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‘Recalling and Recounting #LeoBurnett Plagiarism’
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‘Recalling and Recounting #LeoBurnett Plagiarism’

by The Daily SeniJune 30, 2016

This post first appeared on Tan Chui Mui’s filmmaker’s page on Facebook on 28 June 2016.


15 December 2014

I was asked by James Yap, a friend from Leo Burnett if I am interested in directing Petronas Chinese New Year Ad. They were looking for a “non-commercial” directors. And I was shortlisted.

We met in the Starbucks in Menara Olympia, and they told me the stories that they were going to pitch to Petronas. In fact, they already have 4 stories, all written by them.

17 December 2014

After their presentation, the client selected “The Ang Pow Collector”. The story is about a father from lower income family, and a son who collected all the “Ang Pow” during chinese new year, and used that money to help the family.

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(This page is all you can see because if you can read at the bottom right, there is a disclaimer in the front page.)

*If the good people from Leo Burnett agree, I can show you the script of “Ah Pa’s Sacrifice”.

I then engaged Bea Meow as my producer, and John Cho We Jun as my script writer.

19 December 2014

The client wanted the boy to be from a even lower income family. The suggestions of the father’s jobs included night market vendors, food vendors, fisherman, truck driver and metal scrap dealer. It is true it was James Yap who in the end convince me to have the father as rubber tapper.

The story is then set in a rubber estate, and the title is changed to “Ah Pa’s Sacrifice”.

*If the good people from Leo Burnett agree, I can show you the script of “Ah Pa’s Sacrifice”.

22 December 2014

I was given the storyboard, prepared by Leo Burnett. I will not deny that Leo Burnett had put in a lot of hard work on “Ah Pa’s Sacrifice”.

Well, they even have a storyboard ready! If not mistaken, Ah Pa’s Sacrifice was the script Ismail Kamarul received.

*If the good people from Leo Burnett agree, I can show you the storyboard.

But the problem is….. I didn’t like “Ah Pa’s Sacrifice”!

23 December 2014

As a director, I did not feel the story of “Ah Pa’s Sacrifice” is working for me. I then pitched to James Yap another story I had written in year 2011. So it was my own fault to pitch another story.

I pitched a new story because it is a story I always wanted to make into a short film. Even if it is just a commercial job, I need to shoot a story I can like.

The story was at first published on my Weibo in Dec 2011. It is based on childhood story of a friend. In fact, I like this story so much, the similar plot also appeared in my other unfinished film script, Imperial Exam, in 2012.

(A micro-short story I had written and published on my weibo in Dec 2011.)

I pitched the story to James Yap in the Petronas CNY facebook group. The English translation was written by John Cho. You can see that he was trying to imitate my bad English.

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(Facebook group chat on 23 Dec 2014. The pitch translated by John Cho from my story. Notice how John Cho styled the English writing to suit my bad English)

I tried to convince James Yap that the Mother and Son story is better. And surprisingly he agreed. In fact, I admired him to be someone open-minded and accepted my proposal. That he was not too egoistic about sticking to the “Ah Pa’s Sacrifice”, which was already approved by the client. ( I am sure Leo Burnett did not tell Ismail Kamarul about my new story.)

24 December 2014

So I sent to James Yap a new proposal, with script written by John Cho. Now the title is:

(The story proposed on 24 December 2014.)

John Cho and me wrote a 3 minutes script. I also worked on visual reference, film reference, casting and recce. Bea worked on the budget and timeline. It is team work.

26 December 2014

Here are part of the presentation deck that was sent to Leo Burnett on 26th Dec 2014.

A few scenes from the script, with reference photos suggesting location or character.

(One of the scenes from the pitch. Photo for visual or location reference.)

(One of the scenes from the pitch. Photo for visual or location reference.)

(One of the scenes from the pitch. Photo for visual or location reference.)

(One of the scenes from the pitch. Photo for visual or location reference.)

(A scene from Liew Seng Tat’s Flower in The Pocket, art direction by Gan Siong King.)

(A scene from Liew Seng Tat’s Flower in The Pocket, art direction by Gan Siong King.)

(A scene from Liew Seng Tat’s Flower in The Pocket, art direction by Gan Siong King.)

(A scene from Love Conquers All. Cinematography by James Lee.)

(A scene from Love Conquers All. Cinematography by James Lee.)

(Photo by Tan Chui Mui.)

(Photo by Tan Chui Mui.)

(Photo by Tan Chui Mui.)

(Photo by Chan Wai See.)

(Photo from Google street view.)

(Photo by Chan Wai See.)

30 December 2014

The Leo Burnett team presented the new story to client. According to them, the client likes it a lot. And they asked to cut the script down to 1 minute.

5 January 2015

We were told that we were not selected.

It was not a problem because the whole working process was quite pleasant. We do find the Leo Burnett team very professional and respecting our idea.

Leo Burnett did ask us to pitch for a few other commercial jobs in that year, I became busy with Next New Wave, an initiative to organise filmmaking workshop for young filmmakers. I lost interest in making “commercial short films” in Malaysia.

3 February 2016

I received messages from John Cho and Bea that our story is used, they asked if I knew about it. I watched the online video and agreed with them. Yes, my story was used, without my knowledge.

I messaged James Yap on facebook to ask for explanation. He request to meet face to face.

“we gather that you may believe that there is some similarity between this web film and a treatment that Da Huang proposed to Leo Burnett in early 2015 – a treatment that was based on a script called Ah Pa’s Sacrifice developed by Leo Burnett for our client. You note that we did not go ahead with that treatment.”

5 February 2016

Bea emailed Leo Burnett to ask for an explanation. Her tone was very polite: “We would appreciate if we could receive a written reply from your team soonest to understand if perhaps there’s a misunderstanding somewhere down the chain of communications that we might have overlooked. I understand that it is the holiday season but in view that your film is running through the holiday season as well as on national TV represented by a national brand, do hope that you could get back to us before the film goes wider without this query being looked into.”

On the same day, we received an email from Eswara Van Sharma, saying that “we gather that you may believe that there is some similarity between this web film and a treatment that Da Huang proposed to Leo Burnett in early 2015 – a treatment that was based on a script called Ah Pa’s Sacrifice developed by Leo Burnett for our client. You note that we did not go ahead with that treatment.”

6 February 2016

I messaged James Yap to express my disappointment with Eswara’s answer. James Yap replied that “But I assure u if we talk face to face all will be ironed out.”

We then agreed to have a meeting after Chinese New Year.

16 February 2016

The meeting was set to be at Leo Burnett office, 3pm. However, in the morning, I was having medical check-up in Subang Jaya Medical Centre, the waiting took too long and I was too exhausted. I told John and Bea to go ahead. (My bad!)

John and Bea went to the meeting. According to Bea, the lawyers told them that we cannot sue Leo Burnett, because Malaysian law does not protect idea.

And there was no explanation given during the meeting as James Yap promised. And he mentioned that they had only used 2 major scenes from our script. And it was a common story anyway.

(in fact, I had always been wanting to ask him which was the 2 major scenes, for me, only ONE major scenes was from my story —–which is my whole story. The part where the son tried to lift the bucket but failed. It was too heavy. Then the mother lifted it and walked away, he just look at her back and cried…)

25 February 2016

James Yap messaged to ask for meet up. I was feeling sick from my pregnancy for weeks and did not manage to meet.

8 March 2016

James Yap requested to talk on phone, so that he could tell me his side of story.

He promised he will talk to people in Leo Burnett again.

9 March 2016

I messaged James Yap again about the decision from Leo Burnett.

14 March 2016

James Yap called Bea.

15 March 2016

I messaged James Yap to ask for any more explanation. No answer was given.

I think it is a waste of my time, I was too busy at work, and the 1st trimester pregnancy was not stable. I only have very little energy to work.

It was just a story stolen, I told myself, I have so many more stories to tell.

So I did not do anything since then.

24 June 2016

I posted on Facebook, about #LeoBurnettPlagiarism.

27 June 2016

Received email from Leo Burnett to ask for a meeting.

29 June 2016

Emailed to Leo Burnett that we could meet on 4th July 2016.

Received from Leo Burnett, “Thank you for your email requesting for the meeting on the 4th July 2016. Kien is happy to meet you but it has to be today due to the continued wide coverage on the allegations. Due to his tight schedule, the meeting has to take place in Leo Burnett’s office. At the same time, Leo Burnett has no choice but to instruct our lawyers to send you a Cease and Desist notice on this matter.”


Read more about the issue from our previous coverage and archive of information issued from both parties. Make sure to get into the discussion and drop a comment!

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The Daily Seni delivers news on local arts and culture, aiming to provide insight into Malaysia's ever-growing creative community as well as provoke thought and discussion.

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