"This is Fikri, he's from Malaysia," said my ex-teacher, Mr Seo, introducing me to one of his newer students. She smiles, muttering some words along the lines of "nice to meet you." Mr Seo, however, doesn't let up. "He's a filmmaker," he gleefully informed her.
What happened next took me aback quite a bit. She actually took a step back, bowing a little as she does, and starts to speak to me in a more respectful tone. I actually shot a look at Mr Seo, asking him what he's doing. He smiled back, mischievously.
Not that it is a rare occurrence, however. I don't quite introduce myself as such most of the time, mainly as a result of my ego (or lack of). Despite having made a fair number of videos and short films, a bigger part of me feels far more comfortable describing myself as a writer than a filmmaker, though inevitably the latter will stick as the more sensational tag.
Herein lies the interesting subject. Or, rather, the interesting perception on the not-so-interesting subject. Here's the breakdown. Perception: the filmmaker leads a glamourous life, an artistic auteur who conjures cinematic magic from thin air and spends half their time on set with beautiful and talented actresses, and the remaining half bedding the said actresses (maybe). Wine, champagne and self-congratulatory toasts fill the air as we walk down the red carpet at our latest premiere in Cannes.
OK, so that's a bit overboard. But you get the idea, and the perception.
The reality, however, could not be more different. Perhaps, I hasten to add, I should say that my reality is very different.
I don't, for one, bed beautiful actresses. Though they're beautiful, they're not actresses :) Kidding.
For another, I don't drink.
The picture painted, however, is the result of the hard work, time, money and coordination conducted behind the scenes. While I don't go as far as having my own red carpets, we do have our own gatherings, parties and celebrations. It is, however, merely the end to the mean.
The mean, the picture not painted, is a process that is incredibly taxing on everyone involved. This is the process that consumes perhaps 90% of the time that you do call yourself a filmmaker, and it consists of worrying about money, compromising on the actors, rearranging the schedule to accommodate the timetable of others, rushing the shots because you can only shoot at the subway until midnight (and you still have two more scenes to go when the clock strikes 11pm), and wondering who is willing to give you five hours of their time just to hold the boom mic.
"I don't believe it," I told Vicky, whose film I helped him to make. "Surely there must be more boxes available." It's 2am, and we were looking for empty boxes for his film.
"Maybe the ajumma took them already," he mused. The ajumma refers to old Korean ladies who go around taking old boxes and recycling them. It is something impressive, mind you, and one that is worthy of a whole post on its own, but that is another story for another time. "They're quite quick."
"Yeah, but it's 2am," I countered. "Surely they must be asleep by now." Pause. "Let's check out the next street. I'm sure they'll have some there."
No sooner than the corner was turned when we saw, in the far distance, the unmistakeable figure of an ajumma, doubly bent over, pulling along a cart filled to the brim with flattened cardboard boxes.
Two scholarship filmmakers...beaten to the punch by 60 year-old grandmas.
Nothing glamourous about it whatsoever.