Monday, November 19, 2007

From Kuali to Tuah

Lets skip a few years in my life.
When I began life as one of the pioneering members of TV3, I was made the station's first Programme Procurement Officer assisting in the programming of the station's first year's programming. I remember recommending a few programmes - Jewel In The Crown, Brideshead Revisited and David Copperfield's TV specials.
When they decided to create a Production Department with Sherkawi Jirim heading it, I applied for the post of Producer (eventhough I did not have any experience - only theory). I was successful and became one of the first two producers in Tv3 next to the late Karim Mohamed. We three were sent to London for a crash course - seconded to Thames TV and Granada TV for three months.
It was wonderful experience - especially with Granada TV when I was sent to observe a sports coverage of a live telecast in Manchester. I went to Old Trafford for a Euro Cup game between Juventus and Manchester United. I even managed to gain access (for a few minutes) into the backrooms when the teams were lined up - I met my hero Dino Zoff and much admired striker Boniek. Platini was also around. Manchester United? They were there....hohum (being a Liverpool fan I was not really inspired when meeting the Devils in person).
Can't remember the score but I remembered not being warmly dressed for the occasion. It was fall approaching winter and I was only wearing an overcoat. Typical Melayu lah. It got so cold that I had to go buy two beef pies to put in my pockets to warm my hands. Haha.
Anyway, returning home, I got to produce the station's first two in-house programmes - Kuali and Nona. For Kuali, I chose the elegant and beautiful Nazliah Ahmad as host. For Nona, I remember selecting former stewardess Furzanne as the original host.Picture above: Me (In the blue sweater) with Gary (my first Tech Producer) at one of the earliest shoots for Kuali.
My stint in TV3 lasted only three years as I had a disagreement with the management. So I left to join an event management company that organised the original defence show in PWTC. Nevertheless, the production bug was really tempting. I decided to become a freelance director. Luckily for me, my parents trusted my 'talents' and when RTM began its original drama swasta slots, I managed to persuade my mother to let me try my hand directing my first TV drama. She agreed and I wrote Karam Di Mata Karam Di Hati - starred Marlia Musa and the late Mahmud Jun. It was shot in 16mm film and finished in Hongkong at Mandarin Lab.
After that, I heard about a Hollywood movie being shot in Sarawak to be directed by John Milius. It was called Farewell The King and Nick Nolte was slated to star. I can't remember how, but I went to Jemima Studios for an interview and got the job as second assistant director.
They sent me to Kuching for the shoot - a three month stint! It was great experience - we worked with the best crew from England and Australia.
The Assistant Director was one Dereck Cracknell, who was the AD in the movie Batman. The First AD, Julian Wall was also an experienced AD and was involved in Gandhi, but recently I saw his credits as an AD in Bad Boys 2.
The DOP was Dean Semmler from Australia - he just received an Oscar for Dances With Wolves. His assistant, who I worked mostly with in the project, was one Andrew Lesnie (pictured below). Little did we know that he would one day helm a movie called Lord of The Rings and win an Oscar for Photography!
It was great working in a movie where money seems to be no object - especially with a director like John Milius (Conan The Barbarian, Red Dawn). I guess his directorial skills were mostly done during pre-pro with the storyboards because he is usually in his tent waiting for the AD to prepare things for him. When ready, we call the Guvnor (Milius) and he appears and says action! and cut! and then disappears back into his tent. He hardly mingles with the crew.
Nick Nolte was something else. He was a real pro when he was sober. When he wasn't he was a barrel of laughs. He had no airs around him. He would readily mixed with locals and the crew. He would stay back and even go out pubbing with us lesser mortals.The above pic: from left to right - John Milius (in dark turban) and Nick Nolte.
It was a great three months. I remember working with great colleagues - Merie Weismller (assistant to producer Eliot Schick) and Hoo Ee Kee (another AD Local) - now a big time TVC director in the region based in Jakarta. From what I'd gather Merie is now one of the most sought after unit still photographers in the industry having done stills for Letters To Iwo Jima and Blood Work.
Once back from Kuching, I was itching to direct my own feature. I had a screenplay in hand and showed it to my parents. The script was Tuah - a revisionist/fantasy screenplay about Hang Tuah.
They liked the script and wanted to produce it. So in 1988, I directed my first feature film. I didn't get casting rights as a first time director. My mom the producer chose Jamal Abdillah eventhough I preferred M. Nasir. It was hell working with Jamal.
Nevertheless, the movie got completed albeit with minimal budget. If you remember the final scene between Jamal and Faizal Hussin (as Jebat), you'd see the set design as being very minimal. There was no budget to go shoot on location so I had to settle (grudgingly) for a fantasized set. Unfortunately on camera it looked very bare and basic.
The making of the movie also had some very bad memories - whilst doing post at Mandarin Studios in Hongkong, the apartment we were staying in got broken into by some parang wielding robbers. The ransacked everything including all our cash. Luckily for us, they didn't harm me and my parents. But it was a traumatic experience!
The movie opened to lukewarm box office but didn't lose any money. It was invited to Montreal, Berlin, Tokyo, Fukuoka and Jakarta festivals. It won a Jury Award at the Asia Pacific Film Festival in Jakarta in 1989.
At the Malaysian Film Festival the same year, I pulled the film out of competition as I was sore over the previous year's results - A R Badul won Best Director for Oh Fatimah.
So much for making an impact in the local film industry.

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