Game Changers - Ditching a law career for films | G-SHOCK Watches Singapore

Game Changers - Ditching a law career for films

 
As featured on The Straits Times, September 22, 2019
by Wong Kim Hoh

Seven years ago, Huang Junxiang graduated with a law degree from the University of Melbourne.

He landed interviews with well-known firms like WongPartnership, but instead of taking his bar exam and pursuing a legal career, he decided to work in the film industry.

"My father was so upset he refused to speak to me for eight months," says the eldest of three children of a construction businessman and his wife.

He started out as a general dogsbody on film sets. Many thought he was a privileged kid who would not be able to take the rough and tumble of the business.

But in six short years, he has become one of the youngest and most prolific producers in town.

"I was determined to succeed. I read a lot, watched what other people did, but also try to do things in a different way. In an industry which is always changing and challenging, it's important to offer new perspectives."

The former student of Anglo Chinese School has worked with most of Singapore's brightest film-making talent, among them Eric Khoo (who is his boss), Boo Junfeng, Kirsten Tan and Anthony Chen.

Films he has produced include Khoo's drama Ramen Teh, which premiered at the 2018 Berlinale Culinary Cinema, Mike Wiluan's action flick Buffalo Boys (Fantasia Film Festival in 2018) and Boo's prison tale Apprentice (Cannes Un Certain Regard in 2016).

Mr Huang, who grew up on a steady diet of Stephen Chow comedies and gongfu flicks, is also a producer for HBO Asia's horror and culinary anthologies - Folklore (2018) and Foodlore (2019).

The 31-year-old added another feather to his cap earlier this year when A Piece Of Meat - an animated short film he co-directed with Jerrold Chong - made it to the Directors' Fortnight section of the Cannes Film Festival. Based on a story by Khoo about a lamb cutlet trapped in poverty, the 11-minute short also competed at the 2019 Annecy International Animated Film Festival in June.

He wants to continue breaking new ground in the business.

"I hope to create a diverse portfolio as a producer and film-maker and let people know that there isn't one fixed way of making a successful film."

YOUR PARENTS SENT YOU DOWN UNDER TO STUDY LAW, BUT YOU GOT INTO FILM INSTEAD AFTER YOUR GRADUATION. WHAT GIVES AND DID YOU BREAK YOUR PARENTS' HEARTS?
I really didn't enjoy reading law. I'd much rather watch people argue the law than be the one arguing. I spent a lot of time during my course watching films and reading about them.

My parents, who wanted me to have a good future, were disappointed when I refused to take the bar. I felt bad because an overseas education, I know, is a privilege.

But it was also clear to me that if I didn't take the leap then, I would have never taken it.

While I think parents are usually right, it's nice to prove them wrong sometimes.

APPARENTLY, YOU DIDN'T HAVE IT EASY AT THE START. DID YOU OFTEN GET YELLED AT?
I began as a location assistant looking for HDB flats for a movie. I had to make more than 200 calls in a day, with about 90 per cent of them hanging up on me.

Getting yelled at is very normal. It forces you to learn things quickly and avoid making the same mistake twice. Secondly, an ability to take the scoldings, often at the cost of your personal ego, demonstrates a willingness to learn.

WERE THERE TIMES WHEN THINGS WERE SO BAD, YOU WANTED TO GIVE IT ALL UP?
There's a line from the animated comedy series Bojack Horseman which goes: "I need to go take a shower so I can't tell if I'm crying or not."

I've never thought of giving up, but I have thought of myself as a masochist on many occasions, for the mental and physical pain I put myself through.

The most taxing was during the shoots of Ramen Teh and Buffalo Boys, which took place back to back. I was working for 12 to 18 hours every day for six months.

In this industry, you often have to make really difficult decisions, which can draw derision from different parties. So, on top of sacrificing my personal life, there is sometimes little or no recognition for the right decisions made. Unlike a director, what a producer does is often invisible.

But when a movie is finally on screen and captures something that the audience hasn't experienced before, all the pain and aggravation is totally worth it.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST BREAK AND HOW DID IT HAPPEN?
Knowing that law was not for me, I applied for a few entry-level positions in the film industry. At every interview, I was told I had no background in film and thus no prospects.

I thought one interview went swimmingly because it lasted more than an hour. But they never called me back. I felt like a jilted lover.

One day, a good friend, Tan Kang Wei, asked if I wanted to work with him on an entry for a short film competition judged by several filmmakers, including Chen and Khoo.

We had only five days, but we decided to give it a shot. We wrote it and I called upon an army friend to play the film's only role.

The sleepless nights paid off. Our three-minute effort, Give Yourself A Chance, bagged the audience award at the 2012 Very Short International Film Festival and a few category prizes and led to a meeting with Khoo, who granted me an internship and later hired me.

CRAZY THINGS ARE KNOWN TO HAPPEN ON FILM SETS. WHAT IS YOUR MOST SURREAL EXPERIENCE?
One of my more surreal experiences happened on a shoot in Indonesia, where we hired a set bomoh (witch doctor). In Indonesia, a film crew would refuse to work without one.

Being Singaporean, I was sceptical until I saw the bomoh part the rain clouds around the set as he chanted.

A few weeks later, it started to rain on the set. The production coordinator told me the bomoh's powers had faded because he had been partying.

I had no desire to confront the man, for fear of being cursed, but it was jeopardising the completion of the shoot, so I did.

He denied partying, but the resourceful coordinator pulled out an incriminating photo from the bomoh's Instagram account. I had to stifle my laughter.

We hired another bomoh the next day, but kept the first one to balance things out. It never rained on set again.

WHAT WERE YOUR PROUDEST MOMENTS AS A PRODUCER?
I feel so proud of every film that I've worked on because it takes a lot of commitment and sacrifice from so many people to realise a joint vision.

A particularly proud moment was when I was given the opportunity to go to the Cannes Film Festival where Boo's Apprentice was screened in the Un Certain Regard section. At the premiere, I remember tearing when I saw the title cards of each production house come on. Soon, I was bawling like a baby at a livefiring range.

I was also very proud during the Singapore premiere of Khoo's Ramen Teh, a co-production between Singapore and Japan. The Japanese crew had flown down for the event. We welcomed one another like old friends, sharing hugs and kisses. This was significant to me.

After all, the film is a story about healing and love across two countries. We continue to work together with the same Japanese team and are developing a few projects.

WHAT QUALITIES DO YOU NEED TO BE A GAME CHANGER IN MOVIE-MAKING?
Resilience and patience, the ability to listen to people and understand where they come from. And a willingness to take risks and challenge the status quo.

This is the first of a three-part series on trailblazing local heroes.



Original article can be found here

Article content has been adapted and all image credits to The Straits Times

 

 

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