Laying the MACKdown – Brad Liew

Disclaimer: Brad was a former student of mine at Monash University. He took a Film Studies unit under my tutelage, but while I have been keen on supporting him in whichever way I can, his film career started before we ever met. Having now graduated, he is currently working in the industry, but on the side, he is one of the founders of The Weekend Projects (which, it should be added, is NOT a Wong Fu wannabe). Through that, he has made in a number of well-received productions, culminating with an appearance at the Kuala Lumpur International Short Film Festival.

Given that his star is on rise, and that he has just released a new short film called ‘MACK’, I figure I should interview him before he gets too famous and forget all about me…

Hi Brad. What are you currently doing right now, film-wise?
Hi Fikri! First off thanks for having me on your blog! Currently I’m freelancing at a production company called Dos Fellas as a Production Assistant.

What kind of stuff do they do?
They are a company that focuses on documentaries and corporate videos. As a production assistant I’m the guy at the bottom helping out with everything. I think it’s a great way to start as I get to learn and work on everything during shoot day rather than being slightly restricted to a specific department.

How did you actually get into filmmaking? What made you do it?
I think I got into film making by complete accident. I remember making my first ‘film’ back in high school. My classmates and I were in Form 2 and we decided to make a horror movie about a haunted house (mine) for our Moral Studies project. Long story short, it was great fun and I think that fun factor hooked me in. That film by the way will never be seen by anyone as the camera owner accidentally re-recorded over the footage before we extracted the file. Let that be a lesson to you would-be film makers. Always back up your files. Immediately.

You actually studied business, and beyond a single subject, didn’t actually study films or filmmaking. How much of your business knowledge has been translated into filmmaking?
I think the business side of my degree definitely helped in terms of organization and man-management. As an indie-film maker, you’re always facing issues of finding cost saving methods and alternatives. Making a film is really like a business project management. You have to plan your shoot, source out your required resources with regards to feasibility and manage your team members in order for the end product to be a success.

Having graduated from university, I remember having a conversation with you about the options and opportunities available in the industry. How has your experience been thus far?
I think think in terms of the local industry, its definitely been tough. I’m still finding my feet and trying to figure out how to achieve my long term goals. It hasn’t been easy but the experience I’ve gained so far has been invaluable and I’m very happy in that aspect.

OK, give me one example of how it has been invaluable.
Just working under professionals of international standards has given me a huge insight in terms of technical knowledge and industry best practices (especially in terms of camera work).

To that end, you’ve started The Weekend Projects. What is that all about?
The Weekend Projects is a crowd sourced indie-filmmaking project. We basically come up with ideas and encourage anyone to come join us in making short films. Our definition of ‘films’ don’t just include full on narrative with dialogue, as it can even be really fun shorts under the duration of 3 minutes.

You’ve made quite a number of films, but they’re all quite different from one another. How do you decide what to do for the different projects?
Our selection process is absolutely casual! We just hang out and throw around ideas. Coolest one wins! However I believe that you should always be pushing the envelope. If it has been done before, what’s the point in duplicating something or copying it entirely. By all means use certain genres and styles as references but always bring something new to the table. This way you’re always exploring and learning which is crucial for anyone in any industry.

What do you think about the current state of digital filmmaking now?
AMAZING, EXCITING and above all, relatively AFFORDABLE. We are blessed to be in a stage where anyone can just pick up a DSLR and make a pretty darn good looking film. There’s no way 50% of the stuff I’ve done would have been possible without this kind of accessibility.

At the same time, has it also helped to create more competition for you? After all, anyone with a DSLR these days can make a film…
That’s absolutely true. But then again I believe that at the end of the day, the most important thing is the quality of the stories you tell and not the equipment you use. The cameras and gadgets are just tools to help you tell your story.

What has been the most significant moment of your filmmaking career thus far?
Representing Malaysia in the Kuala Lumpur International Short Film Festival.

This was for the film, ‘The Hipster View’. What has that done for you?
That film was an absolute joy to make and a real surprise when it was selected. Apart from being a great addition to the portfolio, I think it really pushed us at TWP to create more stories and expand our circle.

Describe for us the most challenging moment so far when you’re making a film.
Time. There’s never enough time! Sometimes you have to make tough decisions in order to keep to your shooting schedule.

Can you give an example of the tough decisions you were talking about?
Decisions like changing the story slightly in order to accommodate the shooting schedule while still making sure it works for the final product. For example in MACK, we ran into a problem with the house scenes because we couldn’t finish it all in one day. A decision was made and we ended up squeezing in an extra segment in a different house on the final day of shoot. So the interior scenes and the exterior scenes were shot at two different houses on two separate days.

What have been your most major influence when it comes to filmmaking?
Movies like ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’, ‘Goodbye Lenin’, Tarantino films, Del Toro films. The ones where after watching them you think to yourself, “Wow! That was amazing. I want to make a film like that”. Films that rope you in and give you that ‘moment’.

Now let’s talk about ‘MACK’. How did the idea for this film came about?
The idea came for ‘MACK’ came about when one of the main actors of the film, Fei and I were at the gym. We saw some pretty hardcore deadweight lifting going on in the background and thought to ourselves: “Hey! Imagine if we did a story about an assassin that looked like a hyper buff Dolph Lundgren crushing his victims skull”. As you can see, we view violence in a very colorful manner along with rainbows and butterflies.

What was the experience like making this film? I remember you were scrambling for a bit during certain parts of the production…
It was like Tom Cruise stuck to the front of the TGV train in the first ‘Mission: Impossible’ movie. We were going on hyperdrive with this film. This was mainly due to the fact that a couple of our actors were leaving the country and we had this small 3 day window to film everything to fit everyone’s schedule. We knuckled down and I felt we pulled through really well.

I notice that this film is fair ‘commercial’, referencing liberally to pop culture and showing women in a fairly ‘interesting’ way. This film also happened to garner the highest number of hits on your Youtube account. How deliberate was the process tailored to making this a more mainstream film?
First off Jinn, Fei, Yugi and I wrote and came up with the concept of ‘MACK’ together with the idea of making the a film that was pulp culture inspired. Referencing movies like ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘Drive’ was a joy to have in our dialogue especially when we knew that it would fit perfectly in certain situations. In terms of the portrayal of women in the film, I believe that certain scenes were shot as it was relevant to the imagination of the character in the film world. This being the sexy supermodel scene. However you would notice that the subsequent scene paints a more gritty realistic version of events which also gives our female character a very strong and dominant role. Beneath the masculine exterior of the film, I believe that the female roles are of equal importance to the plot.

What has the reception to ‘MACK’ been like so far?
It has been really amazing! I think it gives us great satisfaction in seeing our film received so positively. It kinda gives a sense of accomplishment that we were able to give our viewers something fun and unique for that fifteen minutes.

In fact, you’ve screened your works at quite a number of venues up till now. What does it feel like, and what has the reaction been like?
Insane butterflies in your stomach. Film screenings takes me back to that nervous feeling in school when you have to go up on stage during “Perhimpunan” Mondays to give a speech. However it’s really rewarding when people come up to you after screenings and tell you that they can relate to the stories you tell on screen. I think that’s the best part about screenings.

If you have one tip you can pass on to someone aspiring to make similar films, what would it be?
Be different and have fun! The moment it stops being fun, you know somethings wrong.

What’s coming up from you and The Weekend Projects next?
We’re currently shooting a few fun short films, got in touch with some cool local musicians for potential music videos and also working on our big year end project. Stay tuned and keep updated on our Facebook page!

What is it about filmmaking that keeps you coming back for more?
It’s the fact that filmmaking is this incredible collaborative effort which gives birth to something that has the ability to transport the viewer into the world of your choosing and to feel any form of emotion you want them to. Also the idea of lifelong free caramel popcorn one day if I play my cards right and make the big time!

Must it be caramel?
Salt and butter is too mainstream.

You can check out the rest of Brad’s work at his Youtube and Vimeo channels. Additionally, go over to Facebook, and like ‘The Weekend Projects’.

Featured image credit: Medical Media Training

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