Serving Arizona State University Online Since 1995  Current Issue: Thursday, February 24, 2005





His own direction

Less than one year after graduation, Zachary Yoshioka is living a rock-star life

 by Erika Wurst  published on Thursday, February 24, 2005

<em>Brandon Quester / STATE PRESS MAGAZINE</em><br>Zachary Yoshioka is doing pretty well.  While running Ballistic Entertainment, Yoshioka shoots film of events like celebrity golf tournaments and music videos.  At only 23-years-old, Yoshioka has filmed 14 movies./issues/arts/692162
Brandon Quester
Zachary Yoshioka is doing pretty well. While running Ballistic Entertainment, Yoshioka shoots film of events like celebrity golf tournaments and music videos. At only 23-years-old, Yoshioka has filmed 14 movies.
<em>Brandon Quester / STATE PRESS MAGAZINE</em><br>Members of Ballistic Entertainment, clockwise from bottom left, Paul Parkins, Janet Zhan, Yoshioka, Tyler Kissel and Ryan Liss./issues/arts/692162
Brandon Quester
Members of Ballistic Entertainment, clockwise from bottom left, Paul Parkins, Janet Zhan, Yoshioka, Tyler Kissel and Ryan Liss.
<em>Brandon Quester / STATE PRESS MAGAZINE</em><br>Although she is still a senior in high school, Janet Zhon finds the time to work with Zach and the rest of Ballistic Entertainment./issues/arts/692162
Brandon Quester
Although she is still a senior in high school, Janet Zhon finds the time to work with Zach and the rest of Ballistic Entertainment.
State Press Magazine


Zachary Yoshioka's parents wanted what every parent wants for their son: a decent job, a nice girl, some stability.

But Yoshioka, who graduated from ASU in May, isn't the type to do what other people expect him to do. While most students were struggling to figure out what the post-graduation road held for them, Yoshioka was paving his own.

Just hours after he threw his cap up in the air and said goodbye to ASU, Yoshioka boarded a bus with a video camera and headed West with legendary stoner band The Kottonmouth Kings.

"We sent you to college to go out on the road with bands named Junkee and Kottonmouth?" Yoshioka says, mimicking his mother. "I was just like, 'Peace.' It was the most insane time of my life."

But his move West wasn't entirely spontaneous. The 23-year old punky-looking Asian has been making movies since the seventh grade.

"I would make up my own little story and run around the streets with my friends," he says. "It was a hobby before. Something to do between getting drunk."

Today, 14 films and several music videos later, Yoshioka's hobby has turned into a bustling career.


It's a rainy Friday night outside the Marquee Theatre in Tempe. While a crowd of Mohawk-sporting, combat-boot-wearing teens smokes cigarettes in a line that wraps around into the parking lot, security ushers away the stragglers who didn't get tickets for tonight's Kottonmouth Kings show.

Yoshioka won't be waiting in this line.

Instead, he sweet talks his way to the front of will-call by promising those standing in line that he will get them backstage, into post-show parties.

Tonight, Yoshioka dons orange, blue and yellow wristbands, which will allow him access onstage, backstage and anywhere else he wants to go.

While some people begin their workday with McDonald's sausage biscuits and a large coffee, this is how Yoshioka begins his.

"Oh, God," he says, exhaustion in his voice. "What a day. What a day."

He crouches down to walk under yellow caution tape and makes small talk with the bouncer, who fiercely guards the door leading backstage.

"I'm here every weekend," he says as he passes through.

"Seems like it," the bouncer replies.

Besides running Ballistic Entertainment, the film company he started in 1998, Yoshioka has found success shooting music videos for national acts such as Authority Zero, Three Days Grace, Story of The Year and Adema. This summer, he hopes to film The Van's Warped Tour, but tonight, he'll be filming the Kottonmouth Kings, once again.

"Zach's really mellow and totally cool. He's a doer. That's what I like about him," says Brad X, lead singer of the Kottonmouth Kings, who lounges on the tour bus before the show. "Some people talk, 'I'm going to make a movie.' But Zach, he does it. That's why we get along so well. He's not afraid to go after his dreams."

These are dreams with which Yoshioka's father has always grappled.

Carl Yoshioka is a professor in community resources and development at ASU. His wife and daughter also pursue careers in education. So, when his son decided make movies, he was hesitant, to say the least.

"I guess I always wanted him to take a job in business, but he doesn't want that," he says. "All along, he was creative and passionate about areas not related to academic work. But I knew that. When he finished school, we encouraged him to get a degree, then follow his heart.

"I wasn't too surprised he was doing something unconventional."

And just as any father worries about the success of his children, Carl Yoshioka often wonders how his son will handle the cutthroat, competitive nature of the entertainment industry, an industry where everyone is out for him or herself; an industry full of misleading contracts and million-dollar picture deals, an industry full of hopefuls and dreamers from across the world heading to Los Angeles, dreaming to make it big.

Building a following

When he was just a 19-year-old communication freshman at ASU and was considering dropping out, Yoshioka headed to Los Angeles with a dream and an entry in a film festival.

"It was just a big waste of time. Nothing but critics talking shit about my stuff," Yoshioka says of his L.A. adventure. "We could tell our movies didn't fit in. They were about entertainment. The weird artsy stuff I didn't understand. We were known as 'The burbs kids.' "

He and his crew were completely discredited, written off as suburban teens. At this point, many would have given up.

But not Yoshioka.

"Who cares what all these people think?" Yoshioka says. "Let's create a fan base, like a band. We needed to play shows."

Promoting himself locally has become one of Yoshioka's fortes. He is constantly handing out fliers, contacting radio stations for promotion, making appearances on the news, getting his name in the paper and the community. This is ambition many people lack.

Yoshioka is first to admit that he's got the people skills needed to succeed, thanks in part to earning that communication degree.

At any one of Yoshioka's movie premiers, hundreds of people go "ballistic" in the crowd, which consists mostly of college and high school students.

"It was a total underground following," Yoshioka says of his first premieres. "We had no idea if anyone would show up. It was ghetto. We were selling VHS tapes out of the back of a trunk. I thought, 'Damn, this is kind of cool.' "

With an audience full of peers critiquing his every move, Yoshioka admits things can get nerve wracking. He never sits in the front row, gauging audience reaction. Instead, he stands nervously in the back.

But this hasn't hindered his success. While he has a following of avid fans, he also has another following, one for which he didn't ask.

"I'm kind of shy, so it's funny what this has evolved into," he laughs, referring to his gang of groupies.

Sixteen-year-old girls often wear "Zach's Wife" T-shirts around Corona del Sol, where Yoshioka attended high school with friend and co-worker Ryan Liss, a journalism and philosophy junior.

"Zach didn't really stand out [in high school]. He was part of the football team and a major jock at the time," Liss says.

Yoshioka comes from a family of all-state athletes, so it was no surprise that when he entered high school, he was expected to pick a sport. Football eventually became his life, though he describes himself as a "weird jock."

"I was the only Asian," he says.

But almost as soon as football started, it ended, and Yoshioka pursued his other passion.

"He didn't stick out until he started making films," Liss says. "I thought he was a pretty big dork, but I did find what he was doing interesting and I wanted to be a part of it."

Liss wasn't the only one.

On the set

In the beginning, Yoshioka says he would beg people to get involved. Now, he holds auditions.

His last film, "Capture the Flag," caught the attention of many agency and Screen Actors Guild actors and actresses. No longer did Yoshioka need to cast the neighbor kids.

Suddenly, people used to getting paid were now working for Yoshioka on a voluntary basis. When it comes to Ballistic Entertainment, everyone's job is voluntary. Whatever money is made is put toward their next venture.

No one seems to mind, though.

"Ballistic Entertainment is a family to me," Liss says. "We go through a lot of rough times, but there are always people I can count on. When we film, we spend a couple months driving all over the place. We share a lot of experiences and really bond with each other."

But even though Yoshioka spends a lot of time bonding with his crew, he's still their boss, which is a hard line to draw. Liss says that it was hard at first, transitioning from Yoshioka's friend to his employee, but that after six or seven years, he got used to it.

Not everyone gets the jist. When people look at Yoshioka with his backwards baseball cap hiding his often bleach-blond hair, they don't see a writer, a director, an editor and a videographer. They see a 23-year-old punk.

"There's been one or two people that couldn't grasp the responsibilities Zach has, but typically they're OK," Liss says.

These responsibilities that have earned Yoshioka so much respect from nearly everyone with whom he works.

Nicola Malcolm, a pre-business freshman, recently started working with Ballistic. She was the production assistant on the set of "Capture the Flag," which premiered just weeks ago. Malcolm is one of the many who appreciate the hard work and dedication Yoshioka puts into his work.

"I wouldn't want to be the one to worry about everyone," she says. "If that's his one job over everything, it's making all of the arrangements."

And with those arrangements comes a lot of stress. Trying to get 30 people who he's not paying to show up in costume, on task at one place at one time is not easy.

Liss says he doesn't know exactly how Yoshioka does it. He tried once and failed miserably.

"He does get pissy at times, but it's fun to mess with him when he's taking things seriously," says Liss, referring to the pranks that often take place on set. They can't be all work, work, work. After all, they are "just a bunch of kids."

Carl Yoshioka describes his son as being cut from a different cloth; he didn't follow a traditional career path, his hair is constantly changing colors and he's bursting with creativity. But the media often sees his son in a different light.

"Reporters look at us like 'Oh God! What are you? Twenty-two? Twenty-three? What have you done?' " Yoshioka says. "Being young has hurt us in some ways. I don't wear a beret or carry a Chihuahua and smoke a cigarette, but I try to be professional. We don't try to be anything we're not. We're just a bunch of skater kids from Arizona."

He plans to keep it that way.


The Marquee Theatre is filling up. Half-dressed groups of 16-year-old girls gyrate seductively to the opening bands and the stale smell of smoke lingers in the air. The dimmed lights make it almost impossible to see, and Yoshioka makes his way through the crowd of people like he owns the place.

With a flash of his brightly colored wrist, he sneaks off through a side door and struts backstage as concertgoers eye him with envy.

On the floor, between the stage and the wailing arms of the sold-out crowd is where Yoshioka works. The 4-foot-wide barricade is swarmed with overweight security guards wearing headsets and red shirts.

Yoshioka moves gracefully with his camera in hand. The crowd is jumping; he is steady, chewing gum and playing follow-the-leader with the singers on stage.

There is no smile on his face. He looks strangely serious. And suddenly, his space is invaded.

A security guard pulls a teenager from the crowd, hoists him over his shoulder and aggressively carries him past Yoshioka, who doesn't even flinch at the commotion. His concentration is flawless.

A few weeks ago, Yoshioka wasn't anywhere near this stage.

He was filling out paperwork to become a substitute teacher, following in the footsteps of the rest of his family. Though that's not his true passion, Yoshioka is aware that his career could move from the stage to the classroom in a matter of minutes.

"This stuff [filming] is my life, but the instability of this business is frightening," Yoshioka says, beginning to echo his father. "You never know, all of this could stop tomorrow. I never want to be totally reliant on one thing.

"My junior year, I freelanced for seven months. I did everything from weddings to training videos," he says. "Then the freelancing stopped. You just never know. You've got to be careful."

But being careful doesn't mean giving up on his dreams. Brad X of The Kottonmouth Kings says he initially was attracted to the young videographer because he wasn't afraid to chase that dream. With little formal training, besides the basics he got working for several years at the now defunct Global Video, Yoshioka is using his field experience to disguise the fact that he graduated with a communication degree instead of one in videography.

"I think it's really gutsy to go out and get a degree and then freelance. It's really admirable, but it takes balls," Malcolm says.

Balls that Yoshioka's got.

"Just do what makes you happy," he says. "You can do whatever you want. Look, Ashlee Simpson has no talent, but she's doing it."

And while it might be harder for Yoshioka than for Simpson to make it in the competitive entertainment world, his co-workers, fans, friends and family all have the utmost faith in the blooming young videographer's career.

"I'm just hoping for the best," Carl Yoshioka says about his son. "He keeps saying he's going to go to the Academy Awards someday, and I'll be in the proud father in the audience. I think it will happen."

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