Every time I meet a filmmaker, I form an initial impression that lasts. Is this filmmaker more of a heart follower or more of a market follower? I know intuitively if I will have much to say to this filmmaker, if we can be friends. I have some friends who are famous and successful filmmakers. And some who are not successful at all. We may not have the time to stay in close touch but there is a connection. In the film industry, finding a friend is not easy, so when we do find one, we treasure this fellow filmmaker friend. Last weekend, I met, through UnThinkTank by 10 AM Communications, three filmmakers who can be friends for life. Beyond their soft-spoken demeanours, I see three intrepid directors with a will of steel and a humanity that lifts the spirit. Putting their most daring dreams on the big screen, going against all odds, relishing each step of the process, make them the kind of filmmakers other filmmakers talk about.
These three acclaimed directors shared in the forum, ‘Dreams Conquer All: Making Films, Making History’ their personal journey of realising their vision and making box office history. Wei Te-Sheng broke Taiwanese box office records with ‘Cape No. 7’, then went on to create Taiwanese cinematic history with ‘Seebiq Bale’, and is now releasing ‘Kano’ as a producer. Chi Po-Lin set a box office record in Taiwan for documentary film with ‘Beyond Beauty: Taiwan From Above’. Within a month of hitting the cinemas in November last year, the powerful images of Chi’s debut film led the Taiwanese Cabinet to convene a special task force to tackle sixteen major environmental issues. And riding on the phenomenal success of ‘Woohoo!’ and ‘Great Day’, Chiu Keng Guan’s latest film ‘The Journey’ released during this Chinese New Year, became the highest grossing local production of all time at the Malaysian box office.
Their successes attracted the who is who of the local film industry to hear them speak. In the private and public sessions, Singaporeans fervently asked the kind of questions we have come to expect but in the face of these directors sharing their follow-your-heart stories in person, suddenly I saw what I knew all along but never fully put into real life context. Film is probably the most universal medium. Our small market size, imposition of our official languages, restriction of dialects – these are issues, but are they as big as we make them out to be? When a local filmmaker stood up to share the frustrations of getting funding from the Media Development Authority of Singapore, some in the audience might nod in agreement, but the irrelevance was as clear as day. These three filmmakers needed to leave their day jobs, mortgage their houses, beg, borrow, literally put their livelihood on the line. And here we were, complaining about the government.
Do we have a big enough dream? Do we have the passion and the courage to make our dream come true? These are questions we hear all the time. Yet hearing the three directors speak, these are the basic questions we need to ask. I am a filmmaker. Without Raintree Pictures and Homerun Pictures, what kind of an independent filmmaker would I be? If I had conviction in my film vision, would I be brave enough to put all my assets on the line? Would I protect this vision from market forces? Get out there and personally sell my vision to investors? Have the confidence and belief I would prevail, that my vision would touch and move audiences? These brave stories of making movies with no safety net by three visiting directors should inspire us the right way. To not look without for handouts and excuses. But to look within for strength and inspiration. To take away the safety net and just do it. To just make that movie.