his supporters continually remind him that he’ll be able to reach his goals and push him to continue forward. With that support, he’s overcoming his challenges.

“I just can’t stress enough the crazy things I’ve sacrificed to make this life happen, and I know one day it’s going to pay off,” Koyama said. “I just know it.”

Arts Editor Shelly Cone can be contacted at

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