Collaborative Filmmaking

Featured Filmmaker: Tony Pietra Arjuna (Malaysia)

The Featured Filmmaker Series gives you the chance to get to know CollabFeature filmmakers through a series of interviews that give an inside peek into the minds and lives of our collaborators.

Before I introduce the next featured filmmaker for the Train Station, let’s me go slightly back in time.

December 2010.

I had read the Collabfeature success for “The Owner” and was just trying my luck for their next one and so I filled up the forms and send my reels of my past works. Few days later, I received an email from Marty Shea and got selected to be part of the Train Station!

Still image from for the segment directed by Tony Pietra

I did not know what to expect nor I have any idea how all this will work out. It was indeed a crazy idea! The initial script stages started really well, using the online platform to collaborate on our stories (and links), but midway of the process, the entire thing started to take a huge turning point - I had to call it off due to personal reasons and bad timing.

Everyone in the group was sad for me having to leave but nevertheless, I had no choice. I apologized to one and all and told them to go ahead and use my initial draft of script or find another director/writer to take over my seat. With a heavy heart, I said goodbye.


Time passed and I had forgotten about it until recently when my IMDB page notified me of an added screenplay credit for Train Station. I was speechless but happy at the same time and then all those memories came rushing back. My only question was, "Who was it that directed my screenplay?" I search the Directors List and there was this name so very familiar although I had not seen him for a very long time - Tony Pietra Arjuna.

Tony Pietra Arjuna

And the story of how we knew each other is an amazing story to tell but perhaps now it’s more about him and how he put them together. Tony had stay true to the original screenplay which I wrote years ago and watching it cometo life visually was a “goosebumps” experience - it was my first ever screenplay directed by someone else!

We met up recently in Kuala Lumpur, after more than 5 years since we last met, and we started having conversations about all the things that happened during my absence from the project. Here are the excerpts from a 3-hour long chat session that we had over coffee…

Isazaly: What actually happened after I dropped out of Train Station?

Tony: Juliane Block (one of the most prominently involved directors in Train Station) contacted me to direct your script for the Malaysian segment. I met Juliane while she was living and making films in Kuala Lumpur. I didn't see her for a while until 2011, when she Skyped me from Berlin (that was when the first CollabFeature project, The Owner, was completed) and recruited me for CollabFeature. As a budding filmmaker, I couldn't refuse the opportunity to get involved in the most pioneering and unique indie/international project at the time. I also felt honored that Juliane shortlisted me for the privilege, so I wanted to make good on that!

Preparing the Cafe Scene

I: There will always be hurdles and issues in every production. What was yours?

T: Incessant noise from roadside traffic and torrential rain! We had an ace audio engineer, so he solved that problem.

The other hurdle was overcoming my lack of confidence and rustiness, since that was my first time directing a slice of live-action fiction/narrative after two years of animation and documentaries. I struggled for a bit but I guess that I did alright, in the end.

I: When I saw the final edit of our segment, I get a sensation that it feels very sexy and surreal at the same time. The music really helps. What inspired you to go that direction?

T: I grew up on John Carpenter as a kid while Sergio Leone and Michael Mann ruled my formative years. As an adult, I am still in the process of finding my own voice as a director but I continue to consciously (and unconsciously) take storytelling or stylistic cues from those guys, particularly in the crime and horror/thriller content that I made for local TV. However, David Lynch is my favorite "mentor". Blue Velvet rewired my cinematic brain when I first experienced it as a tween: A life-changing rite of passage from my Amblin/Spielberg-saturated childhood to movie maturity. Our Train Station segment does its best to channel Wild at Heart (I even used Angelo Badalamenti's score as the temp track). Of course I'm losing my mind over the Twin Peaks revival!

"We must leave now!"

I: I really like the collabfeature concept of making movies with multiple directors and it gives us the opportunity to see different styles and culture in one big movie. Amazing right to even see it come together as one film?

T: Hell yeah! Aside from becoming an active part of something that is important, new and potentially revolutionary (which travels in film festivals around the world, to boot), CollabFeature's globe-spanning concept/nature appeals to me on a very personal level. I was raised as a "third culture kid", which simply means that I lived in different countries throughout my youth, thus making me the "global citizen" that I am today. Train Station granted me the chance to rekindle that chapter of my life through my filmmaker aspirations. To once again be in a community of various nations and doing what I love while I'm there? Impossible to resist. Plus, other than English, we all speak the same obvious language.

I: When I wrote the original draft, I figure that maybe the locations only exists in my head, but when I saw the scene, I was like - wow! Just like how I imagine it!

T: The lake scene was shot at a reservoir in a town called Ulu Yam. It's the nearest body of water to the city, so every K.L.-based “tom, dick and harry" production will utilize it! The cafe scene was set in a food court that was converted from a parking lot, beneath a highway ramp in the Petaling Jaya district of K.L. Visually, with all the concrete above and around us, it was an atypical and surreal place to sit and have coffee. It worked for the scene's slightly off-kilter atmosphere.

The Reservoir scene at Ulu Yam

I: Do you want to do this again, if there are other opportunities like this?

T: I most definitely will and I already have: Not long after Train Station was in full swing, I directed a neo-noir segment of Cuak (aka Second Thoughts), a Malaysian anthology/indie feature with five filmmakers.

The movie was released theatrically in 2014 but it could still be seeking a second life in overseas festivals. It was a team effort that felt much like a mini-CollabFeature in its collaboration model. The experience was creatively fun and invigorating. Everybody involved became like family and when it was over, I was hungry for more. The process was addictive and ultimately rewarding.

I look forward to the same feeling at Train Station's last stop!

"Issues" - Tonys directorial segment of "Cuak" aka "Second Thoughts"

I: It’s amazing to think that this film reunite us again after so long we have not met or spoken. I guess the journey is far more greater meaning than the destination itself. Not sure if it will ever going to be screened here in Malaysia (with our strict censorships) but nevertheless, at least I am happy to see it being materialised and completed.

T: It’s been a great pleasure to be finally working with you again and yeah, welcome back to the team and let’s bring the train home!

Interview conducted by Isazaly Isa.

TRAIN STATION accepted to three upcoming festivals!

Train Station continues its journey on the festival circuit with screenings at three upcoming film festivals. The next stop is Train Station’s African Premiere at the Sudan Independent Film Festival from January 21-27, 2016 (screenings at 4:30pm Mon, Jan 25 & 7:30pm Tues, Jan 26). Then there is a brief stopover at the Berlin Independent Film Festival February 11-17, 2016 (screening is at 6pm on Wednesday, February 17th, tickets available HERE), marking the film's European Premiere. Train Station then travels to Washington, D.C. for its East Coast US Premiere at the DC Independent Film Festival on Thursday, March 10, 2016 (screening time and tickets available soon).

With Train Station gaining momentum on the festival circuit, CollabFeature is set to break its own Guinness World Record for Most Directors of a Film. The current record is held by its 2012 debut feature, The Owner, which involved 25 directors. Train Station has almost double that number with 40 directors, giving new meaning to the words “collaborative filmmaking”. Always evolving, CollabFeature is constantly proving to have a direct impact on the approach to modern filmmaking.

Train Station, follows a single character, known only as “Person in Brown”, through cities like Tehran, Detroit, Berlin, Athens, New Castle, Chicago, Dubai, Barcelona, Mumbai and more than a dozen other cities in five continents. The main character is played by 40 actors, ranging in age, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation.  Along his/her journey, he/she is presented with choices that trigger different paths, giving us a universal story of fate, decisions and destiny. Train Station unites cultures and breaks language barriers, reminding us that we all live under the same conditions of life in a world full of diversity, options and consequences.

Train Station is thrilled to be screening at festivals around the world, bringing the film to the homes of all of its creators.

Photos from TRAIN STATION World Premiere

CollabFeature was proud and thrilled that "Train Station", our second international, collaborative feature film, had its World Premiere at the 18th annual East Lansing Film Festival on Friday, November 6, 2015! ELFF is the largest film festival in Michigan. ELFF takes place on the campus of Michigan State University. Over the last 18 years, the festival has screened nearly 2000 films and has hosted celebrity filmmakers and actors such as Oliver Stone, Michael Moore, and Bruce Campbell.[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id="2" gal_title="World Premiere of TRAIN STATION at East Lansing Film Festival"] “Train Station” follows a single character played by 40 different actors from all over the world. When a mysterious train accident forces our character, known only as “Character in Brown”, to change his plans, he is confronted with a series of choices, some big, some small. Each decision he makes leads to a different scenario, each one filmed by a different director with a different cast. PHOTOS BY SAS.


Featured Filmmaker: Juliane Block

The Featured Filmmaker Series gives you the chance to get to know CollabFeature filmmakers through a series of interviews that give an inside peek into the minds and lives of our collaborators.

Featured Filmmaker - Juliane Block Juliane Block is a Berlin-based director whose achievements include 2 feature films,  more than 10 short films, music videos, commercials and travel documentaries. She has given lectures on different filmmaking subjects in various countries. Her work has been screened at festivals around the world and she participated in the Berlinale Talent Campus as film director in 2008. Her crowdfunding campaign ‘The Inner District’ won the Google sponsored Indiegogo competition ‘Gründergarage’ in 2012. Her feature screenplay ‘Foster’ was selected as one of the 25 finalists of the Screenplay Replay Contest in 2013.

1) Your background as a globe-trotting filmmaker makes you an ideal candidate as a world cinema voice like Wim Wenders. How has living and working in both Asia and Europe manifested in your works? Which of your films best illustrate "transnational culture", i.e. the convergence of East and West elements?

The biggest difference, I believe, distinguishing me from a German filmmaker who graduated through the common system (doing German film school and then moving on to government funded features or television) is the fact that those public funding doors are pretty hard for me to open. As a result however I am free in the choice of my subjects, and can pursue topics usually not done by German filmmakers: genre films and English language content for an international audience.

My work as a result has become more globalized through the influences of the different countries, best of all reflected in my last feature film "Kinks" which portrays the differences between the East and the West through two twin sisters - one of them looking white, the other one Indian.

2) You've been working in various genres but judging from your short-form filmography and your feature films in development, you appear to be geared towards action/crime, horror/thriller or science fiction. Can you tell us more about these projects and what appeals to you about genre cinema? Any thoughts about its commercial value in independent circles?

When I first got in touch with filmmaking it was through doing Zombie make-up on a home-made Zombie flick in 1999. I was always drawn to monsters or genre creatures. I devoured Sci-Fi and Fantasy books when I was a kid and even now I rather watch an Action blockbuster (if the reason for watching is mere time passing) than an Indie movie with a deep rooted theme and story.

Having said that the best films for me are the ones who have morally valid and solid underlying themes while telling an enticing story - then mixing it with pure entertainment. That's what pretty much all my future projects are about:

3 Lives Poster3 LIVES - a psychological thriller which deals with the topic of how people deal with their past - packaged in a survival thriller in the woods. FOSTER is an action Sci-Fi film about a young man who gets drawn into the organized crime circles in Hong Kong of the future, but ultimately tells the story of a man who grows up and forgives his parents.

Having shopped around my projects at the big film markets during the last year (AFM, EFM and Cannes) I can say that genre films are definitely a much easier sell internationally then drama or art-house.

3) As part of CollabFeature, what do you think sets you apart from the rest of the filmmakers on the roster? On the flip side, what do you have in common with them?

All of the filmmakers involved in CollabFeature combines a driving motivation to collaborate creatively, to get inspired by different cultures and create something unique. I am no different. If anything sets me apart from the rest, it might be the persistence to see it through to the end. With so many different voices the process of actually finishing something can be grueling at times, but luckily CollabFeature managed to gather a bunch of producers and directors who even stay active after years of involvement.

4) Over the years, short films have increased in accessibility thanks to a surge in mobile and Internet technology. Some people however opine that the advent in mobile technology could potentially result in a decrease in film quality and that over time films could lose their cinematic quality. As someone who has worked on a number of shorts, what is your opinion on this?

If you judge the quality of film in general by looking at all content produced and then rate it on average, maybe the quality of film did decline. But the amount of little indie gems to discover did increase as well by the increase of accessibility to filmmaking as such.

It is harder to find them in the massive amount of content available, true, and creates an environment of competitiveness - who markets his or her film best (not necessarily which film is the best.) But ultimately that's no change to earlier times, in which not the best filmmakers necessarily became the prominent directors of their time, but the ones who managed to beat all the odds in their way (being it the money you need to pay for film school e.g.)

The obstacles might have changed, but the opportunity to shine is there - today as it was decades ago.

5) Given the general decrease in attention span over the years, do you think short films are the way forward? Is it like films, but bite-sized and easily digestible?

The thrive of cinema today proves that there's still a need for feature films. And you could even argue that with TV being the new cinema - look at all the great series which came out over the last years - in some way the attention span increased. A couple of years ago I didn't imagine I would binge watch through a series, watching 4 or 5 episodes in one go.

I believe the internet as content platform enables us to watch without the restriction of a set time frame, as dictated by television for example. As a result new content forms emerged, like web series and previously less attractive formats, like short films, increased in popularity.

6) Based on your track record, you seem to be a bit of a festival junkie; which film festival do you never miss/have always wanted to visit or are aiming for?

Being based now in Berlin I'd love to premiere one of my feature one day at the Berlinale.

7) Of all digital platforms to upload your films to, which one do you think works best for you as a filmmaker?

That answer depends on the purpose of the upload. To present my work as part of my portfolio, the platform of choice is Vimeo. To reach the end consumer and promote, it's YouTube, and to earn money by self-distribution my favorites are currently VHX and Reelhouse.

Interview conducted by Tony Pietra.

Check out Juliane's:  Website  |  Facebook  |  YouTube  |  Twitter  |  IMDB