Friday, June 22, 2012

Food Series, number 6

It was inevitable. Yeah, another cooking show.

4 years after I did Vanila, the delectable food show hosted by baking chef, Siti Mastura, the opportunity to do Delicatessen II came a knocking.

It seems that I can never get away from food programmes, or could it be, food programmes always find me! I've always enjoyed doing food/culinary programmes. How does one present the flavours to the audience within a 2 dimensional format, out of the goggle box? How does one bring out the taste of the food?

Now that's a challenge!

Delicatessen II follows Yan, a new chef, as he ventures to set-up his own restaurant business. Delicatessen I saw him overcoming the odds in his decision to leave business school to become a chef. The show stars real-life Chef Sufiyan Safee who runs his own restaurant Jimmy Monkey at Ayer Rajah.
To elevate this series from becoming just another generic adventurous-young-chef cooking show, I've added the element of mock interviews by Yan, which of course were all scripted. I enjoyed working with Sufiyan. However being untrained in acting, he struggled with the dramatic aspect of the show as required by the show's concept. Understandably he received a lot of flak for being wooden. His lack of acting training was heightened when he was paired with prolific actor Hasnul Rahmat, who plays Yan's camp nemesis in the kitchen. Besides Hasnul, there were also established ensemble of regulars like Era Farida, Jasmani Basri, Fadly Awaludin, Nurul Akmar Elias and Fadhilah Samsudin.

I've always wanted to do a mockumentary series. The successful BBC series The Office has always inspired me to do an adaptation. The challenge for me in Delicatessen II, which incorporates real cooking segments with a scripted dramatic narrative, is to blend these elements successfully without making it tacky. Good, sharp editing helped the pacing and narrative. I recall the network cautioned against being too ambitious about such narrative structure (when I suggested the mock interviews element at the last minute) because previously producers had attempted similar structure on other programmes but it had not worked. I have to admit that such note stressed me a bit!

Delicatessen II without the mock interviews would be similar in execution to another 'dramedy' food show SOO LAZAT that I directed/produced previously for two seasons. SOO LAZAT stars the effervescent Rahimah Rahim as the matriarch who was desperate to marry off her daughters played by beauties Norfasarie, Fizah Nizam and Hetty Sarlene (who left after season one).

I think the mock interviews worked. These interviews highlight Yan's naivety and Sufiyan's natural awkwardness to the character's advantage.

The way to make such complex, multi-narrative structure work is to keep the edit in focus, be succinct with the pacing and constantly keeping the narrative arc in check.


Delicatessen II was telecast from 23 February 2012 through April for 8 weeks.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Being a Mentor

The television production house, DV Studio (and supported by MediaCorp Suria, the Work Development Agency & Media Development Authority), had conceptualised a new show called Projek Showcase (telecast 16 April - 4 June 2012). The series gathered 8 prolific local Malay actors with more than 10 years experience. These actors were each tasked to direct a 35-minute drama in 4 days.

It would be like the reality show, The Apprentice, for newbie television directors - but without the elimination. To prepare themselves for this task, each director-in-training had to undergo a 4-day crash course into many aspects of television production, ie script writing, producing, taking turns as production crew, casting and of course on-set directing.

I was invited to be one of the mentors. I was to mentor actors Siti Hajar Gani and Zaidi Ibrahim. I must admit that I was a little hesitant about accepting the invitation. The elitist director in me said that these directors wannabe were way out of league from my film-school background to be moulded into directors. I asked myself if these actors would rise to the challenge effectively. After all, directing is not a 4-day course. I’m still learning my craft and the 3-year film school training (plus the film-related BA I pursued afterwards) was my solid foundation. I even tweeted addressing fellow film-school students not to take talents from reality-television seriously.

The directing language is not something to be taken lightly. Perhaps Gary Oldman frames it succinctly here.

But certain things changed my mind.
I’ve observed that the local Malay television industry is facing a drought in creative talent to drive the visual narrative forward. There are many folks without the ‘proper’ training who have taken task in directing and trailed – producing works that are, for lack of a better description, lackluster and bland. Yet, the industry needs fresh talent with creative ideas to beef up local Malay television. Thus, I have decided to put my experience to good use by mentoring these upcoming television drama directors.

Knowledge should be shared. In the current television climate, it is wise for me to impart my film-school training to these upcoming directors.

My thoughts observing Siti Hajar and Zaidi on-set.

1. Coming from proper acting background, they would have the advantage (and they do) for being able to communicate with their cast the acting ‘language’. Ideas get communicated well among similar-minded individuals.

2. On many occasions, they made the mistake of totally handing frame composition and general camerawork to the cameraman/DOP. From my experience, to hand these tasks totally to the cameraman/DOP send signals that the director does not have that mise-en-scène. Mise-en-scène gives the director that extra je ne sais quoi when in comes to visual aesthetics.

3. The director has his own vision at how the filmed footage would eventually be assembled. Different directors have their own way of interpreting the narrative visually. The mise-en-scène determines the frame and composition. The shot arrangement highlights the subtexts. Siti Hajar and Zaidi still have a long way in their mise-en-scène. It determines why some films look bad while some are visually pleasing.

4. Perhaps, Siti Hajar and Zaidi were too familiar with the crew and vice-versa, from previous drama productions. Any sense of command and control was absent. Negotiation has to cease at some point. Different individuals have a unique way of commanding, but eventually the director need to take control of the set. Sometimes being ‘nice’ may not be effective, especially when one is faced with a jaded filming crew.

5. Personally, I would like my finished product to look sleek. I am not fazed by plug-ins in editing software. Unless the concept requires it, I would try to avoid as much as possible cheesy visual effects in my drama. I stress that my actors emote their respective characters vis-a-vis the situation. These are the only way to communicate and connect to their audience, ie real acting work. Visual effects tend to get gimmicky and cheap when not handled properly. With this in mind, both Siti Hajar and Zaidi tend to adopt such editing gimmicks.

Overall, I’m quite pleased that their drama segments remain watchable, albeit ‘unpolished’. Furthermore, execution seemed predictable in many areas. I am glad that Siti Hajar and Zaidi went through the directing process. I believe this experience gives them an advantage when communicating with their directors, crew and cast in the future.

On-set, the director is the conductor between the cast, the crew and the bosses. There is so much negotiation one can handle. Eventually the director needs to take a stand regardless the situation. However, the set is a highly collaborative process. Patience and guts go hand-in-hand but not many folks can balance the two effectively. I’m still learning the craft.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Arts residency

I am happy to announce that I have been selected to do an arts residency at the Jurong Town Community Club. Jurong estate has been selected in this inaugural community project. This residency sits within a community arts outreach project by the National Heritage Board and the Singapore Art Museum. Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) and Minister for Finance, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, is the patron of the project.

The residency is significant because I will facilitate fellow Jurong residents to convey their memories and stories about their heartland environment. Non-Jurong residents are welcomed, but the stories/themes in their video work shall revolve about Jurong. There will be two phases to this programme – film narrative workshops prior to the launch and a more elaborate filmmaking workshop after the launch.

I will continue with a film narrative workshop on 21-22 June, 2-5 pm at the Jurong Town Community Club. The workshop began as a series of short programmes beginning in February 2012.

This two day workshop is accumulative, ie, the instructions and practical exercises on the first day leads to the exercises on the second day.

This workshop shall be activity-intensive and focus on the STORYTELLING and MISE-EN-SCÈNE in filmmaking, not technical filmmaking. No fees are charged for the workshop. You will just need to take along your enthusiasm and (of utmost importance), kindly have a portable video recording gadget. I recommend a compact camera with video-recording capability. Preferred. You may also take along your video vDSLR camera if you have. Otherwise a good smartphone with video recording capability.

Yeah, it’ll be bare bones basic workshop to inspire storytelling in filmmaking and why some films look bad while some are visually pleasing. 

A launch is planned for this community arts outreach project in September 2012. Your works executed during this pre-launch workshop might just be exhibited during the launch for your friends, family and community to enjoy.

Know the rules, and then break them!