Straight Talk from the Producer
Malaysian independent producer Lorna Tee produced filmmaker James Lee's award winning ‘Beautiful Washing Machine' a DV feature from Malaysia that recently won the Best ASEAN Feature Film Award at the Bangkok International Film Festival in January this year. She is now working with acclaimed Hong Kong film production, investment and distribution company, Focus Films. Juan Foo managed to catch up with her at the Hong Kong Film Market to tap her brains and views on the Malaysian independent film circuit.
(1) Please tell us about yourself and what did you do before producing.
I went to university to do my education degree and be a teacher. Upongraduation, I worked for Actors Studio (a theatre company in KL), teaching children drama. Later I started working on theatre productionsin all areas - stage management, production management, front of house/ ushers, director's assistant, technical crew to finally
producing theatre productions in KL and Singapore.
(2) Were you from a film school ? Do you think having a film education makes any difference in terms of being a filmmaker?
I never had any formal film education – I must confess I do not even watch films religiously but I think the medium's potential is amazing ! I learn by reading, listening and instinct.
I think going to film school gives you some insight in terms of the technicalities and also history and theory but some of the best filmmakers dead or alive never went near a film school. I say it's a lot to do with the vision, drive and intrinsic build up of a filmmaker
that makes all the difference.
(3) From your point of view, what would be the traits of a good independent producer?
Resourcefulness and a tinge of insanity ! <Laughs> We need to get a film made sometimes with just the cash you have in one's account (or your credit limit) and the goodwill of the people you know or will get to know after the film. You need to have faith that the film will be a piece of work you can be proud of. If the film is well-received and gets some money back to pay your debts, and maybe dinner with your cast and crew, you can go to sleep soundly at night.
(4) Define what is the role of an independent producer, in general, and specifically in Malaysia ?
That must be the money and putting the nuts and bolts together. An indie producer must also be a jack of all trades. Its good news if you know people in the industry but if you don't, then you must get to know people and network. The producer also has to try to get the film seen by as many people as possible, especially people who will be able to buy, sell or promote your film further.
(5) What attracted you to produce James' ‘Beautfiul Washing Machine' ?
I've known James for a while now - and have always marveled at his tenacity to get his films made. When he asked me to produce ‘Beautiful Washing Machine', I said let's look at the script first. Next thing I knew I was sold because for me, it was a kind of a twisted fairy tale. Plus James had managed to persuade Teoh Gay Hian, whom I believe is Malaysia's Best Director of Photography, so I told him to count me in.
(6) Tell us some production details pertaining 'Beautiful' things like number of crew, shooting days, juggling budgets. How was it all put together?
We shot on DV and we were lucky that Panasonic so generously loaned us DVX-100. We shot for 12 days over Christmas and New Year around the Klang Valley. Our locations included the house for actors, supermarket, a tacky boutique in Chinatown, a cheap motel with real dodgy business, some streets of Petaling Jaya, offices of where I had last worked, and deserted parking lots. If you think about it, its not that many locations but a great change from James' last film 'Room to Let'; which was shot in one location and small crew.
We had around 5 crew, even our Director of Photography did his own lighting too! We had a compact but efficient crew. The cast were also patient, so budgets were managed OK. The post production was done courtesy of production house Red communications. Sound post was completed at the courtesy of Add Audio. Again, I feel we were bloody lucky with this project to have the support.
(7) Malaysia has a strong TVC and TV programme production industry. What are some of the reasons why the feature film side is still lagging behind ?
Many people in the TV commercials and TV industry are comfortable with their status quo and making a feature film is a step that will put them in a different spot and expose them on a different level. That is not something many people have the courage to pursue. In addition, feature films have mainly not done well beyond our own shores cause of the lack of international sales and distribution information and trends, and the aspiration to do something beyond what sells in our own backyard.
(8) Is the film festival circuit important to the filmmaker and the film itself? Some people would argue that ‘film festival' films are non-commercial and cannot cross over. What do you think ?
If anyone can see the number of people attending Sundance this year, with the number of sponsors (official and those non official ones illegally making their presence at the festival), and many other festivals, you will see just how massive the festival circuit has become. Even the big film studios use it as a platform, let alone the independents. The media and acquisition people use festival to spot new talents and new products to write about and acquire. Most festivals have a market attached and that is another plus factor for any film looking for distribution. In a nutshell, festivals are now part and parcel of marketing a film.
(9) What are you involved in now, currently ?
I am currently based with Focus Films (HK) working on a exciting new regional project which will see the production of 6 new features by new and first time directors. I am also planning a research trip for Arts Network Asia to go to Jakarta and study a trend of non-governmental support for the arts there. It never ends, I am also planning to produce the next feature by Ho Yu Hang, whom I believe has the potential to do a lot more positive assertion of change in the film industry in Malaysia.
(10) Looking to the future, what are some of the things that you would hope to see be changed or improved?
Yes, we would like to see more funds and support from the government and also corporate sector to give the boost the huge talent pool in Malaysia ... yet, for me, what is also urgent is the need to do more in terms of building a bigger audience base that will not just watch big studio films with fancy marketing campaigns.
The mainstream industry in Malaysia also needs to re-evaluate the type of films made and have more of a responsibility to churn films with better production values and more well developed scripts, rather than just resorting to stars and formula to gain access to the middle classes, whom are shunning local cinema due to the perception that a local film is just not good enough.
by Juan Foo