Saturday, February 28, 2009

BLOGGER IN RTM'S BLOG - 27TH Feb. 2009

For those who missed me on the RTM show Blog, here is the segment. Permission granted by RTM and the series's producers.


video

DEATH KNELL FOR MALAY LANGUAGE MOVIES?

Wow...am I being a little be pessimistic or am I just being an alarmist? Hmmmm....in world cinema, Malaysian movies that are making waves (at festival overseas) are not Malay language movies, mostly Mandarin, showing and telling stories from a non-Malay point of view. And yes, they are genuine Malaysian movies. The few Malay movies that get shown overseas would of course be those of Yasmin Ahmad - her films like Muallaf and Talentime get to be viewed overseas, because she is already a known factor.
But names like Ju Han, James Lee, Tan Chui Mui and Ji Min are in the forefront of Malaysian cinema. You do not hear, at these festivals, of names like Adflin Shauki, Razak Maidin, Yusof Haslam, Ahmad Idham and Pierre Andre. We don't exist.
The reasons being? It really doesn't matter because if I was to talk about why, I would rather write a full dissertation or thesis about this phenomena and obtain my Phd. Why do it for nothing right?
Anyway, to make things a little bit more exciting, a group of filmmakers came a calling to Malaysia. This filmmakers, more than 30 of them, young bright and eager directors, were brought here by the Hong Kong Trade Council and the Hong Kong Film Development Council (FDC) to look for new investment (from Malaysians) and to reignite the Malaysian cinemagoer's love affair with Hong Kong movies.
In the plan which is called the New Action initiative, the FDC creates a new plan to develop the Hong Kong film market in mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia. They are using this opportunity to promote their new generations of directors who will be the drivers for the long term development of Hong Kong films.

The initiative seeks to enhance closer collaboration amongst the five major market aforementioned. This is in order to develop their films and for the directors to establish network with film investors, distributors and producers in these markets, and also to seek new business opportunities.
The Chairman of FDC, Jack So (who did not get to meet his counterpart at Finas or even the Director General during their short visit to Finas HQ), said that they believe Malaysia to be an important market for Chinese language movies, and they are seeking to jumpstart their initiative by meeting producers and investors in Malaysia. He said, there are potentially 5 million Chinese speaking cinemagoers in Malaysia and therefore they feel it is important to show their willingness to explore and exploit this market.
Too bad the Malay film producers keep pandering to the whims and fancies of the 300,000 cinemagoers who regularly watch Malay movies instead of the 5 million Chinese speaking audience right here at their doorstep.
As it is, Malay film producers are quite hard up trying to find willing investors to fund Malay movies, yet, these Hong Kong producers came all the way here and are dangling a very potentially lucrative business opportunity to both Malay and non-Malay producers to invest in Chinese language films. These films plays to a massive market which includes mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia (not including breakthrough markets like Korea, Japan and Chinese speaking Americans).
One of the delegates, Wellington Fung, the Secretary-General of the FDC, eloquently laid out the tempting scenario. They have just returned from a successful meeting with the Guangdong authorities. Guangdong, according to him is the largest Cantonese speaking region in mainland China, and therefore an important market to Hong Kong filmmakers who make their films in Cantonese.
The market is huge - Guangdong has a population of just over 100 million.
The FDC initiative caps production costs at US1.5 million (around RM5 million) and the scenario is that, profitability is nearly guaranteed.
They invite Malaysian producers to invest in this programme - for example the cost of a Malaysian made movie i.e Rm1.5 million is about a 20% investment in a film under the said initiative. But instead of risking the movie to a small 300,000 Malay speaking audience, why not invest your money for a project that caters to more than 100 million regional viewers? Sounds tempting doesn't it. That's just hte Cantonese audience. Imagine if you make a movie in Mandarin!
Firstly, with the investment, you'd have a Film Development Council that pushes the film to a wider audience. They would of course want to make sure the movies make money anyhow because the balance of the investment for the movies is covered by them - yes, unlike Finas which only loans money to producers, FDC Hong Kong invests in film projects that they believe can make money or at the least promote the standard of Hong Kong films.
The only catch is that the director, screenwriter and the producer of the film MUST be permanent residents of Hong Kong. Unless the director is a Malaysian-born Hong Kong resident, it is unlikely that the movie would be 'malaysian in flavor at all' except for the money that we put in.
So the dilemma of the Malaysian film investor - to invest money in a Malay film which is very risky or to invest in a Chinese-language film managed by a powerful FDC based in Hong Kong that gives you a better scenario for a return of investment.
As it is, Malaysian money has already filtered out of the country from producers who don't believe in the viability of Malaysian made movies. There's one who have been pumping money into Singapore's film industry - albeit successfully. The film was actually pre-sold and profits already confirmed before a single frame was shot. These are all done through pre-sales and the confirmation of a known film director and marquee cast from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore.
A few producers are also trying out investing in Indonesian film industry - an industry that is booming.
Unfortunately through these movies, the Malaysian film industry per se does not gain any advantage. Hardly any crew members are Malaysians or Malay, the cast is nearly 90 percent local (Indonesian) with token appearances from Malaysian artistes.
Yet, these films makes money from the Malaysian cinema circuits.
Meanwhile, what does Finas do to counteract this or even strategize to develop our film industry? I really don't know. I know they have announced the increase of funding (through loans) and a grant system for movies with 'national' aspirations.
They have also launched a RM40 million digital sound system facility and finance documentaries through Discovery Channel. And yet, before we know it, the Hong Kong film industry and maybe the advent of Chinese language movies in Malaysia may yet spell the death knell for Malay movies.
I just hope the Malay captains of the Malaysian corporate world see the seriousness of what is happening in the film industry. If we cannot depend on Finas, we need the corporate world to become our saviors, but injecting new thinking, new strategies, new blood and new funding mechanisms and opportunities for the Malay language films. Unless, of course, they worship the all-mighty ringgit and find that the Hong Kong New Action initiative is viable and tempting, and they too start investing in Chinese language films. Why not? Shareholders of multi-national companies are always interested only in the bottom line, and much nothing else.

Friday, February 27, 2009

AL FATIHAH - DATO' DR KASSIM HJ ALI


My neighbour, former museum negara curator and former President of the Malaysian Numismatic Society Dato' Dr Kassim Haji Ali, passed away of a stroke yesterday evening at the University Hospital in Petaling Jaya. He was 66.
Though neighbours, we hardly meet each other but less than two weeks ago, we bumped into each at a neighbourhood restaurant whilst having breakfast. He looked well, but I guess no one knows when Allah SWT would call you to return home.
He leaves behind a wife and three sons (Johan, Junaidi dan Jamil).
Al Fatihah.

31 young and new film directors from Hongkong in town!

Blogger with Raymond Wong.
Not many people in the industry knew about it, but yesterday, the Hongkong Trade Council with the Hongkong Film Council arrived in KL for a short visit (2 days) to launch the Hongkong Film Week at GSC Mid Valley and also to introduce 31 young filmmakers to the Malaysian audience.
Last night there were cocktails at the Boulevard Hotel between the Hongkong group and Malaysian film fraternity. I was there.
Surprisingly ot many local industry players were there. Those that were included the Malaysian Film Producer's Association President and Vice President, Encik Ahmad Puad Onah and Tengku Dato' Annuar Musaddad, Encik Zulkifli from FINAS (as the Director General of FINAS, Encik Mahyuddin Mustakim was in Bangkok) and filmmakers Adflin Shauki, Norman KRU, Latip Mahidin and that's it. I went with my colleague Ken S. Yap.
And on the other side, led by the top officials of the Hongkong Film Council were 31 young and exciting film directors from Hongkong. What a missed opportunity!
Also present from Hongkong were two legends of Hongkong cinema, actor-producer Raymond Wong (whose latest movie Ip Man made box office waves around the world to the tune of more than US120 million) and singer-songwriter-actor-producer Teddy Robin.
Multi=talented singer-songwriter-actor-director-producer Teddy Robin was also at the Hong Kong FDC dinner last night.
I will write more about the Hongkong New Film initiative later. Meanwhile, those who want to catch what Hongkong's latest generation of filmmakers have to offer like Decade of Love (which has ten short stories directed by ten new filmmakers) make a beeline to GSC cinemas in Mid Valley.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

MEETING WITH REPS FROM CANNES FILM FESTIVAL


I had the pleasure of meeting a member of the Cannes Directors' Fortnight Selection Commitee, Jeremy Segay, in KLCC, yesterday afternoon. I arrived late because of other commitments. Already there with him were filmmakers Mamat Khalid and Uwei Hj Shaari. Tayangan Unggul producer Gayathri Sulin was also there.
Jeremy was in town on a fact finding mission for an interesting project involving of nation's film history. Will write about it when I get the greenlight to do so.
Nevertheless, it was quite a big deal for us to meet up with him - the man who selects and chooses films for the special Directors' Fortnight in Cannes. For your movie to be screened in that section in Cannes is already an honor.

ANAK WAYANG ON THE BOOB TUBE TOMORROW NIGHT

Tomorrow night, Friday, the 27th of February, on RTM 1, at 10 pm, I will be interviewed live on the talk show Blogger.
A couple of days ago, Dr Mahadi J. Murad, former award winning filmmaker, who now currently teaches at the Faculty of Artistic and Creative Technology, Uitm, called me and asked me if I could appear on the show. To tell you the truth I didn't know the show existed.I believe he is either the series consultant or executive producer. I don't know which.
My immediate response was why me? I'm not a political blogger and I don't even know how many people actually reads my blog.
But Dr Mahadi said this installment will talk about local movies and bloggers who talk about movies...so I said sure why not.
Then he asked me about my animated movie Budak Lapok....something I hardly mention in my blog except when it was screened a while ago. It is also a movie I don't feel like talking about because there's so many things behind the history of the movie's production that I cannot speak of (at least for the time being).
When I asked if I can be privy to the questions to be asked, he said not to worry.
I hate to assume things, but something doesn't sound or feel kosher here. But nevermind, I'll go through it and see what they have in store for me. So to all my friends out there, all 15 of you (hahaha), tune in on Friday to see me being grilled live on TV!!!!

Monday, February 23, 2009

A NEW PLACE FOR NASI LEMAK IN SS2


There's not really many good places for makan in ss2 in Petaling Jaya. Of course, there's numerous kopitiams, but of late, these overpriced kopitiams are sad remakes of the original kopitiams. And the nasi kandar restaurants? Well, the food may be edible but the service offered by the foreigners who can hardly string a sentence in Malay or English, and who can be downright rude and dumb, makes having breakfast in these places a chore.
So, you can imagine how I felt when I accidentally found a new makan place in ss2, and a bigger surprise - it serves good nasi lemak. Now, when I say nasi lemak, it is not a dish that mixes beef and chicken rendang, with other side dishes and call it antarabangsa. Nasi lemak is a simple dish - the coconut drenched rice (must be very lemak and frangrant), a great sambal tumis, fresh cucumber slices, egg (fried, boiled or telur dadar) and crispy peanuts and ikan bilis. That's it. Well, if you're Singaporean, you might still want a piece of fried ikan selah kuning or otak -otak with your rice - nothing more.
Well, this restaurant, Mama's Special, is owned by a guy named Sunny from Melaka, and I think he has his priorities right. The rice is rich in lemak and fragrant, and you can enjoy with with his thick and rich sambal tumis (you can opt for sambal tumis petai), the fresh sliced cucumbers and crispy ikan bilis and kacang. Of course there's other side dishes if you really want. The otak otak looks and tastes good (according to my wife) whilst the fried chicken is rather tasty with the right pinch of 'crisp bumbu' or 'rempah'.
It is also quite affordable unlike some stupid kopitiams that charge ridiculous prices for a concoction that just manages to pass off as nasi lemak.
So if you are adventurous and looking for good nasi lemak in SS2, give this restaurant a go. It's on the same row as the Maybank (near facing the green lungs of ss2). By the way, they are suffering from the same staffing problem - they hired Myanmar workers who can hardly converse in English, Chinese and Malay.....Arggghhhhhh!!!!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

CONNECTING THROUGH FACEBOOK

Being on facebook keeps on surprising me. In the past, old schoolmates and college mates, have found me (and vice versa) through this popular website. Imagine being connected by someone whom you have not met for the past thirty years suddenly communicating with you as if those years past never happened. It's amazing.
A few days ago, a young girl by the name of Nurjannah Ali, requested to be added as a friend. I thought she's another friend of mine from school days - exactly the same name.
By lo, she said she was the daughter of a famous actor from the P. Ramlee era, and not my old school friend. So, I asked who this actor was because the only actor I can remember whose name was Ali was my dad's friend and also P. Ramlee's friend by the name of Ali Fiji. And surprise surprise, Nurjannah said her father was Ali Fiji. Nurjannah, 21, is a student in UITM Melaka studying media and communication.
Her father Ali Fiji was one of the most popular actors of that era, playing all sorts of roles, from baddies to good guys including one of his most beloved roles as one of the forty thieves in Ali Baba Bujang Lapok.
Ali passed away 13 years ago at the age of 63.

Align Center
Allahyarham Ali Fiji, popular actor from the Golden Age of Malay Films
According to Nurjannah, his screen name was given to him by P. Ramlee who said that his looks (curly haired and slightly dark) reminded him of the peoples of the Fiji Islands, and so dubbed him Ali Fiji. The name stuck and til today Ali is known by many as Ali Fiji and not by his real name Ali Syed Mohammad.


To Nurjannah, I wish her my best in her career and in hope that more children of the artistes and staff of the Malay Film Productions and Cathay Keris to come forward and contribute to information and reminisces of the Golden Age of Malay cinema. (Pictures above were given to me by Nurjannah)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

AL FATIHAH - IBRAHIM HUSSEIN

One of Malaysia's favourite sons, a true patriot and a great artist, Ibrahim Hussein, died today at 4.30am. He passed away at the Pantai Medical Center. He leaves behind a wife and daughter. He was 72. Al Fatihah.

"As a nation, it doesn't matter how economically powerful we are. Without the spiritual balance of the arts, we achieve nothing and there will be chaos in the end."" - Ibrahim Hussein (1936-2009)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

MY NEW SIDE BLOG - LAYARMAIN

I have created a new blog - Layarmain. A literal translation of the word screenplay, as opposed to the accepted translation of Lakonlayar. It is a blog dedicated to screenwriting - mine and others - and also a 'ruang' or a place where budding and expert screenwriters can converse, debate and just exchange ideas.
In my screenplays which I will post, the screen directions are mostly written in English though the dialogue is in Bahasa Melayu. Some will be partially posted, some are works in progress and some will be full screenplays or teleplays.
Who am I to start a blog about screenwriting? I'm no one. I did not go to University of Columbia or did my masters in film at the prestigious USC. Nor do I have a PhD or even a Masters from any local University, or am an Associate Professor (Professor Madya).
I just have a certificate in Advanced Screenwriting from a IPTAR/ABU who brought in Ulla Rhyge to teach a few lucky filmmakers, decades ago. Ulla Rhyge was a frequent collaborator and editor with film legend Ingmar Bergman.
I also attended various workshops (both writing and screenwriting) all over the world, but the most memorable was one held by (the late) Academy Award winning screenwriter Stirling Sylliphant.
I also learned a lot about the art of screenwriting from my father Datuk Jamil Sulong.
What I know is that, even at 50, I am still learning. The process never stops. I don't consider nor profess myself an expert on screenwriting (as some others claim to do). Only a practitioner. My writing has, since 1976, earned me a living - first as a journalist and a film critic, and then as a filmmaker.
I truly believe that a good movie begins with the word. Without a good screenplay, a movie will not have the prerequisite foundations to stand strong. And by the way, I do not subscribe blindly to everything Syd Field.
So, I hope those who are curious about screenwriting (ala Malaysia) do drop by layarmain.blogspot.com.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A FUNNY THING HAPPENED AT FACT

I was at the 10 year celebration of FACT yesterday. Wasn't invited but good old Mamat Khalid took me along anyway. FACT is the Faculty of Artistic and Creative Technology of the University Technology MARA. It is referred to by many (who prefer to use the BM acronym) as Fakulti TEKA (Teknologi Kreatif dan Artistik). No, I was not a student here. FACT is only ten years old lah...I graduated from the old INTEKMA (Class of 1981) from the School of Mass Communication (Journalism),
At the launch, the Dean, Prof Dr Hatta Azad Khan ( no relation to the more famous Datuk Sharukh Khan), gave a speech that made me smiled, though in a bemused way.
Within the first few words, he was already attacking the local film industry in general, as a place where, according to him, so many are incompetent and unskilled. He also stressed that FACT is a place for producing filmmakers who put art above anything else. He said:"If you want to make popular and commercial fare, this university is not for you. You don't have to come here."
Funny that he said that, because in his teaching staff is one Prof Madya Razak Maihidin, the man behind the movie Sifu and Tongga. (You can read Ajami's reaction to watching that movie here - review S&T). What other movies have Razak made? Anak Mami, Mistik, Duyong, Cinta Kolesterol etc etc. So are these movies the kind of 'art' that Hatta wants his students to emulate? Or does he want them to produce and make movies like Wayang - Hatta's own big box office blip released last year. OK, he said filmmakers shouldn't look to commercial success or money as their reason to make movies, well I'm sure he managed that with Wayang. And if he wants people to make good films, shouldn't this mean winning awards. Wayang, directed by Hatta, however, lost to Kala Malam Bulan Mengambang in both the Best Film and Best Directing awards. So maybe Mamat Khalid, should be the Dean of FACT, shouldn't he? Or maybe he should call Hans Isaac to teach screenwriting since Wayang lost the Best Screenwriting award to Hans Isaac who wrote Cuci ( which won). For those who don't remember, Hatta's only other movie was the comedy, Mat Som (made some twenty years ago).
But I shouldn't begrudge him, because he does have the titles Prof and Dr in front of his name and has been top dog (or somewhere near the top dog) in DBP and ASWARA. So he must have the knowledge and the right to shoot down us lowlifes in the film industry.
Now, I am however glad that he announced the University has approved to fund a full length feature movie to be made by the students. Maybe, this time round, the students can show the lecturers what movie making is all about.
However I do not support Universities or Institutes of Higher Learning that fund their Dean's or lecturers' pet film projects. Funds made available in Film schools should only be put aside for student films, not lecturer's films. See what happened to Dr Annuar Nur Arai's opus Johnny Bikin Filem (funded by a University he was teaching in) which after ten years is still waiting for cinematic and commercial release. See Wayang, funded by the University with additional funding from FINAS, directed and written by Hatta. These are public funds. Johnny Bikin Filem was reported to have cost north of RM2 million and Wayang just under RM1 million (figures are not confirmed). What did Wayang get at the box office? According to FINAS, as of January 28th 2009, Wayang's B.O. take was RM103,000 gross. Less tax and cinema chain costs, Wayang's portion is about RM50,000.00.
As far as I am concerned, any filmmaker who think that they have reached their zenith in their cinematic career, can and should think about teaching. It is a most honored profession. Very noble. But they should teach. Not make movies.
You still want to make movies? Stay out of academia. Be part of the industry where everyone suffers for their art (hahah).
If this practice keeps up, film directors who have the right paper credentials and yet cannot find funding from the usual channels, will think that by joining a University, sooner or later, they can persuade the University to fund their films (kononnya as part of teaching the students the art of making movies). If this is not checked, are we going to see funding made available for Dr Mahadi Murad, from UITM, for his next movie? I hope not. There's always funds available for award winners like Mahadi from FINAS (I assume). Only he should not work out of the university's safety zone.
In this instant I therefore applaud Prof Madya Razak Mahidin. He makes movies but he doesn't use the University's funds. We are just wondering where he finds the time to teach and to make movies at the same time (currently he is the most prolific filmmaker in town). To make a movie, you need at least 30 shooting days. He averages three movies a year. That means he is shooting 90 days. Is this unpaid leave or does FACT offer lecturers flexi working hours? I also hope he doesn't make his students work on his private projects and gives them academic marks for their participation in his movie. Not that I am saying this is happening. No. I am just saying that such a practice shouldn't be happening.
So, since Prof Dr Hatta has made his speech and therefore his stand, let us just hope that FACT will produce the writers and filmmakers of the foreseeable future. The problem is, the market is currently controlled by producers like me and others, whom he had just lambasted for making commercial crap.
Hmmmmm

Saturday, February 7, 2009

MALAY FILM STUDIOS JALAN AMPAS SINGAPORE

The founder of the group called Singapore Malay Film Society (in Facebook and Friendster but now with an impressive website www.smfs.sg) left a comment in one of the earlier posts which was about us not considering film as part of our cultural heritage. In response, I would like to post this little trip down memory lane.

I went to Singapore a couple of years ago to help get some pics for my father's autobiography. These were photos of the famous Malay Film Production studios in Jalan Ampas. When I headed there, I'm not really sure what to expect or if the studio still existed. The last time I set foot in the studio was in the mid 60s during the shoot of my father's movie Raja Bersiong.
I took along my family as I planned it during the holidays. When we reached the destination, what I saw was a fence covering the famous entrance to the studio. The address? No 8 Jalan Ampas. Trust Run Run Shaw to find an auspicious address for his studio.

No 8 Jalan Ampas, Singapore. This is where the former MFP Studios were. From this vantage point, the famous Siput coffeeshop used to stand.
I stepped out of the car and stared at the entrance. All locked up. This was the exact junction where once a coffee shop stood - the infamous coffee shop owned by one woman named Siput (no relation to the famous Siput Sarawak). It was here that many actors, including the late Tan Sri P. Ramlee had coffee and played dam or checkers for money.

Now, the junction is empty and nondescript. But I saw what seemed to be a fairly new pillar erected right in front of the fenced gate. I approached it and found that it was actually a signboard built to commemorate the existence of the once famous studio. On it was a photo of my father directing a scene from the movie Raja Bersiong.

I looked through the chained fence and saw the studio which I still remembered clearly. I saw a guard approaching me. He was a Malay guard. When he approached, I asked him politely if I could enter the premises to take the photograph. He refused at first as I had no official permission to do so, but when I mentioned that I was Jamil Sulong's son, he gladly allowed me access to the old studio.

The commemorative plaque to inform any passers by what this place used to be.

A close up of the plaque. Picture is of my father directing a scene from Raja Bersiong, with his loud hailer. Click on the picture to enlarge it and read the citation.
As I entered, I felt strange. Vivid memories popped into my mind. I remembered the area where my parents played badminton with the studio staff. I remembered where the studio boss's office was - he was Mr Kwek.

This building is where studio manager Mr Kwek Jip Chian's office used to be. In a few of P. Ramlee's movies, you can see the building being used as a location.
On the top floor of this building my father and the late P. Ramlee had their offices. You can still see the Shaw logo albeit without the S above the long window on the side of the building.
Blogger standing near his father's old office building. Notice the SILENCE sign on the wall. It lights up when a shoot is going on in the sound studio nearby.

A wider view of the studio. If I am not mistaken, the badminton courts used to be on the right side of this photo.
I walked around and took photos of the mostly dilapidated studio. Sadness overcame me as I wondered why this historical place was not turned into a museum of sorts.

One of the buildings still had the Shaw Brothers logo on it. And in another, film processing equipment still existed! One would have thought that after nearly 50 years, the equipment would have been destroyed or taken away, but no, it was still there. In one of the film processing machine, I can clearly see some celluloid still entwined in between reels. I wonder what movie the celluloid reels were from.

Some of the film processing equipment that I stumbled upon. See the celluloid strips still hanging in the machine.
I wanted to enter the rooms, but was afraid that I had overstayed my welcome. So, I quickly took all the shots I needed and thanked the jaga and left the studio feeling elated and yet despondent at the same time.

As the son of Jamil Sulong, I was glad to have made this journey back to the studio, and as a filmmaker, I felt that I had paid tribute to the place where it (the Malay film industry) all began. My parents were part of this history. Now, so am I.

Friday, February 6, 2009

EMBARASSING SCHOOL ANNUAL PICTURES?

My old classmate, Eugene Chung, sent me a link that had pics of us in school during our Form 5 and Form 6 years. Below are some pics of me and some friends including my juniors. Hehehehe. some of whom you might recognise. To my lady friends, sorry about this. These pics confirm what your average ages are. Hehehe. Click on picture to enlarge.

That's me in Form 6 in 1975. Do you recognise the guy above me? That's my buddy, the famous Rafique Rashid.

This is a Form 5 picture of a class two years my Junior taken in 1977. Check out the pic of Harun Salim Bachik. Hehehe. He is now a top Malay actor and celebrity.

Top left hand corner, Abang Hamzah, now a Captain with the Malaysian Airlines fleet. He was one year my senior in LSPJ.


Above would have been pictures of Elita Asraf and good friend Hatijah Latiff, ex-Assuntarians and ex-LSPJ six formers. They were my juniors in Form 6. Elita is with Public Bank and Hatijah, a succesful remisier. Unfortunately one of them didn't appreciate me putting pic of her on my blog and said it was an insult. So I have decided to take it out.

Many good friends here, mostly have long lost touch. Chee Beng (bottom right) has since sadly left us a quite a few years ago. Aileen used to be the most popular and most demure (wonder where she is right now). Justin was a former police officer turned lawyer and has his own firm today.

This is a Form 5 pic in 1974. Bottom right is a good friend, Rahim who is now a banker. Above him another good friend Nabir, whose late father was once the Kelantan Menteri Besar (Ishak Lotfi). Bari is now a top cop and currently is the boss in Brickfields. Maria Alphonsus, one of my best friends in school, died at an early age in a road accident.

Alan Danker, who was a popular tour guide, passed away last year. Below him is another friend Ronald de Silva, who now has his own advertising agency. My pic is on his left. This is a Form 5 pic (1974). Above me is another close friend, Amer Hamidy, who is an engineer with Air Asia today.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

ARE WE CINEMATIC COWARDS?

Movies have been known to push political agenda of individuals and also countries. For example in the early 40s and 50s – Hollywood churned out movies with the Nazis and Germans as the evil force to world peace. Before that, in the good guy bad guy genre, the white man had the Red Indians as the main screen culprit or foe.

After the war, and with the communist Russians playing havoc with world geopolitics, they then became canon fodder for Hollywood. I believe, the communists were the most easiest and most convenient enemies to create for most Hollywood movies. Not even the Chinese communists were spared as films like The Manchurian Candidate showed how devious the Chinese were or are in trying to destabilize world politics.

The Japanese too weren’t forgotten. If not the Nazis, the slanted devious Japanese stereotypical character became quite a cliché in many Hollywood movies using the Pacific as its canvas. The American Green Berets and the GI Joe’s were the saviors of world peace.

After the cold war, and the so-called death of international espionage, the commies began a slow cinematic death. So who were the next villains in Hollywood’s list? For a while, it was the drug lords from Columbia, and then it was the Mafia.

The Korean War also allowed the Hollywood dreams machine to make more war movies with a new Asian enemy, but somehow that wasn’t as attractive to the moviegoers as they cannot seem to fathom the threat of the North Koreans.

Vietnam began and the Hollywood producers smiled with glee. The unpopular war became their favourite war theme.

The Vietcong became a household word for a truly ruthless group. The Americans were there in Vietnam to fight for peace – to prevent Asia falling to the Domino Principle – one country after the other. The communists again has come to the fore as cinema's most favourite and durable foe.

Then the Vietnam War ended, and the Vietcong became passé. Even Rambo had to forget fighting the Vietcong and help the Mujahideen fight the Russians (back again) in his third outing.

I believe, Rambo 3, was one of the first times Hollywood introduced the Mujahideens to cinema screens. At that moment in time, because the Russians were the bad guys, the US was still friendly with the Mujahideens and they were partners in the fight for freedom.

So, when the Vietnam War ended, and the communist threat fell by the wayside after the fall of Berlin Wall and the CCCP Empire, who shall Hollywood turn to for new bad guys?

The terrorists!!

Yes, they were ideal villains. Especially when they attacked and killed Israelis during the Munich Olympics.

So, the terrorists became the flavor of the month. But note – terrorism has not yet been made synonymous with Islam extremism. This is because terrorism in Europe was the tactics used by IRA and Baaden Meinhof gangs and not the Al Qaeda.

Pre-Al Qaeda Muslim terrorists in the movies were basically radicals from PLO.

Of course, 9/11 became that catalyst for Hollywood. When that happened, Islamic terrorists and Islamic extremism were fair game and instantly became the new and most durable movie bad guy for Hollywood. Even TV has made Islamic terrorists as their favourite bad guy with series like Sleeper Cell and 24 giving Islam (extremists) a very bad rep. Case in point – The Siege, The Peacemaker and True Lies.



However, I am not slighting Hollywood at all for its current ‘anti-Islam’ stance – its makes money, makes good drama and gung-ho Americans, already inundated by one sided media reports of Muslims as the world’s worse people, readily lap up what they dish out.

Remember Kingdom of Heaven? The lavish Crusades and Islam movie directed by Ridley Scott? The movie was so sympathetic to Saladin, the it left a bad taste in Western moviegoers so much so that it did not do good box office.

(Note: One can wonder what has happened to the multi-million Ringgit animated movie Saladin or Sallahuddin produced by MDEC. Maybe they cannot sell the movie to a Western market who do not want to see the Crusaders as bad guys and a Muslim hero like Saladin).

Especially when you know who controls Hollywood – the ‘bergs and the ‘steins.

Hollywood is not the only film industry that create and fictionalise enemies from other countries as a threat to their national security. Other film industries around the world also create convenient enemies in their movies.


The Indians cannot be blamed if they make movies with anti-Pakistani themes. The South Koreans too cannot be condemned if the war movies they make portray the North Koreans look like the really bad guys the world media make them to be.

I am sure, if there is a political Palestinian movie produced, they too would make the Israelis as the bad guys. And who can blame them?

"Now, this is where I consider Malaysians as cinematic cowards. We are so politically correct that we cannot make movies that belittle or accuse other countries of doing bad things. No? If you exclude historical movies, you try naming me one movie that has a villain with foreign origins.

Unless it is a war movie, we can show the Japanese being bad guys. That’s it. Its history, so it’s safe. However, if we were to make a contemporary fictional piece that slanders any other country, that’s a no-no. It doesn't matter if Hollywood has in a few movies refer to our country is various unsavory ways.

Is there anyone out there who is willing to produce a movie that shows a thriller about American Intelligence undermining and orchestrating our political arena?

Can we make a movie showing how Singapore’s version of CIA, infiltrating Malaysia’s corporate world in order to control our country’s economy?

Can we make a movie showing Thailand army’s atrocities in Southern Thailand and a group of concerned Malaysians going to Yala to help Southern Thai Muslims fight such atrocities?

Are we allowed to make a fictional movie about the Indonesian government knowingly allowing criminals, including Muslim radicals and extremists, to illegally enter our country to wreck havoc on our social fabric, much like what Castro did when he sent criminals to the US to do exactly the same thing?

Can we do that? Remember, this is fiction okay? So, we are basically taking cinematic liberty to make our country’s neighbours or another country as bad guys.

Is there a rule that says we cannot have Singaporeans, Thais, Indons or even Americans as the bad guy in our movies? How can we make conspiracy movies if we cannot have a viable and a believable foreign villain in our movie?

If Hollywood can turn the face of Muslims into something villainous why not Muslims do the same? It’s not as if all Americans are nice guys.

I remember once making a telemovie for RTM (about ten years ago) called Yazan. I wanted to do a CIA or spy movie that I haven’t seen anyone do for local TV (it was also a kind of tribute to my father's secret agent movie Gerak Kilat which starred Jins Shamsudin as Jefri Zain). Yazan, played by Ebby Saiful, is supposed to be an agent of a special counter-terrorist task force unit that is so secret no one officially acknowledges its assistance.

Yazan was assigned to protect a Muslim leader from the Philippines, who was in Malaysia in discussions with Malaysian leaders. Obviously, there is a party that wants to assassinate the Filipino Muslim leader on Malaysian soil and create an international incident and also to embarrass Malaysia for hosting negotiations with a man who is leading a Muslim uprising in the Philippines.

Sofea Jane, plays a Filipino secret agent (I can’t remember her character’s name) assigned to protect this Muslim leader. Both agents had to work together to identify and neutralise the threat.

The telemovie was rejected outright by RTM because it contains too many politically incorrect subject matters.

I was quite shattered as I had spent quite a lot of money on the production including importing proper movie ammunition and hiring authentic movie guns and rifles for the action sequences. I did this because I read somewhere that John Woo gives each of his characters a unique gun-flash colourand sound. I wanted to do that, and only with special movie ammo can we get the correct gun-flash. Each bullet was about RM8 so we were actually counting the number of shots in the movie.

However, we showed it to TV3 and they wanted it but with slight changes. We must take out all audio references to the Philippines. We did that.

Since then I never ventured into that genre again, just in case it gets rejected. So I am a coward.

Nevertheless, when are we going to to be brave enough to do that kind of movies or TV series? Don’t you think it’ll be change from the current storylines you see in the cinemas and TV? Or are we all afraid?

Monday, February 2, 2009

NEW DOLBY DIGITAL SOUNDMIX STUDIO IN FINAS

I went to the launch of the multi-million ringgit dolby digital soundmix studio in Finas last night (Sunday). It was officially launched by our Deputy Prime Minister Dato' Seri Najib Tun Razak. As with many entertainment industry launches involving high ranking officials, the bash was quite impressive with the dinner accompanied by live performances from Amy Search and Annuar Zain. Fullamak!!! Plenty of colorful dances and not-so-bad beriani. I still remember with much fondness the magnificent launching of the E-Village in Dengkil many many years ago. That project was supposed to have been the catalyst for Malaysian movies going global, but everyone knows what happened to the multi-million ringgit project after the launch right?
FINAS has also declared the facility as the first digital soundmix studio in Malaysia. Wow! Wonder what the audio-post facilities like Synchrosound, AdAudio, Betarecs, Kings Studio, APV and the sound studios in TV3 and Astro are? Analog?
Oh okay, it's Dolby! So okay, justified mahhh!
The studio is quite massive - lots of wide corridors and spacious rooms. I just managed to see the main soundmix room - with a state of the art soundmix console - very impressive.
I also got a glimpse of the main-frame room - counted four G5s. Impressive.
That's it.
I didn't get to see the recording room and the foley room. So I cannot say whether or not those rooms are also impressive.
The cost is also impressive. When first mooted I heard it costs RM30 million. Yesterday, I heard someone say it was RM50 million. Whatever lah... it's a multi-million ringgit facility. And it's the government's way of showing that they support the local film industry...very impressive.
I have actually written about this studio facility before - and I remarked then that at RM30 million (and this figure does not take into account the annual opex), I shudder to think about the ROI (Return of Investment) scenario. Then I heard them saying that it's the government's gift to the industry, and therefore, they are not looking to make a profit out of it...yeayyyyy!!! I hope they take this spirit further and let us use the facility for free.
I mean as a producer, who would use it? We haven't even seen a Rate Card.
Who is going to be behind the consoles? A civil servant with a three month training or a genuine sound engineer with a degree in film sound and with years of experience in sound design and direction? Or an expat who fears going back home and losing his expat allowances and perks?
How good will the total service be? Would you risk your film in a brand new facility like this? Or do you still send your films to Bangkok or India where the rates are competitive and the service world class and you know the people behind it?
Let's take the Foley Studio for example. For those who don't know what a foley studio is, it is where we add in physical sound effects (when such sound effects are not readily available on the sound effects library).
When I did my foley in Hongkong, the room was full of stuff - from mini-doors (for opening and closing door cound effects), to dozens of male and female shoes, to gravel and sand, wooden floor panels and a multitude of textiles. All these to match the action they see on the screen.
These foley artistes look at the scene one time, and then they prepare whatever stuff they need to match the action on screen and record it in real time - synchronised. And these guys were good. They usually get it the first time, but sometimes, they request to do the sounds a second time - just to make sure. There will also be times, multiple layers of different sounds are synched in.
Now remember, these guys work fast because the more work they do the more money they get. Time is of the essence to them and to the producer. And they do it day in day out, and for most of them, it's like second nature.
I wonder if we will have any foley artistes that are of that standard - professional and fast. We shall see.
If they do, it will be impressive.
But then again who will be the first to try?
Producers, I believe, will still keep on going to Bangkok, Chennai and Hongkong, because the studios there are service oriented. They know our needs, they know how to market their services. And it is a one stop facility - from digital audio to sweetening to color grading, to kinetransfer or telecine, to special effects, opticals and graphics right up to the A Prints and release prints. All under one roof. Senang kerja. Can we do this at FINAS? I'm not so sure.
But we must support our local industry, so let's see what the cost of doing digital audio post there will be. If it costs more than the cost of doing the same thing in Bangkok, I doubt the scenario will change. But if those who receive loans and grants from the government for the movies are forced to use the facilities, than maybe, there will be a hive of activity soon at FINAS.
However, a week's work in finishing your movie in Bangkok offers various other perks that are very hard to ignore.
Let's take another look at the cost of the completing the new digital studio.
Just look at the simple mathematics.
A producer spends an average of RM50,000 on audio post - digital or analog. That's about it. Any more spent on it, would and may cut into the profitability of the film itself.
Now, if that's what producers spend on sound in films, it will take 600 films to recoup the RM30 million initial investment of the studio. If local producers make 30 films a year, it will therefore take 10 years to recoup.
Now if only ten producers use the studio per year, it will instead take 30 years to complete. By then, the technology might be obsolete. And I will be 80.
Now, where do we find the producers to make 30 movies a year? If we can find these producers, where do these producers screen their films?
Thirty local titles means an average of 2.5 movies per month or a new movie screened in the cinemas every fortnight.
Even if we have these screens, where are the moviegoers? Are there enough people who would be willing to see two local movies per month every month for a year? This means they would have to spend around RM300 on movies (this cost escalates when you factor in their dates and the amount of popcorn and coke they consume when watching movies).
Whatever or however you look at it, the numbers and statistics send shivers down the producers spine. And you know, times are difficult at best.
Worse still, if you make a movie now, you will end up in the screening queue, and if you are film number 30, you have to wait a year before you can screen your movie and get your returns (if people decide to watch your movie lah).
Heck, never mind lah, at least the film will have good sound - Dolby some more!!
Oh yes, by the way, did you know that if you use the Dolby logo on your movie and posters you have to pay a licence fee? The last I checked its about RM18,000 for the territory of Malaysia. If your movie travel across borders, the fee increases exponentially. Interesting isn't it? Too bad many local producers don't know about this little matter.
Now, would Wayang or Antoo Fighter or even Budak Kelantan have fared better if they had Dolby sound? If they did, now THAT would be impressive!
TRIVIA: First ever Malaysian movie to use Dolby Surround is Ranjau Sepanjang Jalan directed by Jamil Sulong and produced by Kay/Sarimah Films Sdn Bhd.