Director, writer, producer, and actor Aaron Mak is living many film student’s dream. After graduating from the Theatre Studies and Film Studies at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, Aaron founded his own film studio “Melbourne Film Studio”. The film company was founded in Melbourne, Australia in June 2016, originally named Enigmatic Pictures.
Under Enigmatic Pictures the company had immediate success producing award-winning short films, namely: “Coffee Run” (2016, comedy) starring Josh Mak, (winner of “Astonishing Cinematography Award”); “Joke’s on You” (2015, thriller/fan-film) starring Aaron Mak and James Walker, (winner of the “Outstanding Production Design Award”); “House Sitting” (2016, horror) starring Ashleigh Gray (2nd prize winner); and in 2017 the educational short/comedy “Legal Ethics: A Closer Look at Conflict of Interest“, starring Ajay Bhalla and Aaron Mak.
In August 2017 Enigmatic Pictures relaunched as Melbourne Film Studio (MFS). Aaron Mak serves as CEO Creative Director of MFS and Josh Mak continued working as Creative Director.
In the following exclusive interview with London Prestige Aaron Mak talks about his career beginnings, his passion for writing and directing films, and also about his latest documentary project Cynation Goes to Bright with the popular Australian rock band “Cynation” and the upcoming cooking web-series – Cuisine Nue.
London Prestige Interview with Aaron Mak, Creative CEO of Melbourne Film Studio
London Prestige: How long have you been making films and videos?
Aaron Mak: I began making films to submit into film festivals locally and through university film festivals, under the name of my film company ‘Enigmatic Pictures’ which I founded in June 2016. In August 2017 I relaunched my company under the new name Melbourne Film Studio.
In 2016 I produced the short film House Sitting – a horror short film about a house-sitter (Ashleigh Gray) looking after a haunted house. This film was submitted to the 2016 Monash University Student Theatre’s Phone It In Film Festival, which won the 2nd place award. In 2016 I also made a Comedy short film, Coffee Run, which received the “Astonishing Cinematography Award” at the 2016 Monash University Student Theatre’s (MUST) Phone It In Film Festival, Melbourne.
Looking back however, I began making films when I was about 10 years old, after migrating to Melbourne from Singapore. I would write and act in these amateur-style, edited home videos with my sister, Ashley Mak, that would often be characterized by their comedy, and their tendencies to satirize the antics and habits of our family members and ourselves. In the past, she was the one who would initially have the idea to make the short video, then proceeded to essentially direct and produce the video while would mostly act, and write a bit. I even recall her teaching me how to use Microsoft Movie Maker (which was the best thing at the time), so I could take over editing.
Since then my passion has grown into directing, writing and acting. In 2015 I studied Law at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, Australia for a year, before studying Theatre Studies and Film Studies at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia for two years. I also spent 6 months in 2017 studying Theatre Studies and Film Studies at the University of Exeter in Exeter, UK.
I recently commenced training with the Melbourne-based New Faces Talent Academy, for training in acting and modelling, taught by professionals in the industry.
London Prestige: What is your recent film about?
Aaron Mak: My most recently completed short film is Cynation Goes to Bright, which is a documentary-like indie comedy. It is part of a four-part mini-series about the band members of Cynation going for holiday to Bright – a country town in Victoria, Australia – and getting up to their usual crude antics. It is quite a different approach to comedy, inspired by indie comedy elements in the films of Lynn Shelton (Your Sister’s Sister, Humpday), approaching comedy that combines a twisted and improvisational sense of humor, with crude realism.
London Prestige: Who is featured in the documentary “Cynation Goes to Bright“?
Aaron Mak: The cast essentially consisted of Cynation band members, namely: Josh Mak (front-man and guitarist), Simon Lai (rhythm guitar), Andrew Teo (bassist) and myself (director, videographer). The fourth Cynation member, Shah (lead guitarist) was unavailable to join the rest of the band for this film, but we are looking forward to having the whole band together for future “Cynation Goes to” short films.
London Prestige: What do you hope people will take away from this documentary?
Aaron Mak: The rationale behind this project is firstly for audiences to be entertained and amused by the humorous antics of the film, but in doing so, we aim to demonstrate something about human nature. Everyone has two sides to them – the intellectual and the fool – and they don’t have to choose between the two. Both sides are of value to individuals, and a balance should be struck between the two – however, the essential first step is fostering awareness of the ubiquity of these two sides to people.
London Prestige: What do you hope to achieve by making the film?
Aaron Mak: We hope to entertain, to make you laugh, to catch you off guard, and in the end, we simply wish to present Cynation (and myself) in our unfiltered forms, to demonstrate that life is comprised of both forms of living, and that we should not be ashamed of our ‘foolish’ selves. In time, as we continue to produce content of increasing diversity, we hope to demonstrate the complexity we incorporate into our craft, and the various areas on the spectrum of film we can expand across. Whether it’s a crude reality TV style program, or a complex indie film – or a combination of both.
London Prestige: When is the next screening and tell us about any competitions/festival submission.
Aaron Mak: My thriller short film, Joke’s On You, received the “Outstanding Production Design Award” at the 2015 Monash University Student Theatre’s (MUST) Phone It In Film Festival, Melbourne. This was primarily an attempt at performing a challenging role, and to structure the film so that the character generates a substantial impact with a minimal amount of time.
With regards to photography, my submission has recently been accepted into the 7th Annual Exposure Photography Award Competition, which is presented by PHOTO+ (PDN and Rangefinder magazines, WPPI) and based in based in New York City. Over the past seven years, it has honoured top photographers internationally, and the awards given and publicity of your work, offer career-defining opportunities. My submission consists of a photo collection that explores the relationship between music and fashion, as well as the stylistic contrast between grittier and finer aesthetics. Featuring the lead singer and guitarist of Cynation as my model, Josh Mak, we aimed to capture aesthetically pleasing and unique shots, whilst embodying this idea of juxtaposing elements that seem incompatible.
The full photo gallery can be viewed here, and you can also vote for my photos too: aaronmak.exposureaward.com.
Another competition I have entered is the 3rd International Screenwriting Competition in New York City. The intentions of the competition is to encourage screenwriters all around the world to develop their craft, in order to promote the art of writing scripts for short films and feature films. My submission was a synopsis of a comedy/drama script I wrote, called Cristallum, for a TV-movie length movie. I had originally written the script to be performed on stage, but had always visualized the script through a filmic lens, so it only felt right adapting my stage script for the screen.
London Prestige: Tell us a bit about the other films you’ve made.
Aaron Mak: One of my other earlier works was the comedy short film, Coffee Run, which was the first film I ever worked on with Josh Mak. It is centered around a simple premise with a jovial and comedic overtone laid over it. This film was submitted into the 2016 Monash University Student Theatre Phone It In Film Festival, which posed an interesting generic contrast to the other film I also submitted – the horror short film, House Sitting.
Another film made was the educational comedy short film, Legal Ethics: A Closer Look at Conflict of Interest. I worked with my best friend, Ajay Bhalla, in writing this and starring in it together. The intention was to find a way to explore and communicate more complex legal issues to audiences, whilst ensuring it is delivered in an engaging and entertaining manner. The pacing of the short film is also designed to begin as quite a standard, informative video, which gradually becomes less and less conventional.
London Prestige: What makes beautiful art in your opinion?
Aaron Mak: I find a key thing to art is that ultimately, it means something to its creator. Something that you can make, look back on, and find satisfaction that you achieved what you set out to do. It’s also beautiful as a means of expressing individualism – being able to do what feels right to yourself. Another key thing I can appreciate about art is when it challenges the norm, by doing something unique and beyond the scope of rules, common perceptions, and other borders. Part of art is freedom of expression, and that freedom also includes freedom to go anywhere – whether it be somewhere close to the heart, or somewhere beyond the horizon.
London Prestige: Which other documentaries/films that you’ve seen have made an impact on you, personally?
Aaron Mak: I have too many to choose from, so I’ll list a few of my favorite directors, and some of their works of theirs that inspired me on both intellectual and emotional levels.
- Christopher Nolan (Dark Knight Trilogy, The Prestige, Interstellar)
- James Wan (Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring)
- Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilder People, What We Do in the Shadow, Flight of the Concords)
- Joe & Anthony Russo (Captain America: Civil War, Arrested Development, Community)
- Matthew Vaughn (Kingsman: The Secret Service, X-Men: First Class, Kickass)
- Richard Linklater (School of Rock, A Scanner Darkly, Slacker)
There are a few documentaries that have stood out to me as not just well-crafted films and TV shows, but because of the significance of their content to me – whether it’s regarding human experiences and perceptions of society and politics, or larger scale ideas of prehistory and the wider cosmos.
- The Cave of Forgotten Dreams (dir. Werner Herzog)
- Inside Job (dir. Charles Ferguson)
- Natural History Museum Alive (presented by David Attenborough)
- Bowling for Columbine (dir. Michael Moore)
- Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (presented by Neil de Grasse-Tyson)
London Prestige: How has your style evolved?
Aaron Mak: I feel like my intention towards my art has essentially remained the same, but the ways in which I approach it have developed to be a bit more technical with practice. One thing I enjoy watching in films and television, and subsequently enjoy incorporating in my work, is the subversion of expectations and perception. Some ways I like to do this is by crafting narratives with unexpected pay-offs, combining contrasting generic tropes, and exploring content in a way that encourages audiences to think about these ideas differently.
London Prestige: What skills/personal attributes are most important to being successful?
Aaron Mak: It is a learning process and I’m still learning more everyday. There are a few points of logic I follow to strive for success. To begin with, you must know what you want to be successful in before you can work towards it. The other thing, is striking a balance between pragmatism and idealism that works for you – don’t be afraid to dream big, but figure out exactly how you’ll get there. Lastly, you need to really want it.
London Prestige: What other hobbies do you have?
Aaron Mak: My passions are filmmaking (directing, writing, producing), acting, music, and video-games – my core interests in these areas primarily stem from my passion for storytelling, in various manners.
I developed my love for filmmaking through watching a lot of movies and TV (both in my spare time and for film class), but I also draw inspiration from my other hobby, playing video-games. Although I’m not exactly a sporty person, I really enjoy rock-climbing, martial arts (Wing Chun), and pool. An obscure one to top it all off – I love building things with Lego.
Besides filmmaking, writing and acting I also enjoy making music. My love for music has been there since young. A big impact on me has been my older brother, Josh, who was playing in a band when I was growing up. I think seeing a role model who was so passionate about music, really influenced my perception of this area. He actually gave me my very first CD (before CDs became “vinyl-ized”) when I was about 6 years old – it was Red Hot Chili Peppers’ By the Way album – and that began my musical soul-searching journey. I used to listen to Zephyr Song so many times, I’m pretty sure everyone around started to get sick of it. To this day, Red Hot Chili Peppers still easily remain one of my favorite bands.
London Prestige: What is your music style?
Aaron Mak: The typical musician’s answer is “I like all music”, which is also true for me, but I feel like musical taste is contingent on how a person feels at every given point. I do have quite a diverse style, stemming from growing up with classic rock and heavy metal (e.g. AC/DC, The Beatles, Metallica, Iron Maiden), but began branching out from there into more indie/alternative rock (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Oasis), to vintage jazz (Billie Holiday, The Ink Spots), to rap/hip-hop (Eminem, Hilltop Hoods), to blues/soul (Bill Withers, Ray Charles). As a result, I have a tendency to enjoy music that demonstrates complexity in various forms – this inspires me to utilize inspirations from multiple sources to create unique pieces.
I have performed during High School, at MUSTBOP in University and at the Wedgetail Estate Open Day – Live vocal (and guitar) performance.
London Prestige: What are you thinking about doing next?
Aaron Mak: The project I’m currently working on (in post-production) is called How the Devil Dances. It is a documentary short film which I am working on again with Cynation to produce. The short film explores the journey of Cynation in recording, producing and releasing their first single, Dancing Devil. The short film attempts to highlight the difficulty encountered by the band in creating this song, and the unconventional ways in which they navigated to achieve it.
Another project I am currently working on with Josh Mak, is our unconventional cooking web-series – Cuisine Nue. It will feature various recipes across multiple cultures prepared in each episode, with comedic commentary provided by myself and Josh, the chef himself. The idea for the show is largely inspired by Hell’s Kitchen with Gordon Ramsay, and the original Japanese version of Iron Chef. This will be available through Cynation’s YouTube page: “Cynation Tv”.
We are also currently in the development stage for the Dancing Devil music video.
London Prestige: Where does your studio ‘Melbourne Film Studio’ want to go from here?
Aaron Mak: I believe the goal is to continue striving to improve and make top quality short films, and then move to produce feature films either independently or in conjunction with other companies. We would like to continue to submit work locally, but begin to expand internationally as well, hoping to take our work to larger more renowned film festivals such as the Cannes Film Festival or Sundance. Along the way, we’d love to work with innovative and dedicated artists, both new and experienced, from various backgrounds, in hopes of collaborating to create awesome pieces of work.