As part of the creative collaboration known as Plum Jungle, Michael’s creative work in the short video ‘India – No Direction Known’ screened at the inaugural AAFFN event in Melbourne in 2011. Full of ideas, infectious energy and enthusiasm, matched with serious dedication to his craft, Michael creates a buzz wherever he goes. This includes artistic explorations of Japanese sub-cultures, Sydney’s urban beauty and of course, in India with its everyday richness and complexities. Below he talks about his experiences working collaboratively with Australians from various backgrounds, and of making stories that may sometimes have Asian Australian content but also arise from and speak to something more universal and shared.
1. Can you describe your style or genre of filmmaking with your collaborators at Plum Jungle and what films or people have inspired this?
Plum Jungle’s style of filmmaking is what we’ve termed as ‘continuous stills’. It’s a new technique that we’ve developed, and is possible because of technological advancements in digital SLR photography whereby thousands of photographs can be taken and stored, then imported into filmmaking software to be edited and synchronized to music and processed out as innovative experimental films.
‘Continuous-stills’ differs to time-lapse photography films in that within a few moments the viewer can process thousands of individual images, some related or sequential, others not, within a very tightly compressed amount of time, experiencing thousands of moments captured over days, weeks, months, even years.
This style initially came about when I wanted to compose a soundtrack for my close friend, Pete Longworth who was to exhibit his photographic work, ‘Life on Top of Hyde Park’. When I had completed recording and producing the soundtrack, I thought it would be beautiful to have Pete’s amazing images fall in time with the music in a live performance. Pete gave me access to the thousands of images he had taken as part of this project (having spent months living and breathing Hyde Park) and I made some rudimentary short films until our imaginations ran wild and we realized the full potential of what we could create. That’s when we recruited the third musketeer, filmmaker Christopher Baron, and so began Plum Jungle’s adventures that would take us across oceans to film festivals, TEDx talks in New Zealand and unchartered areas in filmmaking!
2. Does making films with Asian Australian content and cast give rise to any specific challenges in gaining support for distributing films, or in contrast, are there advantages?
It’s interesting that you ask that. For me personally, it never came down to a conscious decision to create films with Asian Australian content. As artists, we get passionate about something and make it happen. We haven’t come across any specific challenges for support or distribution, not any that are out-of-the-ordinary for any filmmaker or artist. An advantage is that we get to share our films with another sector of film festivals that have a focus on Asian content, and it helps us as artists reach a wider audience.
3. You had some good media in the press in India with ‘No Direction Known’ about a Vietnamese Australian who travels to India. In what ways do you think Asian Australians make stories that a range of people might connect with it?
It was incredible to have a write-up for ‘No Direction Known’ (http://youtu.be/e73IGubrMTU) in the Times of India who have a readership of millions! (http://tablatronics.tumblr.com/post/12920678248) Story-telling seems to be a natural part of being human as we seek to share experiences. Whether it be a Vietnamese Australian girl losing herself in India or a tale of boy-meets-girl-boy-loses-girl, there will always be universal themes people can connect with. It all depends on our personal and life experiences and where we are in this point in time. As a kid, I hated the taste of bitter melon, but now I’ve grown to appreciate it.
4. What Asian Australian films, actors or filmmakers have been influential to you?
One amazing Asian Australian film that will always be dear to me is ‘Birthday Boy’ by Sejong Park. It conveys such a powerful message in a beautifully simple form. I’ve had tears of joy and sadness along with a lump in my throat just thinking about it.
Yep, I guess I’m a lot like the character Manuk who reminds me of all the creative mischief I’d get up to as a boy growing up in Dulwich Hill and Greenacre. Hmmm, that really hasn’t changed… it’s a pity we don’t have Red-Rattlers anymore, haha!
5. You have collaborated with lots of people. If you could offer any advice for aspiring filmmakers wanting to work in such a way, what would that be?
Be more open to creative collaboration. I know we may all struggle as artists, but filmmaking as an art form should never be about coin. Coming from a predominantly music-based background, I’d always be jamming with other musicians creating something in the moment. I understand that film can require a lot more equipment, but with DSLRs and iPhones it’s now easier to improvise and produce something.
Invest your time and talents into projects you believe have potential and work with the willing. Sometimes there are artistic endeavors that can have long-term outcomes that may help advance your career or stretch you as an artist.
If you need seed money, there are always crowd-funding sources like Pozible who provide platforms for you to raise funds for your projects. There are film and arts grants out there, but you need to have proven your chops before you get a look-in and the only way to do that is to produce something. I’ll always remember my first meeting with one of the execs from Apple Australia, he said, “Show me what you’ve done, not what you’re gonna do.”
Connect dots with others outside your immediate industry or discipline and see where the adventure will take you.
Be true, be you. Make it happen.
6. Please describe some of your recent career highlights and challenges?
In 2010, Plum Jungle were commissioned by the NSW Premiere’s Office to create ‘Life on Top of Hyde Park’ (http://lifeontopofhydepark.tumblr.com/) where the genesis of what we now term ‘continuous stills’ was born. This project has produced several experimental short films, the first of which, ‘Another Time Another Pace’ exhibited at Festival De Cannes (France), End of the Pier International Film Festival (UK), and won Audience Choice Award and Best International Experimental Short Film at the New York Independent Film Festival (US). (http://youtu.be/PJnwo2q0tk4)
We were also invited to do a TED talk at TEDx Auckland and soon after flew back to Sydney to do a retrospective on ‘Life on Top of Hyde Park’ at the Apple Store.
In 2011, in association with the Australian Government, ‘Sydney Seen’ (http://youtu.be/L_cT-oP7FN0) travelled as a media arts exhibition all the way to the heart of Washington DC as part of FotoWeek DC where it was opened by renowned Magnum photographer, David Alan Harvey. (http://lifeontopofhydepark.tumblr.com/post/13866414295/sydney-seen-from-life-on-top-of-hyde-park)
Plum Jungle also created their latest work ‘India – No Direction Known’ that screened at the Asian Australian Film Forum (Melbourne) as well as receiving attention in the Times of India. It was also part of a larger work titled ‘Tablatronics’ that featured on several nights as part of Parramasala, the largest South Asian Festival in Australia.
I also collaborated with Synergy Percussion to create visuals for the project ‘City Jungle’, combining electronic elements of Drum ‘n’ Bass and Dubstep with live percussion and a schizophrenic bombardment of synchronized images. You’ll never look at a maneki neko the same way again! Haha!
Challenges? Every project has had its unique challenges, but we’ve worked hard to overcome them. Rarely have I ever had a challenge with anyone I’ve collaborated with. There needs to be a mutual respect for what each person brings to the project, articulate the vision, trust them, and let them do their thing.
7. What are some of your reflections on initiatives like the AAFFN in terms of how it fits in with your own visions for the screen? How else do you get support and networking opportunities? That can include festivals, organizations, and so on.
Initiatives like AAFFN are great! I’d love to see more films produced by Asian Australians and seeing them exported and promoted at various international film festivals. AAFFN brings together Asian Australians and other industry professionals together helping to foster connections, relationships and opportunities. Other ways I gain support and network opportunities for projects and events is by pushing myself beyond my comfort zone. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
8. What are you working on next?
As well as continuing my arts residency with ICE (Information + Cultural Exchange), I’m working on several projects throughout 2012. I plan to take ‘Tablatronics’ further afield to India, and hopefully to Europe and the UK to expose it to new audiences and to collaborate with other traditional and contemporary South Asian artists in these areas.
With Synergy Percussion I’m working closely with Timothy Constable to further develop ‘City Jungle’ expanding it into a series of works.
I’ll also be creating a new work, KyoToKyoTo (http://nightsintokyo.tumblr.com) that explores Japan as one of the unique places on our planet that has been reshaped by natural and man-made disasters of epic proportions. For this project I’m collaborating with traditional and contemporary Japanese artists as well as exploring some of Japan’s interesting subcultures, from Meido Cafes to Yoyogi Park Rockabillies, and Shibuya B-Boys. I’ll be doing some exciting things with various technologies creating an immersive experience and if some of your readers are keen to collaborate with me or support this project, let’s make it happen!