Siblings and filmmakers Syamsul and Syafiq Yusof give their take on their latest collaboration, writes Bibi Nurshuhada Ramli
THEY are a talented duo and no strangers in filmmaking, especially having grown up watching their filmmaker father Datuk Yusof Haslam work the cameras. Despite acing their individual directorial works, the siblings have no qualms working together for Skop Productions.
Syafiq, 23, sat in the director’s chair while Syamsul, 32,starred in the former’s movies Sam, Abang Long Fadil and Mat Moto. Their fourth project together, Desolasi, is somewhat extra special for them.
It is Syafiq’s most challenging film to date as it is a psycho thriller that incorporates a lot of computer-generated imagery (CGI).
For Syamsul, on the other hand, one of the many challenges was to act like a mentally ill person in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, in the midst of the public.
He plays Aiman who searches for answers in his life. He encounters a series of misfortunes that lead him astray. It culminates in a huge argument between his father and himself.
He wakes up the next day, with no other soul in sight. He is left with questions that no one can answer.
“Not in his right frame of mind, Aiman goes amok, dancing around and just acting crazy,” says Syamsul in an interview at the film’s Press screening.
“I had to take on a persona of a maniac,” he recalls with a laugh. “The people around me just stared in bewilderment.”
Syafiq laughs, alongside his star. “Before I got him to act out the scene, I wondered if I would do that if I were to be in his shoes. I highly doubt it!”
“So did you enjoy yourself watching me suffer?” Syamsul retorts wryly. Ignoring him, Syafiq says, almost gleefully: “Syamsul was literally on his own because we had set the cameras at a distance to capture the surroundings.”
Syamsul is a filmmaker too so he understood the situation. “I acted like how I would want my protagonist to do it if this had been my film. Thankfully, we both had the same idea for that particular scene.”
On why Syamsul is the lead in Desolasi, Syamsul cuts in jokingly: “Because I’m his brother.”
Syafiq concurs, saying “Yes, that is right.”
Jokes aside, Syafiq explains that Skop Productions doesn’t have its own pool of actors. It is also not a talent management agency, so Syamsul is its main star.
“It’s only prudent to utilise him to further promote the film,” he says, adding that Syamsul has a large following.
“This was my first time watching the entire film and I was totally blown away. Congratulations! I’m extremely proud of you,” says Syamsul, patting his brother’s back.
Desolasi is Syafiq’s fifth film, following Sam (2012), Abang Long Fadil (2014), Villa Nabila (2015) and Mat Moto (2016). It also marks Skop Productions’ 37th movie to date.
Filming began on Nov 13, 2014, in and around Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya, and it took 55 days to complete. It also stars Datuk Jalalluddin Hassan, Pekin Ibrahim, Bella Dally and Aida Khalidah.
Syafiq also wrote the screenplay, which took three months to complete.
“I love stories that challenge the mind, but for my own films, I don’t think it’s wise to present a story that’s too complex. What I’ve done for Desolasi is not too difficult to take in, but it does make you think a little.”
A recent movie that fascinated him was the South Korean horror The Wailing.
“Throughout the movie, it poses many questions on life, which also relates to the characters. Eventually, it leaves the ending open.
“The storytelling technique is brilliant. I thought of employing the same concept for Desolasi, but I think Malaysian audiences prefer an explanation on the twists and turns of a story.”
Desolasi is targeted towards the youths since it highlights the phase where they question everything, such as their identity and purpose in life.
“Growing up, I experienced the same thing. This film is my perspective on the situation,” he adds.
AN ACTUAL CASE
With its unusual themes, Desolasi may seem like it features an outlandish setting. To keep it real, Syafiq has incorporated the Anton-Babinski syndrome into the storyline.
“I don’t know of anyone suffering from it but I have a doctor friend whom I referred to when I was working on the script. I asked him if there was such a condition, suffered by Aiman and he said ‘yes’ and told me about the syndrome. ”
Syafiq learns on the Internet that Anton-Babinski syndrome is a rare disease that one in a few million suffer from. “The symptoms are similar to that of senility, where old folks sometimes talk to themselves, but in their mind, they are speaking to real people.”
Syafiq was careful not to misinterpret the facts of the syndrome when translating to his script.
“The desolation that Aiman experiences is actually just a sub-plot. The main storyline is about the relationship between him and his father. We only use the syndrome to explain Aiman’s sense of emptiness logically,” he says.
The main appeal of Desolasi is the quality content and the use of visual effects. It is also the main reason the film had taken two years to complete. “We have about 570 shots that use CGI. That’s about 60 per cent of the movie. There are also scenes where you can’t see the effects.”
One of the major accomplishments is the scenes where Aiman runs across Kuala Lumpur, seemingly alone. “It’s KL and it’s simply impossible to get people out of the streets for filming,” explains Syafiq. “We could get the cars to stop moving on certain roads for a short time, but clearing out the crowd isn’t doable.”
Left with no choice, they had to film the scenes with people around them, and erase them using special effects later.
“There were also scenes that were shot in a studio. We had a few fantasy-themed scenes which required the green screen.”
The green screen was another part where Syamsul faced difficulties. “There are scenes where Aiman would be talking to someone who looks exactly like him. I had to act out two different parts,” Syamsul adds.
NEVER GIVING UP
Desolasi marks Syafiq’s first film that also has a religious theme. “It’s more about a story of a man who’s tested by God and needs to find his way back.”
As he was working on the screenplay, he was warned by a colleague that he might be the one being tested. “Apparently so. We had difficulties and faced challenges while filming Desolasi, right from day one!”
One particular incident was when they planned to film in Cyberjaya. The production team was supposed to start filming in the morning but it rained heavily till about 3pm.
“We then made our way to a hill near Taman Melawati to shoot another scene. Luck wasn’t on our side — a tree had fallen and blocked the road, so we couldn’t go up. We used a saw to cut the tree and move the trunk but by the time we reached the top, it had started to get dark. And since that wasn’t ideal anymore, we moved back to Cyberjaya to film yet another scene. We had set up the lights and everything but one of our equipment suddenly exploded,” he recalls.
Syafiq says it was extremely difficult to complete the film but thankfully, he managed to do it.
“Of the five films I’ve directed, I believe Desolasi is my best work yet,” he says.
He looks forward to making more.
Yusof, also the film’s co-producer, admits that he was a little concerned when he first read the script. He wasn’t sure if it was achievable. “Nevertheless, with Desolasi, it shows Syafiq’s bravery in presenting a different kind of film to audiences and a new dimension to filmmaking in Malaysia,” he says.
“We hope Desolasi will encourage other filmmakers to step out of their comfort zone,” adds Yusof.
Desolasi is now screening in cinemas nationwide. Visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZuBcFIKtUw for the film’s behind-the-scenes