Thursday, July 29, 2010

David Teo

Today I am highlighting an article that appeared in our sun newspaper today.
It is an exclusive interview with successful box office producer in Malaysia. One of the most memorable quote in this article is Selagi ada manusia,syaitan tak akan pupus (As long as there are humans, the devil will never fade away)

Title: Box-office king opens up

Film producer David Teo talks to BISSME S about his controversial appointment to the Finas board and more.


The Malaysian Film Producers Association recently sent a memorandum to the information, communications and culture minister over your appointment as Finas (National Film Development Corporation) board member. They see a conflict of interest as you are an active film-maker. What is your comment?

I was appointed three years ago. Why is the issue being brought up now? Why protest now? Why not three years ago? I am on the board as an adviser. I do not make any decisions. I am there to give them some advice after they have made their decisions. Before becoming a Finas board member, I had done 37 films and had several box-office hits. I had never taken any government grants to make my films.
My early years in the industry were not easy. My first three films were flops and I lost more than RM3 million. But I didn’t give up. I picked up the pieces. I didn’t resort to any kind of government loan to recover. My failures have taught me to be careful with my finances. I have always stood on my two feet and I am proud of it.
The only benefit I get being a board member is that each time I attend a Finas meeting, I am given a RM500 allowance. So where is the conflict of interest? There are producers who have taken government loans, which happen to be people’s money, to make films and they do not repay these loans. They claim they do not have the money but they live in big houses and drive luxury cars. Nobody points a finger at them.
I am also a member of the association. They could have approached me and discussed this issue. Instead, they held a press conference. But what upsets me most is that my appointment came from the minister. When they hold a protest like this, they are insulting him. Indirectly, they are telling him that he doesn’t know what he is doing. But he has been in the cabinet for many years and he has experience. So please give him some credit. Please trust him a little. He has the best interest of the local film industry at heart.
I feel certain quarters are using the association to attack me. They have their own agenda.

What is their agenda?

Selagi ada manusia, syaitan tak akan pupus (As long as there are humans, the devil will never fade away). When people see power and money, they get greedy … they get easily corrupt. People are envious of other people’s success. They also have their own tracks to cover ... Recently, I was asked to look into the government funds given to filmmakers. This is making some people nervous. Like I said earlier some people have been taking loans over loans and they have not repaid these loans, and they do not have any valid reasons.

Why did you accept the position to be a Finas board member?

One of my principles in life is that you must never be stingy with your wealth and your knowledge. If my movie was a box-office hit, I would not hesitate to give a bonus to my staff. I have done well as a producer and I wanted to share my experiences. So when the position came to me, it was a blessing in disguise. I was hoping that by sharing my experiences, I would be helping other filmmakers to be successful and helping the film industry to grow.

Will you resign to stop tongues wagging?

Why should I? I have done nothing wrong. I have not abused my powers. If you quit whenever a problem hits you, you will not be successful.
If you want to be successful and make changes, you must have perseverance. As long as the minister has faith in me, I will carry out my responsibility as a board member. If there is anybody who should resign, it is those people in the associations who have their own agenda. My conscience is clear.

There are also complaints you are in the appeals board of the censorship board.

The ministry appointed me to be on the appeals board. The appointment came from a different ministry (home). So you cannot assume that some kind of favouritism is going on here. So far I have not been called to make any decisions. They will only call me if a local movie has been banned and so far no local movie has been banned. So my expertise was not needed.
I believe the industry should be happy that there is someone from the film industry on the censorship board. At least I could persuade them to draw up rules that benefit us ... That will allow us to be creative. I think some people are jealous because they cannot sit on the board. So they are angry with me.


There are people who say that your movies are not of high quality. What is your comment?

Only certain individuals say that. My movie, Adnan Sempit (shown early this year), made more than RM7 million at the box office and it is the highest grossing local movie this decade. More than 10 million have watched the movie. If my movies are so bad, people will not fork out money to watch them.
I have a team of people who monitor websites. From what I have gathered, 90% of patrons are happy with the movies I have produced. It is impossible to satisfy everyone. I produce movies for the masses not selected individuals. Now my brand (his production house, Metrowealth Movies Production) is established. Whenever people see my brand on a film, they know they are going to be entertained.
I always have five-year plans to improve the quality of my movies. I have been in the industry for 10 years. The first five years I put my full attention on making money. The following five years I put my full attention on improving the quality of my movies. Over the years I have invested in expensive cameras and film sets so the quality of my movies would improve too.
There are award-winning film-makers who make two films in 10 years. But in my 10 years in the film industry I made 47 films. I have created many jobs in the entertainment industry.
I have created many new faces in front of the camera as well as behind the camera. I have given many young talents a chance to sit in the director’s chair. I have done a lot for the film industry. But not everyone sees my contributions. They are too busy pointing out my weaknesses.

Some people say you are not passionate about films and arts, and films are only money-making machines to you.

I am not one of those producers who sit in air-conditioned offices, give money to their directors and let others run the show. I look into the production side of my movies from the sound editing to the posters. I do all this because I am passionate about the films I produce. But I also understand the importance of the money. I do not live in a dunia khayalan (fantasy world). The reality is you need money to survive. You need money to make a movie. You need money to last long in the film industry.
I want Metrowealth Movies Production to be around for a long time. I hope I am still producing movies even after your hair has turned grey and you have retired as a reporter.
Look at Shaw Brothers. They (the brothers) are no longer around. But Shaw Brothers is still producing movies. I want to do the same. I hope when I am not around, Metrowealth is still producing movies.

Shaw Brothers literally started the local film industry. Are you the new Shaw Brothers?

That is not for me to say. (Laughs)

Do you face any discrimination because you are a successful Chinese film producer in a Malay dominated industry?

In the early years when my movies were making money, I heard that some people had said: "We must stop this orang asing (foreigner) from taking over the local Malay film industry." Nowadays, I hear less of this kind of nonsense. But not everyone in the industry hates me. They have come to accept me as one of them.
Only a small section of them still hate me for being in the film industry. It is not because I am Chinese. It is because they cannot accept their failures and digest my success.
I am a Chinese with a Malay soul. I am more Malay than most of my Malay friends. I grew up in a Malay kampung (Segamat, Johor). I had more Malay friends than Chinese friends. Even some of my Malay friends will jokingly say I am not David Teo but Daud bin David (laughs). When I first entered the film industry, many of my friends, including my Malay friends, told me that I had to be prepared for anything because there would always be people jealous of my success.

What changes would you like to see in the film industry?

We must always create new and young talent. Only then will the industry grow, prosper and become more competitive. That is why I always give a chance to new talents to direct, act and go behind the camera.

Where will we see you in five years?

I have produced 47 titles in 10 years in the film industry. I hope in five years’ time I will have 100 film titles under my banner. That is not a difficult dream to achieve.


Tell us about your childhood?

I come from a poor family. My father was a small-time contractor and had seven mouths to feed. He used to make kampung houses and most of his clients were Malays. I came to Kuala Lumpur to get my diploma in architecture to become a draughtsman. But I didn’t have enough money to complete my studies. So I went into direct selling. The first product I sold was tinted films.

What made you get involved in the Malay film industry?

I was involved in direct selling (Malay traditional medicines) and I had many agents under me. Then I heard there was good money to be made in movies. That is when I entered the film industry. But my first three films (Syukur 21, No Problem and Mendam Berahi) were flops. I lost about RM3.7 million. But I did not want to quit as a failure. I was determined that I should make a profit even if I wanted to say goodbye to the film industry. It was then I learnt from my mistakes and changed the style of my film-making.
Now I am happier as film producer. I get a certain satisfaction when I manage to entertain my audience. Last year, I had to give up my direct-selling business and put all my attention on my film production house. As a film producer, I feel I could leave a legacy. My legacy will be my films.

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