Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Sama sama during COVID-19

In the Malay language, the word SAMA-SAMA goes beyond just being “together”. When I was a child, I remember when my siblings fought over something trivial (like young siblings do) one of my parents in an attempt to break the kiddy fights, would just gently advise my older siblings to give in. Turning to me (the youngest and often the trouble maker) to just main sama-sama or share kindly.

During mealtimes at family gatherings, the dulang or a round tray filled with traditional malay meals (nasi ambeng and nasi rawon were something that you eat only at very. special. Malay family gatherings back then - not something you eat at your whim from the hawker centre) will be served to be shared with 5-6 cousins. Nah, kongsi makan sama-sama, or here, take this and share it well. Growing up, the term Sama-sama were ingrained into part of our discipline.

At the Madrasah, my religious teachers would teach us, with reference to the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ to look out for one another, especially the unfortunate and vulnerable among us, so that the we grow up as thoughtful and useful citizens for the community, because even a simple, yet thoughtful deed goes a long way to build sama-sama masyarakat makmur or a blessed and prosperous community.

It’s about a week left to the blessed month of Ramadan. The covid19 situation looks like a long way from cooling down. It brings out both the worst in people and kindness from many unexpected quarters. This is humanity’s coping mechanism. They are dreadful, inspiring, heartbreaking and heartwarming all at the same time. Everyone has their own reasons to do what they do to cope during these tough times. Regardless, instead of being quick to vilify, let’s listen to their stories. Even the Prophet ﷺ made mistakes.

Let’s be kind. Let’s hear one another out, not call one another out. Learn from mistakes and move on, not dwell on. Sama-sama we can inspire one another.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Directing Mr Ballerino

I’m reminded again what directing is all about. Every production is unique. You never have the perfect family. The producer brings them together, but it’s your responsibility to ensure they see eye to eye when the camera rolls. Even after close to 25 years, it still gets overwhelming, because your family is different all the time. Each has their respective expertise and skills. The fun part of running the symphony is calibrating these respective expertise to a common vision. Not just a common vision, but my vision - that linear vision that identifies my work from the rest of the pack (regardless of the genre), one that followers of my humble work will know it’s from me.

Orchestrating a film set is not just about taking sexy shots. It’s about identifying a cast strength and make their respective performances work For them in a scene. It’s about projecting the strength of the camera for you to your own unique style. Many times a scene doesn’t require fancy execution even though the gadgets are there. I like my shots motivated and uncluttered. There are too many things happening in a scene there’s no need to bastardize it with unnecessary fancy shots. Maintaining consistency in all aspects or performance, visual style including the art and makeup/style departments. For drama series, you receive diverse screenplays and scripts. It is important to fuse these eclectic narrative styles to your own, consistent style. The production assistants and runners tie all the departments together.

So, directing is not just about the sexy shots. It’s about getting the conceptual essence of the drama series and rallying everyone in the production that they have a stake in it - just like the sound recordist insists to have ideal sound environments to record his audio, because NO audio sweeteners can save a bad sound. Their names will be on the end credits after all.

Thus with all these responsible technicians onset, the director cannot feel safe behind these professionals. He gotta step up. They are not the reason for his shortcomings.

Mr Ballerino wraps

In any drama shoot, the only other person that sees my eyes is the Director of Photography. It is important that our vision does not waver, even when my “eyes” start to waver due to onset fatigue - and vice versa.

The vision needs to be maintained. On any given day, our energies need to sustain one another. In the just-wrapped principal shoot for the upcoming drama series, Mr Ballerino, for Mediacorp Suria channel, Sofyan Mohd Daud and his kickass crew maintained that energy for 38 days. It’s imperative to maintain positive vibes on set, regardless of circumstances. We all need that for the intensive 10-14 hour daily shoot. Filming continues from 11 January 2020 to 12 March 2020.

Filming is a Very Physical Activity, especially for Director of Photography and his dedicated crew ie, gaffers, grips, camera assistant.

Cheers to the completion of filming. Looking ahead for more collaborations soon!

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Suria 20

Sandwiched between nominations of my work for Mediacorp Suria channel (it was Prime 12 when I joined the industry) are these Pesta Perdana awards (ie Best Director, Drama) of which I truly am grateful for. The nominations began streaming from 1999. The hustle was tough because I don’t know anyone in the industry (yep, brutal AF for a nobody) nor have established relations (although I can imagine the hustle will be as tough for them too, living up to their respective relations’ legacy). Nevertheless I am fortunate to have had good people in the industry to guide me who believe in my potential when I started, to whom I am forever indebted to.

I’m posting these because it’s #Suria20 this year. I want to thank all collaborators that made these awards possible. It’s a big deal for me and many many people because behind these trophies were individuals who brought their own personal stories to the work process. Stories that involve families, friends and loved ones - shared between newly-developed friendships and adopted second families onset during respective productions. Importantly, the output of these important collaborations have helped shaped the community’s perspectives. That’s liberating and empowering at the same time.

So perhaps your jaded opinion of the industry is not productive for those who are starting out. You’re denying them valuable life experiences. The trophies may be paperweight to some people but down the road, it’s something that you look back upon to tell your version of the work process to your family, friends and loved ones. It’s proof that you were there when it (the production and collaboration) happened and the elation you had when your effort was recognised. I am still hustling to better myself with each work. You’re as good as your last work - that’s hard truth.

Friday, February 7, 2020


Of giving back, Community Service Rate (CSR) and charity.

(A little rant)

When you’re a charity organisation, have some decency to know your place as a charitable organisation. Manage your expectations when you approach a production house for “help” to make your corporate video.

Don’t use religion and your “charity” status to normalize quoting way, way below the market rate (or rather oblige to your meagre budget). Production houses are not obliged to help you, but to each his own. When production houses agree to help you, as much as your corporate time is precious, our professional time and effort is already charity for your organisation and supporting your mission. I can’t speak for the rest but regardless the budget, I input 100% effort within your meagre-budget project as much as my high-end, 5 or 6-digit corporate work.

Thus you can consider your 4-digit/lower 5-digit budget project is getting the gold treatment even before we start. With that said, also be aware that in production, there are third party vendors and not all third-party vendors are charitable or share the same sentiments about charity as I am. Many agree and take up your 4-digit/lower end 5-digit budget project because many have a working relationship me/the producers in the production. 

And you do not exploit these relationships based on the trust that have been build upon by these vendors with me/the producers.

Furthermore do not insult us with your “knowledge” of the production process. Your patriarchal ignorance is embarrassing especially when you have a PHD and is one of the leading figures in your charity organisation. If you cannot tell the difference between concept and structure, camerawork and lighting, STFU. 

Stay in your lane.

Thursday, October 3, 2019


I am starting a new series of IG story posts where I post anecdotes on my directing process. Please return to this page because I'll gradually add more stories.

Monday, April 8, 2019

SAMA-SAMA, the process

Behind-the-scene review of the cine65 season 5 (2019) commissioned film, SAMA-SAMA.

I remember during NS I did get along with everyone, yet you just can’t be on everyone’s good books all the time. Everyone who had been through NS can relate to this. We live and learn. Moments like these I wished I had been a better mate. While contemplating what I want to do with my life, I developed a keen sense of observation to what’s going on around me. I observed my fellow buddies and events A LOT, ie how they act and react and how things should have been or escalated into something that shouldn’t have been. 

Some may consider this as being passive but they say many thinkers are known to appear as such. (I have expressed these to much of my batch buddies. We exchanged, ‘kissed and made up’ over the years so it’s all good lah, although these things don’t go away easily whenever we meet for kopi but it’s all good fun stirring s* with one other).

Anyways, what went on in my head back then was how I wished I was able to translate what I’ve observed to something more tangible, perhaps in the form of literature or moving visual. Fast forward almost 30 years later, here I am - watching the monitor and recreating scenes from memories that I hold so dearly for the film, SAMA-SAMA. However, the opportunity comes with great responsibility because as a filmmaker, I have made it a choice to tell my stories to be as authentic as possible. 
Sitting there, deep down I felt sorry for my juniors to have made them repeat what’s needed to be done to get the perfect shot. Thank you brothers, for being such a sport! Pre-empting the physicality of the shoot I’ve promised to do it as productive as possible during the pre-shoot briefing. “Do it once and do it well”, was the mantra (among others) that we shared throughout our training in the Commandos. We connected on that. 

And we always want perfection, regardless the circumstances (FYI, that explains the 15th Best Unit the commandos receive in 2018, but I digress). Real sweat and exhaustion are the only way to display authenticity. I hope they had good takeaways from this experience. On a side note, SAMA-SAMA was my second opportunity to do something military-based. The second was quite a while ago when I literally “commanded” a battalion for a erm, food (!) show. Maybe more of that interesting story at a later day.

The weather was above 30 deg Celcius. It was almost mid-day (check the shadows casted on the ground). We were filming the crucial opening sequences for the film, SAMA-SAMA, where the boys had to drag 20kg++ rubber tires upslope respectively. Crucial sequences such as these need perfect synchronization with regards to camera shot/framing vs the action in front of the camera.

The life of a Commando extends beyond the red beret. I felt the boys needed some motivation and I’m not one to lepak behind the monitor. The only way to do this was to Be with them - to do it together under the mid day sun while they run upslope weighted by rubber tires. We could not use the loudhailer which was prohibited due to the restricted space. There was no way to fake these sequences. Sweat and exhaustion is real. To achieve sweat and exhaustion one needs to go through them for authenticity onscreen. And they had to run xxx times up the slope. 

Furthermore, let’s just say that it’s important to be fit even when you’re not a Grip and I’m glad I still can run. This is also what acting is all about, where good actors emote and react. The boys knew it - we all knew it. “Do it once, and do it well” was my last briefing to them. For non-actors, they did very well. My juniors learnt and reacted fast - just like how we were conditioned during training. I’m pleased we still have that connection.

You may watch the film, SAMA-SAMA here.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

A dissertation response.

I received a message from one Aurora who is writing her dissertation about women representation.

Here are my responses;

1) You mentioned that you do not overthink too much on your narratives and you leave it to the audience to derive their own perspectives. So, what areas or subject matters are you more sensitive/conscious about? Do you have any type of storyline that you're less inclined to be involved with? 

Much of the stories I write are pretty much instigated by my mental state of affairs. It can be as random as food, religion/spirituality, sexual politics and social commentary about my Malay community. My Love Trilogy shorts, ie Lost Sole (2005), à la Folie (2008), Ameen (2010), Home (2016) reflects my observations about Malay spirituality and gender. Bila Larut Malam (2015) is about middle-class Malay women who despite their personality differences, shared a longing for love during post-war. The MINDEF-commissioned shorts, The Usual and Sama-Sama, breaks down stereotypes of Malays in the Commandos. In Sayang Disayang, I used a lot of metaphors to tell a story about love and loneliness. 

I wouldn’t say that I’ll steer myself away from any topics ie no topics is taboo to me, I’ll visit these topics when I’m in the right state of mind or maturity to tackle these issues. 

Regardless of the genres and stories, much of what I’ve written are based on my own life journey. Close friends would have spotted vignettes of my life in these films. 

2) How much control do you have over the casting on your films and tv shows? 

When I write for my films, I would have a cast already in mind. I would have known the cast in person or have watched him/her from his/her previous work. It helps me during the writing stage (character wise). But for television, 65% of the time i dont have a say in casting because much will be determined by the network (ie commercial value and no of followers on IG haha). When this happens, I’ll just accept it and pray for the best. Nevertheless, many of these cast that I've never worked with give surprising performances. 

3) Are you, in any way, particular about whether you make English language films or Malay language films? (And why?) 

The language of film is humanity. Regardless of spoken language, audiences will still be connected to the films by the story. On that note, I write mostly Malay-centric stories because that’s where I grew up in and I feel I can tell a story effectively when I know what I’m making about. The audience is not foolish. They can sense if you’re inauthentic from a mile. 

4) Do you feel a sense of responsibility as someone who makes stories? 

This is a very important question. Yes I do. I feel a responsibility to tell stories that I am familiar with, as authentic as possible. Yet, to highlight the ironies in the film long after the audience watched the film. 

5) You have stated how one of the reasons you made Sayang Disayang was due to the fact that there weren't any films in southeast Asia centred around food. Are there any other type of films you feel is lacking in this region? And if so, what type of stories are you wanting to explore that has not been explored yet? 

When a topic or story is done for the first time, there is ALWAYS a concern where people will ask “will people watch the film”. In filmmaking, many are scared to embrace new concepts and perhaps will only adopt (and rework) the idea when the first film find its audience. 

When I did Sayang Disayang, a lot of people questioned me if my idea about Nusantara food that is embellished with some live-singing by the cast would work. None came forward. But I did it anyways with the moral support from the cast. I finished SDS with my own savings. I did not receive any funding help from any local government body. Also in Singapore, it was the first time that someone is making a Malay-language film, thus the typical question is “can this film make money”. In this case, ask yourself, if you want to create art or be a banker? Do all writers think if they can make money when they write literature? 

6) Are you conscious of inclusivity when it comes to making your stories? 

I think one of the reasons why I make my first short is the frustration that I did not see my own representation in films that were screened in singapore (Malaysian and Indonesian films do not count, because Singaporeans dont live in a kampong nor balik kampong during Hari Raya). This was from my graduation from film school till LOST SOLE was made, ie 1996-2005. Yup there were no films about Malay community by Malay community being made into films. 

When it comes to inclusivity, think of it as the language being spoken (see my points in Q3). 

7) As a male director/producer/writer, what are your opinions about the representation of Malay women? 

As an extension of points 3 and 6, I only include genders when it is necessary. When I write about Sama-Sama, The Usual or Home, the story do not need a female character thus I dont include them. 

In Bila Larut Malam, the women are strong women. But due to the nature of their situation, their respective longing makes them weak. Plus, the sexual politics between each character make the 3 women weak, in my humble opinion. 

In Sayang Disayang, Murni may seem weak but the irony is that she runs the kitchen and by extension the household. 

8) Are you conscious of the treatment and portrayal of women in your stories? 

This goes back to the idea of authenticity. It’s not just about women. Each character, regardless male or female, is complex. Thus I am very particular that my characters are 3-dimensional and most importantly, relatable to the audience.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Pesta Perdana 15 (nominations)

TEKAN MINYAK, the 1-hour, 13-episode drama series directed by yours truly, received a whopping 7 nominations at the upcoming Mediacorp Suria Pesta Perdana 2019 in the following categories;

1 x Best Drama Series
3 x Best Actress in a Leading Role
1 x Best Actor in a Supporting Role
1 x Best Editing
1 x Best Videography

(No nods for directing... I wonder how the programme comes together 😎)
Nevertheless, congratulations to all nominees.

But most importantly, a shoutout to EVERYONE in the production team, because none can shine without the other.

The award will be announced in a "live" telecast on 30 March 2019 on the said channel.

UPDATE: The drama series took home 1 award, via Ariati Tyep Papar for Best Actress in a Leading Role. This is her 3rd winning the award in the same category.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Note to newbies and wannabes

You don’t just call/write to someone whom you have just met aeons ago and spoke for less than 30mins (and then disappear for aeons again) only to contact me out of the blue for a recommendation letter.

Furthermore I cannot recommend anything if I don’t know what in the world you are doing that needs my recommendation. I need to read/hear from you what you are doing.

I can support what you want to do but hey, filmmaking is not just about you!

It’s NOT ethical and NOT professional. And it’s also downright RUDE. Hence, do you think you deserve a recommendation?

Filmmaking does not work that way.

You’re welcome.