Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Man of the arts

One man's passion for film is translated on screen, writes MICHELE LIAN.

NOT many people can lay claim to having four professions at one go – accountant, businessman, filmmaker and, now, acting coach – these are the professional hats Ike Ong wears with ease.

The 50-year-old Malaysian shuttles between London – where he lives with his 45-year-old psychotherapist wife and four daughters – and Kuala Lumpur to teach aspiring filmmakers and actors the finer aspects of his craft.

If you think his name resonates well within the local literary circle, you are right. Ong is also the pioneer of the second-hand book haven called Skoob Books, which opened its doors in Kuala Lumpur 14 years ago.

"I started Skoob Books in Covent Garden, London, in 1979, Skoob Two near the British Museum in 1986, Skoob Books in Brisbane, Australia, in 1988, Skoob Books in Singapore in 1989, and Skoob Books in KL in 1990.

"Thor Kah Hoong (director of Skoob Books, Kuala Lumpur) was told that he was not allowed to smoke in the bookshop one day so he bought the shop. Now, I'm not allowed to smoke in the shop," says Ong, displaying his candour via an e-mail interview.

Ong now runs Skoob Books in Russell Square, London.

Born in Penang but raised and schooled internationally, Ong's passion for the arts is the result of being exposed to the cultural melting pots of Britain, Australia, Greece and Malaysia.

"I had wonderful teachers like Joseph McNally, Colin James Andrews, Bosco de Cruz and an amazing storyteller in Penang named Chong Chiang Chee.

"My teachers in Britain were the unsung heroes who took me to Barcelona to study Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi, and Amsterdam to study Vincent van Gogh. Basically, we experienced what is expressed in (playwright and Booker prize-winning author) John Berger's Ways of Seeing. We learnt what beauty is.

"This is the inspiration that makes us want to know more. It resulted in my reading philosophy. I extended my studies to indulge in accountancy as a departure from a spartan existence," he explains.

Ong's father, now retired, taught Business Studies while his mother "researched the game theory particularly in its application to mahjong".

As he was an only child, his brothers and sisters were the characters found in books, and writers such as Hermann Hesse and Sylvia Plath.

While growing up in London and Brisbane, Ong soaked in the different cultures and nurtured his love for rock ‘n' roll, British pop, film and literature.

"One film that will remain with me is Vittorio de Sica's Bicycle Thieves, a landmark of Italian neo-realism. We used to frequent a cinema in St Lucia, a suburb of Brisbane where deckchairs were available at the back of the cinema for the dads to snooze while the mums went shopping, and the kids kept out of mischief. The afternoon repertoire usually was limited to swashbuckling fandangos and Tarzan adventures," he recalls.

Fuelled by a passion for film, Ong wrote his first script, which he describes as "a film without dialogue based on a song about a man who is depressed, and found the cure in a woman." Later, he wrote – and sold – two feature film scripts: Assassination in Suzhou, and Dr Sun Yet Sen.

Assassination, a thriller inspired by (Dutch diplomat and author) Robert Van Gulik's Judge Deestories and Ong's own visit to Suzhou, China, was sold to film producer Thomas Tang who made it into an action flick.

Dr Sun, he says, is a historical drama hinged on the main event of Dr Sun (pioneer of the Chinese Revolution) being kidnapped in London in 1896, and the political intrigue that followed. Negotiations for the film, to be made in Hong Kong, are still in the works, and as Ong puts it: "I live in hope that, one day, the film will materialise."

Ong and his wife also spend much of their time in Greece ("My wife is very fond of the islands") and Spain, where he recently produced two local films. One of them, Pequena Paloma Blanca (The White Dove), was the Official Selection for the Venice Film Festival 2003 in the New Territories Section.

Pequena is about a young Chilean woman who goes to find her brother in Barcelona. Along the way, she discovers that her brother has a gay relationship and is a male prostitute. She has her own problems as she is recovering from an abortion. An incestuous relationship adds the twist to the story and, to complicate matters, the brother's boyfriend falls in love with her.

There is a particularly erotic scene in the film, which caused certification problems in some countries. Ong says that it was the result of "Extreme Theatre being carried away in the application of the Method."

"They (the actors) were supposed to represent various couples in a public park in intimate relationships. To achieve spontaneity, the couples were selected at random from the theatre company. A young actor chose to be in the heat of passion and descended on the actress on the lawn. She got into the swing of things and encouraged him.

"We are having problems with certification and most countries would rate this film as a triple X because of this scene. I have been told that they have pulled such stunts on stage. They have also asked me if I could take them on a tour of Malaysia. My reply was that such stunts are no longer sensational in Malaysia."

The most stimulating aspect of labouring over a film, says Ong, is working with actors.

"Film is a collaborative process and the actor is an assistant storyteller who is in charge of only one character in the fictitious world we are creating. The actor is in control of the character, and he has to source from his emotional memory and experiences to simulate the emotions re-quired in the scene. Some actors bring with them their personal experiences, which contribute to the character, and enhance the emotional charge of the scene beyond the expectation of the writer.

"This is movie magic. There is no greater joy than the self-gratification achieved in the creative arts. Some see it as a religious experience."

It is this magic which Ong wants to share with budding filmmakers and actors in Malaysia.

"The students in KL are amazingly good and have the potential to succeed anywhere. Some of them helped me out by demonstrating in a workshop in Singapore, and they were surprised that they were offered jobs in the TV industry. I have been asked to teach in KL again this year, and I look forward to dealing with students of a similar calibre."

Fact File

Name: Ike Ong

Age: 50

Hometown: Penang

Education: St. John's Institution, Kuala Lumpur; apprenticed in Calder & Co, one of the oldest Chartered Accountants firms in London; studied filmmaking at the National Film and Television School, Beaconsfield, Britain.

Profession: Filmmaker

Current base: London

Years abroad: 35 years

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Howard Gruber

Gruber is representative of the “knowledge as sufficient or useful” approach. In the “evolving systems approach” theory of creativity developed by Gruber and his colleagues, creativity is a developmental process associated with a person’s interests and work.

The creative person is thought to be composed of three loosely related systems which have evolved coincidentally throughout the person’s life. The three components are a system of knowledge, a system of affect or emotion, and a system of purposes.

Here knowledge is considered to be the individual’s organization of self-selected cognitive structures. Gruber defines the term “creative” as accommodating all sorts of effective extraordinariness.

Gruber claims insight comes to the prepared mind; but that this preparation is not done to the mind but by it. Thus, Gruber predicts that the processes of knowledge acquisition and use may be more important and inouential than the knowledge bas, volume, or contents. Therefore, Gruber is representative of the “knowledge as sufficient or useful” approach to creative thinking.

Evolutionary Progression Of Invention

Because of the fact that inventions and designs are tied into the temporal realm, one can make easy assertions about how each one has a precursor that is modified to make the present object.

George Kubler said, “All things and acts and symbols or the whole of human experience consists of replicas, gradually changing by the mind’s alterations more than by abrupt leaps of invention.”

One of the principal advocates of the evolutionary advancement of technology is George Basalla. He argued that technology is the summation of previously invented ideas. Basalla stated that one can “define invention as combining existing and known elements of culture in order to form a new element.

The outcome of the process is a series of small changes, most of them patentable but none of them constituting a sharp break with past material.” Basalla also felt that the speed at which technology proceeds is tied into the past developments. Not only is invention a successive line tying into all that has come before it, it is also speeding up because of the amount of previous material is growing exponentially.

This acceleration of invention development can be explained by the term biassociation. Biassociation is the unconscious coming together of previously disparate ideas. The more blocks one has to build with, the more new objects one can create.

Basalla acknowledge that there is some strong support of the idea of revolutionary invention. He stated:

The source of this outlook is threefold: the loss or concealment of crucial antecedent; the emergence of the inventor as a hero; and the confusion of technological and socioeconomic changes.

The theory boils down to the idea that the reason why objects appear to look revolutionary is because their antecedents are either not obvious, hidden or lost.

If those who study invention are able to have all previous antecedents, then it would become obvious that technology has moved in a straightforward and continuous fashion.

Another one of Basalla’s ideas that is of considerable importance is the notion that there may be a tendency to think that technology is a process that cannot be stopped. Basalla wanted to emphasize that the role of the invention is not removed from the situation. Bsalla was not taking anything away from the inventor who makes something great.

Invention And Design

Another distinction that needs to be made is between invention and design. Arnold Pacey stated, “Invention is creation of a new form, while design is the adapting of existing forms to present constraints.” In contrast, it has been stated that to design is to invent.

Designing often entails taking objects that already exist and arranging them into some sort of useful object. It has been suggested that anytime someone looks at an object and thinks of how the parts could be arranged into different forms and therefore adopted into a “reasonably obvious alternative4,” they have both designed and invented an object.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Twilight of the Longhouse's 2nd Award In America Reported In Director's Guild Of Great Britain Newsletter

Ike Ong’s Twilight of the Longhouse wins 2nd film award

A London Filmmakers Studio Sdn. Bhd’s production, Twilight of the Longhouse has won a second film award in the USA, the John Muir Award for Documentary in the Yosemite Film Festival California.

Written and Directed by Ike Ong.

"ONE Malaysia means everyone in Malaysia. The Iban may live in the jungle but basic amenities like pipe water, electricity, should be available to all children. These communities are moving to the cities for the benefit of their children. Malaysia will lose this wealth of cultural heritage."

For further information on The Yosemite Film Festival please go


For further information on London Filmmakers Studio Sdn. Bhd. visit

Excerpt from Director's Guild Of Great Britain Newsletter November 2009:

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Some individuals seem to have an intuitive sense, as they begin their creative work, about what their final product will be like. Indeed, evidence from several sources confirms the role of intuition in the creative processes of artists and scientists; among these sources are autobiographical testimonies, analyses of historical evidence, psychometric assessments, and experimental studies.

In combination, this evidence supports the notion that early intuitions may guide decision making in the process of attaining creative results. But at least three issues remain. First, there may be various forms of intuition. Second, there may also be various forms of creativity. Third, it might well be the case that only certain forms of intuition are related to certain forms of creativity. It is important to develop a clear conceptual framework for distinguishing various forms of intuition as well as for explaining whether and to what extent they interact with one another and with various forms of creativity.

It is also relevant to distinguish intuition from insight, although the 2 phenomena sometimes overlap. Intuition entails vague and tacit knowledge, whereas insight involves sudden, and usually clear, awareness. In the context of creativity, intuition may precede insight. (See INSIGHT)

Earlier intuition was defined as a tacit form of knowledge that orients decision-making in a promising direction. In the context of innovation, a promising direction is one that leads to potentially creative outcomes. For example, Nobel laureates in physics, chemistry, and medicine refer to their own scientific intuition as “a metaphorical seeing of the phenomenon searched for, an anticipatory perception of its shape or its gross structure.”

In time line between an early intuition and its final articulation might very from a brief period to many years, depending on various factors, such as the nature of the problem or the subject’s knowledge base. Jean Piaget, for instance, commenting on the creative process of Charles Darwin, said that he found two results most interesting: the time that Darwin needed to become aware of ideas already implicit in his thought, and the passage from the implicit to the explicit in the creation of new ideas.

In fact, Darwin seems to have implicitly prefigured some of his most relevant ideas in his early writings. Highly creative individuals in other domains, such as Picasso (visual arts), Freud (psycho-analysis), and Cantor (mathematics), appear to have moved along their own creative processes in a similar sequences – starting off with generative intuitions and ending up with more explicitly articulated products after long periods of persistent work (See FREUD, SIGMUND)

This leads us to a further question. If some individuals have an early intuitive sense about their final product will be like, why does it take them any longer to reach the ultimate goal? In other words, how can we explain a creative process in which the beginning is in a way also the end, given that we have a tacit estimate of the end state right from the start?

Perhaps the creative process unfolds as a developmental sequence of representational changes, from vague, syncretic, and implicit forms of knowledge into more differentiated, integrated, and explicit ones. In more technical terms, it is conceivable, at least, that the creative process might operate as a developmental translation – from an implicit code of associative strengths among neural units into an explicit code of symbolic rules. In this cognitive system, implicit neural networks might precede and constrain the generation of symbolic rules.


A number of scholars hold that divergent thinking (multidirectional and open ended) is the essential feature of the creative process. But, we may wonder, what prevents divergent thinking from becoming mere rambling as the person considers an infinite sequence of potential alternatives? (See DIVERGENT THINKING)

As we all know, any creative process involves a long series of choices: each decision one makes will affect future options, and one’s alternatives at any given will depend on previous decisions. If individuals had to consider each option that arises in any creative search, the growth of alternatives would become astronomical. In other words, the sequence would lead to what cognitive scientists call a “combinatorial explosion,” and it is very unlikely that the creative process would get to the desired result in any reasonable amount of time.

Creative intuitions may fulfill an important cognitive function: By setting the preliminary boundaries for promising exploration, these initial intuitions may keep the creator’s divergent thinking from generating a combinatorial explosion. That is why creative intuition may be technically defined as a tacit form of knowledge that broadly constrains the creative search by setting its preliminary scope.

Although cognitive scientists have widely acknowledged the need to check a combinatorial explosion in a problem space, they have not considered intuition as a potential constraint for the creative search. Instead, they have focused on heuristics.

Creative intuition may fulfill a similar role to that of heuristics by making the search for possible solutions more selective and efficient. Heuristics, however, are explicit rules of thumb, or particular strategies that, for example, deliberately move away from an old path and look for conflicts and resolve them. Conversely, creative intuitions appear to be implicit rough estimates of the final solution or goal, and advances in this problem space might be measured in terms of how close the subject is to achieving a clear symbolic representation. (See HEURISTICS)

Creative intuition has always been difficult to define, explain, and measure. Conceptualizing it in terms of search in a problem space may be a valid and operational alternative for investigating this phenomenon. But it still leaves many questions unanswered.


Encyclopedia of creativity, Volume 2

By Mark A. Runco, Steven R. Pritzker

Publisher: Academic Press (9 Aug 1999)


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Alexander Mackendrick Talks About Cinematography


Ideally the cinematographer’s relationship with the director is a symbiotic one. The cinematographer embraces the director’s vision and uses his visual talent and technical knowledge to capture the director’s inner thoughts and put them on the screen. Needless to say, the process of choosing a cinematographer is of no small importance to the director.

It is my impression that most of the cameramen I know have developed a highly personal style. They have an individual character that becomes their stock in trade. During the planning for Sweet Smell Of Success, the producer, Harold Hecht, suggested James Wong Howe. I remember Jimmy as extremely good with strong, melodramatic material and felt his hard-edged approach would be ideal for this particular subject, so I was delighted.

Often a director will screen several films shot by a prospective cinematographer.

In effect, I believe you have to trust the taste and temperament of the cameraman as you see it in his previous work. Obviously, you should take care to see a number of his films to see how he handles different genres; to see what range he has. Wong Howe had considerable range: I looked at both Body and Soul and Picnic which was in color and much more sentimental. But what I asked Jimmy for was the black-and-white harshness I’d seen in his melodramatic movies.
Once the director finds a cinematographer who interests him, he sends him a script.


A cinematographer cannot separate the problem of light from the problem of color. Through the film stock he is using, through the filters on lights and lenses, and through the printing in the lab, he cooperates with the art director in the orchestration of colors or in the modulation of the gray scale in the black-and-white films.

I’ve always felt that melodrama and satire have characteristics in common. Ideally, I would prefer to shoot both of these genres in black and white. Distributors nowadays declare that black-and-white movies are unsalable. A compromise may be the kind of cinematography where there is a very emphatic range of tonal values, black to white, at the expense of hue values; strong directional lighting of chiaroscuro, which underlines the architectural structures at the expense of the local colors of the surface.

When the first Japanese color features arrived in Britain, I remember well their impact on British filmmakers. Accustomed to the brilliance of Californian light, the bright hues and crisp shadows, we marveled at the subtleties of shades and tone produced by the mists of the Japanese scenery. With the coming of color and more sensitive film stocks the sunlight, which was the original incentive for a migration to the Californian West Coast, is no longer quite such an essential.

There are personal idiosyncrasies when it comes to particular colors, for both aesthetic and practical reasons.


Ideally all the major contributing people should be brought in early on the project. Those fortunate enough to work on Ingmar Bergman’s films have the luxury of a 2-month intensive dialogue with the director, actors and other members of crew. As well as watching rehearsals, Bergman’s cameraman Sven Nykvist (ASC) has the opportunity to shoot extensive tests and discuss the sets and costumes with the art director. This relationship with the art director cannot be stressed too much. He is an invaluable partner because he supervises the designers of sets and costumes.

The positioning and intensity of the practicals on the set is something the cinematographer should established with the art director. These visible light sources of various kinds serve to visually enrich the scene, to justify the directions of studio lighting and to contribute to the level of illumination on the set. They may even serve as the major modeling lights for the scene.

The shape of the set and certain architectural components such as beams or moldings help the cinematographer to hide his lamps, stands and cables. The shape, texture and color of the walls and furniture have understandable impact on the visual organization of the frame. The way in which the set is positioned on the studio floor, for example, how much space there is outside the windows, will also influence the lighting directions and angles. For these reasons the production designer, art director and all the people involved in shaping and dressing the sets, or in choosing locations should work hand-in-hand with with the cinematographer. He, in turn, can either enhance their efforts or diminish them with his lighting.

If the casting of key talents has not been done wisely, there can be misunderstandings between the production designer and the director of photography. An assertive designer may hanker after lighting that is diffused, general and unobtrusive, so that tone and color values in the settings and costumes retain their pictorial values. Equally assertive cinematographers may prefer the set, costumes and furniture to be neutral in color and tone so that the scene is left for him to ‘paint with light.’ If there is discord between the production designer and director of photography, the director and producer should resolve the disagreements at the earliest stage of production planning.
Filmmaking is not only teamwork but the team is composed of people with strong creative egos. This makes it doubly difficult to keep on an even keel.


The basic need to represent a three dimensional reality on a two dimensional surface is certainly not new in the visual arts. What separates film from the other visual arts is that it is kinetic. The filmmaker is composing motion.
Composition of movement in time can be broken down into several dynamics. Movement of the camera is called intraframe movement. Screen sizes and angles of view can be manipulated in this way. Interframe movement is created by editing, cutting from one angle to another or from long shot to close up. The combination of camera movements and editing becomes a truly powerful system for manipulating the film reality. Whether static or moving, the frame represents spatial depth, or three dimensions, on a 2 dimensional screen.

We’re told by those who have studied the psychology of perception that shadows are one of the clues by which the brain recognizes spatial depth. The fact that the projected image is always seen as a window into a 3 dimensional world is one reason for the filmmaker’s use of these dark and light areas for ‘designing in depth.’

The figurative painters and engravers of graphic illustrations in the 19th century are worth study by filmmakers. Gustav Dore’s work is an example. He used a formula enormously effective in emphasizing design in depth. In the foreground a subject might be lit strongly, with an emphatic key light and strong modeling. But behind this would be figures more or less in silhouette, in shadow and 2 dimensional. These, in turn, would be outlined against a brighter area in middle distance, a part of light illuminating features of architecture or figures in an area of light. These were again silhouetted, light against dark, against a further background of shadow, gray but still dark. Each recessive plane contrasts with the one beyond it or in front.

The Spanish painter Francisco Goya wrote some 200 years ago. “I see (in nature) only forms that advance, forms that recede, masses in light and shadow.”

Composing in depth isn’t simply a matter of pictorial richness. It has value in the narrative of the action, the pacing of the scene. Within the same frame, t he director can organize the action so that preparation for what will happen next is seen in the background of what is happening now. While our attention is concentrated on what we see nearest to us, we are simultaneously aware of secondary activities that lie beyond, and sometimes even of a third plane of distant activity the dramatic density of the scene is much greater.

Design the blocking of the actors, the framing of the shot, with this sort of thing in mind and the cinematographer with a grain of sense will instantly realize your intention. He will use light to assist the eye path of the audience and to give dramatic depth to the scene. Most cameramen I’ve worked with have been very intelligent, quick to pick up on t he director’s intentions without the need for explanation.
Composition, both in framing and lighting, directs the viewer’s eye to the appropriate part of the scene.

In the 1950s a real problem cropped up when the framing of the image became ambiguous, unpredictable. Were we working just for the cinema screen or for television? When the framing has to be a compromise the result is often disastrous.

When any of my films were reframed – the film image rephotographed for television broadcast – I could not help feeling a sense of outrage. If I remember rightly, Augustus John, a well-known British portrait painter, discovered that after he had sold a portrait, the new owner cut nine inches off the bottom of the painting so that it would fit a space on his wall. John sued for damages, even though the painting was no longer his, and, as I recall, won his case. I feel the same way about screen images. And it’s not just aesthetics; it affects the narrative.

In ‘A High Wind’ in Jamaica one of the key shots was a wide screen shot of seven children sitting in a row as they are interrogated by the lawyer; the point of the scene was the silent reaction of 2 children who happened to be on each end; neither of them appeared in the television version.

It is the unfortunate lot of filmmakers that they are not in charge when their work is being projected. A visit to a local theatre can at times be a heart breaking experience, let alone seeing one’s film on television.
In spite of this uncertain future, the film crew puts all its talents and skills into producing a well-composed picture.


There are three people on the crew ultimately concerned with composition of the frame: the director, the cinematographer, and the camera operator. The balance of power among these 3 individuals is affected by many factors: personal experience, the subject matter or genre of this story, the individual background and national tradition. An American cinematographer who also directs discusses his interpretation of the balance of power.

I distinguish between the way I work with the lighting cameraman and way I work with the operator. As Director of Photography, and boss of the whole camera crew, some cinematographers will probably challenge me on this, insisting that they are responsible for all of it. However, my temperament has been to feel that I have to design every camera angle, every screen size, every camera move. I have to work directly with the camera operator on this and cannot afford to go through the Director of Photography, though, of course, he will be present as the decisions are made. This is because, as director, I am, above all things, concerned with narrative content, the story. Other values are very important, but they come later. Since the story is told through positioning of the actors in relation to the camera, since the blocking of camera moves within the scene is inseparable from the design of camera operator and I are concerned with narrative. He is the director’s right hand and he is my man.

Mackendrick’s description of the role of the operator stems from the heyday of the British studio system. In this tradition the cinematographer is known as the Lighting Cameraman and his role is to predominantly light the set. The operator is more concerned with the narrative. Hollywood tradition is different.