Reaching bigger audiences

MALAYSIAN film producer and director James Lee is proving that a filmmaker can showcase his projects not just in the cinemas.

In 2013 Lee, who also owns production house Doghouse 73 Pictures, decided to showcase his short films on YouTube.

To a certain degree, his experiment has been fruitful, with his works having been viewed by audiences from Korea, Japan, China, Thailand, India and Indonesia.

Four years later, he is taking another bold step by choosing to release his latest film entirely on YouTube. He is hoping to draw an even bigger international audience in this way.

In a recent interview, Lee says that the idea of using YouTube hit him when he saw how several indie films from the United States, which did not get a chance to enter film festivals or obtain a cinema release, were released in full on YouTube instead.

These films not only managed to gain a wider audience as a result but also draw attention to the filmmakers.

Lee adds that the internet has allowed content creators to reach out to a wider audience, and that Malaysian filmmakers should make full use of this opportunity.

“People are always interested to see good content and good stories,” he says. “Language is no longer a barrier. You can always insert subtitles into your works.”

Lee adds that he has plans to insert Bahasa Indonesia and Thai subtitles in his own independent film and first full-length feature work, KL24: Zombies, in the near future.

KL24: Zombies is a movie anthology comprising three separate stories involving members of three local communities, all set within the first 24 hours of a zombie outbreak.

Lee is directing one segment, while the other two are under the helm of Gavin Yap and Shamaine Othman respectively.

The multi-racial cast of KL24: Zombies includes Sharifah Amani, Azman Hassan, Joseph Germani, Pete Teo, Fatimah Abu Bakar, Benji Lim, Sue Tan, Na’a Murad, Alfred Loh, Siti Farrah Abdullah and Thor Kah Hong.

Lee’s segment portrays the chaos that takes place in the city centre when the zombie outbreak first begins. A group of humans must band together to try survive the flesh-eating horde.

Yap’s segment deals with a dysfunctional Chinese family whose members are trapped together in a condominium with a Malay girl (played by award-winning actress Sharifah), the girlfriend of the eldest son.

The entire group must strive to stay alive while waiting for the zombie outbreak to be brought under control. 

Meanwhile, Shamaine’s story deals with a rich man who has four wives. When one of the wives becomes a zombie, the other three wives want to kill her. But the husband goes all out to protect her as he loves her the most. 

“The first zombie film was by George Romero and it was a commentary on society during that era,” Lee says.

“My film will be something close to it. There is a lot of subtext and underlining messages in the movie. Hopefully, local audiences will get the satirical message.”

The budget for this film is RM200,000.

“We looked at this project as a branding and advertising exercise for Doghouse 73 Pictures,” Lee says. “For time being, we will not have a ROI (return on investiment).”

But Lee is drawing up plans to use a similar platform to make a profit in the future. He is looking at the possibilities of roping in tech companies as sponsors for his future films.

Lee is one of the pioneers in the Malaysian independent film scene. His The Beautiful Washing Machine won the best Asean feature award and the Fipresci Prize at the Bangkok International Film Festival in 2005.

He then moved from making independent films to commercial one, before returning to independent films in the last few years.

He admits that he found making commercial films afforded him less creative freedom. “We can rarely experiment with our storytelling and our content,” he says.

When asked if he plans on releasing all his future films on YouTube, he says: “I don’t think I’ve lost all faith in the traditional way of screening my films in cinemas, but the reality is, we’re competing with [huge blockbusters] like Marvel’s superhero franchise and Star Wars. [I am] just changing the market and [platform] where we would be able to sell our content.

“If I were to direct a big-budget sci-fi action film, a theatrical release and a traditional way of distributing would be my main options.”

KL24: Zombies will air on YouTube this Sunday at 9pm.