Get to Know filmmaking collective 'Ministry of Film'Ography'

Unlike photography, films are often the fruit of labour of many hands. If you are starting out and have no contacts or a 'usual crew', it makes sense to find like-minded people to realise your vision. We have previously featured a one of the bigger filmmaking collectives in Singapore - 13 Little Pictures. Here comes another brought together by common interests and friendship. They call themselves 'Ministry of Film'Ography' (Wonder who came with that snazzy name!) and have pretty noble ambitions apart from just making films and videos, they also plan to develop a 13-week program for school dropouts next year encompassing skills that do not require a paper certificate to achieve success. Activities would go beyond filmmaking to include art and soccer.  Here is their website.

We grabbed some key members of MOFO (Ministry of Film'Ography) to understand more about their collective and plans. 

How did you guys find each other?

The team was helmed by Alfian Ahmad and Nessa Anwar, who were both mentored by local film-maker Wee Li Lin in directing and screenwriting respectively. Alfian watched a reading of Nessa’s screenplay which she wrote for Li Lin’s screenwriting course in National University of Singapore and decided he wanted to direct it. Carmal Ahmad, Khid S. and Widya Abdul joined during and after the production of Lorong Halus.

Nurwidya Abdul, Ms 'Producer'

Nessa Anwar, the one who wields the pen (writer)

Very important man who guards the finances - Khid S.

They have a PR guy too - Karmal Ahmad

The Cameraman Alfian Ahmad

How do you guys complement each other? Perhaps you could give a short intro of the team members.

Think of it like a motorcycle. (All 5 of us ride, so we tend to make bike analogies and philosophy for many things.)

Alfian’s the engine. He provides the main technical framework, is the machine and mechanism guy of the group and requires an overhaul once every 2 years (but that’s a different story.) He is also part of the creative force driving the work. He is a graduate of Film, Sound and Video, and he is currently working as technical crew for local productions. For MOF, he is our artistic director.

Carmal’s the bright, colourful decal. He is the conversation starter. He makes us look good and eye-catching – he is our publicity and marketing man. Currently an undergraduate studying Economics and Finance, his two other passions would be cycling and martial arts. For MOF, he is our marketing director.

Widya’s the fuel tank. She’s the one who reigns us in when we get too crazy and provides a more experienced eye on the business side of matters. She oversees the overall direction of the company and provides valuable creative input as well. A graduate of Mass Communications, she has been in the media industry for many years and is currently a Senior Editor for a men’s magazine. Widya is MOF’s business development director.

Khid is the chassis. He keeps us together by keeping us sane, keeping tabs on everything from the outside, but stepping in whenever there is a problem, without fail. He is our logistics man, and he works with airplane electronics. He is currently a part-time undergraduate studying Aviation. For MOF, he is our finance director.

Nessa is the ignition. She’s the creative spark, churning out work, finding new talent, finding projects and providing an aesthetic eye. A graduate of Philosophy at NUS, she lives and breathes rock and roll and daylights as senior management for a social enterprise. She has been in the performing arts industry for 6 years and counting. She is MOF’s project director.

Is MOF working towards being a film production company or a non-profit collective/association of filmmakers?

Right now, we are developing three sectors of MOF. One, being the business venture, churning out various media and performing arts workshops for accounts. We are blessed with the opportunity to share our knowledge and expertise with the younger generation and we are pretty excited about it. Second being our creative side, making sure that our business is able to sustain the works we want to do. And thirdly, and more importantly, our social initiatives are aimed to involve out-of-school youths, where we will provide non-profit workshops for them on skills which do not necessarily require higher education to excel in, like technical crew, acting, art work etc.

Groups like these come and go, how closely-knitted is MOF and what will keep you intact for the future?

The best thing about MOF is that we are not only friends, but family as well. Widya and Nessa are related by blood, Nessa and Khid are related by a relationship and we all live near enough to each other to hunt each other down if we bail on each other. We hang out not only with each other, but we hang out with each other with OTHER groups of friends as well, so we rarely go more than a few days without seeing one another. Also, we are brutally but tactfully honest with each other. Truthfully, we bicker amongst ourselves without harbouring resentment, but showing it, and that is what keeps us together.

There were so many restrictions and blatant favouritism of the norm in all our individual experiences within the industry that we got so pissed we wanted to create a platform of producing films that we want to do, that the industry is apparently “not ready for.”

And well, Ministries don’t just GO in Singapore. At the very most, they just change their names.

As a group, what kind of films are you planning to make? (What genre, style, topics, etc.)

Our general rule is, if it doesn’t touch the heart, we won’t do it. Because we have chosen not to cater to the industry’s expectations, our creativity is the limit. The core nature of our film-making philosophy is making films that are relatable, genuine and familiar in our daily lives, stories so close to heart that it could be recognize by anyone. We like to make films that are about bonds, relationships and human nature, and place these recognizable elements into absurd or unnatural situations, to explore perspectives.

However, we do want to stretch our limits further, and we will be attempting to add thriller films and fantasy to our list.

(Fyi, MOFO just completed their first short film titled Lorong Halus. No prizes for guessing its genre. Yup, drop dead horror! Check out the poster here.

Check out the trailer of Lorong Halus here.

MOFO is also planning to develop a comedy series as well as their first feature film. Can you share roughly what the series and the feature are about?

We are piloting an English comedy-drama independent series about a group of neighbourhood friends who are entangled in crime-fighting when they accidentally foil a burglary while playing soccer under the block.

For our first feature film, we intend to pull all our creativity, resources, contacts and pool of talent to involve another sub-culture of Singapore – the dirt-bikers.

We are also going to be tackling a short 7-minute screen adaptation of a short play called “The Egg”, to purge our creative inclinations before our big projects begin. 

What do you think are some of the challenges you will face as a group, in making films, going forward?

Funding, of course, is the essential part of the challenge of producing quality work. We intend to be a self-sufficient company.

Finding resources and venues is also very hard. For Lorong Halus, we casted only friends who were so heartbreakingly talented but never had the opportunity to act. We did Lorong Halus solely based on the personal relationships we had. Our lepak sessions under the block turned to recording sessions, rehearsals, editing sessions. We did not have any place to edit, so we had to take out the power plug of the vending machine under a block in Pasir Ris and plug in an extension cord. There, we stayed for hours at a time, living on McDonalds’ or food packed from our houses.

We found it quite uniquely Singaporean that the major venue for Lorong Halus was a chalet in Changi. We needed an abandoned mansion to film in, and the contacts we had pulled out a week before production began. It became a panicky decision to either find another venue or cancel shoot. We pulled another contact, a civil servant, who booked for us a last-minute chalet and we spend 3 hours trying to make the place look as if it has been abandoned for more than 10 years. It was fun.

We premiered Lorong Halus at a club, Home Club, another contact. We realized that we wanted to provide our audience with different ways of watching a film, and not just the normal paying for ticket, come in, be assigned a seat and sit down facing one way. It was interesting, and the turn-out was so amazing. Almost 200 people turned up, way more than the 80 we were expecting. We were so moved, and we realized that people are looking for something like us. We would never want to disappoint the people who trusted and believed in us so far.

We like to say to challenges, “Bring it On.” Right now, our second short film just got rejected for funding, but we’ll find our ways to stay afloat.

1.     What kind of stories, unique to our Malay community, do you think, we can contribute to the Singapore film scene/landscape?

We spend a lot of time discussing P. Ramlee and his legacy. Not as a direct inspiration for our work, but rather when we are the coffee shop, watching funny clips from his movies and laughing our asses off and repeating the lines from heart. And that keeps us grounded and rooted, not only towards our Malay heritage, but our love for Singapore and its quirks.

We love the coffee shop with the televisions showing EPL matches, the row of bikes that stop at the side of the expressway to wait for the ERP to switch off, the bystanders who STOMP everyone and everything they see, the way we avoid wearing an all-white outfit so that we won’t be the butt of everyone’s PAP joke and even the way we park illegally and when someone screams, “SAMAN AUNTIE”, everyone starts zooming to their cars or bikes. These are our problems, and these are problems that everyone can relate to.

At the same time, there are more serious problems like having to learn Mandarin just to be qualified for a job, having to travel 20 mins away from our workplace just to find halal food, working or studying in an environment where everyone doesn’t speak any language you understand, trying to fund your own education because your parents don’t earn that much. There is humour in these situations, but there is also pain and exhaustion. These are the issues that P. Ramlee would address if he were to be making films in this era, and these also happen to be the issues we care about.

Right now, we are a 100% heartland Malay group, but we are involving our Chinese and Indian friends, and even our Caucasian friends, now that we have established ourselves a little bit more. We were quite moved that they approached us instead of the other way around, and hope that we are able to collaborate as effectively.
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