James Lee is a Malaysian Chinese film director who is known "The Beautiful Washing Machine".
With filmmaker and producer James Lee's "3 Doors Of Horrors" opening this weekend in time for the Hungry Ghost Festival, we invited the man over for an interview. The short horror omnibus, which consists of three films, directed by Edmund Yeo, Ng Ken Kin and Leroy Low titled "Floating Sun", "Horror Mission", and "I Miss You Two", respectively. The film marks the director's biggest project to date after 2012's "If It's Not Now Then When?", which premiered at the Busan International Film Festival but did not make its way to Malaysian shores. In our interview, James Lee talks about the idea behind the short horror anthology, his working process with the trio, his passion for filmmaking and his production company Doghouse73 Pictures as well as his upcoming plans.
Cinema Online's interview with James Lee was conducted at Cinema Online's HQ on 15 August 2013.
Tell us about briefly about your horror project. How did you come up with it and what did you hope to achieve with it?
I wanted to explore new platforms for short films in Malaysia, which is why I chose to release "3 Doors Of Horrors" on YouTube. As for why I choose to release a short film omnibus instead of a feature length film, well, short films are very popular among young people these days and horror films are popular among Malaysians. YouTube allows for a wider audience know about short films by Malaysian filmmakers that will otherwise not be heard by mainstream audiences because let's face it, who would want to pay for a movie ticket for a local film when you can watch a bigger budget Hollywood film at the same price? There are also very little short horror films on YouTube, that's why I got these three directors to come together to make a short film, plus they have not done horror films before, so it is something new and challenging for us.
Do you plan to release "3 Doors Of Horrors" as a feature film in the future?
No. Our priority right now is releasing our short films on YouTube and we will bring our short films to schools, colleges and screening clubs. In fact, that was how we started out, by holding small screening sessions and a Q&A session afterwards. It is much more tiring and expensive to release a film in cinemas and the reach will not be as wide as releasing a film on social media platforms.
However, I'm trying to find a compromise by first releasing the film on YouTube and then bringing it to film festivals as I've said. Right now, we already have plans to bring it to Singapore for the Hungry Ghost Festival, then Penang during end of August and early September and lastly, Pangkor Island in September.
James Lee and his three directors – (L-R) Edmund Yeo with Cinnamon Lion, Leroy Low and Ng Ken Kin.
Can you tell us more about your production company Doghouse73 Pictures, and what are your plans for the company's future?
Doghouse73 Pictures has recently been registered as a proper company, and it is pretty much a one-man show. It is not a non-governmental organization (NGO), but I am very interested in the local film scene and collaborating with local filmmakers. This is because I find that local films often don't get the attention that they deserve compared to Hollywood films even though the latter are not very original simply because we lack the budget. So there are a lot of good films that get lost along the pipeline.
How did you come up with the name Doghouse73 Pictures?
[Laughs] The number 73 is actually from the year that I was born. Doghouse came about back in 1999, when I first left graphic design to go into television industry. Basically, when I first started, I had no experience, my salary was only RM 600 at the time, and we had to stay in this crappy hostel that looks like a doghouse, it was so cramped and we were working like dogs, that's why Doghouse73.
When did you realize that you had a passion for filmmaking and have you always been interested in filmmaking? How did your career start out?
I think it's because I watched too much films. I'm one of those people who complain a lot while I watch a film, like "why did they plan it this way?", but back in my time, there was no platform to discuss films, so I started out in graphic design instead. After that, when more options emerged, I left graphic design to go into television to learn more about films.
What are your favourite horror films?
This year, it would be "The Conjuring". It was so good that I watched it twice, once to watch the movie and the second time I watched it was to see how he [James Wan] utilizes the cinema and the audiences' reactions. The first time I watched it, the audience went crazy, but the second time the audience was even crazier! There was popcorn flying everywhere and I noticed that when the audience were scared they tend to laugh at themselves.
Other than your YouTube channel, what are your plans for the future and are there any upcoming movies that you will produce or film?
I always wanted to do a big budget commercial film. I actually have an idea for a science fiction film, which will be my first English language feature, but I'm still just shopping it around. The thing is, Malaysian producers are not very confident about funding local science fiction films because we can't seem to live up to the standard set by films like "Pacific Rim". I'm looking at alternative options, such as crowd funding through Kickstarter, but it's a strange concept to Malaysians because Malaysians are too practical; they will think, "okay, if I give James Lee RM 95 for his film what do I get?" you know? But yeah, I have a few projects that need funding so that I can release it online.
"3 Doors Of Horrors" will premiere on the Doghouse73 Pictures YouTube channel on 17 August at 8pm!
Cinema Online, 16 August 2013