Josiah Chieng talks to Curtin Sarawak students about being a film producer

Producer Josiah Chieng (centre) with students and staff.

Producer Josiah Chieng (centre) with students and staff.

“A good film producer is the ultimate ‘the-buck-stops-here’ guy, who must answer to everyone, and for everything related to a film’s production,” according to Malaysian film producer Josiah Chieng Hien Onn.

He said this when giving a two-hour talk on film production at Curtin University, Sarawak Malaysia (Curtin Sarawak) recently. The talk for over 40 students and staff of the university was organised by its Department of Media, Culture and Communication.

Chieng went on to explain that although a producer is not obliged to do every single thing on set, he is expected to know a bit about everything.

“Basically, what I do is find problems and solve them,” he remarked.

According to Chieng, a film producer is expected to solve film-funding issues by finding potential investors and convincing them to invest in a project.

“A producer has significant input in almost everything including script, cast and crew selection, production design, wardrobe, location, musical score, editing, and marketing, to name a few,” he added.

Participant attempting to sell his team’s proposal to Chieng in role play.

Participant attempting to sell his team’s proposal to Chieng in role play.

When asked about wages for cast and crew, he jokingly responded, “We try to spend the least amount of money to hire them.”

However, he elaborated that Malaysia lacks a much-needed ‘star-system’ for rating artistes. Most Malaysian artistes who do excel do so overseas, thus leaving young, local actors with little basis to negotiate better deals with the studios or production companies.

Chieng advised the students, if they decide on careers in film production, to not focus solely on the monetary aspects, but rather view it as an opportunity to acquire skills and exposure.

“Every opportunity will lead you to the next one, so once you have the necessary experience, your bargaining power will increase,” said Chieng.

Following his talk, Chieng conducted a mock pitching session for the participants. Grouped into four teams, they had to prepare a proposal for a romantic movie with Chieng posing as a potential investor. The winning team was the one who managed to convince Chieng to invest in its project.

At the end of the session, Chieng gave the students feedback on their proposals. He said that one not only needs to be creative, but also have the necessary knowledge and confidence, to be able to convince potential investors.

“To excel or secure a grant, you need to know who your target investors are and what their expectations are,” he said. “If you are able to give them what they want, the chances of you getting the funding is very high.”

Chieng is a Sarawak-born film producer who graduated with a degree in theatre arts in the United States. He is considered one of the pioneers of the trend in releasing local Chinese movies in conjunction with the Chinese New Year, beginning with the release of Tiger Woohoo in 2010.

Media and Communication lecturer Ngu Ik Ying presenting a souvenir to Chieng.

Media and Communication lecturer Ngu Ik Ying presenting a souvenir to Chieng.

His other productions include Great Day (2011) with director Chiu; Kepong Gangster (2012) and Kepong Gangster 2 (2014); Huat the Fish (2015); and Malay films Balistik (2013) and Motor Terbang (2014).

Chieng is one of many industry experts that have been invited to be guest lecturers or give career talks at Curtin Sarawak as part of the university’s initiatives to give its students the opportunity to get insights into different industries and meet face-to-face with industry personalities.

For more information on Curtin Sarawak, visit its website at, its Facebook page (CurtinUniversitySarawakMalaysia), Twitter profile (curtinsarawak), YouTube channel (CurtinUniSarawak), or Instagram (curtinsarawak).

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