• Michael Chen

Updated: Mar 2, 2020

What would my '2020-self' tell my '2010-self'?

I have been thinking about this question for a while now and I have thought of several things my present self would tell my '10 years-ago'-self. But the one thing that I keep coming back to is,


"It's going to take time."


Here's a quick look at some highlights in my career & personal trajectory over the last 10 years -

Becoming a married man within the last decade is a whole other post about adulting that I won't get into here.

Tombiruo : Penunggu Rimba behind the scenes

But it has essentially taken more than 10 years chasing the dream as an actor for theatre, film & TV to gather my portfolio. 'Tombiruo Penunggu Rimba', where I got to have fun playing a villain and performing all of my own stunts (including being set on fire!) and finally getting some recognition as an actor via my nomination at the 16th Kakiseni Boh Cameronian Awards for my work as an actor in The Edge by Nick Choo and TheatreThreeSixty. Shoutout to award winning director Christopher Ling and Dominic Luk for having faith to cast me in this musical!


Tria Aziz and I in The Edge Musical by TheatreThreeSixty, Dec 2018.

In the midst of all that, I discovered my ability as a Producer within this decade too. Doing a bulk of my share as a Producer in my time at #RTVMalaysia doing mostly online branded content, producing almost 200 videos over 5 years. Continuing and solidifying my capacity as a Producer since I started the journey at Garang Pictures with #CUAKmovie.


Before finally arriving at 2020, running Iron Hill Media with equally passionate partners to develop TV shows and movie ideas to pitch, sell and produce on a local and global scale.


I guess the question is, 'Am I happy?' The short answer is, "Yes, but I'm nowhere near satisfied."


I aim to make the next decade even more memorable than the last. There is a lot more to do. More room to grow as a human being, actor and producer. I have original shows to create, sell, produce and put out to the world. Perhaps when I write about 2020 to 2030, the story won't fit a single blog post anymore.


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#TLDR : Next part of this post is a deeper look at each section of my last 10 years as an actor and producer in Malaysia for anyone who cares. I was so lost 10 years ago, not knowing how to go about it. I have been lucky to have met, worked with generous & experienced people who have pointed me in the right direction. So here I am trying to do my part to anybody else who wants to try but doesn't know where to go.

Ultimately, everything you will read below did one thing : It helped me widen my circle and deepen my understanding of how the creative community here thrived. From theatre, tv and film. The music and art scene. Between the indie and mainstream, corporate vs passion projects - my career path allowed me to be exposed to all of it. That's something I wouldn't change because it allowed me to see things from different perspectives in a meaningful way, making me a better Producer.


2010 to 2013 : Kakiseni and Garang Pictures

My highlights between this period was doing a lot of events, developing the new Kakiseni website, plus other programs (arts and NGO related) and also producing my first indie film, #CUAKmovie / https://www.facebook.com/cuakmovie.


With Kakiseni, I was part of the team to revive the website. Trying to build the vibrant community engagement that was associated with the humble beginnings of Kakiseni in the early 2000's. Apart from that, I would constantly be trying to think of how to help the performing arts community via my position at Kakiseni. My understanding of performing arts in Malaysia and in general levelled up!


Before that, my time working with Joel Neoh (current Fave Founder) building an online community via the now defunct YouthMalaysia.com through a massive nationwide on-ground event really got me in tune with the whole 'Web 2.0'. My exposure to corporate realities when I was working with him gave me a different perspective to develop the arts. That was something I really wanted to build on at Kakiseni and that was how I pitched myself to get a job there.


Looking back, I think I did a lot of the 'little things'. Running around in the background, not really knowing what I was doing but trying my best anyway. If I had to rate myself on a scale of 1 to 10. I think I was a '5'. Mainly because I do not think my achievements as someone behind Kakiseni has left any real impact. Nobody in the scene today would look back at those years and go, "Oh yeah, Michael did that." Of course I regret this. But it is what it is.


I was even greener when it came to Garang Pictures. My 11 months working with the now defunct Popiah Pictures, my first job after I graduated from law school, gave me a good understanding of what production life was like. It was a crash course in the industry and how to strive for excellence. I will always remember Ng Ping Ho and Anne Low fondly for that.


Because of Popiah, I had ideas and a general methodology of how to do things at Garang. But I felt like everything I wanted to do was out of reach and I did not have the personal know-how nor the tools to get it. My one highlight is #CUAKmovie which I think garnered me some credibility as a Creative Producer within my peers and some of my seniors in the industry but ultimately, it didn't make box office. Again, if I had to rate myself, I would give myself a '6' here but only because I'd like to think that for the people directly involved with the project, it was an overall positive experience. For many of us, it proved to be a starting point to doing other projects, and that has to be a good thing.


2013 to 2018 : Reelity TV which I rebranded to RTV Malaysia (Nuffnang)

From a career perspective, this was my longest time at a single job. 5 years, starting something from scratch. It was the job that made me 'grow up' the most. When I joined, I wasn't married yet, I was about to buy my first apartment and I was still paying off my first car. While I was used to leading teams on a project basis, RTV was going to be my first time building an entirely new department and team from scratch and the objective was to make it commercially viable + sustainable in the long run. I had no intention of leaving.


I learned about running a company. All of the dry things like vision and mission of the company. Keeping track of accounts, making sure my side was always in the black and not losing money, working closely with the finance department to achieve this. Networking and building contacts/relationships.


Nuffnang is a public listed business with presence in about 7 countries when I joined. Because I was successful at starting a new department in Malaysia that created a new revenue stream for the company as a whole, I got to be part of the regional side of the business too. Aside from Malaysia, I spent a lot of time in Singapore and even some time in Thailand to figure out how to get things going regionally.


I hired people, trained people, developed a career path for them within the company and even had to let go of some of them. I was exposed to the other companies under the Nuffnang family and developed a clear understanding of digital advertising while keeping a firm foothold in the creative/production scene as an actor and producer. I feel that this armed me with additional future proofing for someone who dwells in the realm of creative video storytelling. Digital is where it's at. In fact, it exposed me to the idea of streaming and etc before it became a thing!


Without my time here, there is no way I would be at Iron Hill Media today.


In summary,

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When I think back on the last decade, all of the above was possible because of the multiple lives I live. My introduction at the top of my website says it all, "I'm an Actor, Producer and Kickboxing Instructor." All of the people I've met in these 3 different capacities has organically led to me getting more knowledge and jobs.


Douglas Lim once said to me, "...in Malaysia, the trick is not to specialise unless you're extremely good...it's best to octopusize your talents." - taken from a very, very old video that I produced many, many years ago at my first attempt to try and merge the arts & economical sustainability together! (click here to watch | ignore the video title, I was trying to make it sound cool.)


Thanks for reading this.


Let's see what my decade in review will be like in 2030!

Updated: Mar 2, 2020

If you're into musicals, you should listen to this. Listen for stories, lyrics & melodies that will move you! Click here.

One of my personal highlights as a performer was the opportunity to play 'Jarod' in Nick's 'The Edge Musical' way back in it's 2008 workshop staging and to pick up the role again for a proper staging in Dec 2018 under TheatreThreeSixty under the same Director, Chris Ling. Lost & Found is a great collection of Nick's best work to date.


*The following is lifted from Nick's website -

LOST/FOUND made its Malaysian premiere (Oct 2019) at the What About Kuching arts festival in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia. It features four of Nick's short musicalsLittle Girl Lost, Dreaming Outside the Box, Cartography of a Relationship and Commencement – alongside brand- new material in this staging produced by theatrethreesixty and directed by Christopher Ling, with choreography by Kenny Shim and musical direction by Nick Choo. 


The 2019 performances featured Gabriel Tham, Natalie Makulin, Alia Kearney and Tria Aziz, with Andrea Sim on violin.  The production toured to Johor Bahru and Kuala Lumpur in December. The Kuching staging was presented by Two Much Drama, while the Johor staging was presented by StageCraft



Do share Lost & Found and introduce quality #MalaysianMade music to your friends!

  • Michael Chen

Updated: Mar 2, 2020

The following is an old post from my old blog about the last shortfilm I made, featuring real fight footage from my first amateur MMA fight tournament.

Poster design by Anrie Too

I realised something when I got into post for this shortfilm, “This is gonna be my most personal short film ever” And it certainly did turn out to be quite personal. 



It’s basically centred around my experience joining my first fight tournament in 2013, MIMMA. While it chronicles a little bit of what I experienced. At the same time, it is an examination into why I did it. While shooting the mock-interviews for this, I inadvertently learned a lot more about why I did it. More than I think I knew myself while I was actually in the thick of training and doing the tournament.


This wasn’t what I set out to do. To be honest, if it wasn’t for Susan Lankester who told me 2 or 3 days before my first round ladder match to make sure I get some guys to shoot the fight, this short film would never have happened. So, I owe her a big thanks.


That being said, I had no idea what to do with all the footage. I did make a short little video of how I won the ladder match round but that was it.


I still had to prep for my 2nd round fight which was also happening a day or two before #kakiSENIfest 2013. When I lost my Quarter finals match after a hard fought 3 rounds, I was quite despondent. I didn’t want to think about it at all.


As time progressed, I did find myself thinking about what to do with the footage. I talked to a lot of people about it, such as Khai and Gavin. Fast forward a few months later, when the #BMWshorties competition was officially announced and the theme coined this year was announced as ‘Inspiration’. Things started to click together.

 

That’s where I met James Toh, told him about what I had in mind and he loved the idea. I truly believe his enthusiasm and positive energy to make this short was one of the biggest driving forces behind it. For that I cannot thank him enough. 


The process of this short coming together was so easy after that. It was ridiculous. The casting of Anrie as my girlfriend (she’s now my wife) was a no-brainer. Nick as my younger brother was also easy since everyone keeps saying we look alike. In fact, some people who watched the short thought it was me! Marina playing my Grandma was simple since we had already developed that relationship somewhat during, “Postcards for Rosa”. Tapai and Gavin totally rocked socks as my 'friend/Producer’ and 'Manager’ respectively. I was all game to go! 


The one thing that troubled me most was that I didn’t want this short to be a wanky and indulgent story about me. My very first move was to tell James to be the Director and I’ll just produce. Still, the fine line of when the film became too indulgent was always on my mind. The last thing I wanted was for viewers watching it to think I take myself way too seriously. Which was rather difficult because I had something serious I wanted to say. 


This short was being made at a very critical point of my life that year. I was considering leaving the world of production. To totally give up on my earliest ambitions of wanting to be a producer. I was preparing to propose to Anrie whom I had been with for seven amazing years. I was in the midst of purchasing my very first property. Changing jobs. There was so much going on, at times I truly felt like I was going to explode. 


I would call this short film a mockumentary if I were forced to put it into a genre. It’s just a representation of my thoughts and more importantly, my feelings of what I was going through. In this sense, I am very, very proud of this little piece of work and I would not change anything about it. 


I didn’t make it to the top 10 finalists of that year’s BMW Shorties. I have to say, that does disappoint me. I heard a little reasoning as to why it didn’t make it. Mainly because the panel of Judges felt that it would have worked better if I went all the way as a mockumentary or a full on documentary. They felt that my treatment of slightly real and totally unreal moments became too distracting. Ironic that what I loved most about the short became it’s major downfall for the Judges. Maybe I’m too close to see it that way. 


Regardless, I still wouldn’t change a thing about it. 

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