Starting with the script

Writers selected as part of Seafic, clockwise from top left: Nontawat Numbenchapol, Nicole Woodford, Pham Ngoc Lan, Siew Hua Yeo and Sivaroj Kongsakul. SEAFIC Script Lab

Script development is key to successful movies, and good scripts are what filmmakers in Southeast Asia need. The first Southeast Asia Fiction Film Lab (or Seafic) has been conceived for the purpose of strengthening the quality of feature-length fiction films from the region, and after eight months, the programme is reaching its climax this weekend in Bangkok.

The Seafic Open House will take place this weekend. During the event, international and domestic industry guests and the public are invited to discover — through a free film screening, panels and talks — the project’s mission to develop filmmakers and producers from Southeast Asia. The presence of an international film workshop in Bangkok will also raise the profile of the city as a hub of regional filmmaking.

The Open House will take place at Alliance Francaise on Witthayu Road.

For starters, on Saturday there will be a free screening of Lelaki harapan dunia (Men Who Saved The World). Directed by Malaysia Liew Seng Tat, this comedy about faith and discrimination was co-produced by Malaysian, German, Dutch and French producers and has been chosen for the Bangkok event as an example of a successful international co-production effort. The director and one of the producers, Sharon Gran, will be present to share their experiences about the development and financing of their film.

Seafic Open House will also feature four prominent speakers, a rare chance for them to come together. The headline session is “Past, Present And Future Of Southeast Asian Cinema At Cannes Film Festival”, to be led by Christian Jeune, director of the film department and deputy general delegates of Cannes Film Festival. Jeune will speak about films in the region and their place on the international festival circuit, particularly at major playgrounds like Cannes.

Other panels deal with scriptwriting and financing, also a crucial element (and source of endless suffering) for young filmmakers in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. Script adviser Franz Rodenkirchen will host “The Art Of Script Development”; Nansun Shi, one of the most influential producers of many contemporary Asian classics, will speak about “Culture Clash: Producing Major Filmmakers vs Directorial Debuts In Hong Kong Southeast Asia”; and Kini S Kim, who for 20 years has helped to introduce Korean filmmakers to international audiences, will talk on “From Bong Joon-ho to Joko Anwar: Working With Korean Auteurs And Southeast Asian Indies”. These three panels will take place on Sunday.

The Open House weekend is the culmination of an eight-month Seafic script lab. It was begun last year by Raymond Phathanavirangoon, a Bangkok-based producer who’s worked on several international projects, and Visra Vichit-Vadakarn, a filmmaker and producer based in the US. Seafic is operated with the support of the Embassy of France in Thailand, the Goethe Institute, the Japan Foundation and the Embassy of the United States of America in Bangkok.

“One thing I’ve found from my experience is that lots of filmmakers in the region have very good ideas, but they tend to rush into production and don’t develop those ideas properly in their screenplays,” says Raymond. “They would rather work with smaller budgets and shoot quickly, even though a higher budget would go a long way toward fulfilling the original vision of their idea.

“From my experience [as festival selector and producer], scriptwriting has never been a high priority for Southeast Asian directors. The goal [for independent directors in the region] is to become a major auteur, say, like Apichatpong Weerasethakul or Lav Diaz or Hou Hsiao-Hsien. The main issue is that there is only one Apichatpong, one Lav, one Hou — you need to have an innately unique vision and talent. You cannot just try to imitate them and expect to be on the same level as they are. In most other, more-developed film industries, such as Korea or Europe or the US, you don’t have to be such visionaries but can still be highly acclaimed — and they achieve this by working with strong scripts.”

Five Southeast Asian scripts have been selected for Seafic and the filmmakers have already attended two intensive scriptwriting sessions in Chiang Mai, where they worked with international script advisers to fine-tune their works. Two of the projects are from Thailand (Regretfully At Dawn by Sivaroj Kongsakul and Doi Boy by Nontawat Numbenchapol), two from Singapore (Stranger Eyes by Siew Hua Yeo and You Are There by Nicole Woodford) and one from Vietnam (Cu Li Never Cries by Phan Dang Di).

The Open House session will include an awards ceremony, with prizes given to outstanding projects among the five scripts.