Early in the year, my friend Amanda Nell Eu asked if I wanted to work on her short film. She sent me her script, about the friendship between two teenage girls, set in a Malay kampung. One of them turns into a Pontianak.
Some time ago I’d randomly drawn two characters. I didn’t know who they were, or where they came from, and I still don’t. I gathered they were friends, girls who were in trouble, and caused trouble. In any case, I dumped them in the ‘art for reasons unknown’ folder (an actual folder in my studio, and also, in my head) and forgot about them.
They came crawling out again this year, when my friend Wolf wanted art for his new album. He ended up using other drawings of mine, on account of them being naked ladies, and the album being for all ages. This is them making some dramatic escape to the tune of ‘I Love the Law’, my favorite song on the album.
So they were very alive to me when I became Amanda’s unlikely art director. Seeds of them when into Fatin and Rahmah, Amanda’s two characters. Despite me not knowing the first thing about film-making, AND being a total chicken-shit horror-phobe, Amanda and I worked well together. We have an appreciation for the trouble in girls. Looking at most of my work that sees the light of day, you wouldn’t call it dark, but with Amanda, I found somewhere to put the darkness.
These were my first drawings of Fatin and Rahmah.
Growing up, I didn’t see many girl-girl partnerships depicted in the culture around me. As an adult, I still don’t. It’s always two guys going off and having adventures: Frodo and Sam, Holmes and Watson, Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. When I told Zedeck this, he wrote a series of stories about ‘The Adventures of Sandy and Aina’, loosely based on me and my best friend, some of which ended up published in KL Noir: BLUE, a crime anthology.
Here’s Fatin and Rahmah hanging out in the jungle after school. This was my favorite scene in the film. I got obsessed about the snacks they were eating, and insisted on having this PARTICULAR brand of neon pink cotton candy that you can only find in petrol stations. Also, a PARTICULAR brand of bootleg cigarettes, which my art team went to great lengths to find. By the way, if you’re looking for a production design team in Malaysia, MovArt are amazing, wonderful, the best.
Not coincidentally, the colour palette of the film was pink and green.
I imagined Amanda’s Pontianak as wearing a pink satin pajamas set, with long claws and long hair. Amanda wanted a monster who was also a very human girl. Fatin was all hair, all body – an animal comfortable in the world, and at the same time, a girl at war with it.
For a few months I lived with photo reference of bruises, bite marks, severed hands, and a condition called trichotillomania, on my phone.
THE CLAWS. All the better to rip your daddy’s guts out, and feast on them under banana trees, on the night of a full moon!
Before working on this film I’d never seen a story taken apart and put back together so often and in so many ways. It’s amazing that stories can go through this brutal process and come out resembling anything like an edible (sometimes delicious, and even transcendent) sausage.
It’s a constant back and forth between zooming out to see the whole sausage, like this first thumbnail breakdown of the wardrobe and set design for every scene… (I literally can’t remember how many subsequent breakdowns I did, for clothes, for props, for makeup, etc. etc.)
…and filling in the tiniest details of the sausage, like this badge I designed for Rahmah’s school uniform.
Oh I have left out so many steps and all the talented, ridiculously hard-working professionals involved in the making of this sausage (producer, cinematography, lighting, sound, continuity, editing, etc. etc.), to jump right to the end, where you wrap the finished sausage in nice packaging, i.e this poster I designed…
…and hope the people who eat it enjoy it!
‘Lagi Senang Jaga Sekandang Lembu’ will be be screened on ASTRO sometime in 2017.
Here, enjoy some production photos!
Fatin and Rahmah meet at the test shoot:
Fatin in her tree:
This cat wanted to be in the film real bad, and is probably in one of the scenes:
Best art department team a newbie art director could ask for, taking a break at the famous ‘Boyfriend’ fruit shake stall in Broga:
First draft of the poster, featuring Zedeck:
Update (2 Jan 2017): Here are two extra pages from my sketchbook for this film. They reveal the sometimes crippling self-doubt that is nicer to keep hidden. I decided to include them because I think it may be useful for people to know that it is not easy to be a beginner again. As an artist, context – your body of work – is everything. In the film world, I had no context, and so experienced being someone whose work is unknown, unproven. It’s not a comfortable place to be! I’m grateful to Amanda, our producer Gan, and everyone who worked on this film for taking a chance on me. With some work, some nerve, some luck, and people you believe in, who believe in you – you can forge from the self-doubt something worthwhile.