Joanne Lai — standing tall in a man’s world

Joanne said she did not know where her interest in multimedia would take her, but time has proven that she made the right choice.

Joanne Lai was recently given a special recognition award by the Sarawak government for her achievement in the local filming industry. As one of the few successful women in a male-dominated profession, Joanne shares her experiences throughout her journey as a producer and director.

An eye-opening experience

In the past, women have always been stereotyped to only fit to be housewives and only as mothers to children. However, at the turn of the century, women have quickly moved up the career ladder and becoming more successful, on par with their male counterparts. Women have proven countless times that when it comes to achievements, they can be on the same level as men.

In Sarawak, seven women were recently presented with a Special Recognition Award for their contributions during the state-level International Women’s Day 2021 celebration.

In a private interview with producer and director Joanne Lai, she revealed that she was ecstatic when she was announced as one of the recipients for the award. “I was surprised as it never even crossed my mind. I’m very proud of myself. I’m not sure if I deserve this, but it is proof that as a woman, I can make it.”

The award, according to Joanne, was also dedicated to her production team for their work on a Melissa Francis’ music video shoot in 2019. “They were delighted when I was announced as the recipient, and without them, none of this will be possible,” she told New Sarawak Tribune.

The biggest achievement

With her five years experience in the industry, Joanne was previously nominated in the International Thai Film Festival 2020 (ITFF 2020) Film and Entertainment Industry awards for her work on popular Iban singer Melissa Francis’ “Pengidup Aku” (My life) music video. The 29-year-old was nominated alongside international directors from Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, China, Spain, Brazil, Bulgaria, the USA and other countries.

Explaining the storyline of the video, Joanne said it revolves around an independent woman who managed to find success in life with her son despite being the victim of a troubled marriage. Joanne said that even though she did not win, being nominated was already a good start.

“I was surprised as we didn’t think it would go far because when we decided to participate, it was just to see whether Sarawakian-made music videos have the right quality to compete at the international level,” she disclosed.

The Sarawak Media Group (SMG) producer also added that at the initial stage, she was given three projects to choose from. “Melissa’s song resonated well with me and my team, and we instantly knew at the time how to navigate the whole storyline.”

With the famous content creator of NAS Daily, Nuseir Yassin.

Given only three days to shoot the video, Joanne managed to capture the essence of the song as the video showcased Melissa’s glamorous life in the entertainment world, intertwined with her behind-the-scene troubled private life.

“Overall, it was a good experience. Melissa was a good sport, she even offered some of her ideas during the shoot. Since she knew the song well, when we pitched our ideas, she was happy as they convey the message that she was trying to present with the song and she even proposed to be the main character of the video,” said Joanne.

Admitting that she is not a fan of sad songs herself, Joanne and her team, however, was able to translate a strong message for the audience through the video. “I had a really good production team that helped me a lot. When I came out with the storyline, plan the mood board, the colour set, my production team already knew what had to be done.”

“It helped save a lot of time. Furthermore, with only a three-day window, we had to continuously film the video. It was quite stressful.” Joanne also recalled how she had to plan ahead for the three important days in order not to waste time.

Don’t be afraid

As a female in the filming industry, Joanne shared how she was often regarded as someone who would merely direct and assign, “But it is much more than that,” said the TVS producer.

“I need to hold the camera myself, carry heavy equipment, need to think of a lot of things and then there’s the editing part that needs to be done. People usually think that women are weak and they usually don’t know what to do on set.

“Actually, we carry the same role as male directors and producers. It only depends on if people want to do it or not, and if you are willing to learn, or not,” she added.

Joanne urges women to get up and try their hands at what they want to do. “Don’t be afraid. I know that many people don’t have high expectations for women as directors or producers, but if you never try, you’ll never know.”

On-set of the TVS programme that she produced — ‘Hias’.

“Initially, I was afraid too. When I took on the project, I made it a point to come up with something of quality, because I feel like I have something to prove,” she conceded. Initially she found it to be hard, but once she got the hang of it and started to enjoy the process, she felt more confident with herself.

She also revealed that her production team for Melissa’s music video had a great female producer as well.

Fast forward, Joanne is now a producer for TVS programmes “Hias” and “Suara Wanita”, and she admitted that she enjoyed her work in the local TV station very much. The whole experience has been an eye-opener for her, as she had the opportunity to meet different creative people of different backgrounds.

The petite lass exudes a towering presence which can definitely inspire many women. Asked about her plans, Joanne foresees herself producing not only just music videos, but also short films in the near future.