UK-based Malaysian cinematographer earning raves with film on secret Catholic hostel life

Darius Shu with Fiona Glascott and Austin Taylor on the set of ‘Secret Child’. — Picture courtesy of Darius Shu
Darius Shu with Fiona Glascott and Austin Taylor on the set of ‘Secret Child’. — Picture courtesy of Darius Shu

PETALING JAYA, June 8 — When Darius Shu moved to the United Kingdom to earn his master’s in film production at Arts University Bournemouth, he did not quite expect his career in the cutthroat industry to take off so soon.

His latest venture, a short film titled Secret Child, based on Gordon Lewis’s bestselling book about the true story of a young boy growing up in a secretive Catholic hostel in Dublin, has been picking up awards at film festivals.

To date, the film has won Best Drama Short and Best Director at the Los Angeles Independent Film Awards 2018 and Best Short Film at London’s Gold Movie Awards and Italy’s Oniros Film Awards.

Secret Child is enjoying success at film festivals and producers are in talks with Netflix to turn the film into a TV series.
Secret Child is enjoying success at film festivals and producers are in talks with Netflix to turn the film into a TV series.

Shu, who was director of photography, has been nominated for three Best Cinematography awards at Oniros, LA Film Festival and just yesterday, Switzerland’s Largo Film Awards.

He was the youngest crew member and the only Malaysian.

The Kelana Jaya resident, who is back for two months, said the response took him by surprise.

“I didn’t think it would be so well received, but I knew the script was very powerful, even when I read the book, I was so interested,” Shu told Malay Mail.

His previous credentials include British-Indian short film Pardaa, a semi-finalist at the 44th Student Academy Awards by Oscars which had a successful run at festival circuits.

Directed by British-Chinese film director Yew Weng Ho, the short film features the likes of Fiona Glascott, who will star in the anticipated Harry Potter universe film Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, and Aaron McCusker, who is in the upcoming Queen movie Bohemian Rhapsody.

The film has been submitted to almost 50 festivals worldwide and by the end of the month, the cast and crew will find out if Secret Child is selected for the Oscar qualifying festivals — if the film wins any of the awards recognised by the Academy Awards, it’s one step closer to an Oscar nomination.

“So far, all the festivals we’ve submitted this film to have got through, so we are optimistic,” said Shu, who graduated last December.

Darius Shu behind the scenes. — Picture courtesy of Darius Shu
Darius Shu behind the scenes. — Picture courtesy of Darius Shu

Shu said the script, which read more like a two-hour film, would make a wonderful television series.

“We are in talks with Netflix and BBC — we’re aiming big for this one because it’s got a lot of potential and it would make a beautiful TV series,” he said.

Shu landed the coveted position as cinematographer after Yew and his producer were impressed with his showreel.

“I’m in charge of the photography and the lighting, how to tell the story visually and how to translate the story from script to screen,” said Shu, who took three months conceptualising the film.

He turned to movies like Brooklyn, No Country for Old Men, The Assassination of Jesse James and Changeling for inspiration.

Prior to earning his Masters in the UK, Shu studied broadcasting at Taylor’s University and worked as a fashion photographer for lifestyle and luxury magazines. He still enjoys photographing people and takes on projects from time to time.

He recently directed his first film three months ago; a silent psychological thriller called His Hands.

“We wanted to prove we can make beautiful films with a small budget,” he said.

Asked what some of his favourite films were, Shu loves Blade Runner 2049 and Christopher Nolan films.

“Roger Deakins, the cinematographer for Blade Runner 2049, is one of my idols — I like mind twisting movies and movies that make you think, not just explosions,” he said, adding that it would be a dream come true to work with the film’s director Denis Villeneuve.

Darius Shu has been nominated for three Best Cinematography awards for the short film. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
Darius Shu has been nominated for three Best Cinematography awards for the short film. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

For now, Shu wants to build a career in UK which has opened a lot of doors for him.

“I’m a very ambitious person, I see the UK as global player in the film industry and it has bigger opportunities so I want to gain more experience there.”

He hopes to make a British-Malaysian film one day and is happy to share his journey with young aspiring filmmakers.

“I’m so lucky to have worked on Secret Child and my other projects, and I’d love to help young people in Malaysia.

“I often receive a lot of messages and will always respond to questions relating to the film and media industry — they can certainly drop me a message on secretchild.com,” he said.

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