Filmmaker Paul Gan is set on rocking the world, one film at a time
By Jude Toyat
Malaysian filmmaker Paul Gan, shot to fame in 2014 with his Guitar Hero-inspired short film ‘The Boy Who Rocked the World’ when he won the Astro Sundance Short Film Contest that year.
After a successful debut, Gan continues to strive in bringing the local filmmaking industry to a higher level.
The charming 28-year-old first decided to venture into the filmmaking industry with the short film to prove that
Malaysia had lots of amazing talent that needed to be highlighted, and he did just that by winning the award and several other recognitions the following years.
“’The Boy Who Rocked the World’ was produced in 2014 as I thought that I needed something to prove that I have the talent and ability in making videos and films,” said Gan of the award-winning short film when met in Kuching.
“It was my first venture into the filmmaking industry and I entered the competition, ended triumphantly as I emerged as the champion”
By winning the award, Gan had the privilege to attend the 2015 Sundance Film Festival in Utah where he attended several filmmaking workshops and movie screenings to enhance his knowledge and skills in directing films.
Later in 2015, he received national attention when ‘The Boy Who Rocked the World’ was premiered at the Sundance Channel on Aug 31 in conjunction with National Day.
Gan’s past experiences provided him with sentimental yet significant elements that he had incorporated into the short film, making it relatable, especially those going through their teenage years.
“I did not come from a wealthy family. I remembered going around town with only RM1 in my wallet as a high school student. A few times, when I was a boy, after watching people playing video games, I always wished to have video games at home too.
“As I grew older, I became more interested in music. I decided to pick up a guitar and start playing it. I remember at that time as my mother was driving me in the outskirts of a town, I saw two teenagers playing the guitar in front of their house and that became the opening scene for ‘The Boy Who Rocked the World’,” said Gan on
some of the personal touches he had included into the short film.
Gan who sees himself as a person who thinks differently, said that growing up he felt like he had not always been understood.
“Things were not easy for me when I was a kid. In ‘The Boy Who Rocked the World’, Aiman lives in a similar situation and uses his imagination to escape reality,” he added.
After winning the competition, Gan continues to produce films, hoping that his artwork would be released internationally throughout Asia, Europe and the United States.
Gan had also been doing videos for clients such as Astro on Demand where he and his production team created mock-up videos including ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘Minions’. Apart from that, he had also been working on video projects as such music and experimental videos for Tiger Beer.
“I had also produced another short film entitled ‘The Ingredients in Us,” said Gan of the short film that eventually won him the second place in Celcom ESCAPE Shots Merdeka Video Contest.
The desire to become a filmmaker came after Gan, who at first wanted to become an actor, realised that it was a vocation not worth pursuing.
“Although I have always wanted to become an actor, I realised that no matter how good a person is as an actor or an actress, the story that they act in plays crucial role in bringing up the best in them.
“I also observed that back then, there were not many Malaysians who became prominent filmmakers and could produce good films. Therefore, I decided to become a filmmaker,” said Gan, adding that, nevertheless his dream to become an actor lives on until today.
Gan had always been interested in the filmmaking industry since he was 18 years old, which then led him to further his studies at Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman and graduate with a Bachelor of Communication (Hons) Broadcasting.
He had also attended several filmmaking courses including those organised by the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas) with several professionals and notable directors to further improve on his skills in directing and production of films.
“I was also chosen as one of the 20 participants to fly to Korea to attend the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (Bifan) to be trained by international filmmakers and film festival organisers in an eght-day master class programme,” he said.
Gan acknowledged that the job as a filmmaker requires a person to be tough as it is full of obstacles.
“The challenges include jumping between passion and work. It is essential to create a balance between these two to secure your fortune.
“It is also important to not lose your sense of artistry. Sometimes, it can be easy to make money, but if you continue to make more money you will tend to forget about your passion and focus on just earning it.
“Hence, your soul as a filmmaker will slowly fade. The line is very thin and filmmakers need to be really careful of it,” said Gan, adding that other struggles include budgeting and finding the right producers for his artwork.
Gan owns a production company Wedeoh Pixels that produces corporate videos for his clients. Besides that, he has also tried his hand at producing quirky videos packed with fascinating visual effects via his YouTube channel ‘Tiny Rex’.
Other recognition received for ‘The Boy Who Rocked the World’ from several film awards including the 2013 BMW Shorties Malaysia for Best Cinematography, Best Set Design and Best Sound Design categories. He was also named as the Best Young Filmmaker at the Malaysia Digital Film Awards 2013, apart from winning the Best Media and Experimental, Best Editing and Best Short Film categories at the film award.
Nevertheless, Gan has never overestimated his ability in filmmaking, and continues to practice and improve his skills.
“It is true that winning several competitions do not guarantee one a place in the filmmaking industry, as lots of efforts need to be made in order to continue producing good films,” he said.
He emphasised on the three important functions that filmmakers need to always remind themselves about.
“These include to inform, to entertain and to educate.
“It has always been a privilege for me to be able to implant something for the general public to think about. As such, through ‘The Boy Who Rocked the World’, I wish to remind people about the things that they have been taking advantage of, things that were taken for granted in today’s world as we are seemingly moving forward.
“It is important to note that there are still people among us in our society that we tend to forget, including the underprivileged and the voiceless,” said Gan.
Christopher Nolan and the Wachowskis are among filmmakers that Gan looks up to.
“Their films never fail to impress me. Nolan has opened my sense of perspective, making me believe in reading as the more you have in your mind as a director, the more you can expose it to the audience and bring them to a new world and perspectives.
“As for the Wachowskis, their films are awesome, especially The Matrix. When I first watched the film, I was amazed by all the elements that they had incorporated including action, love and philosophies. I also love ‘Cloud Atlas’. These film directors really inspires me,” he said.
Gan loves to experiment with various film genres and is always ambitious.
“I have always dreamt of bringing my films onto the big screens. I strive to tell a better stories which are true to me and hopefully will also move the hearts of the audience,” said Gan, adding that film enthusiasts can also expect a new feature film from him in the next three years.
As for the filmmaking scene in Sarawak, Gan said that it has enormous potential to go global.
“In Sarawak, I realised that there are lots of young people who wanted to pursue a career in the filmmaking industry. They are just lacking of assistance and continuous support from relevant bodies including the state government to help them in their efforts to move the industry further,” he emphasised.
This continuous support is crucial in helping the local film enthusiasts to promote, educate and bring in talents to teach and train them in the filmmaking industry, thus bringing their films out there.
“As such, through Azam Sarawak filmmaking workshops, many film enthusiasts managed to come together to know more of the things they need to have in order for them to move forward in the filmmaking industry.
“Sarawak needs more platforms to enable them to voice their ideas,” said Gan, adding that with continuous support, local young filmmakers will then be able to follow in the footsteps of renowned Sarawakian film director James Wan who has made his name internationally.
Gan also believes that the culture of making films in the state need to be improved.
“Perhaps, with continuous support, in the next five years, we can see tremendous improvement for the betterment of the filmmaking industry in Sarawak,” said Gan.
It is also important to utilise technologies well to promote artwork and talents of local filmmakers.
“The younger generation today have greater access to the Internet and they must learn to use it well, including YouTube, and television to showcase their amazing talents.
“Apart from that, they can also initiate more guilds to gather the community of filmmakers who are actively involved in the filmmaking industry,” he said.
On his advice to aspiring filmmakers, Gan encouraged them to never stop learning and reading.
“A filmmaker’s job is to bring a perspective to the audience and the broader your knowledge is, the wider your perspectives will be.
“As for local filmmakers in Sarawak, I would like to encourage you to appreciate your cultures and all the beautiful things that you have in the state. I believe there are lots of stories that you can tell and it is time for you to tell it to the world as many would want to know and love Sarawak and the wonders that it has.”