In all the years I’ve known Sean Monteiro, one thing has always been crystal clear; his passion for films and the art of making them. He’s been at it on a smaller scale for years- from short films to screenplays, his ambition and drive to succeed on a big level has never waned. Now after years of hard work, Monteiro’s big screen debut is just weeks away with the release of his first feature film, the Indonesian comedy Make Money.
He spent years in Australia doing what he loves, and I saw the products of his craft when he filmed and directed in Australia, but when he told me he was flying home to Indonesia to do a feature, I only imagined how difficult it would be to do a feature in Indonesia’s complex and multi-layered film industry. Yet as I spoke to him about it, he seems more poised then ever, with the challenges he and his production crew faced giving credence to his dedication towards the art form.
I spoke to Monteiro as he jetted back and forth from Jakarta to Bangkok just a few weeks before the film’s November 14th premiere.
So the film is finished? Ready to go?
We’re in Bangkok right now, last night we just finished color grading the movie at Technicolor. So I guess the film is now officially finished. Wow, that feels good to say, it’s been a long journey!
What is Make Money about?
Make Money is about a rich advertising mogul named Pak Tri who has succeeded in business but failed as a father. His two sons, Aris and Rachmat are spoiled and arrogant. So to teach them a lesson Pak Tri leaves everything in his will to a poor garbage man that accidentally saved his life. Later when the old man passes away the two rich sons lose everything and the garbage man inherits it all.
How did you conceive the idea for the film?
I was really inspired by Trading Places and thought that structure could work really well for an Indonesian comedy. But instead of focusing on race, I wanted to focus on class and how wide that divide has grown.
This is your first feature length, was the process and outcome just as you hoped it would be?
I wrote a synopsis for this idea in 2009 and it’s getting released in November 14th 2013 so it’s almost taken 5 years to complete. So the process was more challenging than I ever imagined and there were a few moments where we almost didn’t make it. But I gotta say, the outcome has been so sweet and made it all worthwhile. I think the film has improved so much since that first synopsis.
You’ve made films in Australia and now you’re making films in Indonesia, what are some of the key differences between the two industries?
The biggest difference is that Indonesia produces around 200 movies a year and Australia makes far less than that. In terms of shooting Indonesians work long hours, and the tropical heat makes it feel like an all day bikram yoga session. But as a testament to the Indonesia crew they never complain or get lazy.
For those who may not be familiar with the cast- they’re some pretty noted names.
Our more senior actors like Ray Sahetapy who was the villain in The Raid and Tarzan who is a comedy legend from Srimulat are very well known. But I wanted to pair them with fresh young talent so we searched around for a long time. Our main actor was Pandji Pragiwaksono is a well known stand up comedian but had never acted before. There are other comedians like Ernest Prakasa and Arif Didu making their acting debut alongside veteran actors like Verdi Solaiman and Aida Nurmala.
As a director of an international background, did that have an influence on the film or did you want this film to be 100% Indonesian?
If you own a good camera I bet you take lots of pictures when you travel because you know what’s unique and interesting about that place. But you rarely take pictures of the place you live in because it seems ordinary. I think living outside of Jakarta gave me a good eye for what is really interesting and unique about this city. One of the most exciting locations for me was shooting at a garbage dump, I was loving every minute of it!
So what is the plan from here and until release date?
We’re going through the censorship process. The rules about sexuality are very, very strict here in Indonesia and religious parties pay close attention to this. This is a family friendly film but there is a really funny sex scene and a pool party with lots of bikini clad babes. So we’re fighting the good fight right now.
Will the film see release in the major cinemas in Indonesia? Will there be international distribution as well?
We’ve had a really good experience working with our distributor Cinema 21, who are releasing the film nation wide. We are still looking for major distribution throughout the rest of South East Asia. Most likely we’re submit the film to the Asian film festivals.
That divide in class, its your commentary about Indonesian life? The divide is pretty big isn’t it?
This film is my own observation about life in Jakarta, more than a commentary about Indonesia. Jakarta is unlike any other city in the country and it’s very capitalistic. That’s where the title comes from. And yes, the divide between the rich and poor is huge, it’s unfortunate but it’s also part of what makes this city so unique.
How did the mostly experienced cast take to you, as a first time big film director? How did you approach the situation coming from your perspective?
That’s an interesting question and I’d love to hear the cast answer that. There is a certain leap of faith that an actor has to make when working with a first time director. The reverse is also true because I cast a lot of first time actors, but thats exciting to me. We had an intensive 2 week rehearsal before we started shooting, which was invaluable. It really helped bond the whole cast together and established a trust between them and myself, so that when shooting started we were all working toward the same vision.
What’s the most important thing you’d like the audience to take away from this movie?
I want this movie to remind people that money means nothing unless you have someone to share it with. Family and friends have to come first. It’s a simple message but an important one.
Make Money is in Indonesian cinemas starting November 14th.
Bonus video: Watch the trailer for Make Money below