Quek Shio Chuan is the director of ‘Sunflowers’, the most-watched short film on our Viddsee last month.
We speak to him about this Viddsee Shortee for November, his career as a film director, and his views on being one of the most-sought commercial director in Malaysia.
Here are our takeaways!
#1 – HOW IT ALL BEGAN: Quek began as a personal assistant at 2011 at Reservoir Productions, a small commercial production company in Malaysia. The team nurtured Quek to pursue his dreams of making his own films. Working with Ismail Kamarul, and with the support of a commercial crew, he made a story close to his heart: based on his relationship with his autistic brother.
Guang was made for the BMW Shorties competition in Malaysia, and won Grand Prize Winner and three other awards. It travelled, screened and won other international awards. Quek’s career as a director began with Guang, and similarly his partnership with Ismail as an executive producer.
Sunflowers was his second short film, inspired by his own grandfather’s death. It tells the story of a young make-up artist who indadvertedly ends up working in a funeral home. He and his team took it on as a challenge: 30 minutes, extensive prep work, multiple sites, and a lot of taboos surrounding death.
#2 – BEING UNCOMFORTABLE, TAKING ON CHALLENGES: Researching for a taboo subject like death was not easy. Quek and his team interviewed professionals at the largest bereavement centre in Malaysia to research the industry.
To fully flesh out the protagonist’s character, however, Quek sought out favours from smaller funeral homes in his hometown, 3-hrs away from the city centre. They had him on speed dial.
“Basically I had to wait for someone to die. But the first corpse I saw was my neighbour, and that really did away any superstition or taboo about death for me.
“That grief was real, and you feel for the family. That was what I wanted for the character [which the actress Emily Chan executed perfectly].”
#3 – TELLING PERSONAL STORIES: Stories close to his heart are gratifying to tell. They are easier write, develop and direct. There was no hesitation in putting his heart and soul out there because there are no similar opportunities in commercial work.
Despite their own commitments and production schedule, the commercial production company and crew took on both Guang and Sunflowers wholeheartedly.
“Telling stories that reveal true insights about ourselves is very satisfying. For us as directors, and for the audiences. That’s the best feeling ever, when people write in saying that these stories were true for them, or inspired them.”
#4 – TELLING STORIES FOR THE COUNTRY: Every young filmmaker aspires to make commercial ads for the state oil and gas company, Petronas. Its national, festival and commemorative ads are highly anticipated, especially by the highly critical Internet community.
“That was my dream, that was everyone’s dream. Our break came in 2012. It was 15 days in Uzbekistan. There was no real fear, we just wanted to go for it, do a good job of it.
“Now, after being tasked to take on the full ‘set’ of festival spots — Chinese New Year, Independence Day, Hari Raya, Deepavali — the stress sets in. There’s no break in between. We’ve done it for two years running now.”
“It’s challenging, even until today. It’s a lot of pressure, man! Especially when the Internet is so honest! It’s the whole country we’re talking about here – we get tweets and comments and we read all of them.”
#5 – WHAT’S NEXT? A FEATURE FILM! Quek hopes to work closely with Ismail to flesh out ‘Guang’ as a feature film, slated for late 2016. It will be produced by Reservoir Productions and distributed internationally. The team is looking out for funding opportunities. Read about it here.