Monday, June 30, 2008

The very first scene in "Talentime".

1 Morning. Int. Exam hall.

Close-up of the hands of a Malay boy (Hafiz). On his table, we see a test paper. The questions are in multiple choice answer format. The boy, instead of answering the questions, is presently carving an eraser with a cutter blade. He is shaping it into a cube.

Loose shot of a teacher (Cikgu Tan) walking around the hall to see that the students are behaving themselves. He does a Hitlerian walk.

We hear the occasional cough of a student. Cikgu Tan turns sharply and casts an accusatory glance around the hall, turns back again, and resumes his walk.

Some of the boys and girls look at each other and giggle at Cikgu Tan’s peculiar behaviour.

Just then, another school teacher, a stout Malay man named Cikgu Anuar, taps on the entrance of the hall, to catch Cikgu Tan’s attention. Cikgu Tan turns to the students and announces:

Ten-hut! Buat kerja sendiri! Jangan tiru orang.
Saya keluar sekejap! At eeeaaase!

He steps out in haste to meet with Cikgu Anuar.

Back to Hafiz. Once done carving out the cube, he uses a marker to put dots on the faces of the cube. He is turning it into a dice! When the dice is ready, he tosses it. The upward face has three dots, so he shades the answer “C” on his test paper.

Vincent, a Chinese boy sitting nearby, watches Hafiz with suspicion and disgust.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Malaysia wins her first ever Gold Lion for film in Cannes.

For the first time in the history of Malaysian advertising, a Malaysian television commercial was awarded a Gold Lion at the Cannes Advertising Festival, 2008.

That commercial was made for Petronas, and is entitled "Tan Hong Ming In Love".

Another commercial in the same campaign, "Race", was given the Bronze Lion in the same category.

This clocks up the number of awards this Petronas campaign has won internationally to 21, making it one of the most awarded advertising campaign, from anywhere in the world, in the last 12 months.

Alhamdulillah. I am both stunned and humbled by what God can do.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Choosing colours for a film.

This is how we handle colours for our shoots. It is partly inspired by some film literature we read years ago. One particular book described the way the Coen brothers dealt with colours for their 1984 film, "Blood Simple".

Firstly, we constantly remind ourselves that the two most important aspects of a film are 1) the story, and 2) the characters. It sounds almost too simple, but believe me, it isn't.

Remember, every scene tells a story, and every character has a story behind him/her.

We also choose locations carefully because they too tell a story. They each have a history, sometimes dating back before we were even born. And how closely or loosely we frame the scene depends on the feeling we want to impart.

For example, in Sepet, we wanted Orked's family home always to look spacious and airy. This was not a random decision, but a reflection of her family's personality.

The staircase behind Maggie's bedroom, on the other hand, was dank, sleazy and hidden. So that when the half-dressed Jason descended that staircase, there was a feeling that they had just commited something forbidden.

The flat we chose for our Singapore commercial was extremely small. This was important, to show that the father was by no means wealthy.

However, at the same time, we needed to show that there was plenty of love in that flat.

To fulfill these conflicting requirements, we picked a flat that was small, but had happy motifs on its walls. We also removed most of the furniture, keeping it relatively bare and breezy.

As it so happened, the motifs on the walls were largely green. Green, if suitably light, is a very calming colour that can give the illusion of space.

We knew that the girl in the story had to appear a little feisty, temperamental, and spoilt. That's when we decided to attach red things to her, starting with her school bag, followed by the shoes she chose, and the bra she wanted.

As we were shooting the commercial, we saw in the playback monitor that the angry little spot of red was often enveloped by green surroundings. This pleased us because it gave a feeling that something small and fiery was enveloped by something vast, calm, and benevolent.

In other words, it was precisely the way Kenny Mah noted in his comment. (Very insightful of you, Kenny.)

Towards the end of our pre-production, just a few days before the shoot, my costume artist approached me and asked, "Would you like the teenage girl's school uniform to be blue or green?"

I smiled.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

My first full-fledged commercial for Singapore.

Early this year, the Singapore Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports commissioned me to direct a public service commercial for them.

The objective was to stress the importance of the family.

When I asked them why me, they said they had been following my work for Petronas, and felt I was suitable for the project at hand.

It was such an honour to be approached by the Singapore government that I immediately agreed to do the job. The script was co-written by Moon of MHz Films and me.

About a month ago, after I had shot the film, they did a citizen research on it.

Now, the average Singaporean commercial will get the go-ahead if it scored around 5 or 6/10. If a commercial scored a 7/10, this would be considered a sure-winner.

The commercial we shot, the one you see here, scored a walloping 8.9/10! Alhamdulillah.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Who will play the lead girl in "Talentime"?

Due to an unfortunate clash of schedules, I won't have Sharifah Amani, my beloved Audrey Hepburn, to play the heroine's role of Melur in our next film.

But, alhamdulillah, I've found someone.

She's supremely intelligent, very bubbly, has a wonderful sense of humour, and best of all, very humble and down-to-earth.

Who is she? I guess you'll find out soon enough.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The original script ending of "Mukhsin".


Orked runs and runs. Makcik Senah's house is quite a distance away, so by the time she reaches it, she's panting. She circles the house. All the doors and windows are closed.

Finally she gives up and sits on the front doorsteps, wiping the sweat on her brow and catching her breath. Her gaze falls on a very tall tree nearby. She runs up to it and surveys the height of it. It's very tall.

Remembering what Mukhsin taught her, she climbs it and keeps on climbing until she reaches a branch strong enough to hold her weight.

From up there, she sees the entire neighbourhood. She sees the boys playing koba. Then the girls playing brides and groom. At last she sees, further on, a taxi. She appears excited, quietly wondering if Mukhsin is in that taxi.

Finally a hand comes out from the window and rides the wind.


Orked looks close to tears, but doesn’t actually cry.


Orked walks with a heavy heart, slowly making her way home.


A small pick-up truck is parked by the road in front of Orked’s parents’ house. Some men are carrying a brand new sofa into the house. Orked’s parents stand around the front yard, admiring it. Uncle Sarip (who sang "Ne Me Quitte Pas") is there too.

A-very nice. A-very very… nice. (Then to Orked) Oh, how are you, my dears?

Hey! Hi, baby. Where have you been?

Orked doesn't answer. She looks like she’s in a daze.

Suddenly, from the back of the house, we hear Kak Yam hollering to everyone. Everyone, except Orked, now rushes to the back.

Now we hear everyone hollering Orked’s name. She turns her head in their direction and slowly makes her way there.


As Orked approaches the back of the house, the others fall silent and beam at her knowingly.

Abah steps aside to reveal Orked’s cat, Bujang, standing behind him. It looks thinner, dirtier and weaker, but there it has found its way home. The neighbour whose chick was killed by Bujang is squatting down stroking its back.

Seeing this, Orked covers her face. Mak pulls her to her chest. Orked sobs her heart out on it.



Wednesday, June 04, 2008

An eye opener for screenplay writers.

In one of the Tora-san films that I saw recently, the lead character Tora-san befriended a famous clay sculptor.

One night, while they were getting drunk together, the sculptor spoke at some length about how he approached his craft.

It was the best, most liberating piece of advice I had ever heard for screenplay writing.

It was written by the great Yoji Yamada.

"While I knead clay, form is spontaneously born. Thinking about what form to adopt, or what colour to use, makes little sense. I wait until a form appears. But spontaneous forms don't come easily. While wanting to make good ceramics, or waiting for the praise of others, our work is poor. The secret is in digging. Something beautiful is hiding in the clay. It's asking us to dig it out... begging us."

There it was. The hair on my arms stood on end; I kept skipping the dvd back, again and again, to the little soliloquy made by that drunken old scultpor.

Whatever we're doing, be it medical research or aeronautics or sculpting clay or even writing a script for a film, there's one thing we would do well to remember.

And that is, our job is not to invent, but to search. To "dig" until God's truth and beauty reveal themselves.


Monday, June 02, 2008

The original script ending of "Sepet".

54. Inside father’s car, on the way to the airport.

Mum urges Orked to open the envelope. Orked takes out from the envelope, a letter and a cassette. She slips the cassette into the player and turns it on. Home recording piano solo of ‘Belaian Jiwa’ comes on. Orked is visibly moved by the song. She proceeds to open the letter. The music carries through over the next scene.

55. Same time. Ext. The road. (as per letter)

We hear the music, and over it we hear Jason’s words in his letter to Orked. We see him putting on his helmet and getting on his bike. He begins his journey to Keong’s house. He smiles to himself and looks excited. He can’t wait to get there.

My darling Orked. God is answering my prayers. Maggie has decided not to have the baby. She said she won’t destroy her future because of one stupid man. I guess that means me. Orked, I don’t want to talk about her anymore. I want to talk about us. I tried to write a poem in Mandarin about you. I wanted to make you understand how I feel.

As the letter continues, we see Jason make a turn through some back alleys. We see some men in two cars catch sight of him, signal to each other, and start tailing him.

JASON: (continues)
But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t. I tried for days. The more I wrote, the more empty my words sounded. At first I felt panic. I couldn’t sleep for many nights. But then, the panic would go away everytime I saw your face, or just heard your voice. I used to write poetry because to me, it was like writing letters to God; to tell someone I couldn’t see, how I felt inside. Then finally, God replied. With a poem more beautiful than anything I had ever written. He gave me you.

We see one car follow Jason into the alley. Realising he’s being followed, Jason speeds towards the end of the alley. The other call pulls up on that side. Jason brakes. We see him flung through the air as the men come out of their cars, whip out their guns and open fire at him.

You are my poetry from God, Orked. Let me hear your voice. Please call me. I will be waiting. Just call me, Orked, so I can sleep peacefully again. Your sayang, Jason.

Jason is lying on the ground. His body is bullet-ridden and bloody, but he’s still alive. He is breathing heavily and mutters something unintelligeable under his breath. His eyes just stare at the sky. As we move in closer to his face, we see a tear streaming down the side of his temple.

Jimmy steps out of a car. His head is partly wrapped in bandage. He walks up to Jason with a gun in his hand and puts the nozzle on one of his eyes.

Cut to far end of the alley as some policemen step out of their car just in time to see, from a distance, Jimmy hover over Jason’s body and pull the trigger.

56. Same time. (Continue scene 54) Inside Orked’s father’s car.

Orked puts down the letter, puts her arms around her mother and cries her eyes out. Her mother looks to their father as if asking for his help.

Father is visibly moved by the sincerity of his daughter’s tears.

He speaks loudly so as to be heard above his daughter’s weeping.

Look, I have a really bad feeling about all this. I don’t know how to put it in any other way, but I don’t like the idea of you going out with a boy involved with gangsters and who made a girl pregnant.

He pauses for a moment to take a deep breath and organise his thoughts. Orked stops sobbing and listens. He continues.

You are my only child, Ked. All I want is for you to be safe and happy. Because I don’t know if I’ll be around long enough to see you through. I know jodoh is in God’s hands, and that as a human being, ultimately I have no idea what’s good and what’s not for you. But... I really, really don’t think this one particular boy is the right one for you. I’m sorry.

Orked starts to sob quietly. Suddenly, mother looks at father as if she has just seen a ghost.

What did you just say, sayang?

What? I’m sorry?

No, no. Before that.

I don’t think...

No. You said... I really, really don’t think this one particular boy...

MAK/ABAH (together): the right one for you.

Those were the EXACT words aruah Abah said to me, when I told him that I wanted to marry you, sayang.

Orked suddenly stops sobbing and mutters “Yin-fen” under her breath. Her mother turns around and speaks to Orked as calmly as she can, slowly and deliberately. She wipes the tears off her own face, then off Orked’s face, as she speaks.

Listen to me. I have been speaking to Jason many times over the phone these last few days. Yam too. He told us not to tell you. He also said that he wasn’t sure if you loved him because you never really said so. He’s still waiting for your call. My advice would be that if you really love him, this will be your last chance to tell him in a long, long time.

Orked looks at her mother in a way that could melt any heart.

Mak. Please may I borrow your phone...

57. Alley where Jason was shot.

The gangsters have been handcuffed and are being ushered into Black Marias. Paramedics covers Jason’s body and carry it off on a stretcher. We see policemen talking to their walkie-talkies and we hear static and people taking from the other end.

Out of the blue, a mobile phone rings. A policeman picks up Jason’s blood-stained pouch lying on the ground, opens it, and takes out the phone. He answers it.

Cut to a far shot of the policeman talking to the phone.

58. Same time. Ext. Outside Keong’s house.

Keong is sitting in the hot sun, by the drain outside the family’s terrace house. He is waiting for Jason.

He looks across the street and sees the little Chinese boy and the little Malay girl from Scene 1 in a playground, sharing a swing.

Keong looks down at the cast on his arm. He sees Jason’s handwriting on it. Keong bends his arm a little to read it. It says:

“I'm sorry. (signed) Jason.”

59. Day. Int. Living room of jason’s shophouse.

Close-up of Jason’s poetry book. It is open. We hear Jason’s voice start reading from the page.

Bless this little heart,
this white soul that has won the kiss of heaven.
He loves the light of the sun,
He loves the sight of his mother’s face.
He has not learnt to hate the dust, and love the gold.
Clasp him to your heart and bless him.
He has come into this land of 100 crossroads.
I know not how he chose you from the crowd,
came to your door, grasped your hand to ask his way.

We slowly pull away from the book as Jason’s voice continues to read. As we go further from the book, we see that there’s no Jason, just his voice.

He followed you, laughing and talking, without a doubt
in his heart.
Keep his trust, lead him straight, and bless him.
Lay your hand on his head,
and pray that though the waves beneath him grow
yet the breath from above him will fill his sails and
waft him to the haven of peace.

We pull further until we reach Jason’s mother lying on the sofa. She’s sleeping peacefully. We close in on her face as Jason’s voice completes the poem.

Forget him not in your hurry,
let him come to your heart and bless him...
Goodnight, mah.

Cut to black. Roll credits.