TWENTY-SIX-YEAR-OLD Elise Shick Chuin Chong is a producer for fledgling production house Kuman Pictures, which aims to churn out horror and thriller films. The first feature film under Kuman Pictures, Two Sisters, directed by James Lee, will hit Malaysian cinemas in March.
To date, the Kluang, Johor-born lass has attended two international film festivals – the Busan Film Festival and the San Francisco International Film Festival – introducing her to many new experiences.
Describe some of your functions as a producer in Kuman Pictures?
“I manage human relationships, and managing human relationships is never easy. I have to make sure everyone is happy on the set, and that everything goes smoothly. There is a lot of paperwork involved, for example, to prepare all contracts between us and the people we are going to work with.
“After the film is completed, my work is not done. I have to sell the film to our distributors, and find ways to attract audiences to watch the film.”
What advice can you give to those who want to be a film producer like you?
“Never stop learning. I learnt from people who were older than me and people who were younger than me. You have to pay attention to everyone on the set, including the extras.
“I remember I had given mineral water to some extras on one production I worked on. I even put their names on the bottles. They were so pleased.
“They told me that other production houses often neglect the extras, and that they do not even get water to drink (there).”
How did your interest in film start?
“Throughout my childhood, my father took me to the cinema to watch horror films. I remember watching a Chinese film where a fan fell from the ceiling and chopped some policemen in half.
“The scene was so gory that until today, I am still afraid [that a fan will fall] from the ceiling and chop me into half.
“This experience with my father developed my interest in films.”
Did you take a degree in film studies?
“No. I wanted to be a writer. I took a degree course called International Communication Studies with English Literature and Linguistics.
“I studied French, philosophy, cultural studies, English literature, linguistics, and media studies. But I loved attending classes in film studies even though I wasn’t a film student.
“I was always sitting in the corner of the class, wondering why the film students worshipped directors like Yasujiroō Ozu and Abbas Kiarostami.”
Did you pursue your dream to be a writer?
“No. As soon as I graduated in 2016, I volunteered at the Association for Southeast Asian Cinemas Conference (ASEACC), and worked as an interviewer at a local radio station, researching and discussing the Malaysian film industry.
“I interviewed numerous prominent figures in the Malaysian film industry, and one of them was filmmaker Tan Chui Mui.
“To interview her wasn’t easy. She requested I finish watching all her films, and help her out in the 2nd Young Filmmakers Workshop that she was organising under Next New Wave initiative. In return, I would be allowed to interview her.
“I started to learn about different aspects of filmmaking, including acting, during my time with her.
“In August 2017, I volunteered again for the 3rd Young Filmmakers Workshop as a content writer. I got to know a bunch of young and high-spirited filmmakers, and started making short films and holding private screenings.
“I also volunteered at the Asian Film Archive in Singapore for their ‘Asian Restored Classics’ event, and even joined a filmmaking workshop to make experimental films.
“From August 2017 to August 2018, I was one of the resident programmers in a film club in Kuala Lumpur called Cinephilia, where we screened films every day, three sessions on Saturday and three sessions on Sunday. The screenings were followed by discussions.
“Some people called what I was doing ‘a form of self-indulgence’, but I believe it was an important experience, where I came to understand about life and human relationships.”
What has happened to your dream of becoming a writer?
“I have not given up on that dream yet. I have written some short stories, and have plans to write novels.
“But I have never posted what I have written. I am a bit shy to let people to read [it]!”
Do you want to direct a feature film?
“For the time being, I am happy being a producer. There is too much [of a] spotlight on directors, and I’d love a less [prominent] job in a film industry. No one really cares about a producer.”
What is your favourite all-time activity?
“I love travelling. I have been to the United Kingdom, United States, and Central Europe.
“When you travel, you enter an unfamiliar place and you are confronted with a foreign culture, and sometimes, it can feel lonely to be in that situation. When you are lonely, you will reflect about [yourself] and your life, and I think it is good thing to do that.
“When you are in your own country, you are comfortable with your atmosphere and your culture, and you will become self-indulgent. When you self-indulge, you rarely reflect on yourself and your life.”