Making my first short film
JUNE 9 — Having been a film geek ever since I got out of high school (meaning it was then I truly started hunting down and “devouring” films for more than just entertainment then), I’ve always harboured dreams of one day making my own films too. Of course not coming from an upper-class background, and with societal norms being what it was back then, going to film school was never an option for me.
This is working-class and lower middle-class Malaysia we’re talking about, and even now the options when you’re thinking of what courses to study if you’re lucky enough to make it into a university are still either to become a doctor, engineer, architect, lawyer (my chosen path back then), accountant and things along that line.
Basically the only path available to me when it comes to my love of cinema is to just geek out and watch as many films as I can. I didn’t even dare to write about film back then. I found myself better equipped to make comments after I had seen and heard enough, and explored enough history to make my own informed judgments without risking embarrassment to myself for jumping the gun and making stupid uninformed comments when a wee bit more research and knowledge would’ve saved me.
But most importantly what I wanted was to be able to make my own judgments, based on my own opinions, not based on what this publication said or what this or that writer wrote. I had Petaling Street and local night markets to thank during the VHS days for providing me with the supply of films to watch. From them I purchased films now considered modern classics like the Iranian “The White Balloon”, or “La Haine” and even “Breaking The Waves”, not to mention established classics like “The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg”.
My days studying in the UK were made very memorable by their very affordable arthouse cinemas (after student discounts) and my neighbourhood video store which rented out videos for only 99p (about RM5) a night, in which I probably averaged at least five films per week, usually more, so one can only imagine how many films I managed to devour in those three breathless years.
And I won’t even get started about the DVD and now Blu-ray era, with the far increased availability of old catalogue titles making every day a field day for a movie hound like me. I think only after having seen at least 2,000 films, most of which are arthouse films or classics, and after having made myself familiar with almost the whole (available) filmography of giants like Yasujiro Ozu, Carl Dreyer, Jean Renoir, Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Bresson, Andrei Tarkovsky, Ernst Lubitsch, Frank Capra, Preston Sturges, Martin Scorsese and so many more, did I find the courage to start writing about films.
And it’s only this year that I braved myself to try and make my first short film, and even then it is with much thanks to local indie/digital cinema guru Amir Muhammad, who asked me to be part of his “Kopi” project, in which he asked eight “new” filmmakers (meaning people who haven’t made feature films yet) to adapt one of the short stories in the “Kopi” anthology he published into a short film.
After writing quite a bit about other people’s films, it’s kind of scary to make one myself. And after watching so many films, it’s mind boggling trying to focus your ideas and restrain yourself when trying to conceive your first film. You kind of want to put everything in it!
In trying to adapt the short story I chose, I must’ve gone through at least four or five different approaches, changing my mind every single time until I calmed myself down and settled on a tone and approach I think suited the material and budget best.
What I settled on was to try and make a Jean-Luc Godard-style essay film, which is probably not the easiest kind of film to watch, but knowing my natural instincts as a pop musician, I trusted myself to at least try and make it entertaining as well.
But after making it, I now fully understand why Martin Scorsese said that while he does love making films, it’s a lot more fun watching them.
It was shown to the public for the first time last Monday at “Malaysian Shorts”, an event I’ve been a regular at for the past few years, so it’s very exciting (and also scary) for me to now have something I made shown there, especially since the audience will also be asked to vote for their favourite three shorts and the audience’s choice will be revealed after the Q&A session at the end.
Unbelievably, my experimental/avant-garde comedy “Dear Ridhwan” was voted third by the audience, against a pretty strong line-up of 10 shorts too, so I was a very happy man. Not so much because I wanted to win or anything, but because I was worried sick that I had made something “syok sendiri” (especially when some of my favourite films are kind of “syok sendiri” ones), so the votes were basically proof that people did enjoy it.
So thankfully I’ve jumped the first hurdle without too many bruises. Hopefully I’ll be braver and jump another one soon. Besides, I’m sort of an award-winning filmmaker now, aren’t I?
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.