Interview by Alia Soraya
Photos by Paul Nickson Atia
WHO ARE YOU JOHN HAFIZ? WHAT SHOULD WE KNOW? John is someone who has many stories to tell, but he feels that he is incapable to tell these stories verbally, through spoken words— somehow they always come out wrong. He realised that the solution was to tell his stories through writings and films.
YOU STARTED AS AN EDITOR. HOW DID YOU FIND THE CALLING TO START BEING A FILMMAKER NEXT? Before I was an editor, I used to write. A lot. Then I fell in love with films. The reason I went into editing was because I thought that understanding how to edit a film would give me the extra mileage in telling a great story. I feel that it does. And, from this experience in editing, I fell in love with films even more. I started to see myself in it—as if filmmaking could be my very own ‘playground’. With a bit of writing background, paired with the editing skills that I acquired, I hope to use both skills to make better stories. After dabbling at this idea for a while, I started to build my own idea of how a film should be. Right now I want to enjoy the process, play with it more, in order to expand my playground. Up until SATU, I felt like I was waiting to see how I could inject more ‘me’ in a project. When I felt like I have got it, that was when I knew that I should start to write and direct.
WAS THERE A LOT OF SOUL SEARCHING INVOLVED? HOW WAS THE PROCESS LIKE? I guess I learned a lot while I was editing people’s projects, especially when I sometimes feel dissatisfied by the decisions made by others in the team. I become curious of how a film would look like if I were in charge of every decision. Since I first had the thought, I was already subconsciously looking for a story. I sat on it for quite a bit, for I have always felt that if I were to produce a quality film, it should be worth taking other people’s time, for them to watch and reflect. I was looking for that one story that I would be comfortable telling. With my experience, I sort of know what I don’t want to do. Although, the problem is, I don’t really know what I want to do. Half way, I felt like giving up. Failing to come up with a story worth telling, I questioned myself: ‘Does the audience need my stories? Do I have a place in this?’ I was struggling to find where I belonged. I was thinking of just trying something else. But, I also picture myself in another 10 years, where I’d look back and see that I created nothing. That’s quite scary for me. But when I look back 10 years before, I’m now half way where I wanted to be. And this is the only thing that I know. So, I stay.
ON A SAD DAY, WHAT’S YOUR GETTING OUT OF A RUT ROUTINE? Walk or jog alone. I usually do this early in the morning. Walk and plan my day. I believe when I run in the evening, I run with problems. Walk or jog while dissecting the problems in my head. The more I walk, the deeper I get into the cause of the rut. A good music playlist can help too.
WHAT ARE THE MOST VALUABLE RESOURCES IN FILMMAKING? Empathy and our own journey. I want to believe that if we are honest about these two, we’ll find our own story. Being true to ourselves will also give us our own unique voice.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR RECENT PROJECT, SATU. WHAT WAS THE DRIVE TO MAKE THAT FILM? John is playful, in writing and editing. SATU became an instrument for me to explore my playfulness to another level, while still applying my experiences and knowledge gained during my involvement in other projects. I also feel that most movies that I’ve watched are too serious, they challenge our patience and create a barrier between the audience and the creator. So I strived for SATU to be a complete story as well as entertaining.
THE FILM SATU DIDN’T NEED DETANGLING. IT WAS WARM-HEARTED AND OFFERED A COMING OF AGE STORY. WHAT WAS YOUR PURPOSE? SATU’s script started with one simple question and the story is about exploring the answer in true honesty and simplicity, with no fear. What if we live our lives like that everyday? True to our most provoking questions and their answers. How would our lives, and the world be different? And that is just one question. There could be many more. I would like to believe, that in SATU, I presented my idea of a better world. I believe in using films to communicate. A great idea is wasted if it’s not communicated clearly. SATU is my attempt at simplifying my idea so that it will be accessible for everyone. From the first draft to the final version that was executed, I try my best to find a way to present the idea in the simplest way possible.
IF ANYTHING HOW WOULD YOU HOPE YOUR VIEWERS TO UNDERSTAND YOUR WORK? I prefer the type of work where the creator does not preach through his or her work. I try to avoid that. As the writer, SATU ended with me saying that it doesn’t work if you question your love to someone. But the answer is something that I do not know myself. I just hope it will trigger the viewers to notice this ‘problem’ and explore the answer themselves. It’s better to question why you love someone than looking for a reason to hate, right?
WHAT’S YOUR PERCEPTION OF “EVERY PROJECT NEEDS TO BE CLEAN, PERFECT, AND ENDING OUTCOME”? In any form of art, I want to believe that you can only execute your idea once and then you need to move on to another idea. Especially in film, when you start to write it, to looking for your team and shoot it. Then, you make it better in post—in this long arduous process, something can get screwed up somewhere. And from one idea that you can’t wait to create, it may become a mistake that you want to forget. I take my time to decide. That’s my main problem in production, because in this process, time is money. There’s a team waiting for you to move. It’s totally different from editing where I have the luxury to think before making any decision. With SATU, I tried my best to make it the best possible outcome with my knowledge and resources at that time. I’m happy to move on to the next one.
DO YOU THINK THAT THE ENVIRONMENT AND CIRCUMSTANCES ARE IMPORTANT WHEN YOU ARE DETERMINED TO CREATE SOMETHING? Yes. As a creator, I need to be aware of my environment. I have a few scripts that I think I’ve already missed the chance to turn them into films because things have changed. I also have changed and grown. A bit. Maybe five years ago I would have wanted to make a film with a rape scene and a brutal murder scene, but now looking at my surroundings I feel like I shouldn’t. Enough provoking violence. I don’t want to wake up one day knowing that someone got an idea from my film to do bad things. For now. Maybe I’ll do it in the future if things are different. Although I still dream of doing a really hot mandi bunga scene.
WE’RE ALL PART OF THE SAME DIALOG. DO YOU THINK YOU’RE THE SAME FILM ENTHUSIAST AS YOU WERE WHEN YOU WERE A TEENAGER NOW BEING IN THE FILM INDUSTRY? I was never a film enthusiast. There are a lot of important films that I haven’t watched or couldn’t watch. When I was young, I was into anything creative. Never really focused on one thing. Even in music, I just listened to what my circle of friends was listening. I never really went deeper and dug for my own music preference. My mind goes to Matthew, Théo and Isabelle in The Dreamers when you mentioned ‘film enthusiast’. I was never like that. It’s just that when I became an editor, I started to know what I’m looking for in a film. In a way, I learned how to appreciate this form of art better. Only then did I start watching more films. To learn, be inspired and to copy.
WHEN YOU’RE IN THE MIDST OF A PROCESS, DO YOU THINK SHARING YOUR PROCESS IS A GOOD IDEA OR WOULD YOU SAY.. WAIT FOR IT TO BE CONCRETE? John always shares his works. Sometimes I feel like I have nothing to talk about to others if it’s not about my excitement of my work. It’s bad for my relationships. For me, I just feel like I should own these works. And, by sharing, be it in writing or verbally, I know how stupid or great an idea is. Even to just write it down, or posting it, I can at least see it in front of me, outside of my head. Then I can edit it to make it better. Or, I’ll become more convinced that it is a great idea. Usually the latter.
DO YOU THINK COLLABORATING IS IMPORTANT? IF SO WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN YOUR COLLABORATORS? Very important. For example, SATU was written very simple thus easy for a first time director like me to execute. I was ok to just shoot it on a phone because I believe the charm is in the script. But, when I talked about it to Alea, she agreed to help me set up a team to execute this project. Firdaus helped me to fund the project. Then satu demi satu people came together, able and willing to help me on this project – Rewan, Ili, Jessica, Aaron, Ahmad, Rashid, Kara, Lan, AJ, Ummi, Jonny, Ezzart, Cheryl, Tess, Junad, Jimmy, Shah, Mohsin and Chulat. Another clear example is when others asked me why I did not edit the film myself. I wanted to collaborate with Chulat, an editor whom I know is always taking risks to take a fresh approach on his projects. I wanted him to suggest to me the things that I don’t see. A fresh pair of eyes to this project. I looked forward to seeing his input for it. And make it better. Thus, I believe that by collaborating with the team, they helped me make SATU a thousand times better than what I could have imagined.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO 2009 JOHN TODAY? Don’t send that pic.