Amanda's Journey to La Biennale di Venezia / by next new wave

By: Amanda Nell Eu

It seems weird to reflect all the way back to two years ago when the idea for my short film Lagi Senang Jaga Sekandang Lembu first started. Two years for a short film is a really long time, there are feature films made and released within a shorter duration than this. 

But here we go, let’s rewind back to December 2015 when I attended the first round of Shortcuts: Storytelling round. This was held over three days with nine mentors, where each participant had to pitch their short film idea at the end of it. 3 winners would be selected to attend the second Shortcuts: Scriptwriting round to develop their film further. 

The first day of the Shortcuts Story workshop, during the speed dating session, Amanda talked to a mentor. Guess who was that?

The first day of the Shortcuts Story workshop, during the speed dating session, Amanda talked to a mentor. Guess who was that?

I came into the workshop with a half-baked idea thinking about how cool it would be to have a teenage Pontianak in my film, with no other development in my story whatsoever. I was completely unprepared to pitch the idea, as I had just pulled something together within the three days just so that I had something to say at the end of it. Not that I made everything up on the spot, because I knew my themes and I knew why I wanted to tell a story about a Pontianak, the problem was just that I had no story yet. And I get nervous as hell in a public speaking situation. Not only did we have to pitch in front of the nine mentors and the other participants, but also the public were welcome to watch. 

I told myself not to plan much and just say what I cared about, but when it got to my turn to walk on stage, my whole self caved in and imploded. I couldn't even stand up and had to pitch my film sitting down. I barely said anything, just thinking about the timer going off, and I didn’t want to be caught mid-sentence as the timer was buzzing. Better to not say much then. Which of course was a big mistake and I did not end up being one of the three winners selected. But you learn from your mistakes always and I definitely did. 

Moving on to the second round, aside from the 3 selected winners, 3 more spaces were available via an open call. The selection process would be based on your written script and luckily enough I managed to be selected to attend the week long workshop in Ipoh. 

Now this was a workshop I would never forget. Feeling excited to spend a week in Ipoh in the beautiful Sekeping Kong Heng, I did not expect the intense amount of work, emotional drainage and lack of sleep that was about to come to me. Everyday we had various workshops, one on one discussions and film screenings with the three mentors, which ended around 10pm. Only after that did we have our own time to re-write and develop our scripts, with a brand new draft expected to be handed in by 8am the next morning, and you’d better put in a new draft the next day if you ever wanted to see any improvement on your script. 

Here is a photo showing Amanda taking notes and looking very serious during the Shortcuts Script Development Workshop in Yasmin Ahmad Museum in Ipoh. We believed Woo Ming Jin was giving lecture at that moment. 

Here is a photo showing Amanda taking notes and looking very serious during the Shortcuts Script Development Workshop in Yasmin Ahmad Museum in Ipoh. We believed Woo Ming Jin was giving lecture at that moment. 

As I mentioned before about learning from your mistakes, this time I put everything I had into the workshop. I listened, took notes, criticised every detail of my work and myself as a filmmaker throughout the whole week. I can confidently say that the workshop was where I found my voice as a filmmaker – the place and time where everything suddenly clicked. As an aspiring filmmaker, this was something that I was always aiming for. Who am I? Why am I doing this? What is my voice? I am unable pinpoint exactly how I got there – it’s just a feeling or realisation after you have done something that is wholly and entirely you as an artist. I really have to thank the mentors for this!

So on the last night of the workshop, all of us were finishing up our final versions of our scripts before we handed them in to be judged. This was a huge deal – the 3 winners of this round would receive a RM40,000 grant to produce their short film! All nerves and no sleep, my emotions were on an all time high. This story was so personal to me, and I don’t know what happened, but in my last discussion with my mentors, I was asked a question about one of my scenes when I burst into tears. Maybe it was the stress and the fatigue, and also my personal connection to the story, but those who know me well would have been surprised to see me in that blubbering state! 

So the script for Lagi Senang Jaga Sekandang Lembu was written and with much excitement, my producer at the time and I won the grant to produce the film. The next step would be the third and final workshop for Shortcuts: Pre-production.

At the last day of Shortcuts Preproduction Workshop, Amanda 's producer asked for donations from mentors, right after the final presentation! The mentors were generous! 

At the last day of Shortcuts Preproduction Workshop, Amanda 's producer asked for donations from mentors, right after the final presentation! The mentors were generous! 

This round was a week of pre-production with the HODs of each selected project. I rounded up a group of the most talented and amazing people to participate in the workshop and also to collaborate with me on the film. I’ve always approached collaboration with great enthusiasm, and getting everyone together for the workshop was so much fun. My previous producer had to drop out of the project, so I approached Gan Hui Yee, someone who had worked with me as a line producer on my first short film. With her leading the team as the producer, I saw that our group had great chemistry together. The workshop was non-stop laughter and all of us became closer as friends after it. With so many in-jokes and secret sign language, I became the happy director beaming with pride at everyone’s hard work. 

Each HOD had their own mentor to work with and I feel that everyone benefitted from all of them. Attending each others’ lectures and group meetings opened up communication and collaboration, which is of utmost importance in the pre-production stage. 

With our pre-production kick-started at the end of the workshop, each group went their separate ways to shoot and complete their films. This short film was shot exactly a year ago and now we’re going to Venice with it! It’s amazing to look back on the whole process, from just having a silly idea, to making friends and fooling around on set, to the late nights and stress when we’re figuring out how to overcome all our problems. When the next round of Shortcuts happens again, I urge all aspiring filmmakers to have a go at it. You’ll never know what will happen two years from the time you had that small silly idea for a story.

Behind the Scene of Lagi Senang Jaga Sekandang Lembu :

 

Biography of Amanda Nell Eu:

Amanda is a filmmaker based in Malaysia. Having graduated from the London Film School with an MA in Filmmaking, she has directed short films based in the UK and Malaysia.

She is working towards developing her rst feature lm set in Malaysia. In her works, she likes to explore the female identity within the context of South East Asia.