Playing with Shadows: TONY PIETRA ARJUNA

Playing with Shadows: TONY PIETRA ARJUNA

L.A. distributor Random Media released the fantasy/mystery-thriller film, ‘SHADOWPLAY’, starring Tony Eusoff, Juria Hartmans, Radhi Khalid and Stephen Rahman Hughes on DVD, On-Demand and digital platforms worldwide last year. It’s now back in the Malaysian spotlight at the Neo-South Independent Film Festival.



Formerly known as Neo – Joho, Neo-South Independent Film Festival is an international film festival to showcase innovative independent film makers and artists from around the world. Looking at the great interests of various collaborators, Neo-South has expanded into a wider scale which covers the Southern region of Peninsular Malaysia.

Neo-South Independent Film Festival (Neo-South) is organized by Rogue & Rebel Studio, a local indie production company run by a collective of independent filmmakers, producers and marketing professionals.


The final phase of this prestigious independent film festival will be held on 16 and 17 October 2020 from 3pm to 10pm. Many activities have been planned for the festival such as forum, dialogue session, winner’s film screening and the award night. These two days are especially organised for the award of selected films for various categories.

A panel of international and local judges have collectively selected the winners for all categories.



“Shadowplay” Directed by Tony Pietra Arjuna

Representing Malaysia is “Shadowplay”, a strong contender in this film Festival competition. It is one of two finalists for the Best Director and Best Picture (Feature) awards with The Unfinished Manuscript from India. It is also nominated in four other categories: Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Production Design and Best Original Score.

Neo-South has clear objectives, especially on supporting indie filmmakers. Shadowplay represents the filmmaking that their ecosystem aims to boost.

Executive produced by Ken Petrie (Enemy Within) of 27 Ten Productions and directed by Tony Pietra Arjuna, ‘SHADOWPLAY’ is about a private eye who takes a case to find a missing university student. He must explore the deep dark depths of his own mind to uncover the truth around his own childhood disappearance as he tracks down the missing girl. Filmed in Kuala Lumpur, ‘SHADOWPLAY’ was produced by Radhi Khalid, Isazaly Isa and Tony Pietra Arjuna.

“Shadowplay” Directed by Tony Pietra Arjuna

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HOMME had the opportunity to talk the talented Director Tony Pietra Arjuna: 

How did you get started in the industry?

I was an offline editor for TV commercials in the early years. I’d probably be more stable if I stuck with it but no, I had a brilliant idea of transitioning to a directing career just to get Shadowplay made someday!

What, in your opinion, is the most important quality in a Film Director?

The tenacity to realize your vision and being the best captain at it. Imagine Picard as a filmmaker and the set is his Enterprise.  Acknowledge that you are leading a collaboration and that you never stop learning.

Shadowplay is a mindf**k of a movie. Can you attempt to describe it?

It is a classic fairy tale retold as a metafictional detective thriller; an urban flight of fancy that traverses the darkest dreamscape of the mind and the nostalgic netherworld of the soul. In short, it is an acid trip!

How does it embody your personal statement as a director?

Shadowplay symbolizes two things about me: 1) A Gen X dude who is facing himself as a kid in order to progress as a grown adult. 2) The state of being a westernized, “third culture” Malaysian in the past and present. This all sounds self-indulgent but I believe that every filmmaker is entitled to at least one wank!

Shadowplay seems to be quite eclectic. Which filmmakers/films influenced it?

It was designed as an amalgamation of classic noir (Kiss Me Deadly, Laura) and neo-noir (Angel Heart, Blade Runner) that I grew up watching with latent nods to Dario Argento. It is primarily my love letter to 80’s-era Michael Mann and David Lynch. I conceptualized it as the spiritual link between Manhunter and Twin Peaks. It might surprise you to know that the main narrative template was The NeverEnding Story!

Were there challenges with shooting an indie feature in Malaysia?

For budgetary reasons, we threw ourselves into the fire by compressing a 1-month shoot into 14 days of principal photography! The tough job was hence achieving quality results within record time. Aside from that, nobody got in our way as long we had our clearances and permits. We didn’t want to court trouble.

What inspired or possessed you to make Shadowplay?

Inspiration came from Mulholland Drive and rediscovery of Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective for the type of movie that I wanted to make (a mind-bending mystery). What possessed me was a recent event that forced myself to confront a dark side of an otherwise wonderful childhood. This is what Shadowplay is conveying under its window dressing of genre tributes. Catharsis was the true impetus for its creation.

The film has been released online. How was digital distribution opted over the theatrical route?

This flick is a hard sell here. Nobody wanted to position it for Malaysian theaters. There’s more flexibility in the VOD networks, where there’s a potential path to the niche audiences that Shadowplay appeals to.

Edgier or smaller movies were being increasingly squeezed out of cinemas by big studio fare in the last decade. There may be a future for indies in a post-pandemic world where streaming dominates cinemas.

How did you achieve the film’s retro and stylized look?

I absorbed an abundance of cult movies and MTV from the 80’s. Neon was their common denominator and it was the aesthetic baseline for Shadowplay. The creative synergy of art direction (Paul Hasham), cinematography (Praveen Kumar) and color grading (Beh Jing Qiang) gave life to the production concept.

It paid off as Shadowplay is nominated in these three departments for the Neo-South indie film festival.

Is there a reason why it was shot primarily in English?

It was initially planned to be in BM but nobody thought this film would materialize in the local market. It seemed more viable to make it for English-speaking audiences abroad. That helped enable its release on stateside platforms. It also became a creative choice that highlighted Shadowplay’s East-West condition.

Tell us about the synthesizer score. It steals the show.

I wanted a soundtrack than not only captures this film’s retro-80’s style but to also function as a concept album for the visuals. It’s symbiotically intertwined with the movie’s DNA but the music is its own entity.

Stellar Dreams are the best synthwave act in Malaysia IMO. Their score is also nominated by Neo-South.

How important is social media for promoting your projects?

It is key if you are running an indie endeavor with minimal marketing from the distributor. It thus falls on the filmmakers to add the push with DIY outreach or promo. Socmed enables this because it’s cheap and provides the means to build an online presence for the film. Traction may not be instant but it will come.

What is the best thing that ever happened to you while shooting?

In retrospect, it was day one of production with the first roll of the camera. After 10 years of gestation, Shadowplay was no longer a pipe dream. It was finally becoming corporeal. Then again, wrap night was perhaps the greater moment because the entire dream was in the can, especially after 2 arduous weeks!

What do you love about directing?

The process itself. It is a royal pain in the ass but I am a masochist when it comes to realizing your vision.

Can you mention your other recent works and what areas would you like to explore in the future?

Check out Devoted, a drama/thriller series about a cult that’s streaming on Viu Malaysia. I want to make more crime yarns in the mold of the sexy suspense stuff that was popular in the 80’s-90’s (Adrian Lyne, Brian De Palma, etc.). I would love to go full-blown erotica with those but probably not on these shores!

HOMME Magazine wish Tony and the team every success with Shadowplay in the Neo-South Independent Film Festival 2020 and the future.

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