Pondering the Importance of Being Prolific

Now that I am utterly sure that no one reads this blog anymore, I think I can try to revert it back to what it was when I started this 9 years ago.

A journal for my own thoughts.

In 2004, I was merely a university student who had just started his student life in Perth, whatever creative endeavors I had then was limited only to writing fan fiction, and a (derivative) fantasy/sci-fi novel that never came together.

Filmmaking was a distant dream.

I would never expect that 9 years later, I'll be working on screenplays with regularity. (Maybe writing nerdy fan fiction and a fantasy/scifi novel during my teens was the right move!)

From 2008 since I embarked upon a film career (I'm not going to count the student works that I did in Murdoch University), I have written all the eleven (!!) short films that I've directed, wrote a short film that I produced, co-wrote a feature length film that I produced and wrote a web series that I directed. Being able to write is an invaluable tool, because I can tailor the material for my own strengths. I can make adjustments on the set when I need to improvise. Instantly come out with lines for the dialogue if I find that something is amiss. Too bad creative writing is also something deemed impractical during your education (we were encouraged to write "formal letters" during exams because they are easier to evaluate and easier to score higher marks for the exams, ah, yes, education is really just about the exams, isn't it?)

Although I lamented a lot about not being able to find a good script written by someone else which I could work on (seriously, it's really not that easy to find it! Especially here in Malaysia, where the education system and culture have neglected the importance of literature and creativity!), I DO enjoy the process of thinking and making up stories, it allows myself a brief moment in another world, populated by characters who are often imaginary selves who did things that I wasn't able to do in real life.

Most of the screenplays that I have written so far had been what some would term as "spec scripts", just unsolicited, non-commissioned scripts that I conjured out of nowhere after being unexpectedly struck by inspiration. I felt like doing a short film so I wrote little stories that I could make. Those made up a bulk of my filmography, and I can never understand how I were able to write them then.

The commissioned writing jobs have always been easier, because you know exactly what was expected, you were told what sort of story there to expand from. These usually gave me smaller pressure, even though the stakes are probably much higher. (After all, you are writing them as a job)

The past few years I began to move into writing feature-length screenplays, so that I could make my feature debut. I have written a few so far, and they were not exactly easy to write. One could blame it on lack of imagination, creativity or skills, but I think it had more to do with me venturing into uncharted territory, and trying hard not too be derivative. I have always wanted to aim high, wanting the film to serve like a novel instead of adhering to traditional 3-act structures, because I could never forgive myself if I churn out anything that is mediocre. So there would always be a lot of researches done, a lot of movies being dug out for viewing, a lot of discussions (I just need to throw my idea out to another person to see how it sounds when I voice them out)

Ever since I came back from Tokyo in late April, I have jumped straight into three different projects. A TV series (more like minisodes, 16x5 minutes), a web series (28x3-4 minutes), and a short film. The TV series was shot in early May, the web series in late to early June, and the short film was end of June. As I am writing this now, the TV series has concluded last week, while the web series ended two days ago, and the short film will be released online in exactly two weeks from now.

Which means that what I have been working on in the last 4 months are finally done, and it's time for me to now concentrate on the next stage of projects that I intend to work on during the latter part of the year. In the last 4 months I wrote two treatments for two feature-length films, hoping that something could happen from either of them. The whole idea was to not waste too much of my life waiting only to just get one film done. I can never accept such a life, when I know that the ten years I waited to make that one film, I could have spent on making 3 others.

One could argue that this is about quality over quantity, but I believe that filmmaking is an ever evolving thing in an ever evolving world. Three years ago, someone I knew in Tokyo told me that she would spend the next ten years working on an epic documentary. After that, she got married, started a non-film-related business with her husband, had a kid, and realized that she wouldn't spend ten years of her time chasing after an epic documentary.

I think I constantly need to create, so that I could remain in love with making films and sharpen my craft, otherwise, ten years of nothingness, just to chase after the illusion of a filmic masterpiece, is it worth it? I refuse to believe that one who spent ten years doing nothing except trying to make one masterpiece, is capable of producing a work that is of higher quality than someone who spent every year trying to craft one masterpiece. That would be insane... right?

I'm just going to quote Steven Soderbergh, whom I hope will return to filmmaking as soon as possible:

"I've always thought it was a bad sign when a director has a big gap between movies, because what it means to me is they're starting to think there is nothing out there worthy of their talents. And that's dangerous. Think of filmmakers who start off strong and young and doing great works, then you start to see a longer and longer gap stretching out between films. That's a red flag something is wrong, quality-wise."

Woody Allen, who until now still churns out one film a year, once said this:

"If I wasn't trying to make a masterpiece, if I was just trying to make a good story … maybe one of them would turn out to be a good film. … The fact that I'm trying so hard, the laboring at it, is working against me."

I think it is hard to take the first step into feature-length film territory. Just like it was when I came back to Perth and it took me more than a year before I said "screw this, I'm just going to make a short film", and that was CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY (prior to that, at least 2-3 short film ideas came and went, dying in infancy). Making and writing short films became easier after that.

Here's hoping that when I make my first feature film, it wouldn't be too long before I make my second, and third, and fourth.

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