Aaron Mak reveals the best principles to becoming a successful filmmaker

Hollywood World: What was the most significant decision in shooting your current music documentary “How the devil dances”?

Aaron Mak: The biggest thing I had to consider when crafting the story was adapting to the documentary-style form – my prior experience was in short films, so I had to adopt a slightly different approach.

Another interesting challenge was that most of the band footage was recorded by the band, so my task was to extract the story from a collection of arbitrary shots. Fortunately, the band’s heartfelt story combined with their witty banter and sincere observations helped lay the foundations for the documentary.

Hollywood World: What part of the script/story best stood out for you and why?

Aaron Mak: I found this story of the band’s journey, their innovative approaches to creating, and their spirited personalities really speak to me as both an artist and a lover of music. Additionally, I’ve been really close with the band members since I was young, I see them as my brothers (and well, one actually is). I was also attracted because of my love for music, and the intricate processes that occur behind the scenes to create the songs we cherish and remember.

Hollywood World: Without giving it away, tell us a little bit more about the characters and the lead actors.

Aaron Mak: In the band Cynation, Josh is the lead vocalist, and primary song writer of the band – he has a way with words that portrays himself as a sincere and articulate intellectual in one moment, and a crass jokester the next. Shah is the soft-spoken but chill one, often communicating through his guitar – and has the skills of a god. Simon and Andrew, truly gave me some fantastic material to work with. You absolutely could not script the banter and chemistry these two have with each other.

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Aaron Mak (www.melbournefilmstudio.com)

Hollywood World: How do you bring this story to life while staying true to your vision as director?

Aaron Mak: I enjoy a sense of balance when telling any story, particularly when it comes to balancing tones. A key way I tried to keep this story engaging and interesting yet still feel natural and relatable, was by blending moments of humor and organic behavior with moments of sincerity and profound expression.

Hollywood World: What excites you about this project?

Aaron Mak: It is truly a great opportunity to shed light on this unique means of recording music, as it shows not only what independent artists can do despite difficult circumstances, but also the power that digital technology and globalization has given the common people to create and communicate.

Hollywood World: What other works are you most proud of?

Aaron Mak: One of my early forays into filmmaking, was the horror short film, House Sitting (2016) – it was a time when I was learning how to be savvy and make the most out of minimalist equipment.

My other work of pride is another collaboration with Cynation – it is the Cynation goes to web-series. It showcases the witty banter of the band in regular situations, but the filter is completely removed. The upcoming episode is the third, “Cynation Gets Lost in a Maze”, which aims to combine comedic dialogue with horror overtones.

Hollywood World: What films have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?

Aaron Mak: The first film that popped into my mind was Interstellar, directed by Christopher Nolan. The way the film explores the power of people to create worlds and impact narratives, spoke to me about the power filmmakers have on their story – they hold the fate of characters in their hands.

Although it is not a film, I’ve found inspiration from the TV series Rick and Morty. The series finds a way to explore vast, confronting concepts through comedic situations, whilst maintaining a comforting sense of heart. The co-creator, Dan Harmon, described his approach to narratives, and he said to write jokes that make you laugh, and tell stories that make you cry.

Hollywood World:  What do you do to enhance the collaborative process when working with actors, screenwriters, producers and others creative members?

Aaron Mak: Communication is key when it comes to the collaborative process. It is important to communicate face-to-face with other collaborators when necessary, but communication through other avenues are also a necessary component. If you’re overseeing elements, give your different departments opportunities to bring their own opinions to the table regarding certain creative elements.

Hollywood World: What experiences have you learned from in life? How did that change you and your creative process and the way you go about making films?

Aaron Mak: Through my experiences, I can say – and I’m not going to sugarcoat it – life is undeniably tough. However, if you find something you are dedicated enough to overcome life’s inevitable challenges for, then it makes it all worthwhile. At the end of the day, you really get out what you put in – that’s why we aim to do the things people generally find difficult.

Hollywood World: How do you see your role as a filmmaker?

Aaron Mak: I want to be an innovator, but primarily just a creator of good art. Specifically, I’d like to approach that as a filmmaker who can create a vast diversity of work, whilst overall utilizing entertainment as a means of fostering more intricate thought and consideration of other social, psychological and philosophical elements in our lives.

Hollywood World: Which film festivals that you have been part of would you recommend to other filmmakers looking to screen his/her films?

Aaron Mak: I have participated in a university film festival called the ‘Phone-It-In’ Film Festival in 2015 and 2016, which is run by the Monash University Student Theatre (MUST). I submitted 3 short films to this film festival across the two years – a DC-tribute thriller short film called Joke’s On You (2015), a horror short film called House Sitting (2016), and a comedy short film called Coffee Run (2016). At present I have submitted an original drama/comedy script I wrote to two screenwriting competitions – the 3rd International Screenwriting Contest based in New York City, and the 14th Annual Cinequest Screenwriting Competition based in San Jose, California.

Screen Shot 2017-08-19 at 11.23.08 pm
Coffee Run behind the scenes, directed by Aaron Mak

Hollywood World: Do filmmakers have any responsibility to culture? What message do you want to convey with your films?

Aaron Mak: I think at its core, art flourishes when there is freedom of expression. This means we can use this medium to explore or discuss perceptions and ideas of culture that tend to get swept under the carpet. I think telling stories about the unfamiliar, or rendering the familiar strange, is an innovative way to approach filmmaking. Rule of thumb for effective narrative construction, and demonstrating responsibility to culture – it’s always better to show, not tell.

Hollywood World: What other hobbies do you have?

Aaron Mak: When I have spare time, or just want to wind down, I enjoy singing and playing guitar. It’s just such a soothing activity that helps me express how I’m feeling whilst relaxing me.

I don’t get the opportunity much, but I love rock-climbing – as a fan of fitness, rock-climbing is an activity I find more enjoyable the more challenging it is.

Hollywood World: What do you want to be remembered for in life? What valuable lessons have you learned that helped you become the person you are today?

Aaron Mak: I want to be remembered for being a filmmaker that made films (and TV shows) that entertained my fans, yet also got them to think about things they hadn’t given much thought to, and maybe even have a significant inspirational impact on their lives.

A key lesson I learnt in life is that we must be the ultimate generators of our own happiness. That means finding contentment in your present, accepting your past (throughout the good and the bad), and crafting your future in the way that gives you happiness.

Hollywood World: What are your top five principles of success?

Aaron Mak:

  1. If you start out small, dream big, but also embrace the “bigness” of the small – there is beauty in simplicity.
  2. We, within ourselves, must find the balance – between adaptability and integrity.
  3. To manipulate light, one must also control the darkness – the idea behind this is about accepting ourselves with all our flaws, because only then can we aim to rectify them.
  4. It’s good to do something nice and easy and comfortable, but if we don’t push the boundaries every now and then, how can we expect to be the pioneers of anything? Or create something new?
  5. Make sure you keep a record of a whole bunch of inspirational quotes so you can sound like a true successful professional. …On a serious note, trying to write inspirational quotes can be a helpful motivation technique – after all, your biggest motivator should be yourself.
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Aaron Mak (www.melbournefilmstudio.com)

Hollywood World: What’s next?

Aaron Mak: We are currently working on a music video with the rock band, Cynation, for their first single – Dancing Devil. We will also be collaborating on a project, which is a documentary about the making of this music video. It is quite a unique process, and easily the largest project we’ve attempted to date – the boys of the band will be flying into Melbourne from Singapore and we will all be collaborating with other local Melbourne-based artists to create. The music video is intended to be completed and available by Jan 2018, and the documentary’s release will be in April 2018.

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Aaron Mak 
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