Tell us a little about yourself, Jeann.
I’m Jeann Liew, a producer and a screenswriter at PATJENN FILM, a boutique production company that I co-founded with my director husband. We make videos, films, TV programs and also directing, scriptwriting and post production.
I’m also a lifestyle and beauty blogger at LUMINNEJ.
Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Kota Bahru, Kelantan in a small town. I grew up eating Kelantanese food like nasi kelabu and all. I’m now living in Kuala Lumpur.
Have you always wanted to become a producer or a screenwriter?
Not really. When I was younger, I didn’t exactly know what I want to become. One thing I know is that I’ve always love writing. Back when I was still in primary school, I have penpals and I love writing to them.
Do you think your family background or upbringing influenced your passion? Tell us a little about your family.
I’m not from an artistic family, and my parents are quite strict and tranditional when it comes to my upbringing. Although they’re not the adventurous type, they actually gave me freedom when it comes to career choice.
I have a twin sister and she’s doing Accounting. I tried Accounting before but I just didn’t like it.
How or when did you realise you have an artistic passion?
I’ve always known that I love creative things since I was young. When I was still in high school back in the 80s. I fell in love with music. It was during the MTV era where magnetic recording tape was still all the rage. I remember back in those days, I would go to the record shop and pay the staff a small fee to make a mixtape of my favourite songs on a cassette so that I could go home and listen to them again. There was no Internet or services like Spotify back then.
I remember those magnetic tapes! But how did your passion change from music to film? What happened after high school?
After graduated from high school, I got into public university – the University of Science Malaysia in Penang. My love for film has not yet developed at that time. I wanted to take Management course, but I was offered a Mass Communication course by the university instead. So I took the course and minor in Management.
During my time in university, I started to get intrigued by radio DJ-ing and TV hosting. I tried my hand on DJ-ing during my industrial training, but then I realised I wasn’t cut out for the job. To be a DJ or a TV host, you need to be a really quick-witted person. It was then that I decided to work behind the scene instead of in front of the camera.
Another turning point from that period of my life was the “Film Studies” class that I took. Our film subject lecturer is an international lecturer from India, and during his class, he’d play and introduce us to foreign language movies. I’ve never seen that kind of movies before and it was really an eye-opener for me – that’s how and when my passion for the world of filming was really ignited. There’s no Internet back then, so it’s not easy to get hold of those foreign films and their information.
That lecturer really changed your life. Did you go into film-making after that?
Not immediately. Although I know I love film, but I wasn’t sure what type of job I could get. I graduated from university in 1998 with a Mass Comm degree, and then I got my first job at a media company called Cosmos Discovery (a subsidiary of HVD Entertainment.) I became a web content editor and writer for the company’s entertainment website.
Later on, I got an offer from the search engine company Lycos to become a web writer for their Malaysia website. Although the pay was great, I soon realised the job was too boring for me – desk-bound job just isn’t for me. I left the job 3 months later, and then I joined a production house called Red Communications and became the producer for a popular women’s program called “3R.”
I remember that show. I remember having watched it on TV before when I was younger. There’s this group of 3 girls hosting the show and then in each episode, they’d have different story line and scenarios…
Right. That’s the one. It’s quite a hectic job. After producing the TV show for one season, I decided to leave to try something new. That’s when I started teaching part-time at universities like LimKokWing University and UCSI. My husband was also lecturing at UCSI at that time.
Then how did the idea for founding PATJENN FILM come about?
OK here’s the story: one day, me and my husband was at an Apple store, and then there’s this woman talking to the staff. We overheard that she’s talking about making a TV reality program and she’s looking for people. At that time, me and my husband were both lecturers, and we just thought… why not? Making films and TV shows is our passion and what we do. So we just approached the woman and that is how we got our first project for our company! It was an 11-episode fashion TV reality show called MIFA8 Fashion Forward, where we followed 8 young up-and-coming fashion designers competing in the show to win the Best Young Designer Award. That was in 2007.
That’s what I’d call “fate”! But, I’m curious. Your husband is a film director. You’re a producer. What does a “producer” do, exactly?
A producer is just like a project manager – we oversee the whole production and make sure things go smoothly within the budget. There are a lot of pre-production works, such as meetings, storyboarding, finding locations for the shooting, scheduling, looking for talents and managing the budget and the post-production. Screenswriting and directing are only parts of the whole production work.
I can’t imagine myself doing something like that. It sounds like a very stressful job, especially when you work for yourself.
Yes, it’s stressful but I really enjoy it. The fun part about my job is that I get to go to exclusive places where nobody gets to go. For example, we’ve worked with Yen Pao Lai, a bird’s nest trading and farming company and because of my job, I got to visit the company’s bird nest farms and the processing site. These two places are normally only accessible by their internal staff.
Another interesting one is a project we’ve done with Allianz, the international financial service company, for their Allianz Junior Football Camp. We went to Bali, Indonesia for this project and I got a chance to interview the renowned German coach Werner Kern. I was really happy when the coach thanked me afterwards and said I did a really great job with the interview. That’s the kind of satisfaction you can get from the job.
It sounds so fun going places and meeting people! I bet the job also comes with a hectic lifestyle. As a producer and screenwriter who works for her own company, how’s your everyday like? For example, how many projects do you handle at one time?
Normally, we handle 1 or 2 projects at the same time. My working day is pretty normal actually – checking email, doing paperworks, going for meetings, planning for manpower and resources, traveling etc.
What’s the most challenging part of your job as a producer?
That would be the pre-production planning and managing the talents and crew.
Producer or screenwriter?
Screenwriter. Screenwriting is more about creativity. And I love writing!
What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned in the process of starting and running PATJENN FILM?
Black-and-white is very important. Always get an upfront payment and then limit the number of change or revision that the client can do to your work.
In terms of expenses, we emphasize on investing in editing and the post-production tools because editing affects the end result (the film) the most. It is the most important element that controls how the film will end up looking like.
And production isn’t just a labor work – a lot of people or clients have this kind of misconception. Film production is a creative work, and when you pay, you’re also paying for the creativity, not just the labor. It’s about creating a film that tells engaging story, and that requires creativity.
Film production is also about teamwork. It’s very important not to skimp on the budget on hiring crew and fulfilling their needs because who you hire ultimately affects the final outcome.
Any advice for someone who wants to work as a producer or screenwriter?
Be creative. Be very passionate about your job!
In our line of work, we must have patience. And you have to be a “curious” person. You need to keep your curiousity alive and be genuinely interested in the client’s business. You just have to be adventurous.
And in whatever that you do, put in 120% of your effort because people and your clients really can tell the difference. I’ve learned this from my experience.
Since production is also about film making, is it important to have a film-related degree before becoming a producer or a screenwriter?
It’s optional but it will definitely help.
You’re also maintaining a lifestyle and beauty blog called LUMINEEJ. How do you find time to blog while running your own company?
I’ll blog whenever I’m not busy working on my production projects. For me, blogging is a hobby. It’s relaxing and therapeutical. I really enjoy blogging as it gives me creative satisfaction. On the other hand, I hope to turn this blogging hobby into a full-time endeavour and a business.
I see. Who inspires you? Professionally or personally.
I’m inspired by creative people and those who’re passionate about their work. I’m also inspired by people who can create artworks or something out of their own hands.
Who’s on your playlist at the moment?
I’ve been listening to Charlie Puth’s “We Don’t Talk Anymore.”
All photos by WeFreeze.