A week ago, I was in Busan, South Korea, for the perennial filmmaking workshop conducted by the Asian Film Academy. In its 8th year, the Asian Film Academy (AFA) brings emerging filmmakers from around Asia to Busan every October for an intensive 18 days of film workshops. Co-hosted by Dongseo University, Busan International Film Festival and Busan Film Commission, AFA 2012 saw a record number of 233 applicants from across Asia. Through the rigorous process of sending my works and interviews, I was glad to be selected as one of the 24 fellows this year. Another fellow, Takuya Katsu, a Sound Designer, was the other Singaporean to be selected as an AFA Fellow. Fresh from my recent trip to Busan, I am sharing my experience in AFA with the students of the Puttnam School of Film.
Helming this year’s AFA program is Faculty Dean, renowned Sixth Generation Chinese Filmmaker, Jia Zhangke. It was an honour to be able to meet him in person. Other faculty members include Iranian director Parviz Shahbazi, who was the Directing Mentor and taking charge of Cinematography was Japanese Cinematographer, Makoto Watanabe. There were other film supervisors who came in from the Korean capital of Seoul, to supervise and mentor the fellows on the other aspects of filmmaking, such as Editing, Production Design, Sound Design and Producing.
The AFA workshop consists of Mentoring Sessions with film mentors, short film production (two short films to be shot by two groups of 12), lectures and master classes with the Dean and visiting mentors.
Enduring the long eight-hour flight with stopover, I reached Busan in the morning of 27 September 2012, the first day of the program. Arriving at the airport, I met up the other fellows and the AFA staff. I could feel a strong sense of bonding and familiarity with the fellows as we spoke. We made our way to the accommodation and workspaces where we will spend our next 18 days.
The first night of AFA concluded with an Opening Ceremony, where all the fellows were introduced to the media and public. Jia Zhangke opened the AFA program with a speech about the role of AFA in building young talents in Asian Cinema. We also had the opportunity to mingle with the film professionals from Korea as well as the AFA interns from Dongseo University.
Over the next few days, the teams spent hours in the Fellow’s Room discussing and developing their team’s short film that is to be shot over the course of the programs. In each team, we had four directors, four cinematographers, one producer, one production designer, one editor and one sound designer, when put together, forms a team of 12. I took on the role of Production Designer in my team. Apart from spending time with my team, analyzing the script and the narrative, I also spent a substantial amount of time with my Production Design Mentor in the Production Design Room. Likewise with the other fellows who were fine-tuning the script and treatment, I explored and proposed various design ideas for the film to my design mentor. Through the discussions, we spent hours experimenting and coming up with mood boards, colours schemes and character designs, that was to be proposed to the team. Through the exhausting and intensive process of Set Design Pre-Production, I have gained a better insight of the role of a Production Designer in a film. Unlike my usual task of conceptualizing designs and set decorating, I was pushed out of my comfort zone of taking on the role of not only an Art Director, but also taking charge of Wardrobe Designing and dressing. It was my first attempt handling such task. However, under the supervision and guidance of my Design mentor, I managed to complete the task with confidence and a newfound faith in addressing such design matters in the future.
Despite being occupied with the film pre-production in the early part of the program, we took some time out for the Major Workshop, which was scheduled in the AFA timetable. As a production design major, I attended a two-hour session with Production Designer, Mr. Choi Geun Woo, who had previously designed for renowned Korean Director Kim Ki-Duk. In the two hour session, we exchanged our individual perspectives and opinions about Set Design, while he spoke about the challenges of Production Design in the recent years, how to generate design ideas, creating an identity for the film through Production Design, how to be a team leader in the physical yet mentally challenging department of filmmaking, and last but not least, how to work together in a team environment without losing your artistic integrity.
The shoot days came right after the days of heavy pre-production. Like any occasions of production shoots I had experienced, the three shoot days that were dedicated to the short film production were pretty hectic and intensive. We started the day early and ended late into the evening, and work continues through the night, as preparation work needed to be finalized for the next day’s shoot. I trudged on with little sleep, while having to adapt to the changes handed out by the Producer and Directors at the 11th hour. Thankfully, I had the assistance of my Art Intern from Dongseo University and my Design Mentor, who also took on the role of Art Director during the shoot period. Although there was some language barrier, both of them helped facilitate the purchasing of props and organization of the Korean crew that I had under my team.
There were plenty of master classes and lectures that were scheduled for the AFA programs after the shoot ended. There were master classes by legendary Korean director, Im Kwon-Taek, former AFA Deans Krzysztof Zanussi of 2011 and Mohsen Makhmalbaf of 2007, and not forgetting the precious time we spent in the master class of the current dean, Jia Zhangke. The master class was a rare opportunity to get up close and personal with the film masters. In the master classes, we get to understand their inspiration behind their works, their motivations for the films, and their invaluable lessons and advice to young filmmakers like us. The time spent with the film masters extended beyond the lecture halls, as we conversed about cinema and films, over meals and coffee. Through this precious time that I spent with the masters in the lectures, I felt inspired and motivated to challenge myself to think about the role of cinema and films have on people’s lives.
We also had the opportunity to venture out to the Asian Film Market, where we attended a talk about Film Funding and visited the booths of Film Commissions. We mingled and networked with filmmakers, producers and distributors from various countries. Many of them were interested to speak to the AFA fellows, as they have a fond interest in developing new talents.
Whenever there was no program scheduled for us, the fellows and I made use of the free time to catch some films showcased in the Busan International Film Festival, as well as soaking up the festive atmosphere. The cinema venues, such as the Busan Cinema Centre were always bustling with activities; cinema-goers queuing up for tickets as early as the night before, filmmakers mingling and networking the in guest lounges, and festival merchandises were up for sales at the festival booths.
On the last day of the AFA program and the Festival, the fellows had to walk down the red carpet, as we were introduced to the general public as the graduates of the AFA Fellowship Program. It was an overwhelming experience to be applauded by the avid cinemagoers. Walking down the red carpet brings memories of the time I spent with the AFA fellows, interns, staff, supervisors and faculty members, discussing and sharing our critical opinions about the films and cinema. We settled down into our seats and managed to catch the closing film, Television, a film from Bangladesh.
During my time in AFA, I have met countless talented young filmmakers from around Asia. The 18 days spent with the fellows, interns and staff shaped the way I think about filmmaking and cinema. From the first day of the program till the last, there was never a dull moment. We shared quality time over meals, drinks, and in our fellows’ room. We challenged and encouraged each other to be future of Asian Cinema, reflecting the slogan of AFA.
Graduating with a certificate from the program, I have learned from my Mentors and Supervisors, on the importance of good communication in a creative team environment, the attributes and quality of a good leader, a better decision maker, and not forgetting the importance of good skill sets of a Production Designer. Imparted and enlightened with all these necessary and valuable skills, I am looking forward to apply them in my career in the various roles I am taking on the Art Department.
Yang Ke Liang is a recent graduate of the BA (Hons) Film programme (Batch of 2012). He has produced and designed the graduating film, The Fountains. He has been working actively in the Art Department in the local film industry.