From lo­cal to global

Film pro­duc­tion houses Ace Pic­tures and Feisk Pro­duc­tions are tak­ing an in­ter­na­tional ap­proach to their projects, to en­sure growth in the Malaysian film in­dus­try.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Front Page - By MUMTAJ BEGUM en­ter­tain­ment@thes­tar.com.my

HOL­LY­WOOD ac­tress Al­fre Woodard’s per­for­mance as a prison war­den over­see­ing ex­e­cu­tions, in the film Cle­mency,

has been get­ting high praises from the in­dus­try since its re­lease last year. The drama, which won the Grand Prize at the 2019 Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val, was pro­duced by Malaysian com­pany Ace Pic­tures.

A sub­sidiary com­pany of Ace Hold­ings formed in 2017, this me­dia and film pro­duc­tion in­vest­ment firm aims to pro­duce high-qual­ity films through in­ter­na­tional part­ner­ships, es­pe­cially from Hol­ly­wood where the world’s film ex­perts re­side.

So far, Ace Pic­tures has backed eight films of dif­fer­ent gen­res. Other than Cle­mency, it has funded thriller Daniel Isn’t Real fea­tur­ing Patrick Sch­warzeneg­ger, and Color Out Of Space, a film based on the short story by HP Love­craft, star­ring Ni­co­las Cage.

Daniel Isn’t Real got Adam Egypt Mor­timer the Best Di­rec­tor tro­phy at South Korea’s Bucheon In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val 2019, while Color Out Of Space pre­miered at the 2019 Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, Canada.

There is also Come Away, a drama-fan­tasy head­lined by An­gelina Jolie, Michael Caine and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, that’s de­scribed as a pre­quel to the sto­ries of Peter Pan and Alice In Wonderland.

Ac­cord­ing to Ace Pic­tures’ pres­i­dent Peter Wong, 44, he chose this route for the com­pany as he wanted “to un­der­stand the best pos­si­ble work cul­ture, prac­tices and op­por­tu­ni­ties in the film in­dus­try”.

The long-term plan is to then apply what the com­pany has learned, and ad­vance the lo­cal movie-making process.

Wong elab­o­rated: “The col­lab­o­ra­tion with in­ter­na­tional part­ners en­ables Ace Pic­tures to ex­plore dif­fer­ent paths that al­low us to achieve greater cre­ativ­ity and in­no­va­tion. The Malaysian film in­dus­try clearly needs more ex­po­sure to the world’s best prac­tices, and some of th­ese work­ing cul­tures need to be im­ported.

“An open­ness to col­lab­o­rate will al­low us to take on a ‘global outlook’ to bet­ter ac­cess growth op­por­tu­ni­ties and new plat­forms.

“Our strat­egy is to es­tab­lish a strong pres­ence in the in­ter­na­tional arena. By do­ing so, we can raise Ace Pic­tures’ pro­file and at­tract more qual­ity con­tent sourced from around the world, and even­tu­ally, we hope to in­te­grate lo­cal tal­ents in this over­seas film port­fo­lio.”

Making op­por­tu­ni­ties

An­other pro­duc­tion house Feisk Pro­duc­tions – founded by broth­ers Feisal Az­izud­din, 34, and Iskan­der Az­izud­din, 35, in 2010 – is slowly but surely find­ing its foot­ing in film­mak­ing, de­spite many teething chal­lenges it faced.

Since its for­ma­tion, the broth­ers have been ex­plor­ing projects on a small scale – from shoot­ing wed­ding and cor­po­rate videos, to pro­duc­ing and di­rect­ing re­al­ity shows as well as short films.

On Jan 9, it re­leased its sec­ond full-length fea­ture film ti­tled Su­raya at cin­e­mas na­tion­wide, with the third one cur­rently in post-pro­duc­tion.

And it has been one steep learn­ing curve for Feisal and Iskan­der, who have no prior ex­pe­ri­ence or re­la­tions to the film world.

Iskan­der said: “Ev­ery­thing that we’ve done is through re­search, lots and lots of re­search. And the way we do our films – the way we shoot, pro­duce, all of it – have been through self-learn­ing.

“We have pro­duced over 30 short films, and we use our short films as a form of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion – to test out sto­ries, the art style, di­rect­ing styles and also cin­e­matog­ra­phy. Ma­jor­ity of th­ese short films are of hor­ror genre.”

Feisal con­tin­ued: “I think one of the big­gest take­aways from making low-bud­get films is that it teaches you to be re­source­ful, in ev­ery sense of the word.

“And be­cause we work with non-ex­is­tent bud­get, it has taught us to be smart.

“If you see the path we’ve taken – fam­ily videos, silly videos for YouTube, cor­po­rate videos, wed­ding videos, re­al­ity se­ries, and for the past three years we’ve got­ten onto films – we have been slowly el­e­vat­ing (our pro­file).

“Su­raya is ex­tremely low-bud­get (RM40,000), but the qual­ity is there. We just find ways to make do with what we have, like dou­ble the du­ties of our crew and so on.”

Next up, Feisal is di­rect­ing Cer­oboh for the film com­pany Ku­man Pic­tures (Two Sis­ters), with a bud­get of RM200,000 which Feisal de­scribed as “a huge jump for us”.

Be­sides scor­ing this co-pro­duc­tion gig with Ku­man, Feisk’s tenac­ity has also caught the no­tice of a cou­ple of in­ter­na­tional film fes­ti­vals for hor­ror genre such as Crim­son Screen Hor­ror Film Fes­ti­val and Wreak Havoc Film Fes­ti­val.

Go­ing places

In 2019, Iskan­der was se­lected as a par­tic­i­pant at the Bucheon In­ter­na­tional Fan­tas­tic Film School pro­gramme, where ex­perts from in­ter­na­tional film in­dus­try share their knowl­edge with emerg­ing film pro­fes­sion­als in the re­gion.

Iskan­der re­called his 10-day ex­pe­ri­ence at Bucheon: “We had a crash course with dif­fer­ent peo­ple from the film in­dus­try in­clud­ing those from Hol­ly­wood, giv­ing us lessons and in­sights into film­mak­ing. It was quite an ex­pe­ri­ence.”

The trip re­sulted in Feisk be­com­ing part of an om­nibus project, which is a col­lab­o­ra­tion among four film­mak­ers from four dif­fer­ent coun­tries (In­done­sia, Malaysia, the Philip­pines and Sin­ga­pore) to pro­duce four films in the hor­ror genre, that’s pack­aged as one.

Can You Love Me Most? is Malaysia’s con­tri­bu­tion to the om­nibus, which will be di­rected by Feisal and pro­duced by Iskan­der.

While the project is still in the midst of look­ing for fi­nan­cial sup­port, South Korea’s pro­duc­tion house K-Dragon has signed on as one of its back­ers. On top of that, the team got Filipino in­de­pen­dent di­rec­tor Bril­lante Men­doza (who won Best Di­rec­tor at the 62nd Cannes Film Fes­ti­val for his film Ki­natay, and is a known name at pres­ti­gious film fes­ti­vals) as its ad­viser.

Most re­cently too, Feisal and Iskan­der went to Bu­san In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val to pitch the om­nibus idea to pos­si­ble in­vestors.

“An in­de­pen­dent film takes a bit more work to be re­alised,” said Iskan­der. “The idea be­hind this project is not to make a lot of money, but it’s to el­e­vate the stan­dard of films that can be pro­duced in each coun­try.

“Through this, and with the help of Bril­lante as well, we’re hop­ing to put the om­nibus project into a di­verse set of fes­ti­vals and get recog­ni­tion. Be­cause once you have recog­ni­tion, it’s eas­ier to get fund­ing for other films that you want to do.”

Like­wise, Feisal was cho­sen for a fel­low­ship pro­gramme at the Bu­san Asian Film School un­der the In­ter­na­tional Film Busi­ness in March, 2019. He was there un­til Oc­to­ber, at­tend­ing classes with 18 other par­tic­i­pants from Asia, Iran and Afghanista­n.

Feisal shared: “For the past six months, we de­vel­oped our (in­di­vid­ual) projects by meet­ing with dif­fer­ent in­dus­try pro­fes­sion­als – di­rec­tors, pro­duc­ers, from Korea and from the United States, who are part of the pro­gramme – and they teach us ev­ery­thing from cre­ative con­cep­tu­al­is­ing and scriptwrit­ing to the busi­ness side of film­mak­ing.”

The idea that landed him into the pro­gramme is a story for a film ti­tled Angkat.

Feisal, who got the idea when he went for his grand­mother’s funeral, said the film re­volves around three es­tranged broth­ers who come to­gether for their fa­ther’s funeral. While trans­port­ing their fa­ther’s body in a van, the trans­port breaks down 30km from the burial site.

The broth­ers then de­cide to carry the body all the way, on foot through river, heavy rain and other ob­sta­cles. “The big­gest obstacle is for the broth­ers to put their dif­fer­ences aside and get along,” ex­plained Feisal.

De­scrib­ing the film as a high-con­cept idea, the broth­ers are keen to get it right. Hence, they are joy­ful that they have an op­por­tu­nity to pitch it to peo­ple around the world for fund­ing via film fes­ti­vals.

Angkat gar­nered at­ten­tion not only at Bu­san In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, but it also re­cently won fi­nan­cial sup­port from Sin­ga­pore Asian Film Fi­nanc­ing Project Mar­ket (The AV8 Awards’ train­ing prize is worth US$3,700/RM15,000) and the Luang Pra­bang Film Fes­ti­val Tal­ent Lab (the Aurora Pro­duc­ing Award worth US$10,000/ RM40,000). This ul­ti­mately brings Feisk a lot closer to re­al­is­ing Angkat as a film.

Iskan­der said: “It’s a far cry from when we started and we didn’t know any­one. Now, we have so many con­tacts we can reach out to, that we got from th­ese fes­ti­vals and the schools.”

Good sup­port sys­tem

Through their par­tic­i­pa­tions, the broth­ers re­alised there is a huge mar­ket for films, when you think glob­ally.

Feisal ex­plained: “Af­ter leav­ing Malaysia and go­ing to Bu­san and meet­ing other peo­ple like Palme d’Or win­ners (the top prize gar­nered at Cannes Film Fes­ti­val), I re­alise that there’s a big­ger, maybe nicer and gen­tler in­dus­try; a more sup­port­ive film so­ci­ety in the world.”

He cites his fel­low­ship as an ex­am­ple of the harsh­ness that ex­ist in Malaysia.

While other stu­dents got some sort of fi­nan­cial sup­port from their re­spec­tive gov­ern­ments, Feisal said he had to fend for him­self as his re­quest for fi­nan­cial aid fell on deaf ears when he ap­proached the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Mul­ti­me­dia Min­istry as well as Na­tional Film De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion (Fi­nas).

(A spokesper­son from the min­istry said such al­lowance is not given as there is no bud­get al­lo­cated for film school stu­dents.)

Feisal also pointed out the chal­lenges to get fund­ing, es­pe­cially when one’s a new film­maker.

He said: “Our govern­ment tries to sup­port in terms of giv­ing funds for films, and we have got­ten fund­ing sev­eral times which was for­tu­nate. But I think in the past few years, Fi­nas is at cross­roads be­tween pleas­ing the older film­mak­ers and sup­port­ing the younger ones.

“I per­son­ally be­lieve, the older film­mak­ers shouldn’t ask for money any­more, be­cause they are es­tab­lished. But the younger ones, they need guid­ance and sup­port to get, at least, their project started.

“What I have en­coun­tered in Malaysia is that some film­mak­ers get en­vi­ous of other peo­ple’s projects and they kind hope that project doesn’t do well.

“And this shouldn’t be the case. I ob­served in Bu­san, how ev­ery­one will try to sup­port you no mat­ter how good or how bad your film is, they will try to en­cour­age you, to share their knowl­edge as much as pos­si­ble and show you the way on how to im­prove, and get fund­ing or back­ing for your film.

“But in Malaysia, it’s more of ‘I want that fund­ing for my­self’ men­tal­ity.”

(A Fi­nas spokesper­son said the body is in­deed look­ing to im­prove the fund­ing dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem this year, es­pe­cially films with strong sto­ry­line and mar­ket­ing plan.)

An­other chal­lenge Iskan­der high­lighted is that broad­cast­ers, and pow­ers that be in the film in­dus­try do not take a small pro­duc­tion house like Feisk se­ri­ously.

“Be­cause we’re not big names, we al­ways get the same an­swer, ‘We want a fa­mous di­rec­tor’. But what makes us less ca­pa­ble than a known di­rec­tor? It’s a strug­gle. We’re so used to re­jec­tion,” lamented Iskan­der.

Tak­ing on a more pos­i­tive at­ti­tude, Feisal said: “But that’s how we built our con­tacts and our char­ac­ter, through trial and er­ror.”

Th­ese hur­dles are some­thing that Wong from Ace Pic­tures en­coun­tered as well when he made his di­rec­to­rial de­but in 2016.

Wong shared: “It was ex­tremely chal­leng­ing be­cause I was work­ing with a tiny bud­get, and my film had bold ideas. I even­tu­ally ended up spend­ing two whole years try­ing to make it hap­pen, scor­ing the mu­sic, edit­ing, sound de­sign­ing and even work­ing on some of the vis­ual ef­fects all by my­self.”

Work­ing on his film, Wong men­tioned, made him re­alise that many other fel­low film­mak­ers are fac­ing the same prob­lems like he did.

“When I even­tu­ally landed at Ace Pic­tures,

I couldn’t be more thank­ful that the com­pany trusts my in­stincts and al­lows me to as­sem­ble the right team to de­liver.

“And now, with a sim­i­lar re­spon­si­bil­ity handed down to me, I need to find a way to sup­port those truly gen­uine film­mak­ers who have been strug­gling and hop­ing they would step into the light and get the right at­ten­tion they de­serve.”

Get­ting on the same page

Def­i­nitely there are many ar­eas that need to be looked at if we want the Malaysia film in­dus­try to grow into a car­ing and in­tel­li­gent so­ci­ety.

Although main­stream Malaysian films like Ejen Ali The Movie, Wira and Pusaka are making money at the lo­cal box of­fice, there are ob­vi­ously many more Malaysian sto­ries that should be told in a film for­mat. And they need to be told to a global au­di­ence.

Feisal said: “While the sit­u­a­tion may be dis­cour­ag­ing, I feel film­mak­ers are the most ver­sa­tile peo­ple be­cause they worry more about cre­ativ­ity and not so much on the busi­ness side of things. It’s a dif­fi­cult way to sur­vive when we can­not re­coup what we put in, but we per­se­vere.

“While go­ing to Bu­san has given me a bet­ter pic­ture of what it’s like in other parts of the world, I also feel I can­not ig­nore the Malaysian in­dus­try be­cause it’s my roots and I must ex­plore this in­dus­try here no mat­ter what.

“Be­ing in the younger gen­er­a­tion of film­mak­ers, I hope to put Malaysia on the map by making films that show­case and high­light our roots and cul­ture, and yet have that uni­ver­sal ap­peal that can go be­yond the bor­ders of Malaysia.”

This is also Wong’s ad­vice, to come up with good con­tent.

“A film­maker should have a strong sense of in­tegrity, hu­mil­ity and pro­fes­sion­al­ism.

“They make films not be­cause of a fat salary, but in­stead they are do­ing it be­cause they want their voice or oth­ers to be heard, and to leave a legacy be­hind that can in­spire mil­lions of au­di­ences till the end of time.” Wong said.

— Feisk Pro­duc­tions

Broth­ers Feisal (left) and Iskan­der Az­izud­din formed Feisk Pro­duc­tions in 2010 and have been learn­ing about film­mak­ing by tack­ling short films.

— Feisk Pro­duc­tions

Cle­mency, star­ring Woodard, has been get­ting rave re­views since its re­lease in the us last year. — hand­out Be­sides making their own films, Feisk’s Feisal also di­rects for other com­pa­nies. Its new­est project is Cer­oboh for the pro­duc­tion house Ku­man Pic­tures that last pro­duced Two Sis­ters.

Su­raya is the lat­est film from Feisk that is cur­rently show­ing in cin­e­mas.

— ace Pic­tures — ace Pic­tures

Wong (sec­ond from left) with Imag­i­nary Or­der di­rec­tor de­bra Eisen­stadt (cen­tre). also in the pic­ture are ace Pic­tures’ Emma Lee (left), Johnny Chang and Timur Bek­bo­sunov. On the set of Cle­mency, which won the sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val 2019’s Grand Jury Prize.

— Feisk Pro­duc­tions

Iskan­der re­ceiv­ing a cer­tifi­cate for com­plet­ing the Fan­tas­tic Film school course in Bun­cheon, south Korea.

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