On Saturday, March 18, Sharpened Word organised a film-reading workshop at the Old Andersonians’ Club. The speaker was Hassan Abd Muthalib, the ‘Father of Malaysian Animation’.
Hassan (Pak Hassan) is an author, a film critic and a part-time guest lecturer. He started writing at the tender age of 16 and has since published two books: “Malaysian Cinema in a Bottle: A Century (and a Bit More) of Wayang” and “From Mouse Deer to Mouse: 70 Years of Malaysian Animation”. He has also acted in a number of short films and television dramas.
Despite failing his Form 5, Hassan has become successful indeed. He attributes his success to his growing years when he would read at least a book a day.
“You’re a failure only if you think you are. Your success and failures are all in your hands,” said Hassan.
During the workshop he engaged the audience, mainly students, in a series of mind-boggling trick questions as part of teaching them to read films.
“Go beyond what you see. This is how you understand films.
“I spent 40 years in the cinema, writing in the dark and watching lots of films. Then I discovered that Hollywood films and all those movies out there are recycling ideas. It’s just that we don’t realise it,” said Hassan.
According to Hassan, every Hollywood film is written based on a specific format, called the six story beats. The beginning of a film depicts the world of the hero, followed by an inciting incident which spins the hero out of his normal world and the real story begins. Then complications arise, which force the hero to make choices to further raise dramatic stakes that push him even further on his journey. Then even more complications arise, which again raises the dramatic stakes and pushes the hero to a new height within the journey. Then the hero falls into a crisis, where he feels that there’s no light at the end of the tunnel and that he will never be able to achieve his goals. This leads to the climax, where the hero must face the greatest obstacle in the story to reach the end of his journey.
A good film has only three criteria. First, it must entertain as everyone goes to the cinema to enjoy. Second, it must have something to say. And third, it must depict the culture of the country and the community.
“The first scene is the most important. When I watch a movie, the first shot already tells me whether the director knows what he’s doing,” Hassan insisted.
Charlie Chaplin and Walt Disney are acknowledged as the only two geniuses in the cinematic history. One made a film with no sound or dialogue but people would laugh and cry watching it, while another made a film with only drawings and made people laugh.
“If you want to be a writer or a director or a successful person, there are four things you must do. Number one, you must be a reader. Two, watch movies because you can learn a lot from them. Three, travel to places you don’t usually go to and four, mix with people who are more intelligent than you are,” said Hassan.
There are two kinds of stories found in a movie, namely, the foreground story and the background story.
Example, the movie ‘Gladiator’, it’s not all about fighting only. The hidden message behind the movie is, there is nothing more important in the world than our family and loved ones.
To help the audience better understand the concept behind films, Hassan showed stills from the movie “The Wedding Planner” while explaining the elements of the movie.
“In the movie, there’re lots of scenes shot in the park, where there’re lots of trees. Then there are also scenes taken in offices and closed environments. Different environments bring different meanings,” explained Hassan.
When two characters are on good terms they’ll dress in same-coloured outfits.
Spirituality is represented by the colour yellow. When there’s light reflected from a window on a character, it means he’s spiritual.
Characters who wear dark glasses are usually the bad guys. If a character’s eyeballs cannot be seen, it means he cannot be trusted.
“In the Hollywood film ‘The Rock’, there are five or six guys who are supposed to help the hero to kidnap people. The guy with dark glasses is the traitor,” added Hassan.
When asked if the director or the script of a movie was more important, Hassan replied, “There’s no film without a script. But the film is not the script, it’s what the director does to the script that raises it up.”