What do you want to be when you grow up?

As a child, Syamsul Yusof said the typical answers given by his schoolmates were policeman, fireman and doctor. He had a different answer. Syamsul wanted to be a film director, just like his father Datuk Yusof Haslam.

“But to be honest, I didn’t even know what a director actually was back then. I just thought it was a glamourous job,” he said during an interview with Star2 in Kuala Lumpur, recently.

Yusof, 62 – whose notable works include 1990s box office hits Bayangan Maut, Sembilu II and Maria Mariana – recalled having his sons around when he was on set.

“You were mostly at the Gerak Khas drama set right? Oh, and with (Datuk) AC Mizal when he did Roda-Roda Kuala Lumpur. That time, you were just seven years old,” Yusof said to Syamsul, 32.

Syamsul also nostalgically remembered that he and younger brother Syafiq used to imitate what Yusof did during playtime.

“We’d take a video camera and play pretend. Syafiq would be the actor and I was the director,” Syamsul shared.

Then Syafiq, 23, burst into laughter: “Oh wow, my dad made it look so easy. It’s only when I grew up and started directing that I realised how hard it is!”

Both Syamsul and Syafiq agreed that having a prominent director father did not make it easy for them to get a headstart in the local film industry.

At the 23rd Malaysian Film Festival, Syamsul (right) won Best Director and Best Editing for his film Evolusi KL Drift 2. Photo: The Star/Azman Ghani

At the 23rd Malaysian Film Festival, Syamsul (right) won Best Director and Best Editing for his film Evolusi KL Drift 2. Photo: The Star/Azman Ghani

Sure, dad has his own production company – Skop Productions – and can list actors like Awie, Erra Fazira and Datuk Rosyam Nor as some of the stars he made famous. But Yusof didn’t just hand his sons a budget, access to talent and agree to fund their ideas right away. Syamsul had to make a series of short films to convince his father to let him direct.

“After he had seen enough, he agreed (to help out). But I had to start with his television drama. So I directed a few episodes of the Gerak Khas series back in 2006.

“Dad had zero confidence in me. The whole time while I directed, he kept asking, ‘Are you sure you can do it?’” he lamented.

Yusof took two years to finally see that Syamsul could indeed direct.

Eventually, Syamsul would go on to direct Evolusi KL Drift, his first film for Skop in 2008.

Syafiq, who also started the same way as his brother, made his feature film directorial debut with SAM: Saya Amat Mencintaimu in 2012.

Both of Yusof’s sons seem to have his magic touch; Evolusi earned RM3.9mil while SAM made RM1.18mil. No one was more surprised than Yusof himself who admitted that he greenlit both films with low expectations.

“I was against some of the ideas. But I told myself, ‘It’s OK. If the movie fails financially, I will let it go.’

“My sons will learn from the lesson and be better. Fortunately, their efforts have proven to be financially rewarding,” the proud father beamed.

Syafiq won Best New Director at the 25th Malaysian Film Festival in 2013. — SHAHRUL FAZRY ISMAIL/The Star

Syafiq won Best New Director at the 25th Malaysian Film Festival in 2013. Photo: The Star/Shahrul Fazry

Syamsul’s subsequent projects were box office gold too, with Khurafat and KL Gangster earning RM8mil and RM11mil respectively.

Just like Yusof whose acting credits include Bukit Kepong and Mekanik, Syamsul is also an actor. Most recently Syamsul starred in Munafik, the RM17mil box office hit which he also directed.

Syafiq’s movies have fared well too: Abang Long Fadhil earned RM4.6mil while his low-budget horror film Villa Nabila made RM2.8mil. His last film Mat Moto, which he co-directed with Pekin Ibrahim, made RM4.39mil.

Despite the box office receipts, Yusof said he still treats his sons the same way he would anyone who works at Skop.

“I treat them like my employees. I don’t look at them as my sons when we work. I’m the producer of their films. My job is to make sure everything goes according to plan. When that does not happen, I have to solve it. Which means, getting into disagreements with my sons,” he stated.

Stories of disputes between Yusof and his sons – particularly Syamsul – have been widely reported in the media. The most famous incident was in 2013 when Yusof complained to the media that Syamsul refused to speak to him after KL Gangster 2 leaked online prior to the release of the film.

Syafiq shared that creative differences often get in the way, especially with Yusof’s old school mentality: “Everytime I pitch a script to my dad, he will take it home to read it. Then he’ll return it with a lot of written remarks, telling me to make changes.” According to Syamsul, disputes happen in every family business so he feels indifferent towards the media reports.

“I think it just goes to show that my dad is a professional when it comes to work. Just because we are his sons, it doesn’t mean we should get special treatment. Sometimes, I think he treats us worse than his other staff members!” Syamsul said matter-of-factly. The brothers also agree that their father is their harshest critic (“When it comes to criticism, he’s No. 1!” Syafiq offered).

Perhaps Yusof is on to something as Syamsul said that tough love makes them want to achieve better things.

“Our commitment towards making movies is fuelled by our need to prove dad wrong. I know we have our differences but what really matters at the end is that we get to do what we envisioned. In all the movies we direct, our dad’s influence is prevalent,” Syamsul said.

They have also been inspired by Yusof’s work ethic.

“My dad works really hard and I really admire him for that. It keeps me going during those production days when I don’t get enough sleep or rest. If dad can do it, so can I,” offered Syamsul.

Syafiq shared that Yusof hates going on holidays: “If he has to do that, he’ll just be in a bad mood.”

At home, they have seen Yusof falling asleep while correcting scripts, with a pen in hand.

Yusof revealed that he’s afraid of making terrible movies: “I’d feel bad for disappointing the audience. That is why I’m hard on my sons. I don’t want them to rest on past glories.”

Syafiq and Syamsul said that they are still trying to earn Yusof’s complete trust in them. They have also come to understand the root of Yusof’s worries.

“He thinks that if he stops working, then his staff members and their families would suffer. If our movies were bad, people would lose faith in us and that would affect the business.

“Recently, I told him to take it easy. I wish he would stop worrying so much and learn to trust us more,” Syamsul said.