Breaking Through: an interview with Raelene Loong, recent film school grad and producer

Australian filmmaker RAELENE LOONG

BIO: Originally from the vibrant city of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Raelene Loong is an aspiring producer, independent filmmaker and recent graduate from Sydney Film School.   With a keen interest in marketing, she currently interns as a marketing assistant at local film distribution company Titan View, as well as the 1st Korean Film Festival in Australia.   Loong is co-founder and Artistic Director of the independent production company Fan Chan Pictures where she makes short films that have screened around Australia.

Her Film: When did you know you wanted to make films, and why did you decide to go to film school?

Raelene Loong: I think the desire began when I was a young girl at 12 years old. I loved watching movies and writing stories as a kid, so much that I used to write scripts for sequels to my favourite films, made Entertainment Weekly-esque newsletters about my favourite filmmakers (namely George Lucas) and spent all of my free time playing out these sequels and stories in my head (stories that would stay with me for years). It was not till I had left high school and started university that my love for film was reignited. In pursuing this interest, I decided to leave university (where I was doing a Bachelors degree in Fine Art) for film school. At the time, I had no experience in film apart from taking a semester long course in an Introduction to Film Studies at university – so the decision was a big leap into the unknown. Thankfully it turned out for the better.

HF: You say on your blog that you’re “a film graduate struggling to make a break as a producer.”  Why are you attracted to producing, specifically, and what is your next project?

RL: I think what attracted me to producing was the opportunity to learn from such an intense and highly organisational role. I had taken up the role for the first time in my first semester at film school, in hopes that it would help me improve my people skills, get to know every nook and cranny in how a production works, and to teach me a lesson in how to organise and manage a project. My next project is (hopefully) a series of experimental shorts on observations (the city is loudest past midnight, or a tree is happiest when it sways) as I really want to explore the art of experimental film. I’ve found experimental music in soundscapes incredibly interesting, and I’m hoping to collaborate with a composer on a track which I can use as a starting base of inspiration for these experimental shorts.

HF: Some filmmakers journal their experiences making films.  You blog about it.  How has blogging about filmmaking helped you?  Do you think you’ll continue the practice as you work on more films?

RL: Blogging has always been my way of reflecting on both myself as a person, my experiences and processes in film-making. I suppose a blog can also be considered a journal, only more accessible to others. I had started my blog as a way to document my experiences in film-making, and to reflect on my methods and thoughts about different aspects of film (including the film industry). It was quite a personal blog to begin with, but I feel my blog has now evolved into something more of a discussion platform to those who may or may not share the same opinion. I would definitely continue the practice as I work on more films, and enter the media industry.

HF: Evidenced on your blog, you watch a lot of movies!  What importance do you place on watching other filmmakers’ work as you start off on your own career in filmmaking?

RL: I cannot express how important it is for a filmmaker to watch lots of films. I watch different films (studio films, art house, documentary, shorts, music videos, etc) as a way of developing my own skills as a filmmaker. For example, Michel Gondry is a major influence of mine in my filmmaking; he uses alternative methods to create fantastical effects, by using little to no money. Apart from developing skills, it’s also a great way to find inspiration in all forms – be it a start to a great story, a single characteristic you want to add in the development of a character you have, or a style you want to develop in your own films.

HF: What are your thoughts on the current state of the filmmaking industry in Australia, particularly with regard to opportunities for young filmmakers?  women filmmakers?

RL: The film industry in Australia is a tough one, like everywhere else. It’s hard to get into, and it’s simply hard to make a living. In all honesty, I think there are some big issues within our industry. There are too many personal stories coming out of our industry, and not enough with the blockbuster breaking factor. Over the last two years, the top two films at the Australian box office have been adaptations from books (Mao’s Last Dancer written by Li Cunxin, and Tomorrow, When The War Began written by John Marsden). Clearly, this tells you that the Australian stories written by Australian writers for the screen are merely destined for a pricey DVD release and nothing more. Yet, everyone in this industry complains and whines about how our films never make money.

However, amongst the mess, you see the release of films like Animal Kingdom, which was a great success in the likes of USA; it first saw the big screen overseas at festivals like Sundance. It was then picked up by an international distributor, and has made lots of money as a result. It shows you that alternative distribution methods can work better for your film, and I think Australian filmmakers need to consider this.

I believe there has been an increase in programs for young rising filmmakers in Australia. In Sydney, there are a range of production houses that not only produce their own films but run part-time programs (be it short courses, certificate courses) for those who either want to get into filmmaking, or are already in the industry and want to build on their skills. There have also been a lot of competitions that act as a springboard to young filmmakers who want their break in the industry. There are also a wide range of opportunities for women filmmakers in Australia.  I’ve noticed programs for women to learn about filmmaking, festivals that celebrate women filmmakers in Australia, and film groups for women. I volunteered at last year’s World of Women Film Festival and had noticed an amazingly large audience for the festival, which was a surprise to me. It’s nice to know that women filmmakers are being celebrated for who they are and their work in film even in Australia.

HF: You’re an intern for the First Annual Korean Film Festival in Australia (KOFFIA) which takes place the first week of October this year.  What drove you to get involved in this inaugural festival?
(Note: This interview was conducted prior to KOFFIA 2010.)

RL: It’s mainly because my partner (with whom I co-founded Fan Chan Pictures) is the Marketing Director of the festival, and he has taught me a lot about what it takes to run a film festival, with particular interest in the marketing side of things. It also combines my love for film with my growing interest in marketing, and I have found it is a great way of learning about event management and the nitty gritty details behind marketing.

HF: As both a beginning producer and a marketing intern (at a film distribution company), how do you see those two areas of film relating and working together?  Also, what are your goals as a producer regarding how your films are/will be marketed?

RL: Through all my experiences as being a marketing assistant at events and especially the distribution company, I’ve learned that without marketing, your film will never have a life outside of its hard drive, or home. As a producer, I believe you have to constantly be considering the marketability of your film – whether it has an audience, and in what ways can you make your film’s content relevant to your audience. I think this is highly important especially if you are indeed making your film for a wider audience, and if you intend on making some profit out of it. Secondly, giving your film the marketing campaign it deserves will help create and build your audience, and therefore allowing your film to profit. I also have a great interest in the use of social media platforms, which over the past year, I have found to be of extreme relevance to any filmmaker wanting to get their film out there and straight to their audience. It’s just such a great way to reach everyone because of how direct it is. It’s amazing how technology has allowed us to move our marketing ideas into the incredible world of the wide web.

HF: What do you want to say as a filmmaker?

RL: Making a film is easier than you think. Filmmaking is not all about large crews, budgets, big and excessive equipment and everything the book tells you it should be. That’s not smart filmmaking. Smart filmmaking is what works for what you have at the given time and place. That’s my practising theory about filmmaking.

HF: Can you talk a bit about your thesis film This Is Not Poetry and your experiences both producing and directing it? (Note: Watch the teaser trailer.)

RL: The film is about a young poet who writes about his affection for a girl, only to achieve nothing but beautiful words of love. Without the confidence to approach her, he slowly loses himself in his own poetry as it consumes him – to the point where he must abandon what is most precious to him, which is ultimately his own words. The idea stemmed from an small experience I had. My cousin writes a lot of poetry, and it’s usually about a girl (I never knew, and still don’t know if it was only one girl he was referring to, of if this girl was simply a figment of his great imagination) – and it was always so depressing. His writing had such a great sense of tragedy and loneliness, yet it was always so beautiful. He used to upload his works onto Facebook as notes, until one day he decided to tell everyone that he would delete his entire collection of poems forever. He made it sound like it was a notice for a garage sale, as he said that he would leave them up for 24 hours, and for anyone to take them. This puzzled me, so I asked him why he would do such a thing. He said it was to let go of his past. I loved the idea of what he proposed to do, so I took all of his poems and put them into one single poem for an idea I had. The idea was to have this one poem read out like a stream of consciousness, or an internal monologue by this poet.

To be honest, there was no difficulty in both producing and directing the film. If anything, it was easier for me. When and if I suddenly needed something, I organised it for myself. It was better because I could plan out the production exactly the way I wanted it to look. As a director, I wanted to take on a more natural approach to the role — I didn’t want real actors in my film, and I didn’t want to write have a script. I wanted ordinary people to play my characters, and I made sure I gave my actors more freedom to try different things that were comfortable to them. The problems I had with directing/producing this film was that I had done so much visual and style research, that I couldn’t see my ideas in any other original way. I love Michel Gondry and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, so much that the film turned into my homage for his style. It’s great to watch and learn from different films, but I guess there comes a point when you simply have to stop in order to think outside the box. Now that the production is over, I often wonder if I ever gave my actors and crew too much freedom on set. I put a lot of trust in everyone, and as a first time director, I don’t know if that was the right approach for the job. Nonetheless, I think the film overall was quite a success and the experiences I gained from the production will be a great lesson for my future works.

HF: Can you tell Her Film readers about your production company Fan Chan Pictures and how it was formed, who the team is and what films you’re making?

RL: Fan Chan Pictures started out as a fun way to give ourselves a name behind our films. I co-founded it with my partner, Kieran, and we now have a graphic designer who helps us with logo designs and other graphics when we make our films. We also collaborate with a number of other people we have met along the way: old film school classmates, new friends from film festivals, and others. It is still a very new production company, and still remains as our way of bringing us together as a team to make films together.

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Read Raelene Loong’s Cutting Squares film blog.

Follow Raelene Loong on twitter @suupatrout.

Visit Loong’s production company, Fan Chan Pictures and follow on twitter @fanchanpictures.

Watch work by Fan Chan Pictures on vimeo.

Check out the First Korean Film Festival in Australia or follow on twitter @KOFFIA2010.

Take a look at the teaser trailer for Raelene Loong’s new film, This Is Not Poetry.

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EDITED 12-14-10
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