LUNCHBOX #10 : Wesley Leon Aroozoo

I (Jeremy) tried to do a 'Wesley' by choreographing this rather enigmatic shot. 

Anyone familiar with filmmaker/artist Wesley Leon Aroozoo, might begin to wonder if after all his varied pursuits in music, writing and of course film, performance art is really his thing. His latest art work 'Hard On Day Off Jerk Off Thank You but I miss home now', now showing in Stockholm, is a yet another chip off his block of works that seem to be experimentation with his own psyche. Wesley, one of the most prolific short film makers of the current times, has produced a body of works that undeniably esoteric, enigmatic and even funny. I am trying to avoid using the word quirky because it understates the intent in the films. See his colourful filmography below.

Just like his films, Wesley is a mixed bag of temperaments. He can't be pigeon-holed. To call him rebellious is putting him into a kind of straight-jacket for artists. You can't place the 'comedy' nor 'experimental' genre on him either. His works are funny yet getting laughs do not seem the end intention. He works cross-genres but do not quite seek out to bend or invent forms. Rumour has it that he once custom-made a baby coffin to put his film school application submission materials in and sent the entire 'application' package over. Yet sometimes, at the end of the day, he is shy like a teenager who's on his first night out to party. Who is the real Wesley, I spent some time with him to find out.

Jeremy (J): You look exotic. What mix are you?
Wesley (W): I am Eurasian, a mix of Portguese and Chinese, so its half Portuguese, half Chinese.
J: Can you speak Portuguese.
W: No, but my parents can. I just never picked it up from them.
J: Why didn’t you pick it up?
W: I think the main reason is because on my maternal relatives’ side, they all migrated to Australia. So I don’t have any reasons to speak Portuguese to anybody.
J: So between your parents, who is Chinese, who is Eurasian?
W: Both are Eurasians.
J: So their ‘half-half’ makes you still a ‘half-half’.
W: You can say that.
J: How big is your family?
W: I have 2 older sisters. I am the youngest.

Wesley displays a beautiful tattoo on his left arm which feature his mum and him.

J: What are you currently doing?
W: I am currently doing my masters in Tisch Asia in writing. It is a 2 year course, I just started.
J: Didn’t you just graduate from NTU? When was it?
W: I graduated in June last year. I started this course in August.
J: So why did you choose writing?
W: Err…… I do like writing a lot. And it is quite hard to find a course that allows you to write. And especially in Singapore, we don’t really have courses catered to writing. In NYU, you could either do writing or filmmaking again. I went straight for writing as I wanted to try something different. I already did it for 3 years in poly and then a few more years in NTU.

J: When did you start making films?
W: When I was 10 years old, I wanted to go to Disneyland and I entered this chocolate wrapper competition. I didn’t win the top prize which was a trip to Amsterdam but I won the second prize which was a Sony H8 camera. It was this gadget which cost a few thousand and I started playing around with it. I would shoot home videos with my sister.
J: How long ago was that?
W: It was the year 1995. I played with the camera for about 2-3 years for fun. And then I stopped doing films all the way until I went into Temasek Poly.
J: Dick Marlow was your first short film?
W: Unfortunately, yes.
J: It’s very cute.
W: It’s ok.
J: Why did you stop after a while?
W: I think it was because when I entered secondary school, it was a very weird period of tie for me. I was going in different directions. And I always wanted to go to a JC. But when I got my ‘O’ Level results, I could not make it to a JC, so I had to choose a poly. I went through course lists and many of them did not interest me. Then, there was a filmmaking course in Temasek Poly, called Interactive Media Design. So I tried it out and I brought my film ‘Dick Marlow’ for the interview ad somehow it helped me start off in this direction?

J: What did they say about Dick Marlow?
W: Erm, for some strange reason, they actually liked it.
J: So your first proper film was Moomeow the Cat? What is it about?
W: Moomeow the Cat is about a scientist who wants to be the maddest scientist in the whole world. So she fuses her two friends, a cat and a cow together to create a new animal. But the animal turns out to be a very unhappy animal. She goes on to win the competition but she lost her friends.

J: I notice a lot of your films have elements of fantasy and absurdity. I guess that’s what makes your films interesting. Where do these ideas come from?
W: For Moomeow, there are so many elements of fantasy and many costumes because I have always dreamed of working in Jim Henson’s workshop where you can play with the puppets and all that Sesame Street stuff. I do like puppets for some strange reason…. A lot. So I always wanted to have my little own costume play, so that was how Moomeow was created.

J: But what’s the real Wesley like? (beat) Yes, I would actually like to know more about you. I mean I think your films speak louder than you, if you would allow me to put it that way. You are soft-spoken. (pause( Ya, what have you always been like? Maybe as a teenager and now?
W: Mmm… I have always been soft-spoken. I am quite a gentle person. I don’t lose my patience often. Erm, when I started making all these small films, it reminded how I used to play all my toys when I was young.
J: What were the toys? Any Barbie dolls? Just kidding.
W: A lot of toys, because I was very pampered. My mum bought me like everything.
J: Were you really spoiled?
W: No I wasn’t. I just had a lot of toys. But then in a way, for some reason, there was a benefit to it. When I was young, because I had all the toys I wanted, so that mentality was in my mind. So when I got older, I worked extremely hard for everything I wanted. Not getting something was just not an answer.
J: Isn’t that a good thing?
W: Yeah, it’s a good thing even though it’s a little bit psychotic.
J: Are you psychotic?
W: Errr… no.
J: How do you know?
W: (laughs) But you just won’t take no for an answer and go all the way.
J: So you have a tendency to lose sight of other things if you can’t get a particular thing?
W: To a certain extent maybe.

J: What were the biggest disappointments in your life?
W: I would think it would be JC. I still remember going to collect my ‘O’ level results. I know I wasn’t a very smart student. But I calculated that I might stand a chance to get into the last 2-3 JCs. So, when I collected my results, everything was as expected except for one subject which way off my expectations. That was my English for some strange reason. I am usually good in English and my Malay is horrible and I will usually score an A1 or A2 for English cos I speak English everyday. But when I collected it, it was a C6. So it was quite devastating. I remember a few people talking and saying maybe my composition was way-off the topic but I knew myself that it was not way-off. Anyway, I was very sad because I saw how people did not believe in me. Maybe in some psychotic, that’s why I am doing my writing today.

J: Why do you like to write?
W: I like to create things in general. I would usually type on a typewriter itself. I just like to see things being created on a paper. If I am typing on the computer, it’s just not the same though I have to do that now.
J: I understand you do a bit of music, so do you write all your songs?
W: Erm, for most of my films, I do the films. But sometimes, I work with a composer. But I never had a music lesson in my life and the only person who would give me a chance to feature my own music is actually myself.
J: Are you more a writer or a filmmaker?
W: I think perhaps more a writer. Writing is a more personal activity that I can do myself. In filmmaking, there is a lot more interaction with people … which I do enjoy, (not that I am anti-social) though not as much as writing. I don’t think I can do directing as a job.
J: Have you tried directing for paid jobs?
W: I just can’t. I am scared.
J: Why are you scared?
W: Cos in school, sometimes you are made to direct other people’s stories. I can sometimes get bored. I am usually better when I am directing my own stuff.
J: If you had 5 years left to live, would you spend your time writing a book or directing a film?
W: Sad to say, I would prefer to write a book.
J: Nothing sad to say, it’s your preference.
W: I still like films a lot. I would still direct small films and maybe the occasional bigger films.
J: If you had a million dollar, what kind of big film would you direct? (pause) change that, these a million is not enough, let’s say you had $10million.
W: I would probably make a film set in space with lots of unnecessary special effects (laughs) and huge sets. It would make people go ‘he spent so much money and yet he screwed it up’. (laughs)
J: Do you have low self-esteem?
W: No I don’t think I have low self-esteem.
J: Why do you always put yourself down?
W: I just know I will screw it up but I will laugh about it too.

Independent Filmmaking : A Film Student's Journey from wes on Vimeo.
Listen up! Wesley plays 'film instructor' in this video

J: I’d like to know a bit more about the journey you have taken. The first film I saw that you made was Flicker. Then of course, there was Pak & Sons Travel that totally blew my mind because I have never seen anything like that. It was madness and crazy but it made me remember the film too. And obviously,  you went on to do other quirky stuff. Care to share about this evolution of your style? Is there such thing as a ‘Wesley’ style?

Wesley 'models' the 'Pak & Sons Travel' T-shirt that he was going to give me as a token for this interview.

W: I don’t know but my hope is that even if I doing comedy or something serious, that people would go ‘Oh yeah, that’s a Wesley film’ regardless of its genre. So that’s something I try to strive for.
J: What is the ‘Wesley’ style?
W: Maybe I approach serious issues in a light-hearted way.
J: But it is beyond light-hearted as well, it’s sometimes quite twisted.
W: (laughs) Maybe to a certain extent. I don’t know why. I am not like that myself but somehow my films carry that characteristic.

Still from 'Pak & Sons Travel'

J: What have your lecturers said about your films?
W: Usually it’s not their cup of tea. In fact, the lecturers comment on our ideas throughout the journey and have asked me to change this and that along the way. I am quite stubborn so I will usually go ‘Yes that’s correct.’ But in the end nothing changes and I still go out to do what I want to do. And they would be like ‘Damn you Wesley, you didn’t listen to me!’ (pause) I guess if I followed what they said, I would have made a better film. Unfortunately, making a better film is not what I am interested in. It’s not the point why I make a film.
J: How did you get involved with 13 Little Pictures?
W: I wanted to make a longer film for my final year project, so I approached 13 Little Pictures for assistance and guidance for doing the film. However, it was later taken out of the premise of my final year project and I had to make it independent of NTU.
J: Are you still developing it?
W: Yes. I am still applying for film grants.
J: What’s your film about?
W: It’s about a bookmark factory. But at night the factory does weird stuff and its about a guy who gets involved with the factory.
J: Why bookmarks?
W: I like bookmarks because they look silly and many of them have this picture of a sunset with a silly quote.

Geylang Santa - still from 'Kissing Faces'

J: Who are your favourite directors or who inspires you?
W: I like the older films by Woody Allen. I find it so amazing that he is so old and yet he can still write and direct pretty continuously. He comes up with a film nearly every two years. I also like works from David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick. But locally I like Ho Tzu Nyen’s stuff and Daniel Hui’s stuff.
J: Among your own works, which are you favourites?
W: It’s got to be Mickey. It’s also the film which had the least attention. So if you were a father and you know a kid has too little attention, you end up liking the kid more.
J: Why Mickey?
W: For me, it was a film which had a good balance of what I wanted to say and also a film that people can identify with. It deals about a topic that is not discussed much. And it had a mouse, astronauts, a wedding and even a threesome in a bed. And Mickey is actually one of the most serious films out of all my films.

Still from 'Mickey'

J: Would you starve for the sake of art?
W: If I had a choice I would not starve for the sake of art, but it would be extremely hard for me not to do anything related to art.
J: Have you tried doing other things?
W: Yes, I did!
J: Tell me what you did!
W: During the army after my Poly, I was applying for NTU. I applied twice but didn’t get in. I am about to apply for the third time. At the same, I thought about trying something else. I though why not be a pilot? So I applied to the Singapore Air Force. To be with them, you need to sign a 10-yr bond. I went for training with them in Sydney for about 2 months during my NS. (pause) It was so strange. When I went up there to train, the thing I banned myself from having was a notebook. Because I love to write and writing would take my attention off from flying, that’s why. So everyday I would fly in the sky. And bear in mind, I was afraid of heights. But soon I was doing somersaults. But ultimately, I still didn’t like it.
J; How did you overcome your fear of height?
W: Oh, before that I was in commando and doing parachuting and that’s worse if you are afraid of heights. If you are up there, it does not matter if you are afraid of heights because you need to concentrate on doing your safety checks and all. You can’t let something like this fear disrupt what you are trying to do because your safety is at stake. But flying is definitely not as scary as jumping out of a plane. And with 1001 things to juggle when you fly, you have no time to think about your fear of heights. (Pause) Anyway, back to my journey in this flying career. I actually managed to pass all the crucial tests and get so close to becoming a pilot. But I told myself I couldn’t do it and bear not to have my notebook. It was just not what I wanted to do. So in the end, my road to flying ended because I failed one of the tests in which I did not study. You need to study to pass the flying exams. (pause) That was the point of time I realized that writing and filmmaking were really what I loved and wanted to do.

Filmmography of Wesley Leon Aroozoo
Dick Marlow (1995)
Moomeow (2005)
Flicker (2006)
Pak & Sons Travel (2007)
A Lion's Pride (2008)
Love Me Yesterday (2008)
Hard Boiled Egg (2008)
Mickey (2009)
Kissing Faces (2009)
Peep (2010)
Maybe She Loves Everyone (2010)
Two Fingers Imitating Legs Walking (2011)

For more information on some of Wesley's recent film works, check out the 13 Little Pictures Website.
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