Tuesday, September 29, 2009

SHADOW HUNTER: Vorsprung durch Technik

Location: The Confluence

Achtung, Filmmakers,

Thank you very much for joining the Facebook groups and we hope to help experienced filmmakers as well as emerging filmmakers get their projects off the ground. Do not hesitate to e-mail us directly or via Facebook for any help, technical or administrative, to complete forms or applications to attain funding from around the world.

The income achieved in Malaysia from broadcasters have not changed for the last 20 years and inflation has escalated beyond recognition. In order to make a product of substantial content it needs to have many cuts which requires numerous camera set ups (and lighting adjustments) and editing execution.

Watch any American film today and you see a cut every 2 seconds. Long takes should not exceed 5 seconds though you may revert back to the continuation of the subject after a 2 second cut.

This is the cheap skate way to save money Eg. You interview a talking head which is all you see and you must cut to something else after 5 seconds even if the the cut is only 2 seconds and then you can revert back to the talking head for another 5 seconds at the maximum. It looks better if your reversion is trimmed down to 3 seconds. Then you cut to another visual of 2 seconds so in 10 seconds it will appear that you have 3 separate pictures.

Most emerging filmmakers attend exhibitions of hard ware in various trade shows or shopping centers and drool at the new equipment. RED CAMERA is dead and is often too costly for most young filmmakers to use. The playing field has been leveled. The new Nikon and Canon 7D will make our filmmakers have facilities as affordable as Hollywood. For further information, we suggest you subscribe to HD Video Pro Magazine and American Cinematographer.

If you want to be professional you have to keep up with what the pros do and look at their solutions which maybe affordable to emerging filmmakers today where your funding is below the required sum, you have to beg steal and borrow to get the minimum requirement.

At the beginning of 2009 this was the situation and the report I got from my old camera man and musician, David Knight was:

'Everyone over here is going mad over the Letus adaptors - they enable you to fit SLR lenses onto fixed lens video cameras - so you have control over depth of focus. The holy grail of 'filmic look' on a budget.

They screw on to the
camera's filter thread, the SLR image is projected onto a ground glass screen internally within the adaptor which the video camera is fix-focussed on. Stick one on a Sony PMW-EX1 and it looks pretty darn good.

Of course, the side effect has been the price of old Nikon AIS SLR prime lenses has rocketed - they all love the Nikon 85mm f1.4 lens especially - the lower the F-stop the better, so that rules-out old zooms - it has to be a prime lens.

I love that mix of old and new tech!'

David Knight, New Day Pictures, London.

So this was the report. Though the enthusiasts in Low Yat Plaza were complaining of the workflow required in many digital camera memory downloads, the older enthusiasts were mourning the death of DV tape. Given my limited budget, I had to replace my Canon HV20 and managed to get a good deal of RM 3K for the upgrade, HV30 (this is because the HV40 came out which is no different from the HV30.) I took out my 43mm to 52mm ring adapter, screwed it on to the HV30, pulled out the Letus35 mini

which is effectively longer and heavier than the camera, and screwed it on to the conversion ring. Then I took out a Letus/Nikon converter (USD 199 including postage) and screwed it on.

The shop manager looked at me as if I came from outer space and playing with equipment from a sex shop. He edged his way closer to scrutinize the equipment. Then I pulled out a 52mm 1.4 Nikon Prime Lens (old manual focus lens are available second hand in Pudu etc for about RM 1K) and popped it into the converter.

This extensively added another foot to the length to the camera itself. Effectively, the HV30 is only the recording device and the Nikon and the Letus film look converter is the optics. He then asked me if I used Mini DV tape or memory stick.

I explained that the HDMI facility will output 1920 x 1080 pixels into a separate recording device and that the problem is in the power supply as the camera batteries are too small to operate. The HDMI recording device is:


He started to lean over the counter and I could see he was scratching his crotch and he said,

"Like this can win award, ah!"

Since then the technology had changed within 6 months and the playing field leveled again. This was David Knight's report:

"Look out for the new Canon EOS 7 DSLR - 1080 24p, 25p, 30p - out this month (July 2009)!"

HD Video Pro August Issue started a new feature, "HD Independents." In America Independent film are privately funded and distribution is not controlled by the oligopoly of conglomerates and have the luxury of final edit but suffer from limited funding and limited distribution. Many young filmmakers insist on the creative freedom and sacrifice the rewards of Hollywood. John Sayles is a prime example and had many big hits expressing great artistic integrity with big stars and constantly achieve funding to make his next personal project. His producer gave a talk in KL last year at the KLIFF and expressed that the most effective facility he has in marketing given that his budget is less than 1% of most Hollywood movies was the Internet.

He quoted online communities was the most useful and Friendster was his main facility.

I had a big problem defining independent film in Britain for the British Independent Film Awards and my boss, Sandy Lieberson (previous Chairman of 20th Century Fox London) expressed Independent as without restriction from the people controlling the money invested in making and distributing the film. This can only be achieved when the directors in charge of the project have been professionally trained in the technical aspects and the financial implications of production, distribution and marketing.

Unfortunately, many film schools are aware that students are mainly interested in production and effort has been made to drill into students that the cost of marketing and distribution is more than the cost of production.

The new landscape of film products being distributed is in multi platforms on the Internet. It will be a great benefit for many proponents of filmmaking to go to film school and attend a degree course. The great American Independent film productions have exploded and this year Sundance Film Festival had 3,661 feature film submissions compared to 850 a decade ago.

Of the 3,661, only 118 feature films were excepted and the odds of those films finding a world wide audience are slim. Much of it can be attributed to the emergence of digital video or, more recently, HD. The Accolade Film Competition had more than a 1000 entries for the feature film section and we were extremely lucky to win the Award of Merit.

Please avoid using DV definition and let me remind filmmakers that the broadcast submissions requirement aspect ratio in Europe has been 16:9 since the year 2000. Never shoot 4:3 aspect ratio. The aspect ratio is the shape of the screen of the height in proportion to the base of the screen. It is common that TV sets in Malaysia are 4:3 but you can no longer buy a new 4:3 TV set in Europe. At the least 4:3 sets are CRT (Cathode Ray Tubes screens, not LCD.)

HD Independent featured Joe Swanberg who said:

"I think it is going to be very interesting and a natural change (to HD). As a viewer, I still prefer to see a movie in a theatre and experience it with an audience in an environment where I can really focus, but I think that is changing, and as a filmmaker it doesn't bother me if people see the work in a different way.

Younger viewers have grown up with the Internet and have been used to watching video on a small screen and are comfortable with the idea of downloading a movie. I don't think the theatrical experience is going to go away because there is still going to be this sense of community and the bigger films are still going to be an event for audiences.

With Independent films, what is nice is there are a lot of different options now. I know a lot of filmmakers who have come from the festival circuit and gone straight to DVD. I lot of people do self distribution theatrically, TV sales have continued to be a way for smaller films to make money. I don't think anybody is holding their breath anymore for a big purchase out of a festival and a major theatrical release because that's becoming more and more rare with small films that don't have movie stars in them. So I see VOD (Video On Demand) as a very realistic delivery method for small films. With IFC and their relationship with cable companies, that is anywhere between 30 and 45 million homes in the US.

For people who don't live in a major city with a big film festival or an Art-House theatre, it is allowing them to be able to still engage with film culture as it's happening."

Joe Swanberg
HD Independent Features
HD Video Pro August 2009 Issue.
The situation in America is that there are so many graduates coming out of film school and the competition for jobs is a thousand times more than in the Confluence. Film School students are required to make a short film a month which works out to be about 9 short films a year and the good students make one every weekend and have the advantage of a portfolio of 50 a year. Over the period of 3 years on a degree course the top students would have made 150 short films. This is possibly the amount of experience our local filmmakers get in a life time. For us to compete, we need as much practice.

So called creativity is effectively 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Unfortunately, we have inspiration as well as perspiration, but sadly many students need the energy for the 98% perspiration to compete with the rest of the world.

We look forward to any questions and feed back and hope to see you all on

Wednesday at 8.30pm

at Lot 10, The Actor's Studio

for Juliane Block's screening of her short films.

Vorsprung durch Technik

Ike Ong DGGB.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Creative Producer By Ike Ong DGGB


The term, 'Producer,' is often misunderstood and the industry definition is:

Ideally, the first person on a project and the last person off. The producer's role is to find and develop a project, hire the writers and develop the script, hire the director, actors, etc, arrange for financing, oversee the production, on this and any other projects he or she may be producing concurrently.

In episodic TV, this person is called the Executive Producer. Also, the producer maybe involved in the release and exploitation of the film. Some directors and actors who initiate their own projects act as their own producer.

Since Bob Yaris was disqualified from receiving an Oscar as the producer of the film, 'Crash' which won the best film for 2005, the Producer's Guild and the Academy has defined by his contribution to the process:

A producer must prove they have made a significant contribution at least 30% of development, 20% of preproduction, 20% to production, and 30% to post-production and marketing.

Filmmaking is a business and not an Art Form. The product has to be commercially successful and the customer is the audience. In other words, the film has to provide a level of emotional satisfaction for the audience to want to see it again. The market in Malaysia is small and for our film industry to develop, we must make films that are universally appealing so that they can be competitive with imported films and will be suitable for export.

This is the problem in Britain. The audiovisual industry trade deficit rose from USD $ 2.7 billion in 1989 to USD $ 7.2 billion in 1999 and is on the increase. As cost effectiveness goes American products have a much lower cost per viewer ratio. One of the solutions is to make films with a good story, well told and this will make it sale-able in other countries.

The British film industry has a tendency to moan about the unfair advantage the marketing and distribution the American products have in the economies of scale. The reality is that British audiences and others in most countries prefer American films. The reasons are that they are bigger productions with all the facilities for the marketing vehicle and also their scripts are more accessible and elicit emotion. Invariably, they provoke emotion in the audience and the audience derive a greater sense of satisfaction from such films.

The problem is not that we are incapable of writing such scripts but we have not been trained in the art of screenwriting for the benefit of the audience. The London Filmmakers Studio specializes in training components of the film industry in making films that elicit emotion with artistic integrity.

Let us examine the leaders in the industry and analyze why they succeed. Everyone is as capable as another in coming up with an idea for a story. After all there are only 12 stories in the world. The secret is in the art of story telling and story making. This method of elevating the quality of film is inexpensive and once the exponents have understood the principles of story telling, it is placing different characters in the same situation that will cause a different result in the conclusion.

Filmmaking is a collaborative process and requires all the disciplines in the Arts. We all listen to music but we do not write symphonies. The writer is a composer and the conductor will not have a work to conduct if he does not have a score. The director is the conductor who may not be able to play all the instruments but has to be aware of what each instrument is capable of to enhance and achieve his vision or interpret the score.

We are often impressed by a film because of the style and the content. Style is the way the story is told visually and the content is effectively, the story. As Art House cinema became more fashionable it developed to become a new genre. They are stories with a minimalist plot structure or an anti-plot structure.

The Malaysian Film Producers and Financiers Facebook Group is initiating the composition of the symphony!

Conventional plot structures have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and they may not necessarily be told in that order. Plot is a sequence of events in the story. Story is the meaning and purpose the events occur in the plot. The overall content is a good story well told.

The approach in development we advocate is to choose characters we are familiar with and with whom we can identify with. Secondly, the basic principle of visual arts is to be visually illustrative with actions, in other words, show and do not tell with dialogue.

The American tradition is one of the comic book culture and makes them in the mode of illustrating and not narrating with dialogue. European films generally have 50% more dialogue.

Basically, we should be able to understand the story without the sound.

Thirdly, more scenes should be used to illustrate the action, this increases the pace of the film, and engages the audience makes them participate in the drama.

Fourthly, make the ending 'ironical.' When the audience goes to see a film, they suspend their disbelief and allow the producer to take them on an emotional journey. The satisfaction should be greater than the experience they attain in everyday life. A feature film screenplay is about 120 pages and is the labor of the developers over a period of a year.

Most screenplays are never read because it is costly to have it read professionally with a script report written. Often it is the apprentice in the office who volunteers to read. The way to circumvent the obstacles is to make the officials in power have a taste of the product without having to incur the time of reading the 120 page screenplay.

It has become an industry standard for writers to produce the following, supplementary to the screenplay:

Firstly, a Synopsis.

Secondly, Detailed Character Biographies of the main characters to help the readers visualize the sophistication of the plot.

Thirdly, a Detailed Treatment of the final script is required.

Fourthly, A Step Outline of the screenplay is the manageable reading material which will make the producer buy the script.

The development procedure in screen writing we have adopted is one where the Story Design is established to express the meaning of the story in the film. This is then transcribed to the Step Outline, which is a group of scenes which expresses the action of the drama. This provides a greater opportunity for the writer to illustrate the film and not to tell the story.

The dialogue is the last procedure and is applied to supplement the action in the film. Students will practice deconstruction to Step Outlines on ready made films and familiarize themselves with the motions of thinking in cinematic terms by Step Outlines.

The Step Outlines are then summarized into a story design for students to understand the concept of the development process. With experience, the students will be able to proceed in the order by progress of development.

Within each scene and at various stages of the story, the principles of screenwriting have to be adhered. The principles of filmmaking are not the same and are complementary. What the composer requires in composing the Symphony is not the same as what the conductor requires in expressing the music score. It is essential for the composer to provide the fundamentals for the conductor to bring to life, the Symphony.

The first rule in providing for the audience is not to be Boring.

The majority of our audience are under 21 years old and have been conditioned by multimedia, and the Internet, and are less forgiving then the audience of the past. A good story is where a sympathetic hero comes up against incredible barriers and manages to overcome them.

In the design of the story we have to create a universe with its own rules, limits and values. It is like telling the story of a Chess game. Chess has the rules of the game, the characters are the pieces who behave in a particular manner, and the limitation is the Chess board. Then there are also the players who control the game but are also the story tellers.

The concept of the story will be examined in the different form structure and the principles as established by Aristotle in The Poetics. The principle of specificity is that the story teller is the originator of the story and his prejudices and consciousness has great influence on the story.

The world the story teller imagines is a part of the writer's style of screen writing. The story design is transformed into a screenplay and the screenplay is open to interpretation. The meaning and purpose of the story is examined and how the same story can be told is demonstrated to students.

We hope to be able to run The Creative Producer Course at the end of the year.

All readers interested please e-mail us at


Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Star Newspaper Article on Ike Ong

Shadow hunter


From books to music, movies, a restaurant and back to film, Ike Ong is to drawn to diverse paths.

IKE Ong is quite a character. When you start chatting with the man, the conversation can go in so many different directions, all of them fascinating. In fact, I had a difficult task steering him back to the recent Accolade Film Competition merit award that he had won for his feature-length documentary on the Iban entitled Twilight of the Longhouse.

Ike Ong worries that the Ibans’ traditional way of life will disappear.

For starters, Ong, 57, is a man with a diverse background, having grown up variously in Penang, Australia, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Currently he juggles his time between KL and London, where he has settled with his wife and four daughters.

Having studied accounting, Ong found himself working in the music and movie industries and even venturing into the restaurant business (he once owned a Greek restaurant!). He is also best known among book lovers as the man who founded the first Skoob Bookstore in London back in 1979. (He also founded the KL branch in 1990, before selling it to current director Thor Kah Hoong.)

So just how does he feel about the many twists and turns his life has taken?

“ I look at it this way ... Robert De Niro may own restaurants and co-produce films but that doesn’t make him a restauranteur or film producer.

“I’ve had my share of different tangents. Skoob Books was very supplementary. I enjoyed popular culture and wanted to participate in and invest in it. I was also involved in forming Stiff Records in London in 1976, a label which carried Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe.”

Nonetheless, it is filmmaking that is the very core of Ong’s efforts and he is passionate about the need to improve standards in Malaysia.

“There have been some encouraging signs among independent filmmakers lately, but I think we need to have a very cohesive and well-funded effort.

The award-winning filmmaker of Twilight of the Longhouse dancing with the Iban.

“It’s a fast growing world and the Internet is a very important medium, and some leaders will refer to the information superhighway. Yet, our broadband speeds are still so slow. We need dedicated people who know what they are doing, in every field. Too often, the best people aren’t here anymore.”

So how does he feel about getting an award from the Accolade, a California-based independent film festival that itself has been gaining accolades since its establishment in 2002.

“It’s recognition of your professionalism and integrity,” he says, before adding, “I find the standard of writing and story-telling has declined. Nowadays young directors are so focused on visual tricks. To me story is king.”

Ong had been particularly busy making the much-talked about TV movieWirasiswi last year. It was, in fact, that movie that led him to make the Iban documentary.

He had long been interested in the Iban, says Ong, having first visited Sarawak in 1996.

“One of the student actors in Wirasiswi is Iban and his grandfather invited me to Sungai Passin. I decided to go after doing my research but even though I had certain ideas in mind, I didn’t really know what to expect when I got there.”

Twilight of the Longhouse highlights the possibility of the extinction of the Iban’s traditional way of life. Filmed in Sungai Passin, Sungai Sepinjai and Sungai Serban, it intersperses traditional Iban myths with footage of celebrations of the Gawai (harvest festival) and a wedding ceremony.

“I found the Iban’s ability to survive in the jungle fascinating. They are a very adaptable, resourceful, durable people with a different value system from ours. They are a very peaceful people, ready to put their shoulder to the wheel and work hard for each other,” Ong says.

Traditional occupations like farming and fishing are now less popular. Men go off to work in the oil or timber industries for very little pay and this affects the traditional family system.

“People are leaving some remote settlements. But some resist moving. It has been the only home they know. If they migrate to the cities, there’s no guarantee of a better life.”

While many feel that a sweeping political change is needed to better the Ibans’ lot, Ong believes access to education for young Ibans is crucial if the community is to flourish.

“How they see themselves and how we see them are very different. As outsiders we might think their community needs more vocal leaders who can press for political change, but that’s not a priority at all for most.

“They are Malaysians, one of many indigenous groups that aren’t Malay/Muslim and they have to adapt to the modern economy and rapid industrialisation. There are many such sectors of the population that have been excluded from our development because of their unusual circumstances.”

I asked Ong about the recent controversy surrounding the rape of the women of another Sarawakian tribe, the Penan.

“I didn’t encounter such cases, but the situation is such that the people can be isolated and defenceless. The girls are married off at a young age; men go off for better jobs. Women are left with young children, destitute and very vulnerable. It is very sad.”

Still, Ong has many fond memories of his two-month stay with the Iban.

“I remember waking up in the morning and going fishing with the grandfather. And we watched the sunrise. He asked why I wasn’t watching the sun, because I was looking at the trees and the river.

“I explained that I was looking for the shadows not the light. He understood and said the same principle was used in hunting.”

To watch early edit extracts of Twilight of the Longhouse go to the My Videos section of:


and look for the videos titled Iban Sea Dayak.

London Filmmakers Studio Sdn. Bhd.'s Facebook Group is available at:


Pictures from Award Winning Documentary, TWILIGHT OF THE LONGHOUSE