Interview with film producer Ying Xian

Ying Xian LIM is a vivacious and passionate young woman who dares to tread upon the road not taken in order to pursue her dream of being a film producer. After graduating with a Bachelors in English Language and Literature from UCL (2013) and a Masters in Film Studies from Kings College (2014), she became a producer for Greenlight Pictures – one of Malaysia’s leading independent film and television production houses founded by award-winning filmmaker, Woo Ming Jin.

Ying Xian was also a Producing Fellow for the prestigious Asian Film Academy (a Busan International Film Festival annual program) in 2016 and also a participant of the Bucheon Fantastic Film Festival’s Fantastic Film School (2016).

By Emma Khoo – Malaysia Correspondent 

So what made you decide on Bachelors in English Literature?

Since I was young, I’ve always loved reading books and all I dreamt about was to be a writer. When I was 12, I was enrolled in a tuition programme with a focus on English literature. I was introduced to James Clavell’s Shogun (1975), John Steinback’s East of Eden (1952) and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925). I was hooked.

What’s the top three most exciting part of your life living in the London?

(1) One of the things I’ve missed most about London is the film culture there, and all the innovative events that go on. For example, there are a lot of immersive theatres, immersive cinemas, and even edible cinemas! Meanwhile, watching non-commercial and non-Hollywood film in Malaysia is really hard so I really miss the access to a bigger variety of films and events there.

(2) I also do a social dance called Brazilian Zouk! There is always a social going on every night! Here in Malaysia, it happens once a week and if you think about the horrible Malaysia traffic and the lack of a good public transport, it becomes quite hard to attend regularly.

(3) That’s one of the things I miss most about London – just being able to walk around the streets of London, I feel more connected to a place. I miss London a lot.

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Photo by FYI Photograhy

You first started with English literature so what made you decide to pursue MA film studies at Kings?

I grew up reading books so unfortunately, my interest in film came late and unexpectedly. As much as I loved literature, when I did a film studies module during my second year in UCL, I discovered there was something else I loved even more. Soon after, most my essays began gravitating toward films. When I had completed my BA, I wanted to learn more about film. So I went on to do my Masters in Film Studies.

How did you become interested in producing films? You could have tried filmmaking, art directing or scriptwriting so why producing?

Since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to create art. It wasn’t just writing but creating things. After discovering my interest in film, I was at a crossroad going into academia or into the film industry. I knew I was more of a practical person and that I liked making things happen.

I did a thorough review of my strengths. I really like organising. I was already doing fund-raising events, organising social events and I liked making new connections and assembling teams of people to make things happen. I realised that’s what a producer does. In fact, producers are lacking in the industry now. I decided then that that could be my contribution to the film industry.

Which is the first film you’ve produced? What was the experience like?

The first film I’ve produced is actually a documentary for the Busan International Film Festival 2015. That year, they got together ten directors across Asia to each film a documentary based on the theme of “Cinema” in each director’s country. My director, Woo Ming Jin, was selected to represent Malaysia. He’s decided to make a documentary based on finding a lost Malayan film, “Seruan Merdeka” (1947) [translated as “A Call to Freedom/Independence”].

Seruan Merdeka is the first post-World War II Malayan film and also the first film to feature a biracial cast. It is mainly set during the Japanese Occupation of Malaya. We didn’t manage to find the film, but discovered the script! We decided to make use of our narrative strengths and storyboarded the first two-thirds of the film as well as create a reenactment of the final third of the film.

We had a very small crew of 3-5 people at a time. We travelled all across North Malaysia, Penang to Singapore, interviewing World War II survivors, academics, and regular people to inform our narrative of our documentary. It was wonderful connecting with all sorts of people including the ones in the crew. It was a different kind of filmmaking experience that was out of the film set. For a first-timer like me, having a small crew was good. I managed to get a taste of everything. It was a great experience.

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Working with Greenlight Pictures, what is the most fulfilling and least fulfilling part of your job?

The most fulfilling part of my job is the fact that I get to experience everything from the development, pre-production to production, post-production to the marketing and sales. We cover everything. I don’t think everyone gets to experience that especially when you’re working in a bigger company. It’s usually more segregated. I’m getting a pretty holistic experience as a producer. I’ve got a very good mentor and director.   Since Greenlight Pictures is a small company, we create all of our own content. We’re quite happy creating our own products. It is always made from the heart.

As for the least fulfilling…hmmm…because I love my job nothing feels “least fulfilling” per se.

As a producer, you get to travel around the world especially during Film Festivals. Which is the most memorable film festival that you’ve been to as a producer thus far?

So far, I have been to film festivals in South Korea, Hanoi and Singapore, I have even attended the Busan International Film Festival (one of the biggest film festivals in Asia) twice! My most memorable experience so far was the Busan International Film Festival in 2015. It was the first festival I had attended as a producer and the first festival I attended with a project I had been a part of – ‘Return to Nostalgia’ (Woo Ming Jin, 2015). I think it is a very special experience attending the festival with a project. 

So what next? What do you see yourself doing in the future?

I’m looking into exploring more international co-productions. With how globalised the world is becoming, boundaries between countries are being blurred and cross-cultural stories are becoming increasingly relevant.

Finally, this is the last question. What advice would you give to young, aspiring producers, or those who are considering producing films?

Two years ago, I attended the Berlin Film Festival as a student and the advice I got from the producers giving workshops was simple. “Just get out there and make films!” Don’t sit around and wait for it to happen. You make it happen. So, now, I’m passing on the message.

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Greenlight Pictures has produced and been involved in many internationally acclaimed films such as Monday Morning Glory (2005), Woman on Fire Looks for Water (2009), and The Tiger Factory (2010). Their films have been played or premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival, Torino International Film Festival, Venice International Film Festival, Busan International Film Festival and Tokyo International Film Festival as well.

Ying Xian’s Instagram: @yingxiann

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