Directing and Editing: Improvisation and Deliberation / by next new wave

Author: Elise Shick

When you think it is hard to do something, you will stop at the exact same spot until the apocalypse. This revelation came to me suddenly when I woke up this morning. I’ve decided to move on. Perhaps it was partly because I had a little pillow talk with my roommate. She was a crew member of last year’s workshop and now she’s the producing participant. She is one of my few best friends.

From Cambodia with Love: Directing Masterclass with Davy Chou

I felt revived after a good sleep. It was inevitable to feel revived this morning because I was going to attend Davy Chou’s directing masterclass–the chap I mentioned yesterday about his uncanny hairstyle. First of all, I struggled a bit to focus on his speech because of that dark hair sprang with thick waves from his forehead. This constant battle between the sense of vision and the sense of hearing finally came to an halt as the content of the masterclass grew denser and denser.

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Please forgive the quality of this photo and the following photos, at least they are honest and sincere. Davy Chou is a Cambodian-French filmmaker. This explained all about his distinctive French accent that added a finishing touch to his fluent English and meteoric talking speed. He generously shared his personal stories of how he came about to make films. Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge regime, lost films, surviving films, his grandfather, the 60 and 70s cinephilia, youth-driven revival so on…so on…

Telling a film with no images is extremely hard when almost all the films are lost.
— Davy Chou

It was during the Khmer Rouge regime that nearly 400 films met their ends. Davy’s grandpapa was a renown film producer at that time. I guess everyone has some personal stories that lead them to do or create something significant, or doing extraordinary things at extraordinary times. But like I said in the beginning of this long-winded story, if someone thinks that it is hard to do something, probably Davy too, wouldn’t be here to share with us his journey in filmmaking. The tragedy happened during Khmer Rouge regime has brought about emerging critical voices in Cambodian cinema. Does Malaysia have to wait for this day to come in order to hear a voice like that?

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His stories were so rich that they could be written into an encyclopaedia. I saw all kinds of expressions on the participants’ faces. Not sure they were concentrating, daydreaming, sleepwalking, couldn’t keep up with his speed of talking, or couldn’t understand at all what he was saying.

If I’m an audience and start to ask a question, [the film] will be an interesting story.
— Davy Chou

But it also depends on the audience if he or she has this sensibility to ask a question, isn’t it? We watched and got to openly discussed about some scenes in Golden Slumbers (2011), Cambodia 2099 (2014) and Diamond Islands (2016). His films were full of vivid colours,  dubbing, and a lot of muffling sounds as he intended to bring the artificiality in the films to the extreme. Even though the participants all looked like living zombies, they actually paid attention and were able to catch and pinpoint small details in these films during the discussion. Davy said that every filmmaker has a reason for every single shot. Perhaps we uncovered 1% of his reason:

Life always brings you surprises when you don’t know where to go.
— Davy Chou
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This was my favourite quote from him, and also it was also what I wanted to say about the title of this story ‘Improvisation and Deliberation’. Different filmmakers have different approaches. Some are too casual; they improvise for their whole lives. Others are too rigid; they worship the rules and force the whole crew to do so too. These people normally have shorter life-spans. The contradiction and negotiation between these two create a tension that gives film its profundity. Some filmmakers called it ‘the grey area’. It is this ‘grey area’ that makes the audience continue to throw doubts on a film and keep exploring this ‘question’ mentioned by Davy. After 3 hours of intense directing masterclass, the participants walked out from the room with faces full of contentment and contemplation. I guess we all took away with us a brain full of Davy’s philosophies.

I Don’t Read The Script: Editing Masterclass with Carlo Francisco Manatad

‘I don’t read the script’, said Carlo with an air of sanguine determination. What confidence! Well, indeed he has the rights to be so self-assured since he has edited 59 films so far (not counting in the films he is currently editing).

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Carlo is a Filipino filmmaker, he also directed his own films. Junilyn Has (2015)–a short film about the nightclub dancers in the country’s rural area–is one of them. We watched it yesterday night during the screening of mentors’ films. The participants were like ‘Wow…’ They were either fascinated or shaken by the obscene scenes in the film. I remember Liew Seng Tat–a Malaysian filmmaker–once said that there are two layers of interpretation in watching a film. Carlo’s film had both. A purely entertaining short film on the surface; a sad reality behind the ‘pussy show’ on the second. A juxtaposition of comedy and tragedy.

Editing fiction film opens up another whole universe
— Carlo Francisco Manatad

Carlo designed a game for the participants and the volunteers. We had to pair up into three uneven groups and put together different pictures randomly picked by Carlo to form a narrative. Not a difficult task but it was so hilarious to see different kind of stories that made weird sense.

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I bursted out laughing like a crazy nun when group two presented their story: a lego metamorphosed into fish. Our group had a story that made better sense: a guy growing up constrained by his parents (Chinese opera performers), finally set himself free by travelling around the world and ended up falling in love with a Muslim girl he met in a rock concert that took place in Medina. Maybe this is what Carlo meant, we opened another universe of chaos.

I always find myself pondering on the complicated relationship between the director and the editor. If writing a script is deliberation, editing a film totally demolishes this deliberation. Or shall I say editing a film is another deliberation that demolishes the deliberation of scriptwriting. They are an absolute negation. But whatever footage that comes into the hands of the editor, he’s the king of the world.

An editor has to be very objective and thinks critically regardless the arguments with the directors
— Carlo Francisco Manatad
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The editing class was so casual. We ended earlier before the schedule. I learned a lot today about improvisation and deliberation in filmmaking. ‘Trust your guts’, said Davy. ‘Be brave’, said Carlo. ‘Trust your first instinct before trusting your guts and courage’, said Elise.