Dammit – Fly Me to the Moon

In the first of a three-part series, Fikri Jermadi notes down the pre-production challenges he faced in making his film, ‘Fly Me to the Moon’.

It’s difficult, this.

Trying to put down the words for this particular script.

It’s not something that usually troubles me. Words would often fly, incorrectly or otherwise, the nouns and verbs falling into the places that grammar had dictated for them. Sometimes they’d go all the way off the page and screen, sometimes they’d land in a place that seems a bit weird at first, but is judged thus as “I like it.”

But they’d fly. That’s the point. They’d be jotted down nonetheless.

The words are not coming this time. This had been a story in the making for many, many years. I hesitate to actually write down the actual starting date, because it could well be a story since the beginning of my time here on Earth. It could well have started some years back, when I seriously considered making this film sooner or later. It crystalised into a more concrete form of expression, when I was told to shoot on film for my second project during my Korean exodus (I like calling it that for some reason). Thinking of what kind of story would be worthy of telling on film (a medium I had, up until that point, never shot on), and kept coming back to the ambitious project. In the end, I would abandon this effort and go with ‘Kisuksa’, a project that I deem to be the biggest disappointment so far (I probably will never, ever show that film to anyone, even if it was my first ‘film’ film).

And so, I started writing ‘Fly Me to the Moon’, a film based on the personal story between myself and my brother, Fazly.

****

“You need to make it more accessible to people.”

I thought about that a bit more. It was a class we had near the end of semester with my professor, Park Chong-won. In time, he would be promoted to be the president of the entire school (with a very questionable background attached to the whole thing, mind. Then again, the Korea National University of Arts have always had that hanging above their head). For now, he’ll make do as my professor. He was my professor during my first semester, and had in fact taken charge of the first ever class I was involved in this university. Along with the rest of my classmates, they had taken turn to dish their dirt on my script, in as polite a way as possible.

Sharing my work with the class wasn’t quite the experience that I had imagined. ‘Bound’ didn’t manage to get the same amount of pre-production time as I had initially thought, but then again, it took me some getting used to to the Korean way of working. ‘Kisuksa’, shot within the first week of the second semester, didn’t give anyone the chance to shoot me down before I did shoot, so ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ would become the first film in which an extended pre-production period was supposedly given. The idea is that I’d work on my script as the semester progresses. In truth, I spent half my time worrying about the translation as I do about making the respective changes. There was a fair amount of juice that came from the lemon, but half the time I was doing my own squeezing. Unfortunate that the juice needs to be adapted to Korean tastes, but no matter.

There’s another advantage to being a foreigner, though. I could just plead “Me foreigner, me no understand” and just make my film exactly the way I wanted it to be. To hell with everybody else; this is my story after all.

****

“Is this something that can push things forward?”

I put the script down, being careful not to get it smudged by the dew marks from the ice blended mocha. It didn’t seem like a big challenge, but somehow, surrounded as it were by boxes of cigarettes, a couple of lighters, and a near-overflowing ashtray, it became more challenging that I thought. I’ll make it through, somehow.

“Can you use this to get a chance to make a feature film?”

That was Tony, my cinematographer. We were couched, as it were, together, at the 2nd floor at the Itaewon branch of Coffee Bean. Discussing our film together, he had come up with some criticisms of the storyline. It’s not a new thing, this; I am rather used to people telling me the opposite of what I want to hear, which is actually what I really want to hear.

Confused? I love criticism. At times, I thrive on it. It may not seem that way before, but over time, I find myself dealing with negative feedback far better than I do with praise and plaudits. Beyond a simple thanks, I don’t really know how else to react when someone say, “Wow, Fikri, ‘My Father’s Son’ really touched me. It was so great!” They’d then go on to further illustrate how good it was, bringing into play a parallel from their own life. Which, of course, made it even more difficult for me to be comfortable in that situation.

With criticism, however, it’s not such a bad thing. With criticism, I feel that there’s always a part of me that’s ready to swat things away. This script has been in circulation for a long time. I had thought of the story and its basic outline years ago; I had practically finalised it for shooting last year, before deciding to eventually push it back. Dragging it back out for my graduation project, me and Tony had sat down to discuss how to actually visualise the whole thing.

Hence, the criticism.

*Taken from ‘Hotseat’.

*****

“I like that you’re putting in ‘Rasa Sayang’ in there.”

July 2009, Ulu Klang. Not quite where I had imagined myself to be some weeks ago, but no matter. It’s a pitching meeting at the National Film Development Corporation, more popularly known as FINAS. I had submitted my film for funding once I found out that my film was eligible for such backing. I did not take into account of their tardiness, however; helpful through they were in the end, they pushed back so many deadlines it made my head spin. It certainly didn’t help with the planning, since I was always in a state of uncertainty all the way to about a month before the shoot was supposed to begin.

My film, for one reason or another, was constantly delayed. Penciled dates could never be stamped with concrete authority, mainly because I needed my ally, Tony, to be with me. He had decided to take a year off and come back to shoot our graduation film together. He wasn’t back yet, and his return would be delayed by his own work, which was delayed in its own right. Nobody was at fault; this is the filmmaking life. Schedule is everything, mainly because if you don’t get things right, I’m sorry, but I’ve got other things I could do. That was what my main actor, Lee Su-hyeon, had said to me. Shifting the dates had made things more difficult in terms of casting, and now my first choice had to drop out.

A pity, that.

Anyway, no matter. I’m here now.

“Yes, I had intended to fuse together as much of my own culture as possible,” I said. I mentioned that it would be recomposed, one way or another, by a Thai girl, to be performed by Kazakh piano player (though having said that, he’s practically Russian for all intents and purposes). “But I feel that the story itself is not one that is particularly limited by geography and such barriers. It is, after all, a love story between two brothers, in a way. That’s something anyone can relate from anywhere. That’s my aim.”

My aim. To remake my history, or to make others relate to it? There’s a good chance that for the first time, I’ll be making a movie using other people’s money. What, then, will be my responsibilities? Could that potentially change I would have approached this project otherwise?

“Thank you, we’ll keep in touch.”

*****

“It’s not a bad first draft.”

My teacher, by now, had changed. Lee Seung-mu, director of the as-yet-unreleased ‘Warrior’s Way’, had taken over from Park Chong-won. It wasn’t a necessarily bad change, for he speaks excellent English. What a relief…or so I thought. The difference lies in the personalities; while Park Chong-won was supportive of the idea I had initially formulated, Lee Seung-mu tried to bring something else to the picture as well. It wasn’t a bad thing, in retrospect, merely a difference in approach. Park Chong-won was more of a lecturer, while Lee Seung-mu, at times, seems like he’s acting as a producer. Some of my other friends had been reduced to tears due to his biting remarks.

That was, however, before the whole thing started. He gave as much input as possible, but beyond that, he hardly interfered with my own film. I could sympathise with the others, but I didn’t feel the same interference once the shoot got underway. Perhaps he couldn’t really be bothered. Maybe he shouldn’t have even if he did; I doubt whether I truly would’ve listened to him.

He did give me one good advice. “Trust your producer,” he told me. “Let Won-jang deal with the other things. Just think of the story.” I did trust my producer, Cho Won-jang, and I find that he’s someone worth trusting.

Oh, and sir? It wasn’t the first draft.

It was number 17.

With translations and all.

****

The house looks nice, but…there’s something about it.

We’re in Toecheon, on the outskirts of Seoul. I’m not a happy bunny. Why? Well, I haven’t quite found what I wanted. In hindsight, at least. At the time, the location was rather good, in a way. I wanted wide, sweeping fields of gold and green to be waving at me by the time the camera starts rolling. In that sense, Toecheon wasn’t a bad place. The house, in truth, wasn’t bad either.

Tony was OK, so was I, but then again, I wasn’t always the sort to be too fussy about locations. Maybe I should be. In the end, it became a bit of a calamity, and I had to rush off my backside several times to pull things together. It didn’t help that the final shooting date would fall just after Korean Thanksgiving, and just before the Pusan International Film Festival. It meant that the number of people who could help me would be at a premium.

But that’s not the real reason why I’m not happy. It is the first day of Syawal, Hari Raya, Eid-ul-Fitr, the Muslim Christmas (as I’ve taken to describing it to everyone everywhere). It is one of the times in which I called into question, once again, of my own appetite for the game. Filmmaking is a crazy life, and to be successful, the price to pay is a high one. One often has to work beyond hours, beyond days, beyond weeks, just to see something fall into place and work out. Western industries in Hollywood and Britain, on the other hand, have a very tightly-regimented working hour system thanks to the strength of their unions, but you’d be lucky to find those unions having the same impact this side of the East Sea. From my experience, Malaysian and Korean crews bow down in reverence to the film schedule, and do their damnest to meet it, sleep or no sleep.

Today, the day scheduled for the location scouting, is also the first day of the end of Ramadhan. Though the location isn’t bad, the company is even better, and things are falling into place; even as people all over the world celebrate this holy festival with their closest friends and families, I’m very far away from my own family.

And that unhappiness is something that is hammered home even harder on this day.

Dammit.

‘Fly Me to the Moon’ is Fikri Jermadi’s graduation project. It was recently screened as a part of 12th Rolling graduation film festival. He wrote on the production and post-production stages as well.  You can check out the pictures from the making of the film here.

Featured image credit: HDW

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