GEORGE TOWN, Aug 3 — Julian Cheah has a dream. A Hollywood dream.
The 52-year-old Penangite wants to someday produce, direct, act (preferably all three) in a big Hollywood blockbuster.
In the last 26 years, he has produced, directed or acted in over 30 movies, telemovies and television shows.
He remained relatively unknown though until Killer Clown was released in 2010. The slasher flick gained him exposure but for all the wrong reasons.
Killer Clown, released nationwide, was not the hit Cheah had hoped but it gained him a following of “anti-fans.” That did not deter him from continuing with his film-making pursuits though.
A Bachelor of Fine Arts graduate from the New York University, Cheah had dabbled in journalism — writing mainly about the entertainment industry, acted in local TV shows and worked as an executive producer in
Astro while continuing to produce, direct or act in his own mostly action-based independent films.
Recently, a movie he directed and acted in, Infected Paradise — a Rodman Pictures production — was nominated the Best Feature Film —Long Form under the 26th Annual West Australian Screen Awards.
Here, Cheah shares his surprise over the nomination, his ups and downs in the movie industry and how he’s trying to hit the big time on the silver screen.
In his own words:
The other three nominated movies are multimillion big star movies, like international big name movies, Aussie movies that made it to Hollywood and all of a sudden, them, we are up against them, all these giants. Our movie is the only independent movie over there. So it’s a bit frightening, no, not frightening, but surprising. But then that’s life, when you don’t expect it, it comes. And then when you think you have a movie that’s going to be a hit, then it just…(broke off into laughter).
I wish this could be a more predictable business, like the hotel business. The hotels they have their seasons, such as June, July, August, not so good or September, October, will be good, they’ve been in this for years… they know. But in the movie business, you never know.
That’s why most businessmen in Malaysia and Singapore, they don’t want to talk about movies. They want to do something else where they can gauge the results better. That’s always why there’s a problem in funding. And for good reasons, they are right to feel that way about it.
But TV is safe. If you do a TV series for TV1, it’s safe because they’ve already approved your script for 26 episodes. They already tell you, ok we are going to pay you so much for each episode so you already know, TV1 is paying me so much so I can budget. I already know my net profit. But it’s not easy to get into TV or Astro.
I used to work in Astro as executive producer for one year. At that time I was in the TV company, I was on the other side of the fence. I saw independent producers and production companies, veterans, all pitching us ideas of their films. You’ll be surprised that even veterans don’t get the deals. Astro gives it to specific companies whom they like and that’s it. That’s how tough it is. It’s not an easy game. But the good thing about TV is that once you get in, you’re set. But cinemas, it’s a wild game.
I do it because I still believe that I still have the touch. I think every film-maker has to believe that.. that you still have that touch. I believe I am not at my peak. Definitely, where I am now, I’m not at my peak. There is so much more I can be. Even though I’ve been an executive producer at Astro. Even though I’ve made films and cinema films and some of my films have been distributed worldwide in US, Canada, Germany, Japan and Russia. So, I’ve had international exposure for my movies but those are still independent movies.
I’m 52. I’ve got fans on my Facebook teasing me, asking me “Mr Cheah, do you use Botox.” Another one saying I should do Phantom of the Opera and wear a mask. And another one answered, “He doesn’t need to wear a mask, he is the mask” meaning my youth, my face is a mask for my real age. But then, it’s fun. I enjoy it. They start knocking me also. Telling me how s*** my movie is. Calling me a s*** film-maker. And a s*** wannabe. One of them even said, “In the name of all good things, good and holy, change your occupation.” For Killer Clown. Even for Prince of The City. I get knocked for every film. Even in Australia too. I call them my anti-fans. Fans who don’t like me. They still follow me because they don’t like me. One of them told me, “I want to make sure I see your next movie because I want to insult you more”. They are a funny crowd.
We have what it takes to make it big. We have the ability to make good visual effects but… even local film-makers, when I tell them about this American superhero concept that we can shoot in America, then do the visuals here, they would not go for it. They will continue with the local Chinese Mandarin movies. Whether it is the businessmen who are not in the industry or those in the industry, they will not do something new. I’m the only one who wants to do it. I find that it’s a lone ambition to do something different. But that is what I think will take us there.
I am glad Rod Manickam of Rodman Pictures is now doing things that a normal Malaysian film-maker will not do. He’s doing Australian movies with Australian actors… he’s adventurous. Like me. I don’t know why we don’t get more people in Malaysia thinking like Rod and me. We dream and we can do it. I guess it’s a money game in the end, a lot of people may want to do it but don’t have the guts to actually do it.
My strategy now is very simple. You know the movies making it now are visual effects movies, like Man of Steel, Transformers…it’s just visual effects, big animation visuals that people want to see. So a way in is this… I have an animation team in Malaysia that comes fairly cheap and they themselves don’t do movies like that. They do normal things for their corporate clients but they have the ability to do something like Transformers.
10 things about: Julian Cheah, the indie film-maker everyone loves to hate