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My Short Films

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Acting Auditions Are Guilt Trips!


(Note: this post has nothing to do with the Takashi Miike movie, Audition)


I've held a few auditions for several occasions, from my own short films last year (VERTICAL DISTANCE and GIRL DISCONNECTED) to the two tv movie productions I'm involved in this year, I find auditions rather exciting but sometimes frustrating.

Exciting because it provides the possibility of meeting and discovering really good actors, frustrating when none who came actually fitted the criterias I wanted.

My routine for auditions is pretty generic: Greet the candidates (in my friendly, cheery manner), let them fill up their particulars on a form, get them to relax by chit-chatting with them, and then give them a page or two of a scene for them to line-read.

When I'm the one conducting the audition, I usually carry my own broken-down tiny camcorder with me. Sometimes I film them, sometimes I don't (yet still giving candidates the illusion that I was filming them) especially when I had to deal with a candidate purely for the sake of courtesy (say, seeing a 40-year-old woman auditioning for the role of a high school girl, I'll be too polite to turn that person away, but there's no way I need to film the woman either!!).

The last two auditions I held was for the casting of teenage characters. Aside from actual teenagers, I had to deal with my share of kiddies who thought they were old enough to play teenage roles, or adults who thought they were youthful enough to play teenage roles.

Few of the younger candidates were accompanied by their parents, and things get rather disconcerting when that happens.

A part of me is impressed by how supportive these parents are with their kids' acting endeavours, willing to drive their kids to the venue of the auditions regardless of how far away it is from their places.

I thought parents were more supportive and open-minded towards the whole acting thing in western countries like Australia, I would never imagine Malaysia to be similar.

I had assumed that typical Malaysian parents would freak out when their 10-12 year old kid wants to get involved in acting. Acting? Showbiz? That's scandalous! The parents would exclaim, demanding the kid to go the hell back to his or her bedroom to continue studying so that the kid can become a doctor or a lawyer in the future!

I'm sure what I described above is a more common scenario, but witnessing the exceptions to the rule bring a warm feeling to my heart.

Yet these warm feeling can sometimes dissipate when some of these proud parents try very hard to convince me that I will strike gold after I audition their kid. I met an actress who was accompanied by her uncle, her uncle was relentless with his praises, telling me that his niece is so good that I'd definitely have to pick her, that not picking her would be a catastrophic mistake.

I nodded repeatedly with a frozen smile fixed upon my face, assuring the man that I was impressed by his niece, but the final decision 'is up to the director' (in cases where I was the director, I would say that I have to discuss with the rest of the production crew AND my executive producers about casting him or her*)

It's a way to deflect attention and avoid potential problems, better to let them believe that I'm not the only one who decides their fate!

One of my tutors last year told me that it is a more courteous gesture to call the candidate and inform them about their rejection, I agree, and I won't mind doing that if I have to. However, I've seen too many horror stories where actors take things personally when they weren't casted for the roles, throwing a hissy fit, screaming at the phone, demanding to meet the casting director for another audition etc etc. Absolute pains-in-the-asses.

A nice example would be when I went to Chewxy's audition back in May and had the misfortune of meeting a crazy-ass wannabe method actor who, unlike most real method actors, was very horrible with his acting methods. Of course the guy got rejected, a blind casting director would've done the same. Unfortunately the douchebag didn't react too well to that, and said some horrid HORRID things to Chewxy on MSN**.

Thus I usually choose NOT to call a rejected candidate, I believed that not calling is a good enough sign of rejection. I might be quite an assholish thing to do, but I'd rather not be too emotionally involved with them, otherwise I'll end up feeling guilty myself that I have to reject the person.

It's silly to feel guilty, why should I feel bad that the person isn't good enough? Or does not fit the criteria I requested? Or does not suit the director's artistic vision? Things are difficult when the line that separates my professional life and my personal life is slightly blurred.

* It's a lie.

** Chewxy had gotten it easy with just some lame homophobic slurs, I wouldn't want to retrieve death threats, or get blamed for causing suicide. The guy I mentioned seemed so imbalanced that he might be capable of both.

Swifty in Taiwan (Part 7): Last Day In Taipei. Tries Stinky Tofu!

It's my last night in Taipei, will be taking the morning flight back to Malaysia in a couple of hours.

One of the most distinctive features of the city, to me, is the unbearable odour of stinky tofu emitted from their many stalls around Taipei. They smell like a combination of sewers and rotting carcasses, I cannot help but feel all puked up whenever I walk past one of these stalls.

However, being my last day in the country, I wanted to go home and tell everyone that I'm gutsy enough to try out the infamous stinky tofu, so I decided gather my courage and try one at a roadside stall:

Stinky tofu stall


I felt like retching when the woman began cooking up the tofu, the smell was undeniably strong, but I stood at my place, I'm a filmmaker, I can't afford to chicken out at the smell of stinky tofu!!!

The woman placed the stinky tofu in a box, the irony of putting it in a box with a picture of roses wasn't lost to me.

IRONIC - the stinky tofu's box


Then I opened up the box...

Stinky tofu!


... and ate the tofu.

They tasted pretty decent, the smelly odor came only when vendors were at the midst of cooking them, once everything's done, they just smell and taste like any normal fried tofu!

Now, more photos of Taipei streets:

Random pic of Taipei streets

Random pic of Taipei streets 2

Random pic of Taipei streets 3


However, it started drizzling late in the afternoon when we returned to the Taipei 101 area, and it kept on drizzling until the night.

Mom and dad went off to watch the UNCENSORED version of LUST, CAUTION, and I went off to watch MICHAEL CLAYTON, the new George Clooney film (I MIGHT review this, it's good).

Can't see Taipei 101 clearly in the rain:

Taipei 101 shrouded in rain


I'm sitting in my hotel room now, waiting to leave in five more hours, I might sleep, I might not.

Taipei is a nice place, it's similar to Singapore, but with Mandarin (and Hokkien) as its main language. It's not as advanced and bustling as a metropolis like Shanghai, stuff ain't as cheap either, but people are definitely very civilized, and I like how the services have often been efficient and polite, the Japanese influence is heavy.

The political situation is rather funny, my dad had tried to start conversations with each and every cab driver we met, asking about the impending election next year, and everyone's not too happy with the economical or political situation here, and only one or two were content with the current governing body (Democratic Progressive Party), although neither of these guys have many kind words to say about Ma Ying-Jeou, Kuomintang's candidate, believing that he's just an indecisive pretty boy incapable of facing pressure. Hmmm.

Well, just some quick thoughts. Signing off now. Looking forward to my return to Malaysia.

Also changed the colour scheme of my blog to green as a homage to GREENLIGHT PICTURES, the production company I'm at now. Hah!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Swifty Reviews 'Once'

Poster of ONCE


A MSN conversation I had with Sebastian:

I said:
ONCE is the most beautiful movie ever!
He said:
Haha, has it finally arrived in m'sia? or are you still in taiwan?
I said:
Still in Taiwan. saw it on the plane, as if a film like this would come to M'sia.
He said:
i dont get it, i watched it when it wasnt famous yet and i thought it was interesting, but didnt think too much of it
I said:
*shrugs* expected
I said:
was mesmerized by the songs
He said:
oh yeah, the songs were good
He said:
i esp liked the one where they sang and played in the music equipment store
I said:
i was like "why haven't i thought of THAT!!"
I said:
yeah, 'Falling Slowly"
He said:
and the one in the beginning where he sang on the street, my, was that intense!
I said:
yeaah
I said:
for me, the magical parts were
I said:
the music store
I said:
the one where she sang by herself at the streets
I said:
the one where he sang while looking at old videos of previous love
I said:
umm... her answer to him in unsubtitled Czech when he asked whether she still loved her husband.
I said:
and the studio, definitely
He said:
hmm, some ppl liked that one where she sang in the streets but i didnt, song was weak anyway and it's the closest to musical contrivialities it got
I said:
it's one long take
He said:
.... so?
I said:
don't think it was that contrived
He said:
it got tired for me as it went on, really
He said:
but still, generally interesting songs
I said:
i did like the song though
I said:
the studio part was
I said:
whoaa
He said:
and anything british (well, irish) gets me, as usual
He said:
ireland is beautiful
He said:
the studio sequence does make you feel the sweat and effort that goes into recording an album
I said:
yeah
I said:
i like how the guy was disinterested at first (“fucking hobos”)
I said:
but then he paid attention to them
He said:
... wait a sec, wait a sec - is this conversation going to go into your blog? did you just duped me into a review?
I said:
Never thought of using this for my review... until your last line.

I can't imagine how much I liked this film right after I saw it in the plane, I pretty much rewinded to certain scenes of the film to rewatch them over and over again. On MSN, I couldn't stop raving to Justin and Erna.

ONCE is a musical from Ireland, and of course, when I say musical, most people would think: big budget, lavish sets, dazzling costumes, flashily choreographed dance sequences etc.

Titles like CHICAGO, MOULIN ROUGE, HAIRSPRAY would come into mind, even an Asian musical like PERHAPS, LOVE had followed the Hollywood conventions, there are the musical biopics too like RAY and WALK THE LINE (or DREAMGIRLS if you want to count that) which are all big budget flicks! This year's Oscar winner for Best Short Film, WEST BANK STORY, was a parody of West Side Story, and looked so expensive that I think it could have funded 3-4 feature-length Malaysian indie films.

A low-budget musical is almost like an oxymoron.

One of my dreams had always been to make a musical short film (or a music video), and I've been racking my brains out wondering how can I pull off a low-budget musical.

ONCE pretty much provided me an answer. Screw conventions and usual expectations of the masses, the film, made with 170 000 Euros, looked like a documentary, gritty and realistic, handheld camera was used almost throughout the film (until the flashy expensive-looking tracking shots in the last few scenes) and the singing sequences were simple: It's either the guy or the gal singing at the streets, or the guy and gal singing together in a music store as she tested out one of the pianos, or them having a band recording in the studio, And musical sequences were done in only one or two camera angles while long languid takes were maintained.

(From Wikipedia: All of the music in the film is diagetic, making it appear as though the music came from the world of the film itself. The songs continue to be performed in a real-world, incidental music fashion, often in their entirety,)

Story's simple, He (Glen Hansard) is a street musician who plays the guitars, She (Markéta Irglová) is a Czech immigrant flower-seller and also an aspiring musician who plays the piano. They meet one night when he was performing another one of his angsty songs to lament a previous relationship, where she asks him (to his annoyance) about the woman featured in the songs.

Upon finding out that the Guy helps out at his father's vacuum cleaner fixing shop, the Girl brings her Hoover to him the next day for repairs, he also finds out that she's a musician too. She brings him to a music store, they sing and play his song, FALLING SLOWLY together.



And thus begins a connection between the two that treads between the line of friendship and romance. Things are complicated since she is already married and has a daughter (her estranged husband is still in Czech Republic)

This is, after all, a musical, so the plot is simple, but the film blows me away because of the aforementioned musical scenes, so enthralling and uplifting that I feel inspired, and I'm not surprised why even STEVEN SPIELBERG himself said "A little movie called Once gave me enough inspiration to last the rest of the year."

Now, check out the videos, and if you really have the chance to catch this film, catch it. You have no idea what you're missing if you don't.


ONCE trailer


LIES, another song from ONCE


Swifty In Taiwan (Part 6): Shilin Night Market and Pirated DVDs

Photos I took of the Taipei Train Station during the day, along with the buildings nearby:

Taipei Railway Station

Taipei Railway Station 2

Streets of Taipei

Streets of Taipei 2


Colourful, but not really my favourite place of the city, I personally preferred the Taipei 101 area I visited the day before.

At night, Uncle Beau, mom and I went to the famous Shilin Night Market, the biggest night market in Taiwan and also the focal point for Taipei's night life among residents and visitors alike. It's also a gathering of babes

Now, these photos will be a little blurry because I tend to take night photos without using flash, and without flash, the camera's more sensitive to movements.

Shilin Night Market

Shilin Night Market 2

Shilin Night Market 3

Shilin Night Market 4

Shilin Night Market 5


From Wikipedia:

The night market encompasses two distinct sections sharing a symbiotic relationship: a section formerly housed in the old Shihlin Market building containing mostly food vendors and small eateries; and the surrounding businesses and shops selling other nonfood items.

Due to safety, sanitation, and fire hazard concerns, the old Shilin Market structure was demolished in October 2002 by the Taipei City Government; the food vendors formerly based within the old structure were relocated to a newer temporary structure a few hundred meters away next to the MRT Jiantan Station.


And that's where we went for dinner, mom and I chose a teppanyaki stall.

Teppanyaki stall

Teppanyaki meal


The food was so delicious that I think it may have been one of the best I've ever eaten in Taiwan throughout my trip.

The rest of the building looks like this, all food vendors and eateries:

Shilin Night Market (food section)

Shilin Night Market (the food section) 2

The original Bubble Tea


I also tried out the Bubble Tea (or Pearl Tea) for the second time of the day. The drink originated from Taiwan, and I have to say that after trying out authentic Taiwanese Bubble Tea, all other good Bubble Teas that I have in other shops of other countries (Singapore and Perth) felt like cheap knock-offs. I'm not kidding, I always thought that I had some good Bubble Tea in Perth, but they paled in comparison with what I had.

After meal, I returned to the outdoor section of the night market for a walk, and wandered into an alley, there was a shop selling female clothings AND DVDs of TV dramas from Taiwan, Japan and Korea, all box sets. I looked at the box sets and spotted Takuya Kimura's latest dorama, Karei-naru Ichizoku. I asked for the price and gasped when the guy told me it's NT$900 (that's RM90).

"Or... you can buy the NT$100 version." The guy said, his eyes darting over to the dressing rooms at the back of the shop, probably a hidden stash of... 'cheaper' DVDs.

"Ah." I smiled.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Swifty in Taiwan (Part 5): Taipei 101, The Tallest Building In The World (... for now)

Visited Taipei 101, the tallest COMPLETED building in the world today.

Entrance to Taipei 101
Parents + Uncle Beau entering Taipei 101


The base of the tower is a shopping mall (just like KLCC and the Petronas Towers).

Inside Taipei 101
Taipei 101 Mall


Around the Taipei 101 are many other shopping malls, and they are all connected by bridges like the one below.

Bridge from Taipei 101 to other malls


Closest to Taipei 101 is the New York New York shopping mall.

New York New York mall
New York New York shopping mall


While crossing the bridge, I tried to take a photo of the Taipei 101...

Failed attempt to photograph Taipei 101


Was a failed attempt, I think.

I then ended up at the Vieshow Cinema Complex, dad, Uncle Beau and I each bought a ticket for a different film to see in the cinemas. Dad went for THE KINGDOM, Uncle Beau went for the (UNCENSORED, SEX SCENES-FILLED) LUST, CAUTION and I went for a little Japanese film called RAINBOW SONG, produced by my hero, Shunji Iwai.

While waiting for the film, I had the very interesting mango ice-cream with beancurd at the food court next to the cinema.

Mango Ice-Cream + Beancurd


I also saw a street performer performing:

Street performer

Street performer 2


Many were watching her:

Audiences watching the street performer


The last rays of sunlight were fading off when the film ended, so I quickly snapped another photo of Taipei 101.

A more successful attempt to photograph Taipei 101


I like this more.

Meanwhile, the Vieshow Cinema Complex (or rather, half of it) looks like this.

Vieshow Cinema Complex


An obligatory night photo.

Cars near shopping malls at night


And an obligatory dinner photo (requested by annna).

Dinner


Ate at a simple restaurant near the hotel recommended by the nice receptionists. It's NOT a posh-looking restaurant like DING TAI FENG or DI SHUI LOU that I visited during my second and third night in Taipei, but we had similar dishes, and quality's comparable, and best of all, it's half the price of the former two.

Too bad it doesn't have cute-looking, miniskirts-wearing waitresses similar to Ding Tai Feng's.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Swifty in Taiwan (Part 4): Wanna be like Tsui Hark!

Dad had finally finished his conference, so he could finally join us (that's me + mom + Uncle Beau) on our Taipei exploration.

First place of the day we went to was the Guanghua Market, which is Taipei's equivalent of Low Yat Plaza or the Digital Mall (or Japan's Akihabara)

Sign of Guanghua Market


TV drama, A LOVE TO KILL (starring Rain) because I'm hungry for some Korean melodrama and the Japanese dorama H2, because I've read the manga and I'm curious about its adaptation. Or maybe I bought them because they were both rather cheap and had nice-looking boxes...

After the we went off to the new ESLITE building, this one's the biggest bookshop in Taipei, I think.

The new Eslite Bookstore


It's a pretty classy place that brought peace to my perpetually stormy heart.

Interior of the new Eslite Bookshop

Interior of the new Eslite bookshop 2

I went to the 'ASIAN CINEMA' book section and picked 'PLANET HONG KONG: Popular Cinema and the Art of Entertainment' by film theorist David Bordwell (clicking his name will bring you to his blog, or you can check out his Wiki!)

Published in 2000 and somewhat dated, PLANET HONG KONG is one hell of a book that (quoting Kirkus Reviews) 'outlines the history, economics, and production techniques of the Hong Kong studios, particularly focusing on the genres that are most closely associated with their success (the kung-fu film, the swordplay epic, the gangster film, and the urban comedy). These historical chapters alternate with analyses of specific directors, with particular attention paid not only to such well-known filmmakers as John Woo and Wong Kar-Wai but also to some figures worthy of greater attention in the West (such as King Hu)'.

I was only in the bookshop for nearly two hours, so I had to flip through the book to read some parts that I'm interested in, namely the chapters about John Woo, Tsui Hark and Wong Kar Wai (Johnnie To wasn't as respected then... *sigh*) and was mesmerized as I got reacquainted with HK cinema history, understanding again the roles these directors played during the Hong Kong New Wave in the 70s and 80s.

I see some parallels between the current Malaysian New Wave and the HK New Wave, although in Hong Kong, most of the works then, while regarded as 'arty' and 'experimental' were able to be absorbed into the mainstream, while the Malaysian indie arthouse films have yet to really find real commercial success (the works of Yasmin Ahmad may be an exception), though I hope the trend will end soon. I was familiar with Wong Kar Wai and John Woo's histories, but Tsui Hark's chapter intrigued me, because I realized for the first time that his role as producer had just been as important as his role as director (if not more) since he DID produce (and NOT direct) classics like the A BETTER TOMORROW films (which placed John Woo and Chow Yun Fat on the map), THE KILLER and A CHINESE GHOST STORY.

Tsui HarkAfter a promising beginning, where he made three critically-acclaimed films (that were all commercial failures), Tsui Hark went off to make blockbusters instead (like Aces Go Places 3, a spy spoof) in the mid-80s and began focusing more on crowdpleasing pop films, to the disappointment of many. He was then regarded as a sellout and 'a prime example of Hong Kong film's inability to rise above vulgarity and commercialism'.

I read about the rules he would put up for directors whose films he were going to produce, the first few had to do with directors sticking to their own styles, being efficient etc. but the last one was, I paraphrase 'film is a mass medium, please ensure that your film will entertain and please the crowd'.

Aside from being a budding film director, I'm also a budding film producer myself (who is, er, credited for the grand total of one short film 'BLUE ROOF', though some quarters would also credit me as the 'producer' of the award-winning Elephant and the Sea!! But only because I now work as the producer of its production company and was involved in some of its post-production work and possibly its upcoming marketing stuff), I can't help but fantasize myself being able to do what Tsui Hark did, not exactly selling out (but making mainstream films is not something I will shy away, definitely) just that I find a great new director and help produce a classic which is both a critical and commercial success, WHOOHOO!

Ack! Enough with my fantasizing!

By now, most who came for the photos have probably shied away, so I'm just going to meekly continue putting up photos.

After hanging out at the bookshop (something I do often, that's why illiterate women and intellectually uninteresting chicks who don't dig books never thought of going out with a guy like me) I tried out the Oyster Omelette Annna told me about.

Oyster Omelette


It was all right. (ordered a set meal, so it came with fried rice and soup)

For dinner, we went to a place called Shin Yeh. We waited for nearly an hour to get in, but finished the meal in a little more than half an hour.

Shin Yeh restaurant


Dad and I looked stoned...

Me and parents in Shin Yeh restaurant


There was also this cute baby sitting behind me.

Cute baby girl


(Note: I've always loved little kids in a non-pedophilic manner, that's why heartless young women who don't like children will never dream of going out with one as kind-hearted and nice as I)

Food was good.

Like its boneless goose.

Boneless goose in Shin Yeh restaurant


And the rest of the dishes (fish, braised pork, tofu, etc. Ate them all with porridge)

The dishes in Shin Yeh restaurant


I'll just end this post with more night photos I took of Taipei streets, because, night photos look cool, and it might seem as if I'm saying something profound without the use of words but only with images.

Taipei Streets at night

Taipei Streets at night 2


KURUS Production Diary - Photos from Semenyih

Four photos I took with my mobile phone when I was location hunting with Ming Jin the Mentor at Semenyih for our upcoming production KURUS (I posted about the problems I faced with casting the main role few days ago). It was the day before I flew off to Taiwan.

DSC00116

DSC00117

DSC00120

DSC00119


The film WILL kick ass.

Sonnet: Nature Un-harnessed


Human Beings can’t control wind and sea,
The earth’s spin and whatever it may be;
The magnetic effects of sun and star,
And of planets and galaxies afar.

Nor can he control the rain that befalls,
On the sand dunes in the desert that walls;
The water that flows from mountains so high,
Men and animals that suddenly die!

Nor the newly-formed sands of the seas-shores;
The earthquakes and active volcanoes;
Nor the dew-drops that dot every leaf/frond;
Nor the tad-poles that come out of a pond.

Men can harness Nature to some degree;
Nature’s a Giant for infinity.


7/22/2000 Dr John Celes
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