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  Yasmin Ahmad
Expert Advice





The two most important aspects of film direction to me are the SCRIPT and the CAST. I believe if you get these two things right, you could almost say that the film will direct itself.

Different people have different ideas as to what a good script is, of course, but to me, it is simply one which engages me on a human level. That is to say, emotionally. The clearest example of what I mean would be the stories of the genius Charlie Chaplin.

In Chaplin films like, say, "City Lights" or "The Kid", he managed to make me smile, laugh out loud, cry with sadness, and even cry with joy, in less than 90 minutes. And if you've seen these films (if you haven''t, go watch them NOW, before reading on) you would be able to observe how good casting served the purpose of the story.

As a filmmaker, I've been blessed with the company of a brilliant cinematographer who can help me tell a story in an understated way, and an editor who pieces together my scenes in a seamless, unnoticed way. The reason for this, I think, is that the three of us are like brothers and sister, and we start huddling over the story even at the initial idea stages.

It is important that your fellow craftsmen, primarily your cinematographer and your editor, understand the soul and intention of the story.

Casting, on the other hand, is perhaps a little harder here in Malaysia than in other more advanced filmmaking countries like Japan, Australia or China. What I mean is, it's easier for a filmmaker to cast when you have in your country choices of actors like Naoto Takenaka, Geoffrey Rush, Kate Blanchett and Gong Li. These countries have such a wide range of highly-versatile actors to choose from. Malaysia doesn't.

However, every problem, I believe, can bring with it interesting opportunities. Inspired by middle-eastern filmmakers like Behman Ghobadi and of course Abbas Kiarostami, we work hard to cast from our streets, being careful along the way to select faces and personalities that best drive home the feeling and humanity of the story.

Personally, I prefer to make films out of stories which I wrote myself, in collaboration with my craftsmen friends. That way, we can keep kneading and kneading it way into our shooting, and even our editing, without having to answer to some screenplaywright who is guarding his original script jealously.

Every story idea is bound to encounter countless opportunities to become stronger as you go along. The actors you choose and the locations you find are so integral to the power of your story, and will inevitably affect the telling of that story.

You are, after all, dealing with people and trees and houses and hills and valleys and skies and cloud and rain and all the things that God has placed in your path; these things are older and more profound than your stories, and can only add depth and beauty to your film, if you regard them with care and respect.

"Art is a collaboration between God and the artist. The less the artist does, the better."
- Andre Gide

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