In a proud moment for Malaysians, a local animated short film by the name of ‘Horologist‘ won Best Animation at San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) on July 25, 2023.
The film was also screened at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival back in May, having been selected for its Short Film Corner.
The filmmaker told Vulcan Post that it’s in four Oscar-qualifying film festivals—Flickers Rhodes Island International Film Festival (US), Show Me Shorts (New Zealand), LA Short Film Festival (US), and International Animation Festival ANIMATOR (Poland).
The short follows a man named Sand who has found a way to sell time, letting his rich customers stay young.
Originally a comic book, the story was adapted into a film with the support of the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC). The team’s recent trip to SDCC was also supported by the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia, better known as FINAS.
It was great to see a local film receive the exposition it deserves thanks to help from the local government, but we wanted to learn more about the local film industry from the filmmaker himself, Jared Lee.
But first, a little bit on him.
Becoming a storyteller
Raised by a single mother who ran a hair salon in SS14, Jared had dreamt of becoming a comic artist and an animator as a kid, he told Vulcan Post.
But during his college years, he realised that each animation takes years to make.
A storyteller at his core, he decided to work on improving his writing. Enrolling in the mass comm programme at IACT College, Jared was able to get a small taste of filmmaking when doing a small video assignment.
“While the tech back then was far from what it is now, there was a sense of joy just seeing my ideas transform into moving pictures on a screen,” he expressed. “And, the process was a lot faster.”
But it would take a bit more time before he really became a full-fledged filmmaker.
In 2010, Jared was working full time at an event company, while gigging on the weekends with a band by the name of ‘Once Upon A Time There Was A Sausage Named Bob’. He also freelanced as a storyboard artist, volunteered as PAs on film sets, and wrote scripts when inspired.
2011 was the year Jared got his breakthrough. That was the year he wrote the script for a short film titled “The Long Distance Relationship”.
“The short is a silent piece, driven by a song from my band titled ‘Cupid’s Fall’ which fit the short film like a glove,” he said.
Entering the film to the BMW Shorties in 2011, Jared and his team managed to make it to the top 10, a feat that they were happy with. Not wanting to waste the work, Jared and his team uploaded the short film on YouTube under a new channel, named The Grim Film.
“The short was uploaded on YouTube with zero expectations of it garnering any views at all,” he said. “Within the first week, the short garnered 70,000 views, and by the end of the month we hit 1 million views.”
From there, he started getting all kinds of requests to shoot corporate videos, music videos, and even a movie.
“Given the ‘opportunities’, I took a leap of faith, left my full time and started the company hoping to get paid to tell stories on screen,” he said. “I was naïve and we paid a heavy price jumping into it without more preparation, we learnt things through making mistakes which was the worst way to learn.”
I believe that being a so-called YouTuber may also comes with its own sets of problems, such as people looking down upon their artistry and capabilities. This was something Grim Film experienced too, where they were never taken seriously.
“But there will always people who’ll never accept what you do and that’s OK. We’re not here to please the industry, I’m really here to chase after what I believe in,” Jared said.
Inspired by his own journey
While the team has gone on to create a lot of great works, ‘Horologist’ has been arguably making waves like none other.
An animated short film, ‘Horologist’ plays around with the concept of time, or more accurately ‘life force’.
It turns out that the inspiration for ‘Horologist’ actually comes from Jared’s own story.
“Back in 2018 when I was diagnosed with testicular cancer, we were also told I had zero sperm count due to the case which made it impossible for us to have kids,” he opened up. “This led to research on adoption and eventually children abandonment around the world.”
The issue stuck with him, and during the first lockdown, he ended up using it as a basis to write ‘Horologist’.
Sending the script to Cross, the local comic artist who created the art for ‘Horologist’, Jared said she thought it was just another action manga at first. But in time, she understood the message and brought it to life.
Originally, ‘Horologist’ was only meant to be manga. Yet, when Jared saw a grant opportunity by MDEC, he had a feeling they stood a chance.
“When you choose animation as the medium, the possibilities suddenly become endless,” he said. “There is nothing on screen which you can’t control or dictate so it really boils down to your imagination to the detail for every single thing.
“And I believe that when you choose animation as the medium, you should display the magic that is only possible in animation,” he said.
And that magic must have come through, considering all the accolades it has already garnered.
Pitching his work to the world
But how do you even get these accolades? Do panels and judges just chance upon films like ‘Horologist’? The answer is no, of course.
Jared explained that every year, his team would self-fund a short film then send it out to film festivals, typically through a platform called FilmFreeway.
“The only difference after 12 years of doing this is that we managed to get funds to make ‘Horologist’,” he said.
That said, the festival submissions for ‘Horologist’ were still self-funded.
“Know that no one will reach out to you first, so you have to be constantly proactive,” he advised. “Be it securing funds for a film or even submission.”
Jared revealed that Grim Film self-funded their trip to Cannes, but touched base with FINAS there. From there, they managed to secure partial funding for the recent trip to SDCC and LA Short Film Festival.
But now that ‘Horologist’ has toured the world (or at least parts of it), will it be showing in Malaysia?
“There are talks with various local festivals and cinemas. We will update on our socials once anything is confirmed,” the filmmaker said. “But in the meantime, the orders for the manga will be available soon which links will be on our socials.”
Growing the local industry
Malaysian filmmakers have been on a roll as of late, with local film Tiger Stripes winning the grand prize at Cannes’ Critics Week earlier this year.
However, I believe that those in the industry might notice the issue of “brain drain” is arguably still a prevalent one, with many local talents going abroad to seek opportunities.
“This is another very sad thing about our country,” Jared expressed. “I really wanted to prove that you don’t have to be out of Malaysia to do good work but my recent trip to LA has got me thinking. There is available support system there as we speak, it’s tempting to just go and try.”
To better develop Malaysia’s film industry, Jared believes we need to send promising aspiring filmmakers to festivals to experience and to learn.
Through local organisations like MDEC and FINAS, exclusive festivals such as Cannes can be experienced by those whose films weren’t selected.
The filmmaker also highlighted the need a union for filmmakers in Malaysia, which would ensure everyone is paid right and working the right hours, making for a more sustainable industry overall.
Before you can get help from anyone or anywhere, though, you only have yourself, Jared reminded.
“Keep creating with what you have in your own means,” he advised. “Go volunteer for free and learn, if you’re looking for a high pay this isn’t the industry you want to be in. On set experience is always there, most production houses are open to volunteers coming to help out.”
“The grind is real, and if you’re not passionate enough, you’ll eventually leave.”
He also shared that filmmakers should strive to absorb what they can, and reminded that all the knowledge is available online for free.
“Pay your dues,” he concluded. “I never looked for profit when given the chance to create, and when I believe in the idea, I even choose to make a loss doing a job because that satisfaction from realising your vision is worth more in the long run.”
Featured Image Credit: Jared Lee / Grim Film