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The boy who rocked Sundance

Writer: Syaheeda Hishamuddin


Paul Gan the director of "The Boy Who Rocked the World".

If you're a filmmaker or simply a film aficionado, attending the Sundance Film Festival at some point in your life must definitely be on your bucket list. Well, 28-year-old up and coming Malaysian filmmaker, Paul Gan Yew Hoe, got to experience the festival first-hand, thanks to his winning short film entry, "The Boy Who Rocked the World" which was submitted to the Astro's Sundance Channel Short Film Contest last year.

Calling his entry "creative, imaginative and extremely well executed", the impressive panel of judges which picked Gan's submission was made up by the big wigs of AMC & Sundance Channel Global and Astro, "The Journey" director Chiu Keng Guan, executive producer Gayatri Su Lin Pillai, "Istanbul Aku Datang!" producer Lina Tan, local director James Lee and actor-director Afdlin Shauki.

You would think that this Malacca born lad who credits the Wachowski siblings' "The Matrix" for opening his eyes to the filmmaking world, would come up with something sort of similar for his winning film. But no, instead the broadcasting degree holder from UTAR (Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman) drew the idea based on his real life experiences as a young boy with big dreams, growing up in a poor background in a small town.

We managed to chat with Paul before his short film airs this Merdeka Day on Monday, 31 August 2015, 7pm on the Sundance Channel HD (Astro Channel 438), and here's what he told us about "The Boy Who Rocked the World" and attending the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.


Paul, the crew and his star, Faid, on set.

Hi Paul. Tell what's your short film about?

Paul Gan: It's a story of a little boy from a rural town that has a passion for rock music. He has to face the harsh reality too as he gets bullied a lot and people misunderstand him. So to get away from all this he uses his imagination and gets himself immersed into music.

Is the boy in the story a reflection of yourself?

Yes, in a major way he is. I grew up in Malacca and I was not born with a silver spoon. There were times when I only had one ringgit in my pocket. I lived with Malay community around me and that's how I came to do the story. It's a reflection of my younger self and my surroundings.


The boys who rocked the world?

How did you managed to get such a good lead for your film?

Well, I guess if you want to convince people to watch your film, then you have to also convince them that your actors are not really acting. You have to make them believe that the film is real. So I had to find people who could really portray that. When we were drafting the script for the lead, I was thinking that I needed a boy who could really act with good motor skills and one that could act well with his expressions - internally. So there was that challenge. We made a few calls and we ended up on a phone call with Mano Maniam, and he linked us to the Actor's Studio. The Actor's Studio introduced us to a bunch of kids and we auditioned them to finally find our boy.

What was the Sundance Festival like?

I was there for four days and three nights and James Franco was there too, but I never really bumped into him! I think the celebrities hide themselves really well! Also I was at one of the forums where George Lucas and Robert Redford were speaking too. But then again, my heroes are actually people behind the camera. I met Harry Gregson-Williams, the famous film score composer. The other person I was really excited to meet was Louie Psihoyos the director of the documentary, "The Cove".

What made you want to join the competition?

I just wanted to see how far the film can go as I wrote it as something that people can relate too. So I submitted my entry to see how well it would go.


Shooting a night scene in KL.

So what's next for you?

I have another short film coming up. I want to prepare the concept and get the story right before I venture into making a full-length feature film, hence I'm doing another short film. It will be a film about a mute family that's based on a true story.

As a winner of a short film contest that has gotten him to the Sundance Film festival, what's your advice to new and hopeful filmmakers?

I have a very weird advice. People always get very caught up in the story while watching a film. So I would say to read, because that would help your mind to open up and have more depth when telling the story. This will give you a much better perspective. I believe that that's actually the problem here, people don't really read and everything is so standardised. You are a product of what's in your mind.

Cinema Online, 27 August 2015

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