Darren Haruo Rae

By Film, Movies No Comments

This week on the Here’s What We Know Podcast, our host Gary Scott Thomas welcomes back our special guest, Darren Haruo Rae, the brilliant director and creative force behind the short film “Nisei,” which won the grand jury prize for ‘Best Dramatic Short Film’ at the Cinequest International Film Festival, making it an Academy Award-qualified film. Darren shares the behind-the-scenes journey of how the film was created despite having a limited budget and producing on their own.

This episode is not just about the professional wisdom of creating a magnificent film but highlights personal connection as it is based on Darren’s family history, specifically his grandfather’s experience, and the Japanese-American community during World War II. Tune in now!

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In this Episode:

  • Darren shares exciting news about “Nisei” winning the grand jury prize for best dramatic short at the Cinequest International Film Festival in San Jose. This win has made the “Nisei” Academy Award qualified and a chance to get nominated.
  • Darren shares about the process of becoming Academy Award-nominated, including academy voting members’ involvement and ‘For Your Consideration’ events planned in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
  • Insight into how Darren found out about winning: a mix of confusion, excitement, and disbelief while watching an Instagram livestream from home.
  • Discover Darren’s connection to “Nisei” as it tells a story close to Darren’s family history—his grandfather’s experience fighting for the US in WWII while his family was in internment camps.
  • Hear serendipitous aspects of filmmaking emerge through stories like finding a period-correct bus just after restoration or connecting with costume designers who had authentic resources linked to their heritage.


“It’s still a very long shot. There are a lot of great films out there this year, and we still have to do a couple of rounds of it. But just the fact that we’re even allowed to do that now and do this push.”  ~ Darren Haruo Rae

“I think when you get so invested in it and you want to coddle it too much, then it makes you too fearful to try to make it or try to take risks and stuff like that. I think I was fearful of not being mechanical enough in the sense of like, I always feel like I there’s always more research you could have done. There are always more people you could have talked to.”  ~ Darren Haruo Rae

“This film isn’t the end all be all, but it’s the opening conversation to getting new voices and maybe younger part of me doing this short was a proof of concept one to prove myself as a director, but also prove, you know, that this story is viable and that people want to see it.”  ~ Darren Haruo Rae

“We didn’t expect to win, let alone like at a qualifying festival. And so it was kind of not to say the film’s bad or anything like that, but it’s like you always kind of, you know, you tamper your expectations.”  ~ Darren Haruo Rae

“I think like for any film in general, it’s about like, what is the intent of a person or a character in a scene? Like, why are they doing this? And I think, you know, you think of like villains in films and certain villains maybe resonate more than others. And as you realize, it’s not that you agree with why they’re doing things, but you understand their intent, you understand their purpose. And I think that works for all characters. And what makes a good interesting story is like, you can see why they’re doing something or wanting to do something.”  ~ Darren Haruo Rae

“You know, mental health is a conversation that is still like very new, like being able to comfortably talk about it with family members and friends and stuff like that. And so a lot of people put their issues towards different things.”  ~ Darren Haruo Rae


Darren Haruo Rae is a Japanese-American producer/director based in Los Angeles who co-founded the boutique production company Roann Films. He has directed high-profile commercials and branded content for clients such as Western Digital, Airbnb, and Cisco. Rae’s directorial debut, Park Arcadia, garnered Best Screenplay at the 2014 International Film Festival Cinematic Arts in Los Angeles. His latest film, Nisei, inspired by his Japanese-American grandfather’s WWII experiences in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, earned Best Drama and Audience Choice at the 2023 Poppy Jasper Film Festival and continues its festival circuit, screening at Indy Shorts by Heartland Film, LA Shorts International Film Festival, HollyShorts Film Festival, and Cinequest Film Festival. 

Currently, Rae is the series producer for the MasterClass G.O.A.T. Original Series and is producing the feature film Surrender, starring Andrea Bang. Surrender was selected as one of Film Independent’s Fast Track fellowship program’s top 10 narrative fiction features and is slated for production in 2023.

Guest Contact Info:

Website: https://www.dhrae.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/darrenhrae/

Nisei Film Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/niseithefilm/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RoannFilm/