Cinematography: Brickfields' Love Stories On A Moving Airplane / by next new wave

Author: Elise Shick

Imagine yourself sitting at the window seat on a moving train looking outside at the scenery. You probably won't realise precisely how slow or fast every second ticks because of the fast-moving images projected on your retina. This was exactly my feelings when I took a bus from Kluang to Kuala Lumpur to attend this year's Next New Wave Young Filmmakers Workshop: I lost the sense of time.

Gaze 2.0

After only 4 hours of sleep, a refreshing walk was indeed necessary. I wasn't the only sleepyhead, I had 25 somnambulists walking with me in search of sunshine. Directing mentor Davy and producing mentor Anocha (whom I will introduce in my next blog) looked energised. They wore bright red colours I wasn't sure to attract whose attention early in the morning. For safety reason perhaps so that they wouldn't get hit by crazy and reckless drivers. Editing mentor Carlo, on the other hand, went missing early in the morning. Someone told me before that editors aren't morning persons. Yes, I witnessed it today. When Stephen from technical team confiscated the participants' smartphones, we knew that Gaze 2.0 had started...

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This is the workshop mama Tan Chui Mui and the workshop baby Yuzhou (it means 'universe' in English). The 25 somnambulists followed Mui and Yuzhou's footsteps to walk around Brickfields area. This time we were all allowed to pick up and take back with us any object that seemed interesting. One of the participants brought back a tree branch. I had with me a bird's feather and a piece of blank paper picked up from the street. Disclaimer: This workshop is not an anti-environmental.

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Not sure why did we need to pick up an object, maybe it's a 'gotong-royong' to clean up the streets early in the morning. Or maybe we had to keep the object as souvenir. There must be a reason anyways. A morning walk had woken up the somnambulists. The participants looked excited and prepared to attend the cinematography masterclass.

Every Frame Has A Cost: Cinematography Masterclass with Sidi Saleh

Sidi Saleh is an Indonesian filmmaker. He first joined the industry in early 2000s as cinematographer. He also produced Blind Pig Who Wants To Fly (2008), a film directed and written by Edwin. The first moment I saw Sidi I thought we re-cycled last year's editing mentor Isazaly Isa because he looked like Zaly's doppelgänger. The only difference is that Sidi brings a tote bag with him everywhere, every time. I guess the tote bag printed 'Explorers On The Moon' consisted of his 17 years of secret in filmmaking and he was willing to share some of them during his masterclass.

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"Each frame of your film has a cost–the cost of the relationship between director and cinematographer."

                                                                                                                                                                   – Sidi Saleh

Wisdom of the day. It wasn't about monetary problem between director and cinematographer. Some people say that cinematographers are the director's eyes and that's why they work side-by-side with the directors to achieve their visions. I guess 'the cost' meant by Sidi was the compromise and sacrifice director and cinematographer both have to make in order to strike a balance. 

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Why did I say Sidi's masterclass was interactive? He sent the participants out to shoot something during his masterclass. As shown in the picture above, one of the participants was randomly asking passers-by or strangers if they could film them. I was sure the others did too. The subjects all agreed without hesitation. More than willing, so enthusiastic. This is something genuine we can find in Malaysia. I tried to film random people in other countries (better not to list them down), they either detest the camera or they detest me. But in Malaysia, people are normally quite friendly to the camera. Perhaps they still dreamed of becoming famous, or perhaps the advanced smartphones or cameras looked alien to the older generations that was why they weren't intimidated by the camera lens. 

"Cinematography is the succession of images that put together as a collective system to achieve the initial intention of making a film."                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   –Sidi Saleh

The sharing session was fun but required our brains to work a bit. The good thing was that we got to exchange our views with the four mentors and received constructive feedbacks from them. Some filmmakers get lost in the middle of shooting, the same happens to some writers who get lost halfway in their writing. The most important thing here is to find back the initial purpose of their craftsmanships or else the journey of completing their works will stuck like an everlasting constipation. 

Imagination of Brickfields' Love Stories

Assignment two of day three: the participants were divided into three groups and were given three hours to make a love story took place in Brickfields. Don't listen to the workshop crew members, they keep saying that this year's participants are so relaxed and have no pressure. We had at least eight hours to make a short film in last year's workshop. This year, they had only three. This was what I meant by the title of this blog: 'Brickfields' Love Stories On A Moving Airplane'. The case is that sometimes the best of the best arrives at your most desperate time.

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Editing process was particularly back-breaking and had the participants climbing the walls. Just imagine the process from pregnancy to delivering a child abridged from nine months to three hours. I'm exaggerating here of course but we can spot in the picture the participant's desire to metamorphose into a lizard and go seek for his beloved mosquito living far in China. Life goes on and he's still a human being. He had to complete the short film anyway even if he really turned into a lizard. I wasn't sure what was the intention of the workshop programme designer behind this assignment but for sure it had its strong impacts on the participants. The participants starved and locked themselves in the room until the film was properly exported. 

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Here comes the screening and sharing session. Group A and B completed their films but handed them late to the technical team. Group C could only show us the footages because something very very bad happened when they were exporting their final edit. Looking at their expressions, I could feel this intense sadness of losing their child. Every group has their own problem. Group A didn't have time to insert subtitles; B faced the music copyright issue; C lost their final edit. Even though the sneaky participants secretly extended the time from three to four hours, they managed to come up with something in such a pressing time. They made the seemingly impossible possible. 

"Maybe some of you are very ambitious. that's why the short films come out better than expected. The objective of assignment two is to see improvement from assignment one. Good job!"

                                                                                                                                                                  –Tan Chui Mui 

This little compliment sufficed. 

No surprise, No Challenge, No Young Filmmakers Workshop

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On the other hand, Mui and the mentors were plotting something too. They re-grouped the teams by switching some roles from one group to the other. Fortunately, the participants only got to know each other for few days or else they will suffer from heart attacks and strokes. For Davy's script wise, the mentors encountered some problems too. The script was too long. Time allocated for pre-production, production, and post production was too packed. Davy suggested more time given to the participants so that they can understand the script but it was impossible to prolong the workshop since we don't have much money. So they came up with a solution: let the participants decide if they want to challenge themselves or they want to let go some scenes from the script. 

Everyday is a new challenge, isn't it? In the workshop, every next moment can be a new surprise.