Malaysian born filmmaker, producer and writer who made a soothing short film yet with an intense message called “Manhattan Transfer”. Here’s a conversation with the director on his newly released short film.
Tell us a little bit about “Manhattan Transfer”.
Manhattan Transfer is a dance film about a tired financial analyst dancing his worries away in an empty New York subway.
I always wanted to do a dance film as the idea of telling a story through body movement seems very intriguing to me. No dialogue. Just gestures and movements.
Who did you work with on this project? Why?
It really was a passion project between my friends and I. As the producer as well, the budget was slim, to put it nicely.
I knew the dancer of the film, Paulin Maindon from my graduate days at School of Visual Arts (VSA). We lived in the same student dorm, even though we went to different schools. When I had the idea of the story, I knew he and his contemporary dancing style would fit the character perfectly. For cinematography, I had entrusted a friend from the production studio I was working at the time, Ana Vasquez. She’s a complete pro when it comes to videography, and taught me everything I know about photo and video production. It was an easy choice.
For music, I got the privilege to work with a long time friend and an award winning film director based in Mumbai – Pranav Bhasin. I’ve always wanted to collaborate with him. I’m a huge fan of his work. But due to our different geographical location, we never really had the chance. So when I realized, I needed music for this film. I took the opportunity to basically cheat a collaboration with him. And of course, the music speaks for itself. Luckily for me, he said yes.
What made you want to write about it?
The idea came to me as I was commuting back home from work. I was working at a production studio at that time and the hours were quite long there. So, we often find ourselves back home quite late, usually the streets would be relatively empty by then.
On this specific commute though, It struck me that I was the only person in the subway car. I could have done anything in it and there would be no evidence of me ever being there. It’s a quite a strange state to be in, to be present and yet in a much real sense to not be there at all.
What roadblocks did you face when you were starting out?
Because I had gone to business school for my undergrad, it was quite difficult trying to enter the industry. I didn’t know anybody who did film professionally so I had no clue where to start. And unlike conventional industries, it’s quite rare for film production companies to post job listings on LinkedIn or job sites.
Until one day, a TV drama shoot had taken place at a neighbour’s house. Somehow my neighbours managed to get approval from the production to let me come see and ‘help out’ on the set. There was of course nothing to help out with, the crew worked like a well oiled machine and I would just slow down production.
From there I got to see the different departments – camera, electric, art working together to tell a story, and I was more confident than ever to pursue a career in film. Starting out in films is tough. There’s really no road map to it.
What inspired you to produce this short film?
With Manhattan Transfer, I wanted to tell this story of somebody commuting back home late at night – exhausted, mainly because I had envisioned what my parents had gone through providing for my siblings and I when we were growing up. I would always remember them coming home from work around 10pm and sometimes even later.. I didn’t think much of it back then, it mainly meant my TV time was over and I had to go to bed. But now looking at it, I realize what they must have gone through during all those years. How depleted they must have felt during those nights.
Do you have any upcoming releases?
I am currently working as producer for two highly socially conscious feature documentaries, “Enemy In The Ranks” (Amanda Sarabia Productions) and “First It Was My Dream” (GSM Creative). The two projects are very different, but both have a lot of heart and spirit. We have spent the last several months shooting and finding funding in between that. I am looking forward to securing the finances to fully finish the film and release it for people to see.
I have also just finished post-production for my first narrative short film, “Hey, Night” and have begun sending it out to a few film festivals in Asia and Europe.
Do you have any advice for young filmmakers like yourself?
I don’t think I’m at a place to be giving other people any advice. But one thing somebody told me that really resonated with me, is that to just keep doing work and if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. At least you get better at it.
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