IT is often said that young Malaysians love to build careers in the West as the grass is greener on the other side.
However, Josh Woo, 24, believes in having the best of both worlds — to be based in the United States, where he studied filmmaking, but with plans to release films made back home.
“While I’ve chosen to base myself in the US as the latest trends in filmmaking begin here, home is never far from my heart,” he told the New Straits Times recently.
The shorts filmmaker and cinematographer graduated with a digital cinema degree from DePaul University in Chicago two years ago. He believes in “bucking the trend”, which has seen independent filmmakers migrate to hone their craft, and occasionally return to reconnect with family and friends.
“My mission is to make films for Americans, Malaysians and international audiences. Chicago is a good place to work with ‘first world’ filmmakers, but every year, when I return to visit my loved ones, I’ll make at least one Malaysian film, long or short, using the skills I’ve learnt in the US.”
Woo has, since 2013, been involved in the production of 100 films. Of these, he directed three 10-minute shorts, namely Sarah’s Moving On, Avant 29 and Glum, released last year.
“My films are about out-of-the-ordinary things. For example, Avant 29 has a dystopian future where robots rule, and Glum is about an Uber driver who finds a dead man in his car,” said Woo, who plans to make local films along such lines.
Sarah’s Moving On, the story of a young woman who is suddenly orphaned and is forced to look after her ailing younger sister, earned 12-year-old actress Breanna Rossi the Best Young Actress Award at the Five Continents International Film Festival, and earned Woo an Award of Commendation at the Canada Shorts Film Festival.
Woo is the first Malaysian to make an award-winning film at the Five Continents Festival.
As a cinematographer, he has won Best Screenplay at the Chandler International Film Festival for a comedy, Phil the Film, last year. Phil the Film also won Best Screenwriting at the Indiefest Film Awards and Best Film at the 50th Worldfest Houston Film Festival recently.
Having worked with 40 directors and collaborated with rock band Smashing Pumpkins and actress Amanda Knox, Woo plans to make his first local film, which is partly biographical, this year.
“It touches on the streaming of school boys into Science and Arts streams in public schools, and the fact that top scorers end up in Science.
“My grades weren’t so good during my days at Sekolah Menengah Methodist Wesley, Kuala Lumpur, so I ended up in (the) Arts (stream).
“But when it comes to working life, many of my pals in Science tell me I’ve outdone them by winning international film awards and getting mentioned in US entertainment websites and magazines.”
Citing George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and the late Yasmin Ahmad as his favourite filmmakers, he grew up enjoying Star Wars and Indiana Jones films.
“Those movies fuelled my love for filmmaking as a kid. Later, I fell in love with Yasmin’s beautiful commercials and films.
“Malaysia has many talents waiting to be discovered, and many actors are impressive. I plan to come up with Malaysian stories that are out of the ordinary as well as get new actors on board.”
Woo’s films and upcoming projects can be viewed at www.joshwoofilms.com.