CREATIVE agency Leo Burnett Malaysia‘s Chinese New Year advert Rubber Boy was Malaysia’s only entry at the Cannes Lions award category for Film Craft last night. But the same day also saw independent filmmaker Tan Chui Mui take to Facebook to accuse the advertising agency of plagiarising an idea she developed with John Cho We Jun.
Local director Chui Mui leads production house Da Huang Pictures and is known for spearheading Next New Wave, an initiative dedicated to nurturing young and emerging filmmakers in Malaysia.
Over a series of postings on Facebook, Chui Mui revealed that the agency used a story pitched by her team in December 2014.
For many months I was just keeping quiet. As I do not like to waste time complaining.
I can’t believe how an Ad Agency like Leo Burnett can just use the story I had pitched to them without asking my permission. And when my team Bea Meow and [John Cho] We Jun met them, their lawyer told them that Malaysian law does not protect idea. And the creative writer said they had only used two of the major scenes, not the whole story.
— Tan Chui Mui, 25 June 2016
Leo Burnett had contacted her on 15 December 2014 in search of “non-commercial” directors to make a Petronas Chinese New Year advertisement. They had four stories, and the client had already chosen one called Ang Pao Collector about a rubber-tapper father whose son gives up his red packet money collection for the welfare of their family.
Chui Mui then shared a story she wrote in Beijing while in 2014 which revolved around a boy who follows his rubber tapper mother to work.
This was sent out as a group message to members from Leo Burnett’s team. John Cho then wrote out the English pitch and the team presented the idea to Leo Burnett.
After casting and location scouting, they submitted a presentation deck on 26 December 2014, complete with movie references and even a script.
The idea wasn’t used, although Chui Mui and her team were told that the client liked the script very much. There would also be no Petronas Chinese New Year ad that year.
But in January 2016 the Da Huang team were shocked to come across Rubber Boy, a five minute short film which would soon amass over three million views on Youtube alone.
Chui Mui, in the first trimester of pregnancy, sent John Cho and producer Beatrice Leong to Leo Burnett to request an explanation. There, lawyers informed the team that there was no grounds for legal action.
During the screening of young filmmaker Chloe Yap‘s experimental project at Da Huang Pictures last night, Chui Mui expressed her grievances over the entire turn of events.
“If you are a creative agency making money from ideas,” opined Chui Mui, “I believe you should at least value ideas.”
Chui Mui was initially hesitant to speak about the issue, reserving her energy on Da Huang’s education efforts such as screenings and workshops during a challenging first trimester. But as the pregnancy became easier, she felt the need to stand up or risk letting the exploitation continue.
Then Rubber Boy was shortlisted by prestigious advertising awards ceremony Cannes Lion for the category of Film Craft.
“They claimed it was just a common story and only parts of the script was used. You say it’s a common story but you’re sending it to the Cannes Lions and it’s something you didn’t even write,” she explained, disappointed.
Upon advice from her team and close filmmaker friends, Chui Mui resorted to social media to bring the issue to light. Using the hashtag #LeoBurnettPlagiarism, she gained support from the industry through the likes of Liew Seng Tat, Amir Muhammad, Tunku Mona Riza and Bront Palarae.
“There’s a lot of exploitation going on,” Chui Mui stated, “I don’t know how much longer the creative agency can last; they don’t propose original ideas, and in some countries such as China clients have started dealing directly with production houses.”
Chui Mui hopes that her story will help bring others forward — she believes that by banding together, filmmakers can ensure their interests are protected and negate long-running systemic abuse.
Meanwhile, Creative Director at Leo Burnett, James Yap, responded with his own version of the story, claiming that both scripts were vastly different and that Leo Burnett was responsible for providing input to Chui Mui’s original script. He also shared a personal story.
My neighbor had that Megatron pistol. I wanted a transformers so bad. This was the inspiration for when Ah Hock screams at mom for being poor and asked her to work harder. I could never understand why mom and dad couldn’t give me 7 ringgit to buy Transformers. It was only 7 ringgit. When Petronas settled on the theme: Every Malaysian Is An Inspiration, for 2016 festive ads. I thought of my father and grandfather. The things they had to do to provide for the family.
— James Yap, 26 June 2016
James also stated that he will share both scripts soon — Rubber Boy and Chui Mui’s original pitch — claiming they bear no resemblance to one another. Until those appear, check out these pictures from Da Huang’s presentation deck and let us know what you think.