In the CNY season where some only have to worry about fielding endless questions from nosy relatives, others may look to the empty chairs around the dining table and wonder about the family that has been lost, and about what could have been.
Taking on the legacy left by Yasmin Ahmad’s Petronas ads years ago, Maxis reunites with the team behind The Last Kitemaker to bring their latest instalment called the The 50-Year Promise.
The 4-minute long advertisement chronicles the story of a woman in her golden years who competes in the same singing competition with the same song every year, without fail.
Her struggle to regain what she has lost even had some of our colleagues tearing up by the end, so you might want to prepare some tissues before watching.
This story was the grand creative follow-up after the collaboration won the Top Ad Of The Year at the first Malaysian YouTube Ad Awards. Needless to say, there are a lot of expectations, and the pressure was on for the team.
When Real Life Doesn’t Always Have A Perfect Ending
This time around, the team took on a fresh take on the CNY concept of reunion by putting the relationship between sisters as front-and-center of the storyline.
Chan Woei Hern, Executive Creative Director of the project gave us some insight into why they chose to hone in on siblings, instead of the more common parent-child focus for CNY.
“It wasn’t a really conscious decision,” Woei Hern said. “We brainstormed and started building on the story. We naturally felt that the narrative of growing up yet holding onto that one core memory and never wanting to let go was a great place to start.”
Barney Chua helmed the project as the director, but the wrenching storyline was inspired from a story that left a mark in Woei Hern’s own family history.
“The stage and song part was based on Norman, our Head of Art’s mom, who always won singing competitions in her youth.”
“The true story of separation was something my grandma mentioned in passing while I was growing up. It really hit me though, when I had daughters of my own. One day she looked at one of them and said, ‘You know, your aunt was just 3 years old when I gave her away, your daughter reminds me so much of her’.”
The pair of sisters that were separated in the advertisement managed to rediscover each other in time for Chinese New Year. Real life would prove that sometimes reality does not fall in line that way.
“I really wanted to look for my aunt. You read all these miracle stories of reconnection. The main difference was that the real story didn’t have the happy ending.”
Woei Hern did not reveal why his grandmother had given his aunt away, and similarly the 50-Year Promise never reveals why the elder sister had to leave with the unknown man.
The Journey Of A 50-Year Promise
“As with a lot of Malaysian creatives, we all grew up loving and admiring Yasmin Ahmad. Barney Chua the film director for both of the films played a huge role in bringing the stories to life,” said Woei Hern.
When asked about what production of the ad was like, Woei Hern answered without hesitation, “It’s nerve-wracking. We were excited. We were nervous. It was a story where everybody had a little emotional attachment to. We had to be objective. We had to detach and look at it from a third-person’s lens because we were so close to it. And personally, I always get nervous before any of our projects go live. Bad habit.”
In fact, it seems that this led to some trouble behind the scenes.
“We all had a vision in our heads of what the ideal version of the 50-Year Promise would be. So we had a lot of debates and—I wouldn’t call them arguments—but yes we were very opinionated, between the clients and the director and ourselves.”
“But the good thing about it was that we all agreed that we wanted what was best for the story.”
But as Woei Hern continued to say, their disagreements came from a place of love. The team was passionate about telling the best version of the story they possibly could. While there were some parts of their original vision that they had to give up, the video was done with a professional finish and currently has 145k views on YouTube at the time of writing.
The secret sauce to a successful tear-jerker usually lies behind the music. And seeing as the core setting of the story revolved around a song, music had an important place in the narrative of the ad. The team discovered during production that music ended up influencing them in the editing room as well.
“We’re very big on music,” Woei Hern told Vulcan Post. “In fact it was integral to 50-Year Promise. With today’s budget and timing, we don’t get many chances to compose scores that really take storytelling to the next level.”
“Danny, our composer at Real Time Studios did a really great job. In fact, you can say that his score influenced our edit. We covered more shots because of his composition.”
Living Up To The Last Kitemaker
The Last Kitemaker and 50-Year Promise are films that are way over an average view metric, in terms of length.
According to Woei Hern, “We really had to even the odds every little way possible—the right seeding, media buys, the right shots and scenes to draw a viewer in when most people watch videos on mute from their phones.”
“That first 5 seconds is so crucial. It was a massively collaborative effort between Initiative (the media agency for Maxis), our clients’ digital team. They’re the unsung heroes of the film pieces.”
There are some who will say to “quit while you are ahead”, but the team clearly does not live by this philosophy, though the mounted pressure to create a project that was just as crowd-pleasing is undoubtedly high. The Last Kitemaker saw great success in both critical and mass appeal, but the team approached this project as a fresh new start.
“The pressure wasn’t from the need to win another award. The pressure came from trying to do justice to the idea, and from trying to bring the best out of the script.”
The narratives for both projects were also vastly different, which perhaps allowed the team to detach themselves from their previous win and focus on telling a very personal story that came from Woei Hern’s family past.
“Kitemaker took on a very journalistic freestyle format.” Woei Hern said. “We had a premise. We had a structure. But a lot of what was on screen, specifically the dialogue, that belonged to Pak Shafie.”
“For 50-Year Promise, it started out as a very structured traditional storytelling format. The edit was a challenge, as there were so many good parts. We really had to trim, and also rejig the narrative to really pace and balance the emotional points in the film.”
The end result is a labour of love that, while faced with complicated development, managed to convey a simple story about sisterly love. Watch the video here, and form your own conclusions.
This article was brought to you by Maxis.