Malaysian-born and KL based Carolyn Chon is a director at Directors Think Tank, a leading production company with offices around the region including Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.
When the industry vet isn’t directing, she can be found walking her beloved dogs or planning her next ‘epic’ road trip.
We caught up with Carolyn, to find out more.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
Besides the obvious of seeing script brought to life on screen, I think my favorite part is problem solving on set. Let’s face it, there’s no problem free sets and I truly enjoy the process of coming together with the team on set to solve a problem.
Frankly, I’m not sure why I enjoy it, but perhaps it’s because when time is of the essence, we’re forced out of our comfort zones and we have to come up with creative solutions more aggressively.
Other than the favorite bit, I think the perk of the job is definitely travel shoots! Who doesn’t enjoy exploring a different country through the eyes of a creative?
What is your most productive time of day and why?
Between 7am and 10am to be precise. It’s when I feel most at peace, especially because I hear more birds chirping instead of vehicles going about.
If you didn’t have this job, what would you be doing instead?
My last epic trip was when I went solo and rented a pick-up to explore parts of Namibia, definitely one of my most favorite adventures.
So yeah, safe to say if I weren’t on set and crafting out shots, I’d be in my 4×4 with my dogs, driving to wherever the open road takes me, getting lost in a foreign land, struggling to communicate and capturing the life probably lesser seen by others.
How early did you know this would be your path?
I think it’s more like how “late” I knew because I realized this when I was mid-way in my course in interior design.
I realized that I kept visualizing moving images or stills whenever I was listening to music, constantly translating the mood a music gives into imaginary visuals. Better late than never I guess.
Can you name some recent jobs?
One of the more recent jobs I did in which a completely brand new element for me was for a telco brand, Hotlink. We were to portray how with using the Hotlink app, rewards and discounts are a plenty. We brought that to life by multiplying our talent into several versions of herself with the help of our Bolt.
That was something new for me as I’ve not shot with mo-con before. So, that particular job was fun as I got to explore something new for myself.
Do you put on a different hat when shooting for a specific genre?
Yes, most definitely, I think most directors do…or at least that’s what I’d like to think. I think for me personally though, the hats also come on at different stages of the jobs. I think sometimes, we also put on a small copywriter’s hat, trying to further enhance or push messaging across either more subtly or more aggressively along with the visuals we have in mind.
When it comes to travel related type scripts, I naturally gravitate to also becoming the trip planner.
Besides zeroing in on locations to shoot at, I often do the scheduling of the travel itinerary, seek out transportation etc. I guess I go full-on trip planner mode haha.
Have you been continuing to shoot during the COVID crisis? Can you describe that experience?
Right at the beginning of the pandemic, with the lockdown affecting all of us, we managed to shoot a campaign with several talents and various different scripts, and all of it was done pretty much internally.
We’re a decent sized production house, so directors became talents and DOPs, family members and housemates became gaffers and the likes.
While it was fun, it was obviously also challenging as everything was done remotely. Even when getting into the editing process, it’s such a drag as sitting with your editor remotely and not in person truly consumes heck of a lot more time.
Do you have a favorite piece of kit?
On set, I use the iPad like an additional limb. Be it referring to call sheet or jotting down new ideas on the go, I feel handicapped if I’ve left it at home. I don’t know if the iPad is considered a kit, but yea the iPad is an essential to me.
Are you often asked to do more than direct? If so, what are you asked to do?
It doesn’t happen often, but I do enjoy holding the 2nd cam every once in a while.
What are three pieces of technology you can’t live without?
On a personal level, it’s definitely my earbuds, my phone and my camera.
This is a high-stress job. What do you do to de-stress from it all?
To be completely honest, I only find it high-stress when schedules are suddenly clashing due to clients sudden changes of deadlines. Otherwise, the rest of the time, it’s the good kinda stress.
But, how do I de-stress? Yes, music and sometimes just paying attention to the ‘Breathe’ app on the Apple Watch helps.
How do you manage producers’ expectations with the reality of what can really be done?
As much as producers don’t like surprises on set, I think it is also the director’s responsibility to convey clearly what they have in mind and be realistic when producers may or may not throw us the “cost” and “schedule” question.
With this said, I do try to always have clear communication with not only my producer, but sometimes also with the art director or post-house team even before writing a treatment.
How do you manage your time? Do you manage expectations or try everything they ask of you?
I’d like to think that I’m pretty realistic with my time management, but perhaps my producer would be able to give a more accurate answer. 🙂
In other words, no I don’t try to squeeze in any and everything if it’s of no real benefit or substance to the job.
When someone who is starting out asks what they should learn, what do you recommend?
Craft is something you learn and develop over time, through practices and mistakes you make. I think, patience, humility, perseverance and having the right attitude are perhaps what I think are more important.
Learning and knowing how to be observant and read in between lines is also something that is useful, not just in the industry but also in life.
I suppose, ultimately go at it like how you should/would go at it in life – with zest, humor and good spirit.
How do you take criticism? Do you find yourself defensive or accepting of others’ ideas (good and bad)?
I think I take criticism pretty alright, whether it’s one that is harsh and hard to hear or a passive-aggressive backhanded compliment. I think if you find yourself being defensive, it can only mean two things – you’re passionate enough or you gotta check your ego. Hopefully, we all are the former.
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