Photo : Anthony | Flickr
In school, I felt like an ostrich whose neck was tied into a knot. It was suffocating. I was an arts student stuck in a science class, which was most unfortunate for someone whose childhood dreams were to create alien invasions, nuclear warfare, and epic prehistoric battles between cavemen and dinosaurs. There was an array of stories in my head waiting to be projected onto a white screen, for I wanted to be a filmmaker.
After leaving secondary school, away from the regimented lifestyle of timetable academics, I opened my eyes to observe the way society functions. The complexity of relationships, the stigmatism of social conformity, and the deceitfulness of human politics started to worm their way into my subconscious.
I began to see things I never did back in school. I was enlightened, and my observations began to fuel my imagination to a greater degree. I spent one year in Sunway College doing my Australian Matriculation Programme and proceeded soon after to Limkokwing Institute of Technology to do my foundation in Design studies. I had a burning desire to do Mass Communications the following year, but I was pressured into making a decision that would benefit my career in the long run, so to speak. Having continuously being advised that the path of security is the most logical choice, I decided to take up Industrial Design studies, a more financially sustainable route compared to being a filmmaker.
The realisation that there was more to life than academics also became my core philosophy during college years. Having met one too many eccentric characters in college, such as a classmate who wore scuba-diving gear to lectures, I felt rejuvenated whenever I start weaving together fragments of my daily encounters into stories. The diversity I saw in life must not be contained, but released and expressed. Deep down, I knew I still needed to fulfill my filmmaking aspirations. To be weighed down by material pursuits and everyday chores would be the greatest impediment to my passion.
After leaving Limkokwing, I went against the grain and enrolled myself in a film production course. TV3 Academy was where my filmmaking adventures started. I made my first 12 minutes short film called Communicate, which was about the very last moments of a girl before she took her own life. With multiple flashbacks and prickly subject matter, I swore some lecturers almost fell off their seats when they reviewed the film.
During production, I myself almost fell off the windowsill on the 15th floor of the apartment building while trying to demonstrate to the main actress the actions of her suicidal character. Thank God – He decided it was not time for me to go, as I managed to hold on to a panel after having slipped from an unkempt bed by the open window.
With my extended lifetime, and upon graduation from the academy, I went on to direct several video ads for NGOs. My foray into making corporate videos was the catalyst to my setting up a media agency called Vertica 7. Henceforth, while juggling both profit-making commercial projects and short films, I directed The Search for Paradise, Synapse, .Noir and I Am Afreeka.
The Search for Paradise depicted young orphans trying to come to terms with their shortcomings, while Synapse, made two years later, was a sci-fi drama about a kidnapper who, after losing his subject, finds himself in a parallel universe when he walked out of his hotel room door.
2008’s .Noir explored the psyche of two screenwriters while they were writing a script for a movie; they engaged in a homicidal act just to relate to the characters in their film. A long distance, interracial relationship between a Nigerian man and a Malaysian girl became the main theme of 2009’s I Am Afreeka. It was inspired by the amalgamation of cultures and the breaking down of racial stereotypes prevalent in our current generation. I will never limit myself to making films just within the context of my own country and race, for that will prove to be fatally shortsighted in the long run.
I must admit that it is difficult to survive solely by making films. With my contempt for the ‘9 to 5’ lifestyle, challenges abound when one does not fit into the social archetype of either a blue or white collared worker. But today, 5 short films and many extraordinary life lessons later, I am still in the pursuit of becoming a full-fledged film director while running a media agency on the sidelines.
Carpe diem. Seize the day and do not let your dreams be washed away – as for me, I will write more after I win my Oscar.
Jonathan Wong is a filmmaking maverick and creative director of two media agencies, Vertica 7 Integrated Media and Luminous Force Pictures. His unquenchable thirst for life is manifested through his passion to make films. Films that will test the boundaries of creativity, while allowing the content – especially the story – to challenge our perception of humanity.
Note: The above entry was written in 2010 for What’s After SPM?, published in 2011. This non-for-profit book project is a collaboration between Leaderonomics and a team of young Malaysians. Click here for details on the project and authors.
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