People, getting to know Malaysians



Cheph Chaang

Cheph ChaangIf everyone in the Hong Kong film industry spoke the way the superficial characters do in Chinese movies and TV series, the world could turn out to be a scary place to live in. You know, like "David ah, kam man oi hoi DIS-co moe?" (David, wanna go to the disco tonight?).

With this disturbing thought, and dreading that the whole interview with Cheph Chaang would be an intolerable pain, I waited for the only Malaysian and foreign producer who has managed to penetrate the Hong Kong film world.

After a few minutes of waiting, I see Cheph glide in, smiling affably. Immaculately dressed in black and looking like a million bucks, she makes her grand entrance, very much like a film star herself. After the usual formalities, we sit and she starts talking about her humble beginnings in her earnest `hyper' way.

Within a few minutes, the ice begins to melt, along with my silly preconceived notions of how a producer working in the glam HK film industry would behave. As we have our small talk, and as cliche as it sounds, I begin to see that sitting before me is a daring and self-made woman who knows exactly what she wants. And, thankfully, she does not talk in the way that I dreaded she would.

Cheph Chaang has, to her production credit, some of the biggest movies Hong Kong has ever put out - The Great Adventure (starring Andy Lau), The Chinese Feast (Leslie Cheung), and Armour of God II (Jackie Chan).

She has worked with the hottest names in Hong Kong filmdom, and knows plenty about the industry. With quite a few tricks up her sleeve to get her job done, there is hardly a hitch that she cannot overcome. Now, she is back in Malaysia to share her technical knowledge with the hope of advancing the local film industry.

Seeing how far Cheph has come as a producer, it is not easy to picture her years ago when she had just finished her `A' level and was searching for her true vocation. Although Cheph could not then put her finger on her exact calling, she knew that a 9 to 5 job that means staying cooped up in an office would not be compatible with her extrovert nature.

Which was why Cheph joined a computer software company as a sales executive. "At that time, PCs were very, very new in Malaysia. I enjoyed the chance of meeting a lot of people, including corporate MDs and others who had reached the peak," Cheph reminisces.

Two months after starting work, she moved on after being offered a job by one of her clients. Reasoning that she had nothing to lose and much to gain from the different and new contacts that she would make, Cheph eventually worked for four different companies within six months.

"I did wonder if I was doing the right thing, but I have no regrets. Young people must take risks, although what I did was really not much risk at all," Cheph explains. It was her job in a media house that eventually prepared her for her future career as a production manager.

"The media company that I worked in was very small, and we had to do everything from organising and co-ordinating events to management and what-not," recalls Cheph. In no time, she was offered a job as "assistant producer". Without her realising it, that job put Cheph on her way to becoming a sought- after producer.

The first project that she worked on as a green assistant producer was a doomed joint-venture between locals and Hong Kong film-makers. Ironically, she did not know what exactly the job entailed, but was prepared to try it out anyway. Soon, Cheph found out that the job was similar to what she had done before - organising, managing, and putting things together.

But as luck would have it, the whole venture folded when an investor suddenly died in a car accident. With that, Cheph decided to leave, not wanting to be embroiled in the chaotic power tussle to salvage the ill-fated feature film.

One thing led to another, and Cheph got into producing advertisements, including those for Paddle Pop, Rothmans, and Peter Stuyvesant. It was then that she began to properly pick up the skills of a producer.

She explains that "as a producer, you get to do everything - casting, buying and setting up props, sourcing for locations. In fact, you start from zero!" Although the pay was not great, she was more than happy as "people were paying (her) to learn and to widen (her) contacts."
After a few years at it, she left for Hong Kong for a break, but got more than she bargained for. Golden Harvest, one of the colony's biggest film companies found out about Cheph, and immediately hired her to help Jackie Chan who wanted to part-shoot Operation Condor 2 in Malaysia.

Cheph and Jacky ChanA producer's job is not at all easy, says Cheph. Some producers consolidate funds from investors, and they are called 'executive producers'. She is a production manager, the person in charge of making sure that each shoot gets done smoothly.

As a production manager, she goes through the script with the director, looks at the budget, and tries to optimise the product quality with available funds. To do that, one needs to have knowledge and experience to deal with the director and the creative people behind the film.

Cheph also had to handle and bear the brunt of the director's, and the investors' whims and tantrums. "Not many people can take the Hong Kong style of making movies," admits Cheph. "Although there is a script, it is more often than not a mere skeleton. Anything can happen between the start and the finished product.
"There may be a bare plot to these movies, but dialogues are changed nearly every day by the director, bosses, and writers!" Last minute requests for new locations and props too are the norm. Once, when a request for a particular quantity of cups was made by the director at 4:00 a.m., Cheph and her assistants had to bang at the gate of a shop to wake the owners up!

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