The four mentors from neighbouring countries Carlo Francisco Manatad (The Philippines), Sidi Saleh (Indonesia), Davy Chou (Cambodia), and Anocha Suwichakornpong (Thailand) together with FINAS and Next New Wave, embraced the same mission to nurture young talents arisen from Malaysian film industry.
It All Began With A Collaborative Process
With the support of FINAS, The 3rd Young Filmmakers Workshop that took place from August 19 to 26 2017 in Hotel Sentral, Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur had been called a success. This collaboration between the four renowned filmmakers across Southeast Asia and Tan Chui Mui–the founder of Next New Wave Young Filmmakers Workshop–drew a closer relationship between the neighbouring countries in discovering the emerging voices of talented young filmmakers in Malaysia. 12 participants with their specialisations in directing, producing, cinematography, and editing were selected to attend this workshop.
Elise Shick–the workshop's content writer–conducted an internal interview with Davy Chou (directing mentor), Anocha Suwichakornpong (producing mentor), Sidi Saleh (cinematography mentor), and Carlo Francisco Manatad (editing mentor) to talk about their experiences in filmmaking and their views on this year's Young Filmmaker Workshop.
EXPERIENCE IN FILMMAKING
Elise: Let's trace your memory back to how you first got involved in the film industry that led you to your first filmmaking experience. When was it and why this route?
Davy: I was born and grew up in France, my parents moved to France in the 70s. I cannot say that I was a cinephile, it was too much to say that. So I was a film-lover, a very lonely film-lover since the age of 12. It was not like I was watching Tarkovsky and stuffs but I was already developing a passion for film and I never had the idea to make films because it's difficult to be an artist if you don't think you can. Anyway, I was in that high school in Lyon, my hometown, I was in a small organisation where there was a teacher who would explain film analysis. They had a very small camera at that time, it was like a really cheap DV camera, which you would use to make short films in a group. I didn't want to go there because I was shy maybe, even though I love films. Then, one guy in my class whom I didn't even really know came to me and said, 'Are you the guy who really knows everything about cinema?' and I said 'Ya, it's me'. He said, 'Do you want to come with me, to that club, to make films? Because I don't know, I want to make films'. I was very reluctant but he really pushed me and I went there. First, the film analysis teacher really changed my way of seeing things. It looked like the film The Matrix. Have you seen the film The Matrix? It was like you used to see the world like this and suddenly there was a tool to make you see it differently, or maybe to see how it is made. Same for the films. I watch films, I was a film-lover but I still didn't understand how the films were made: the language, the grammar, the camera movements, the shots. So then I watched Hitchcock's films and De Palma's films, and that suddenly changed my mind. Then, I was making this first film, which was a very bad amateur parody of comedian TV show thing. It just changed all my perspective and right after making that first film, I was sure that that was what I wanted to do.
Carlo: I was in film school but before that I was actually in business school and then I went to engineering. So basically I had this few moments in my life where I really didn't even know what I should do but in the my back of my mind I really wanted to do something connected to arts. When I was in film school, everyone wanted to be a director and me too, I also wanted to be a director. And when all your batch mates wanted to be directors, there was a lot of competitions. But in the back of my mind, living in the Philippines was hard to just jump in and have work. So I was thinking which part of the process of filmmaking that I really enjoy and it was basically telling stories and editing, which I have been doing for the longest time even since I was in high school. So I was thinking like maybe I could expand my horizon of knowledge in editing. So I started editing like way way way way way back and I had my first feature when I was still in college. Somebody hired me, they thought I was good but I thought I wasn't because I was still a student but I thought that opportunity was the best way for me to just jump in and get to work as an editor.
Sidi: When I was 15, if you said filmmaking, I was not sure if it was a film or not but it was my first film doing wedding video documentation because my father was doing that kind of stuff when I was a kid. Basically I hate cameras before and don't really like it. When I graduated from high school, all my cousins said that why didn't I just continue doing that kind of camera things and then I thought about it. Then, I shot Dayang Sumbi, one of Edwin's films for the first time. I was sitting in a canteen in my school and then Edwin came to me. He was quite in a mess at that time, he was just finishing one of his assignments in films. So we started talking about things. He asked, 'Do you do black and whites?', then I said 'Ya, I can. Why?' He said, 'If we shoot in 16mm that day using low light, is it possible to do it?' So I answered 'No, we cannot because there is no processing for black and white at that time' and also until now. Then, I did the processing by myself.
Anocha: I went to a film school but actually when I was a teenager, I used to watching movies and the turning point, I guess, was during one time when I was watching a film and I thought that I wanted to be a filmmaker rather than an audience. But actually I saw that film in a film studies class that I took as an optional course in my university. At that point, I was still indecisive whether I should study film studies or film practice, you know, like film production because they are completely different. I was studying my undergraduate studies in England at that time. Actually at one point I almost dropped out from the college to study film but in the UK the undergraduate was three years. I was halfway to my second year. So I thought like just one more year to go to graduate. After that, I went back to Thailand and did other jobs for few years. In Bangkok, when you graduated from university, at that time you would be already working for three to four years. People started to have some sorts of security–the things that people usually want in life like steady job, a house, and etc. I have always loved watching films. It took me quite some time to really find a good film school because I really didn't know anyone who was related to film and I pushed [the desire] back of my mind and didn't think about it. By the time I decided to go to film school, it was five years later. I just went to film school not just because I wanted to know how to make films but also to meet people. I wanted to make films with these people. I started directing in New York. It was like 15 years ago.
ES: The passion for films didn't come from nowhere. Where do you think your passion came from or who had influenced you?
Anocha: My friends and family weren't interested in films but I just grew up watching films. Now looking back, I didn't realise at that time but I felt quite alone. But by watching movies I could get into a world where I wouldn't be with other people but I could still connect with the characters in the films. So I got interested in cinema.
Carlo: My interest in filmmaking came from my father. My father used to be a cinephile. I'm trying to put him back to be a cinephile like that again right now. He was actually the one who influenced me to watch films. I would watch films that I wouldn't understand when I was a kid. It was a bonding moment for our family where he would play films that nobody would understand. For the whole duration of one hour, every 10 minutes one person would just walk out and I would stay up till the end regardless if I understood the film or not. I was very interested but I wouldn't understand anything at all. So as I grew up, I started to understand and became more and more interested. So back at home, my family is actually business-related, I'm the only one who is doing arts.
Davy: So I had an uncle who was the big action cinema lover. In the early 90s he would bring me to watch big films made in the 80s. When I was 12, everyone was talking about Seven by David Fincher being that very shocking film. So I went to see that. But I was an Asian living in Europe so I looked very very young, when the ticket seller asked for my ID and I didn't bring it so he didn't allow me to get in because I was 12. Then I saw a movie poster of a film that I didn't know about, it looked like a gangster, action film and my uncle was a action film-lover so he said 'Ok, let's give it a try'. That film changed my life in two hours and fifteen minutes because right after the screening I felt that something had happened very strongly and I felt that I just needed to follow that instinct.
Elise: So it was this kind of cinematic experience so powerful that it left a strong impact on you. Let's say if you watched it at home, you would probably feel something totally different.
Davy: I think so. I think it would be totally different. I didn't remember totally about that screening, I didn't even really knew what had happened. It was just something so strong that as a kid, it was the first time feeling so strong that you were just following and I'm sure that it was coming from the movie theatre. That's why while living in Cambodia and working in Cambodia, my first film was dealing with the lost movies during Khmer Rouge regime in the 60s. When I first lived there in 2009. I meta group of people around my age and some younger, they actually never watched any films before in the theatre. It was very sad to see that.
Elise: Anocha, could you access to all the films easily when you were in Thailand?
Anocha: Actually, no. You have to remember that it was 15 or 16 years ago. Back then, the Internet was still not very advanced. Of course there were some places where you could rent but it was like very few and you couldn't get many films.
Elise: Davy, when you first made films, did you have a specific idea of which part of filmmaking you want to be involved in, for example like directing?
Davy: No, I was not ambitious enough to believe that. When I was 17 right after high school when I really needed to decide what I wanted to do so I had a feeling telling me that 'Ok, I love it so much, I want to work in film' but I would never dare to say 'I want to be a filmmaker' because maybe I thought I couldn't do that, it was too much for me. But being on set, even like making coffee, or if I could be a camera operator and building something together with the crew, that was what I really wanted to do.
Elise: Anocha, you said you weren't trained as a producer in the beginning. You first started with directing. What was this transition that led you to this direction of filmmaking: producing?
Anocha: I think it came to me gradually. Not that I was aware of. I just started [with directing] because I wanted to make my own film. I went back to Thailand after I finished my studies in New York. There were not many films producers at that time in Thailand or right now in independent circle. Even though I got to meet a producer who helped me to produce my first and second feature films, I was always trying to find fundings by myself as well. I produced my own films in that sense. But even after I produced my first feature along with these other guys. After I made my film Mundane History, I started to have people approaching me to be a producer. And Lee, my editor for Mundane History, he actually told me that he wanted to make his own film–his first feature–and asked me if I would be interested in helping him to produce. That was kind of like 'Ah. I started to produce films for other people!' From that point on, it was quite like going on and on.
Elise: How did you get Lee Chatametikool to edit you first film?
Anocha: Actually he also edited my thesis film. I met him at a wrap party. My friend introduced me to him.
Elise: It was a coincidence then, it became a chance.
Anocha: Yeah. So we've been working together for over 10 years now.
Elise: Do you think that financial wise, you've made a big decision to change your job to filmmaking?
Anocha: Yes, it was a really big risk to do something that I actually didn't know I could make it out of living. My friends they already have very steady jobs. They've settled down, some are already getting married yet I was leaving the country to be in another country where I didn't really have lived before.
Elise: I think the same thing happens in Malaysia too or in any other country around the world. The reality and dream are constant struggles and then you have to really compensate and to sacrifice something in order to pursue your dream. What do you have to sacrifice in order to follow this path of filmmaking?
Anocha: I think what I've actually sacrificed is the friendship with the people who are not filmmakers, the friends I have before I even started making films. I don't really see them much nowadays because now my life is so busy and I'm always travelling. Even in Bangkok, I spend a lot of time with other filmmakers. So I get to see the non-filmmakers much less often. That's what I have to give up, I guess.
Elise: Carlo, you have edited more than 59 films throughout your life. Do you work from day to night? What kind of drive do you have that pushes you to have this editing stamina?
Carlo: When I started editing, the feeling of finishing my first feature, it was very rewarding even without thinking how much money would I receive. I didn't even ask actually. It was more like me experiencing a thing that I really want and the opportunity is there, why not grab it? So after that, I realised that I really wanted to make films. As editor, I really wanted to tell stories. Sometimes through directing it is really hard, I mean I'm also a director but you put too much effort and you actually have much more time to spruce up a film in general. With editing, I like to tell stories. One of the few great things in filmmaking is that editing creates different stories regardless how it started, how it was written, how it was directed. It could basically make another story out of the materials you have and that's the best thing about that because I control and also I collaborate. It's a collaborative process but at the same time I take control of it to a certain level because you are basically an important part of the whole production. Learning these crafts actually helps me in directing.
Elise: Sidi, the participants here are using Panasonic GH5 to shoot but for most of them, this is their first time handling this camera. Based on your experience, what are the key aspects they have to grasp in order to make themselves familiar with the camera in a very short time?
Sidi: I think it's very classic, just exercise more. Even though you have a very tacky, very high tech equipment, it doesn't make anything faster. You can start from the skill. You can start from your knowledge. But in order to understand that, you have to try it by yourself.
Elise: Davy, if you can describe filmmaking in one sentence, what would it be?
Davy: It is a strange tension between something extremely selfish and something extremely collective.
I speak from the director's point of view. So when I said selfish, it of course mean that in the end of the day and the beginning of the day, it is really about having a vision, which is very personal, and then trying to bring a lot of peopleto help me and to find to make them feel the same desire to make this vision projected on the screen. So it is very contradictory feeling between something very personal, intimate, selfish, and then becomes collective but in the end, it's for the film.
(To Be Continued)