Awards

Behind The Scenes Of Grim Film's Award-Winning Short: 26-Hour Shoots & Lack Of Funding

  • Malaysian YouTuber Jared Lee and his film studio Grim Film recently won two awards—Best Pilot and Best Special Effects—at the Vancouver WebFest in Canada for their short film The Last 7.
  • Jared opens up about experience of creating The Last 7, and talks about the challenges and lessons learned as a result of the process.

Grim Film‘s short film The Last 7 marries the familiar imagery of urban Malaysian life with bits of the fantastical.

It invokes a sort of quasi-realist quality that’s reminiscent of films like the original Matrix; you kind of know to which locale the film is taking you to, and yet you also don’t know for sure.

Little things like the Keluar sign pinned above a door jamb or the corporate logos of the Star Media Group in public view lend a sense of familiarity to the story, and yet the viewer can never be certain whether or not this is really Malaysia—intensified by the cast not using local colloquialisms and slang.

Just last month, The Last 7 earned international recognition at the Vancouver WebFest, winning the “Best Pilot” and “Best Special Effects” categories while beating out other entries from the USA, Canada, France, and Australia—nothing short of an accomplishment for Jared who has never attended film school.

Jared posing with the Vancouver WebFest awards back in the Grim Film HQ / Image Credit: Grim Film

“The idea for The Last 7 came to me way back in 2012 when I was writing short films for our YouTube channel,” Jared said. “There was always a dead character in my early shorts, and I thought to myself—what if these characters got collected by a reaper with the looks of a salesman instead of skull-faced figure with a scythe?”

Doing More With Less

With an A-team of talent comprising of the likes of Malaysian actor and musician Nick Davis, cinematographer Jordan Chiam of Interchange fame, and his own Grim Film chum and producer Edward Lim among others, The Last 7 project was—by Jared’s own admission—ambitious.

Amid planning, writing, and conceptualising, the main adversary was—as expected of many independent film projects—a budget squeeze. And despite receiving partial pitch funding from Maker Studios in late 2016, there still remained a shortfall, leading Jared and team to dig from within their own pockets to make up the deficit.

“Due to the budget we could only afford a three day production, and the script was ambitious for what we had,” Jared explained. “And there are several things to worry about when budget is an issue—should I compromise on film quality, on the set, or on post production?”

Eventually, the main trade-off that the team settled on was slumber.

“On the last day we shot from 5 AM to 7 AM, and we saw the sun rise twice over a period of 26 hours!” Jared said. “The hardest moment was giving our best despite the team not having proper sleep.”

But overall, Jared counts the experience as one with more upsides, and recounted a number of highlight moments that transpired during the production process.

“My favourite scene was when the piggy bank crashed into the floor with blood spilling out—I came up with it on a whim,” he said.

“While we were shooting, it felt like overkill to capture that one little thing, but on the big screen, it became the ‘heaviest’ visual which I didn’t foresee.”

“The hardest scene to film was the car driver before he got hit by the truck—no one will notice but the entire shot was done in reverse,” he explained. “Ben Chan (the actor in that shot) acted in reverse and he has my utmost respect!”

Image Credit: Grim Film

“I didn’t allow him to blink, because if you reverse a blink, it looks weird, so we had many takes to get the timing down. It was mindblowing!”

But most significantly for Jared was how this project helped him grow as a filmmaker, with the end result the sum of all his triumphs and shortcomings as a cinematic artist.

Image Credit: Grim Film

“I never wanted to make it unless I knew that I’d grown to a certain level as a filmmaker, and until I knew the people with the ability to translate what I had in mind,” he said. “I told myself that if this were to happen, it would have to be way better than what we’ve made so far.”

“It had to show growth, and in writing I was very strict with myself and crafted as much as I could within what budget we had.”

Good Vibes In Grim Times

Eventually, hard work reaped rewards, with the two wins at the Vancouver WebFest signifying a victory for not only Grim Film, but also to an extent Malaysian filmmaking (The Last 7 was also the first ever Malaysian entrant to win at this event).

It was unfortunate however that Jared—in the midst of a testicular cancer diagnosis—wasn’t able to accept the accolades in person; Edward had to go alone to receive them in Vancouver.

Jared and his wife, Marianne revealed his cancer diagnosis in a YouTube video in March this year. Speaking on why he has been so open with his cancer diagnosis, he said, “I feel that being Malaysian, we’re brought up to be very conservative and when it comes down to things like cancer it’s the worst thing to be conservative about. I can only hope that the video made the topic more comfortable to be talked about among friends and family.” / Image Credit: GrimFilm

Despite the situation, Jared is thankful that the awards came when they did.

“I thank God this happened when it happened; it lifted our spirits in the midst of the battle,” he said. “This award meant a lot to me and I hope did also did for everyone involved in The Last 7.”

“As an aspiring filmmaker who did not attend film school, I was told a lot of times that I didn’t have what it takes to be one,” he added. “But I continued to pursue the dream and having one of my works recognised in a foreign country means the world to me.”

“It was like someone telling me, ‘hey, just keep chasing, you’re on the right path’.”

“We hope as a community we will keep experimenting and adapting for what’s to come” – Producer Edward Lim receiving the awards in Vancouver / Image Credit: Grim Film

With early success for The Last 7 coming as sure encouragement to his team, Jared is now hoping to turn The Last 7 into a full series, with the chief concern still to do with money, or rather the lack thereof.

“We’re still currently looking for possible parties to fund The Last 7,” he said. “We’re currently in talks but nothing is confirmed yet, but fingers crossed!”

He had a few parting words of wisdom to share for any young aspiring filmmakers who’ve heard his story and see his journey as an inspiration, particularly about starting off with zero experience.

“I would definitely advice anyone who plans to do the same to NOT do it. If I could reverse time, I would’ve done more research, go take up a class, or work in a production company for at least a year to know what it’s like.”

“To learn through mistakes is the worst kind of lesson.”

Feature Image Credit: Grim Film

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