My Jakarta: Eka Dimitri Sitorus, Acting Coach and Screenwriter
Hopeful movie stars, take heart: Acting coach and screenwriter Eka Dimitri Sitorus, who goes by Bang Eka, can make your dreams come true, at least if you’re willing to work hard during his super-strict coaching sessions.
Bang Eka has been guiding Indonesian actors through the film industry for the past 20 years. His students, including celebrities such as Agnes Monica and Olga Lydia, have become nationwide successes on and off the screen.
My Jakarta talked to Bang Eka about the hit movie ‘The Raid,’ his coaching philosophy and why sometimes being a good actor doesn’t translate into an advantage in the film industry.
How different is the public’s appreciation of film in Indonesia compared to in the United States or England?
What appreciation? We focus more on dealing with our stomachs than our hearts. Take painting, for example. Indonesians care more about whether paintings are sold, whereas abroad, people also consider the beauty and artistic value of paintings.
Isn’t it normal for a developing country like ours to lack that level of appreciation?
Yes, [your level of] appreciation strongly relates to your level of education. Indonesia has people who appreciate art, but they don’t want to make such [artistic] movies because they think it won’t be commercial, but they’re wrong. Just look at the movie ‘The Artist.’ It’s a monochrome and silent movie, but it sold well. People who appreciate that kind of show watch it in Singapore, eating away all our money.
So do we still have idealists in the film industry?
They’re not lacking — they’re simply nonexistent. The industry here only accommodates money. That’s why a lot of talented people in the industry choose to flee abroad. Indonesia will definitely not have the last laugh in this matter.
The movie ‘The Raid’ was a worldwide success. Why can’t we regularly come out with international hits?
You can just look at the director — what was his name? [laughs] The filming took place over four months, and they would spend a full day to shoot half a scene. How about in Indonesia? It takes us just one to four days to produce a movie! In one day we can shoot about 20 scenes. Can you imagine that? Of course the quality will be very different. We don’t have the hard-working culture required to produce that level of quality yet. I’d be more proud to see Indonesians making the next big thing, not foreigners.
What can we do to change all that?
We need to educate people. We failed to do that during the Suharto era, and 20 years later we’re still lacking in education. I’ve seen a lot of assistants who just fetch coffee and then end up becoming directors. We also have a problem with regeneration. For example, when [director] Teguh Karya passed away, his skills weren’t passed on. And we need to create standards for paychecks in the industry. Actors nowadays earn crazy money.
Do you recommend traveling abroad?
Yes, just to get an education, but come back here afterward. I was accepted to pursue a doctorate at Yale [University in the United States], but I still chose to return home. Even after being tortured for 20 years here [smiles], I have no regrets. You’re born in your country, you die in your country. That is, unless you get thrown out of Indonesia [laughs].
What approach do you teach your students at SAS [Sakti Aktor Studio]?
I tell them that no matter what the situation is, they always have to be honest, sincere and subtle in their expression, and they must be disciplined. I also teach how to survive in the industry psychologically, politically, morally and socially. I’m proud to say that a lot of my students are disciplined and have become high achievers outside the film industry, like Olga Lydia and Agnes Monica, who have become national ambassadors for Indonesia. I’ve also been doing my share of teaching pro bono in numerous cities like Padang and Palembang [both in Sumatra], and I’ve given scholarships to many smart students there.
How big a role does quality actingplay in determining whether an actor or actress can succeed in the Indonesian film industry?
Very small — I’d say acting comes in at No. 48 [laughs]. The No. 1 [factor] would be your looks and your ability to make the important people like you. In this industry, they think about how to look pretty while sleeping, or [actors might be] kidnapped and locked up for four days [in the film] but are still well-dressed.
Here, having qualified acting skills doesn’t always play to your advantage. Some directors prefer to stay away from using any of my students, for example, because they [the students] may question the logic in scenes, and some directors don’t like being questioned like that.
If you were directing a movie where you could also star as a character, what role would you play?
Definitely a teacher. It’s the easiest role for me because I’ve been trained to teach every day. It’s easy for me to express myself when talking, and I’m a good motivator, too. If I played another role, it would take me at least two years of practice again.