Tastemakers: Chiu Keng Guan, filmmaker
12 August 2016
Nicknamed “17 million man” for his record-breaking box office hit, ‘The Journey’ (2014), Chiu Keng Guan has been hailed by the Malaysian media as the man who revived the local film industry. His latest film ‘Ola Bola’ (2016), now in the running for the Best Film Award at the 28th Malaysia Film Festival (FFM) following the festival’s initial language segregation controversy, was reported to rake in over RM16 million earlier this year.
Alongside his previous wins and nominations at the Golden Wau Awards and FFM, Chiu’s string of highly acclaimed movies include, “Lunar New Year Trilogy of WooHoo!” (2010) and “Great Day” (2011).
In an online exclusive, ahead of the premiere of Tastemakers Malaysia 2016, we asked Chiu about his thoughts on working for free in return for exposure, his biggest critic and the movie that inspired him to become a director.
As long as you believe that it’s worth it, nothing is impossible.
In Tastemakers Malaysia 2016, you mentioned that the use of nature elements in many of your scenes is influenced by your origin. In what other ways has your living environment influenced your work style and ethics?
Things and people around me constantly have an effect or affect my creativity. Some stories or plots are set while other ideas are constantly being created and are evolving from time to time. Being born and raised in a kampong to now living in a big city, I feel like I have two sides to myself.
I think the two environments have gelled harmoniously and have helped me a lot in my creations, giving me a lot of spark. They’ve allowed me to create more realistically, reflecting very closely to the truth of what is happening in the city and the rural area.
Which is harder to curate: the opening shot, or the closing shot?
For me, the ending shots are always the toughest. It’s like a movie summary, a snowball of emotions, the audience’s last mood and their impression of the movie.
I usually take a lot of time thinking about piecing together or conceptualizing the ending of the story. In every single movie that I have worked on, the last scenes are constantly recurring in my mind. These thoughts usually happen at the beginning of a shoot.
I always believe that you have to pay it forward, to offer what you have, and to not think of the reward first.
Who is your biggest critic?
The audience. I constantly get movie critics from near and far via the internet.
Do you watch your own films multiple times to nit-pick?
I do this all the time. Not only do I watch the film multiple times, but I also watch it in different locations around the country. The audiences in the north and the south of Malaysia have very different reactions towards a movie.
I want to know how far is the gap between the perceptions of the audiences from both areas towards my movie. I want know if the message that they received after watching the movie is on par with my original concept.
Other than your own films, is there a film that you find yourself re-watching from time to time?
‘Nuovo cinema Paradiso’ (1988) — I have watched this movie many times. It’s also the movie that inspired me to become a director.
In the Tastemakers series, you quoted a Chinese saying that emphasised “working hard without being too calculative”. What are your thoughts on the idea of “working for free in exchange for exposure”, a relatively common pitch to emerging talents in the creative scene?
I always believe that you have to pay it forward, to offer what you have, and to not think of the reward first. Once you have achieved what you have set your mind to, the rewards will come automatically.
Working for free in exchange for the experience or exposure — I have done it too. But for me as long as you believe that it’s worth it, nothing is impossible.
I usually take a lot of time thinking about piecing together or conceptualizing the ending of the story.
What do you think is the biggest mistake being made by young, aspiring filmmakers today, particularly in Malaysia?
I can’t say it’s the majority, but there are some people from the younger generation who want to be in the spotlight and seek the glamourous side of filmmaking. They seek the attention and love the exposure of their work more than creativity itself. My words of advice: pay more attention to making the film. Do it for the passion, for the love of filmmaking, and you will eventually be seen and recognised.
Would you say you’re creatively satisfied?
I am very passionate towards the creative work that I do. I enjoy the creative freedom give to me. The investors and producers gave me full trust and have given me the freedom to create what I feel is right, which in this case is hard to come by.
In one of your previous interviews, you mentioned that making money is not the goal when creating a film. So, revenue aside, would you say you’re successful?
As filmmakers, what we can do is to make good movies. I don’t think I am successful, but every single time an audience shares their thoughts about how the movie made them feel, or how the movie has influenced them, that to me is reassuring — that I am on the right path.
Watch Chiu in Tastemakers Malaysia 2016, premieres Sunday, 28 August, 10.30pm MY/SIN/HK.