Interview with Isazaly Mhd Isa - Corridor (Jury Prize - Civic Life: Where The Heart Is)

Corridor from Isazaly Mohd Isa on Vimeo.

The curtains have been drawn on Civic Life's Where The Heart Is 90-second film competition and a winner has been picked from the myriad entries depicting life in this island we call Home.

We catch Isazaly Mohd Isa - winning director of Corridor, for a quick chat on his inspirations and hopes for the future.

Q. What are your thoughts on winning the competition?

My thoughts on winning this competition are kind of weird and my feelings are also mixed up like 'rojak'... haha. This is my first time winning the grand prize in a film competition! The last time I got close to winning a related competition was when I got second place in an Art Competition organised by a community centre, when I was 12!

Judging from my reaction to the announcement, I guess my first thoughts were of pure joy and excitement. I was having breakfast with my wife and daughter at Toa Payoh, when my wife asked me whether the competition results were out. I told her that I was not sure and took out my iPhone to check the Civic Life's website. I could not believe my eyes when I saw the results! Instinctively, I jolted off my seat and shouted "I won! I won! Yes!"...and burst into laughter as I showed it to my wife. People around us must have thought I won the lottery or something. Moments after, I received a phone call from British Council’s official-Dan, who confirmed my win and assured me I wasn’t dreaming.

I’m really grateful and happy that my very short film has reached out to many people and captured many hearts.

Q. What was your inspiration for Corridor? Walk us through the journey of producing this film.

3 days before the competition deadline I received a message from an artiste friend, Art Fazil (whose latest album is brilliant by the check it out at your local music store! Haha.. thanks for the heads up, bro!) The brief facebook message reads :

"Maybe this might interest you guys!", and he provided the link.

So I went to the website and there were already a few entries in the gallery. I briefly watched them and the last one I watched was "Dhoby Shop". I remember saying to myself, "I don't think I can do better than them. They have nice stories to tell." And furthermore I have only a few days before the deadline.

A day later, a screenwriter friend of mine asked if I had done anything for the competition. I said "No".

She replied on my facebook, "Buat-lah Zalee (Do it Zalee)! 90 secs, favourite place not too much to work on by Friday. I support you!" These were her exact words I cut and paste here... hahahaha.... she made it sound so easy!

That very same night (2 days before deadline), I decided to embark on ‘where my heart is’. I had the idea for ‘Corridor’ since 2001, when I had the chance to work on Alfian Saat's short stories of the same title-"Corridor" which was being converted into a television series at the time. Reading his stories brought back memories of my childhood and had somewhat inspired me.

I was brought up at a small HDB estate called Farrer Road. And I lived on the 7th floor, which had a common corridor just like my film. It would’ve been great to film it there, but like many old HDB flats, its no longer standing. In fact it is rare to find flats with long corridors these days. However, by luck for this film there is a flat near my house that has the same features as my old flat and so I thought, why not make ‘Corridor’ for this! The original ‘Corridor’ is much bigger scale, so I decided to tone it down and reserve the original for next time.

I borrowed my father-in-law's wheelchair and asked my 8yr old daughter to come along with me for the shoot. We went up to the 16th floor and discovered a nice view. We can even see East Coast beach from there! The corridor however was too narrow as there were potted plants on both sides. So I asked my daughter to pick another floor. She randomly picked 14th!

The 14th floor was perfect. The wheelchair can easily be maneuvered along the corridor. I placed my tripod and consumer HD camera on the wheelchair and the rest was history. By the end of it I had 4 similar but different takes. One with an additional story - but I decided that it was too mellow and finally chose the one you get to watch now.

I will be writing a technical rundown of this on my blog soon and will also share some tips and tricks that I've used:

It took me about an hour of shoot, another hour to scribble the story based upon the memories, feelings and emotions that I can still remember during my Farrer Road days, few very late hours of editing the sounds, opening and end credit and the text (with the help of my screenwriter friend earlier :P) to turn it into this little short film called ‘Corridor’ and thankfully managed to upload it in time, just hours before the deadline.

Q. Where do you see the local film industry now? What do you hope to see in the future?

This is kind of difficult for me to answer now, since I'm still "fresh" in the local film scene, but I strongly believe there will be more good things to come.

When I left Singapore in 1994 to pursue film studies in Kuala Lumpur, there wasn't even a film industry. Back then, most of my Singapore friends either wanted to be a graphic designer, an interior designer, a fine artist or a rock star!

There was 4 other Singaporeans who had the same filmmaking dream and ever-since, we had been getting ourselves involved in the whole filmmaking process in Malaysia, right up till now.

When I got back to Singapore a few years back, I notice there has been a lot of growing support in the filmmaking scene, which has a similar model from Malaysia and other countries, such as film grants, film bodies, film school etc. And so, I helped a few friends setup their own production company and start to produce works for television, as a start.

I also got myself few editing jobs for Suria Channel and that was where I met filmmaker, Sanif Olek, who was already making award-winning short films. And I was happy that the Malay community, is also putting up their effort to promote films from Singapore, just like Eric Khoo, Jack Neo and Royston Tan and also witnessing the forming of Singapore Malay Film Society (SMFS), by a group of believers, I have a strong faith that the film community in Singapore, will soon diversify into a bigger, much stronger and multi-cultured film industry, that would one day have its own identity. I still lived to the idea that "culture is the currency of the 21st century."

I remember taking a screenwriting course by Robert McKee and he said, "Asian people have a lot of stories to tell." I do agree, we have a lot of stories to tell but, we don't have that many GOOD storytellers. No doubt, I’ve seen great talents in Singapore (from the entries), but I hope that they would get notice by the industry and guide them in their career path.

And perhaps, one day, I would be in the league of GOOD extraordinary filmmaker, with GOOD stories to tell. [sigh]

Q. Did you watch the 20 finalists' works? If so, which did you find most inspiring?

That was the first thing I did after I was informed that mine was in the Top 20. And when I saw ‘Dhoby Shop’ and ‘When the Day begins’ was in the list, I thought, alamak (Oh no!)…. no chance lah... there goes my camera prize!

‘Remember’ is the most inspiring for me as it plays with old photos and it presented the exact real location. When I look at old photos I always wonder what it’s like if I was in the picture and I’m a nostalgic fool you see, so it got me there.

Q. You've won a trip to the Encounters Short FIlm Festival in Bristol, UK. Any expectations you hope to bring with you?

Winning this trip was totally unexpected! I wanted the camera. Badly! Out of topic, but the funny thing about this scenario is that my screenwriter friend, who pushed so hard for me to do this actually has a home in Bristol and her husband is there now (perhaps laughing away as he reads this!) Hahaha… the irony.

I’m really looking forward to the Encounters Film Festival at the home of BBC Bristol and Aardman Animations! I love Aardman’s work and almost became an animator myself. it is a good avenue for me to meet more filmmakers from other countries, sharing ideas and perhaps collaborate in the future. I have been to various film festivals before, either as an audience or with a film that I was directly involved in and had always come back with new friends and perspectives. I expect to bring back more stories, ideas, memories and emotions to share with my audience.

Oh and also to search for a this street-artist named ‘Banksy’. Wonder where I can find him...

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