Advice to the next generation of filmmakers
Ishizaka: There were lots of interesting key words from our three guests. They are directors and producers but also educators in filmmaking, which is another big thing they do. For example, Mr. Khoo, you give young people the opportunity to present their films and you are also planning an omnibus film using young directors. Meanwhile, Mr. Nugroho, you have started up the Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival in your home town of Jogjakarta and also established a film school with your son-in-law, director Ifa Isfansyah. Last but not least, Mr. Mendoza, you always make a behind-the-scenes movie for your film and utilizes it for educational purposes, such as workshops or lectures. So I think you all feel very strongly about teaching or educating young people in addition to your own film making activities. Do you have any advice for the next generation in creating films in the future?
Khoo: I seriously feel that in the digital age, anyone can be a filmmaker. With a phone you can tell a story, and it is how well you want to deliver it or how differently you want to deliver it, so flexibility is the point. It is a time when things are achievable because the production costs have been cut down a lot compared to once upon a time when there was only 35mm-film to shoot, with which it was really expensive to make a feature film. Look at One Cut of the Dead, and see how big it has gone on a very small budget. Also, with streaming or all these different OTT platforms, they are always looking for contents, so now is a very positive time for aspiring filmmakers who want to do it. But I always think that films cannot be made alone, you need a team. So it is very important that you have this little network of friends that support one another and move forward.
Mendoza: The first thing I ask anyone who wants to make a film is "Why do you want to make a film?" There could be different reasons and each of them is valid, but you just have to identify the reason behind and know it yourself. It will be your path in creating films. If you want to make either an art film or a commercial film or a genre film, nothing is wrong. You can be all at the same time because it is just a matter of choice. Once you identify yourself, be good at that. Then how can you do well? You just have to study. Like what Eric said, anybody can make a film and the technology is here, so make use of it but don't use it as an excuse. At the end of the day, you have to provide not just the story but the right content. And filmmaking, just like any other profession, is an endless studying. You have to keep on learning and re-learning.
Nugroho: In this digital era, so many things are lost. Your home address will be lost and instead you will only have an email address or Application account. But you will never lose your own signature. It means everyone has different talents and has abilities to develop different perspectives of filmmaking, distribution, and the quality of the film. I don't know what is functional and what is not, but because we lose the borders by the applications, the young filmmakers will be traveling in the new map where there are so many paradoxes between effectiveness and efficiency, and discover something. In my three-decade experience, I think the new map always brings a wonderful journey to you.
Ishizaka: Thank you very much. Now I would like to accept questions from the floor.
Audience: In your countries, I assume there are not many grant programs for filmmaking. How did you manage your films financially, especially in your early days? And regarding young filmmakers, could you give advice on how to find the funding to make their films?
Khoo: As for Singapore, we owe a lot to Mr. Philip Cheah, who created the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) about three decades ago. A component called the Singapore Short Film Competition was launched and I remember that a lot of filmmakers of the early stage would submit films to this competition. At the time, it was very important for them that festival programmers from other countries came to the festival to watch Southeast Asian films. So I started off also with the SGIFF, submitting my short film in 1994, and they called me and said "Your short film has been banned, but it is allowed to compete in the competition because the judges are foreigners." So that little short film entitled Pain achieved the Special Achievement Prize, which meant that Kodak sponsored the post-production facilities for the next short film. But I thought I have been making quite a few short films and it was the time to do a feature film, so I went to the sponsors and said, "Why don't you just give me a bit more and then I will make a feature film and credit all of you." So that's how I made Mee Pok Man (1995). The great thing about Mee Pok Man is - because at the time, there wasn't really anything happening in Singapore. We had a big film industry in the 1950s with the Shaw brothers, but by the 1970s it was dead. So the film was invited to Berlin, Venice, and other film festivals, and we managed to get international distribution as well. It also did pretty well in Singapore because the film was very novel at that time, with dialogues and languages that are uniquely Singaporean, because on television it is very sterile, you don't really get to see the real Singapore. So that paved the way for other filmmakers to start making short and ultimately feature films. And after I directed Twelve Storeys (1997), I realized that we needed some support from the government, and we wrote a white paper that resulted in the Singapore Film Commission in 1998.
So now it is really good. There are subsidies, and it is always good to help the specific cultures of the countries. It is also important that there is cinema in Singapore, but having produced for author filmmakers like Boo Junfeng and Royston Tan, I really feel that Singapore's population is very small and now it is essentially 6 million people, in which only 3 million are permanent residents. So the author films that come out of Singapore have to be done on a very tight budget, and then they have to be represented by international sales agents and get into festivals with a market to do all the sales. So it is also very important for my company Zhao Wei Films to produce commercial films besides the young directors' films. We also make horror movies and commercial films that work for Singapore or Malaysia where is a certain audience.
For me, cinema is always a kind of storytelling. It is still amazing that there have been talented filmmakers like Yeo Siew Hua and Kirsten Tan coming up from a country like Singapore with small population, and so it is important that the Singapore Film Commission carries on. And right now they even have a new scheme that Singaporean producers can collaborate with Southeast Asian film directors to broaden the scope. I think all this is important and good.
Mendoza: For the young filmmakers who really want to make their first film, I think you can always find a way because there are different ways. My first film actually was made by accident. A friend of mine approached me and asked if I wanted to make a film and I said yes. But the money was not enough, so I funded it with my own money, which I had earned in the advertising industry. Of course, nothing came back after that. But it didn't stop me making films because I already realized what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and that filmmaking is not just a career, but it is my destiny. It would be very difficult for one without a name, but by all means I had to find ways to make films. And so with that experience, now we are starting to create a name for the new filmmakers.
Also there are institutions that would support you, and now in the Philippines we have numbers of festivals that give seed money, about 20,000 to 40,000 USD, to support filmmakers to make films, and not a lot of countries or festivals do that. In my little festival, Synag Maynila Film Festival, we give about 40,000 USD to Filipino films---that could be the start to make your own film. We receive a lot of submissions from young filmmakers every year, and if the story is interesting, then we give them the seed money. It is up to them to look for other producers to provide the rest of the funds.
The institutions or festivals might give you not enough money, but then you could make a film that is not expensive. You prioritize content, the story more than the form. Of course in Philippines we have a different culture in making films. You can borrow from your friends or your family, or you could also pay for the rental camera later if you were not able to pay then, which is not okay anymore nowadays. (Laughter.) The thing is, you will try to find a way to make a film and you don't get tired of that. Now the Film Development Council of the Philippines is actually promoting Philippines cinema to the world to attract investors and filmmakers to make films in the Philippines, and is also trying to give financial grants to filmmakers. So you can also make use of that. You can always find ways to put everything together and make a film.
Nugroho: I think the survival of filmmakers is something wonderful, even if it is not so easy. I always believe that I am a traditional farmer of tree planting. If I bring the trees, I must know the land where I am going to plant them, and if I choose the right land or right sand for my trees, then the roots can look for the water to make the trees grow. In the same way, if you know very well about the idea of your film and the ideas are good, the roots could find the water---the funding. This is important. Among nineteen of my films, only two were produced by film companies and others were produced by different sources. 30% of them are funded by non-government organizations (NGO). For example, if my film is about social politics, then I look for an NGO for the majority of the funding; meanwhile, if my film is about anti-radicalism, then I will look for an NGO with the issue of anti-radicalism. But if my film is about artistic values, like Opera Jawa or Setan Jawa, then I must look for funding from foreign institutions that focus on that kind of issue upon the artistic level. On the other hand, two years ago when I made a very pop film, I looked for a film company. I think the search for funding is a never-ending story, but you must believe and trust. I believe that I am a cultivating farmer who brings many seeds or trees - ideas of art, and just works. Don't think too much about the time or the success, and just wait for the growth. If it does not grow, I take care. Then maybe the idea can get funding after four years, or maybe after one month or in two days. Everything is unpredictable, so you must be predictable in your spirit, unfinished spirit. There are many ways to get the funding, so don't be dismayed by unsuccessful matters or otherwise you will be tired. Counting your progress is like growing trees, from a small seed grows something that becomes beautiful. And if you love it, then the trees will develop very well.
Audience: What advice would you give to Japanese filmmakers who are willing to work with filmmakers from other countries?
Mendoza: Like the Filipino crew, you have to adjust in a way and at the same time learn to be appreciative of their talents or of their abilities. Filipinos are known to be fast workers and they do everything you ask them, and they don't complain about overtime salary because we don't have unions in the Philippines. Sometimes other people can be abusive and take advantage of that, even in our own country. On the other hand, when you work with a Japanese crew, for instance, everything is so precise and you learn from that. But at the same time, the Japanese also have to be more spontaneous and not too stiff. They often panic when things are not done as they should have been according to the plan. At the end of the day, you just have to adjust and with that, things will go well.
Ishizaka: Today we were able to hear valuable stories from our guests from many different perspectives, so we really appreciate that. Thank you very much.
[On July 3, 2019 at Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre Gallery 1]
The report of the symposium part 1 is available on the page below.
Symposium: "Towards Global Human Resources Development for the Next-Generation of Filmmakers"
Moderator: Kenji Ishizaka
Asian Future Programming Director, Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) / Professor, Japan Institute of the Moving Images. Mr. Ishizaka planned and managed an Asia – Middle-East Film Festival Series from 1990 to 2007 for the Japan Foundation. He has been a Programming Director of the Asian Future section (Formerly named the Winds of Asia section) of TIFF since 2007. He also serves as professor and dean of the Japan Institute of Moving Images.