“I think the goal should be, to want to be in the film industry,” said Jon Landau, Academy award-winning producer of Titanic and Avatar, the 2 highest-grossing films in film history.
Landau was in town for the launch of the inaugural NYC-MOFILM partnership, which was initiated to find the next filmmaking hero (or heroine) in the Singapore film industry. Joining him at the panel were lauded Singaporean filmmaker Boo Junfeng and CEO of MOFILM, Jeremy Merrihue.
In conjunction with the partnership, a film-making competition was announced, which will span from Dec 9 to February 16 next year.
The audience had a wide range of topics to quiz Landau, Merrihue and Boo, on filmmaking as a career path, the impact of technology on film, and how aspiring directors or film-industry practitioners can hope to see the industry develop.
Approach towards Filmmaking
As the producer of Avatar, Landau knew how much of a boon technology was to film. “There’s this revolution where technology has been democratized. It was difficult back then, where we’d to find people to process the film, and to edit it. But nowadays, these tools make it so easy for you to edit video clips on your phone.”
“Also, what we do too often is to emphasize only the plot,” Landau added. “The emotional core of the film is what you walk away with. And this is what separates movies from one another. You know how there are some songs you listen to over and over again? It’s because you get something out of it emotionally or thematically, and you keep returning to those songs, so that you can rekindle those same feelings. But you can also do that with a movie, where people respond emotionally to what you’re putting out there. As you begin your careers, and if you can start thinking about how emotionally invested you can make your audiences in movies, you’ve truly succeeded.”
From having a dream to living the dream
Boo was asked about his progression from an ambitious teenager who studied at Film, Sound & Video in Ngee Ann Polytechnic to an acclaimed filmmaker. “When I was 15, I fell in love with filmmaking, the world and idea of make-believe. Production design was something that fascinated me. I remember watching the making of the films, more than the actual films themselves. And that’s how it started.”
Boo went on to talk about how networking is important to a film’s success. He said: “The film (Sandcastles) was discovered because of the Singapore International Film Festival at the time, and it started to open doors for me. I think one of the most important things would be connections, because the short film was being passed around, and all of a sudden, I was getting acquainted with the mafia of Singapore filmmaking.”
The wise Landau added his 2 cents’ worth. “You just heard the story of someone who initially wanted to be in production design, and ended up directing. You can’t determine what job you want to be in yet. I didn’t go to film school. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I just wanted to work in the film industry. So you don’t need to have the answers today. Just get out there, get experience, and be open to someone saying to you, ‘Hey, what about trying this?’”
The practicality of a film career
A pertinent issue in the local arts scene is that of bread-and-butter – Is filmmaking a feasible career in Singapore? How can more youths be interested enough in filmmaking to consider it as a ‘rice bowl’?
Boo, whose first feature film, Sandcastle bagged several awards at the Vietnam International Film Festival and Hong Kong Asian Film Festival in 2010, gave us his take: “This whole idea of making films that reach youth on an emotional level can seem like a tall order, especially if they don’t have the kind of experience to be able to relate certain things in a cinematic way. When I first began, I wanted to tell stories about issues – I guess I consider myself a part-time activist. I’m concerned about several social issues around me or the world that I feel people don’t understand or are unaware of. Therefore, through Sandcastles, I was able to inspire some empathy in people.”
Achieving the unthinkable
Merrihue, CEO of MOFILM, shared a hilarious episode of when MOFILM was given a seemingly difficult project. MOFILM is reportedly the first company in the world to have crowd-sourced work featured during the Super Bowl, Oscars and American Idol shows. The company, which started in 2009, has brought together 30,000 filmmakers over the years to network and possibly collaborate with global brands like Coca Cola and Microsoft.
Sony was looking for a company to take up their Christmas advertisement spot for the Sony PlayStation 4, and approached Merrihue’s team. At first, the team staggered at the amount of visual effects and background work proposed. After being told by their client that they’d “always been qualified, always worked with people with no experience, and always managed to overcome adversity”, the team came up with “fairly insane ideas”, which were eventually shot on a grand stage involving colleagues, relatives and people they knew down the street.
Merrihue also believes in the power of competitions to develop existing skill sets for aspiring filmmakers, explaining 2 processes to us. “There’s a process where you submit an idea. If someone likes it, they’ll fund it and give you the advice you need. Or you submit it through a competition and get shortlisted. Even if you don’t, at least you get your film shortlisted. And if you do, you’re developing skills that actually have a lot of value on a global stage.
A communal experience
Did you know in Landau’s thank-you speech for Best Picture for Titanic, Landau thanked 53 people, much to the chagrin of the television channel. “People need to know that a film is more often than not the collaborative effort of hundreds, if not thousands of people,” he explained.
To sum the sentiments up, Landau said, “When you’re sitting in a theatre, and the person next to you is crying, you’re crying. When they’re laughing, you’re laughing. It’s something that you can’t get from looking at your little phone screens alone. It’s that communal experience that people are looking for.”