213. Back Again

And so ends my 5-day adventure in the island of Penang.

The days of surviving on 5 hours of sleep, waking up before dawn, eating conference food and having very late suppers have come to an end. Truth be told, I’m glad it’s over. Truth be told, I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. I arrived at the airport in Subang late today afternoon at 5.30P.M., and like age, the feeling of home slowly sank in.

The conference saw my return to many things. Most prominently: to a directorial role. My last attempt at being a director was back in late 2012, for the 48 Hour Film Project here in Kuala Lumpur. That didn’t turn out well for a number of reasons. Traumatized by the experience, I told myself “never again”, though I was never sure on what I was referring to when I made that promise to myself.

When on the first day of the conference they told us that we will be producing a short film in – not 48 hours; not 24 hours, but in 12 hours, you could empathize with my lack of enthusiasm. Impossible to pull off. Insanity. Who do these people think they are? You understand when I wanted to take a backseat role. Let me be a boom operator or something.

But things have a funny way of working out, and I found myself becoming the script writer, the director, and the leader of the group. And that marks the second thing I returned to: a leadership position. People were looking to me for directions. People were asking me what to do.

Now I’m a little bit older and a little bit wiser, and I think those little bits paid off, because the fiasco that was the 48 Hour Film Project didn’t repeat itself. Still, it was an uphill struggle: when the script came out, I thought it was brilliant. I thought I was going to amaze everyone with my ingenuity. I was going to be the star of the show.

But things happen.

We got on location and it wasn’t what I thought it’d be. The camera and boom took longer than I imagined it’d take to set up. It was harder than I thought to get the actors into character. People didn’t agree with the angles that I wanted. Then when we got to the editing phase, the editor neither understood nor agreed with my vision of the story.

Then at about 7P.M., I left the assistant director to work out the edits with the editor, praying that she’d be able to communicate what I wanted. Cut the story short: she didn’t. The little film that I imagined would be my pride became a colossal embarrassment.

What was supposed to be an exercise in nonlinear storytelling became a crappy extended flashback sequence. The pacing was wrong. The sound didn’t come out right. The comedic timing was nonexistent. I laughed as the video was played for everyone to see, because the alternative was crying.

It’s a terribly frustrating thing. To have to picture in your head, and what comes out in the end is nothing like it.

But what I ended up achieving, on the other hand, was the allegiance of the group. It wasn’t easy, mind – the group had 3 prominent, domineering figures in it – but I managed to get them all to go with my vision, even if it was only for as long as I was present. What I thought would be development hell turned out to be a relatively pleasant, if tedious experience. And in the end, I did not come out with the short film that I wanted – but I came out with new friends.

So I guess that’s alright.

You’ll forgive me for missing yesterday’s Fiction Friday post. I was, you know, on set. Dehydrated, stressed, worn, but doing exactly what I always wanted to do.

I hope it only gets better from here on. And since I promised a new story every week, here’s the script of the short film: The Lollipop Runner.

THE LOLLIPOP RUNNER

211. Filmmaking and Me

After waking up at a record early time of 4.25am yesterday morning, this morning I perpetuated the early-waking spell by climbing out of bed at 6.55am. Mostly because Elliot made me.

Also, update at 10.27P.M.: Day 2 and still no Char Kuey Teow. I’m still holding onto hope.

On the subject of the conference: today marked day 1 done. In descending order of importance, I will discuss matters pertaining to the conference of interest. Let’s begin with breakfast.

It was mediocre. Next.

I kid. It was a good day of learning and relearning: many of the concepts, rules, and tips about the craft I have already learned over the past 2 years or so. But there’s always something about hearing it from the mouth of someone who knows what he’s talking about. Also, after many years of searching, I have finally been enlightened on the mystical thing called 3-point lighting.

(I do not kid, however, about the mediocre breakfast)

What intrigues me is how the course managed to keep my attention throughout the afternoon, despite the workshops stretching on for 5 straight hours between 1.30P.M. and 6.30P.M. I didn’t pay as much attention to my psychology lecturer – not even when I had a double dose of caffeine before that. Yet I sat there, stomach filled with lunch, paying attention to what was being said and taught.

I guess that’s how we define passion these days: the class that you stay awake in without the help of caffeine.

When the workshop was over, we were invited to share within our own group about the things we’ve learned. After some rumination, I decided on a politically correct answer: that filmmaking isn’t about a single genius auteur making the project work. It’s about a group of highly skilled, highly passionate, and highly dedicated people coming together to make movie magic happen.

For most of the last few years of me trying to break into the world of film and television, I have been the only one among my friends with enough free time and measure of insanity to make videos. It’s tedious work: planning, shooting, editing… Work that people should get paid for. Unfortunately, it’s also a hell lot of fun, so by rule of fun, people get paid less than they should to do it. I’ve been the only one among my non-working friends to obsessively pursue after knowledge of the craft.

(well. Except for the parts that involve money. In other words, the important parts)

But it’s about time that I realize to realize that to make a film happen, I have to let go of the notion that only I want to see the film get done well. Frustrating, heart-wrenching, nerve-wrecking, but it has to be done. Trust must be forged.

I look forward to another day of learning tomorrow. This time, about the most overlooked major aspect of filmmaking: perfecting the sound. I think tomorrow will be a good day.

Now if only I can find myself that elusive Char Kuey Teow.

66. Hummingbird

Hummingbird, Hummingbird,
Busy as can be,
Hummingbird, so I’ve heard,
Busy but you’re free

When I am subjected to long hours of intensive, focused video recordings, I like to go home and make up really bad rhymes.

(on another completely unrelated note, in a bout of Attention Deficit Creator Disorder, I have come up with a new story idea for children, presently titled Gadgeteer. It’s as good as it sounds)

I woke up today at 8.15A.M. (Vivian would be proud) when my dad asked me if I wanted to go and get breakfast. My first instinct was to wake up grumpy and try to go back to sleep; but even half-awake, I realized that if I went back to sleep, I’d only be able to salvage half an hour of sleep at best. Why put myself through the misery, right?

So I got up and went for breakfast with my dad.

“It’s surprising to see you this early in the morning,” was what Nicki said when I arrived in church. I suppose I could have came up with a clever reply to that, but I had only 5 hours of sleep, and I had a long day ahead of me – so I contented myself by telling her exactly what happened that led to my being in church so early in the morning.

We had a video recording today which was groundbreaking in many ways:
1. It was the first time we’d done a recording with professional lights
2. It was the biggest crew we’ve ever had on set at any given time
3. It was the first recording session for the gargantuan project that is the church’s 25th Anniversary celebration video
4. It was my first video directorial role in which I did not make mental notes to punch anyone

Really though; despite not knowing what I was doing half the time (I had to ask what exactly does a director do while on set – 30 minutes before the video recording began), I thought that I performed pretty well in my role, and that’s discounting the fact that I did not have the urge to punch anyone. I mean, I gave my recording subjects my full, undivided attention throughout the whole recording session, which started at 11A.M. and eventually ended close to 8P.M., and only gave in to mental fatigue on the second-to-last take. That’s 9 solid hours of video recording, minus that 1 hour between 12.30P.M. and 1.30P.M. when we broke for lunch.

After surviving the insanity that was mid-terms on Monday, presentation on Tuesday, and now 2 video shoots on Wednesday, and still having one more video shoot to do tomorrow night, I cannot help but feel like the hummingbird. I mean, there’s busy as a bee, and there’s busy as a hummingbird. Bees are busy in the way that they’re always doing something and getting somewhere; but hummingbirds are going absolutely nuts with that wing motion just to keep themselves stable and above it all.

So I guess I’m busy like a hummingbird. It’s taking actual self-restraint for me not to go batshit insane with the number of things I am doing, and more importantly, have yet to do. But I’m keeping my chin up and chest out, doing my best to stay above the madness that is like gravity, as Heath Ledger’s Joker would say, while my brain works itself into a frenzy just to maintain this fragile little bubble of sanity.

56. The Talkative Turtle and Other Stories

Earlier this year, in June, I had the privilege of seeing a script that I wrote come to life as a live theater performance in the Petaling Jaya Live Arts Center. It wasn’t the first script I had written for theater (because seriously, who ever does it right on their first script?), but it was the first time I have seen one of my scripts appear in a theater production.

(alas, Short+Sweet 2012, you could have been the first – but you did not want me. Cold, cold heart, you)

The writing of The Talkative Turtle and Other Stories was a turbulent journey, the road riddled with potholes named finance research paper and assignments, both of them serving well to wreck the writing vehicle’s suspension. They probably also delayed the arrival of the public bus of inspiration, but I wouldn’t know about that.

How I got the gig was also noteworthy: after the brainstorming/collaborative writing session, the original writer had taken all the materials home, and was all set to make magic happen – and then she suddenly had an eye surgery and couldn’t do it anymore. So because theater folks are busy, busy people, I got the chance to write for the show instead.

All in all, the writing that begun in February saw its completion in March (with only one revision!), and the rehearsal draft rolled out in May (with many of my inappropriate jokes cut out), which all led to the show that opened in the first week of June.

I am continually surprised at how the general reception of my work seems to be negatively proportionate to the amount of effort I actually put into it. Throughout the writing process I was pressured on all sides with aforementioned potholes, sleep deprived for one reason or another, and generally rushed for completion due to the short production time. But when everything was done, and the curtain drawn on the show in PJLA for the last time in June, I was told that it was everything they had wanted it to be – and if possible, they’d like me to write the future shows like that.

Weird.

So I thought that was it – I’ve had my fun, and it was time to leave The Talkative Turtle and his friends alone, until yesterday when I received a text message telling me that I am invited for a one-time run of the show at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Center, where the show would be performed by adorable little actors who had just completed their one-year speech and drama course.

(really, though, both the actresses who played the eponymous Turtle in the PJLA and KLPAC productions were the cutest things I’ve ever seen)

And so I found myself earlier this afternoon in KLPAC, seated at the back row-

“Joseph! Your seat’s over here!”

Sorry, seated at the front row in a freakin’ seat reserved for me, watching the production unfold before me, this time being acted out by about 20 little actors and actresses; a huge cast, especially when compared to the PJLA production where the whole show was done by 6 actors rapidly switching in and out of different roles (which was pretty awesome the way it was).

I’m not sure if this counts as my show being opened twice, but it sure is a great feeling.

And to the girl who acted as the Turtle: please grow up quickly and get into the performing arts scene so that I can write more roles for you.