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.



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.

210. Pearl of the Orient

My alarm rang at 4.15am. Being me, it took another 10 minutes before I actually crawled out of bed. A car ride and an hour’s flight later, I found myself planted in a little island off the west coast of peninsular Malaysia, wondering where can I get me a plate of the fabled Char Kuey Teow.

Behind that thought was a little annoying, excited voice going on about how I was in Penang again for the first time in 8 years.

It was in the first week of work, I think, when my ex-boss called me up as I was driving home. She told me about a digital filmmaking conference in Penang at the end of February, and asked if I’d like to join the team. It wasn’t that I was moved that she asked me, or that I was terrible passionate about digital filmmaking, or even the thought of going to Penang. At that time, if you remember, I was so bored and jaded with work that I’d do anything to get out of it.

So I said yes.

Yesterday, after yet another full day of doing absolutely no work, I left the office happy knowing I won’t have to step in until the beginning of next week.

So here I am today. A friend picked us up, and we put our bags in his place (where we will be staying over the next few days) before heading out to get some good old Penang food. I was thinking Char Kuey Teow, but no, the native Penangite among us insisted that we went to Bali Hai for dim sum.

So we did.

Bali Hai happened to be firmly planted on the other side of the island, so as a bonus, I was treated to the sights around: the new developments, the old buildings, and those stuck in between like souls in purgatory. Our friend the native Penangite rattled off stories associated with the various places that we passed by: a school that has been around for almost 200 years; a street that has a sign that literally says “Beware of Bouncing Balls”; old buildings that are not there anymore; and of course, where to find the best food in town.

Never let it be said that Malaysians are difficult to please.

It’s always an interesting experience to see the new merging with the old. Some might imagine that new things emerges out of old things, like a sprout from a seed. But I think it’s really more like adding new layers on top of existing things. Like soil upon soil. If you dig deep enough, you’ll see how the past really holds up the present, and the present gives support to the future.

And just like soil, it’s always interesting to dig through the surface and see what lays underneath. Most of it would be nostalgic. Some of the things might inspire a sense of bittersweet. Occasionally, horrors of the past might pop out. You’ll never know until you try, so there’s always that exhilarating air of mystery to the whole thing.

It’s only been 4 hours into my time here at Penang, and I cannot wait to see the rest of it over the next 4 days or so that I’ll be here.

And I’m still waiting for my Char Kuey Teow.