"Acting is the ability to live truthfully under imaginary circumstances." -- Sanford Meisner

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Instant Comedy

I am into standup comedy. I wrote my material, got them tested and am now in the performing circuit.

I need Standup. After some time as a film actor, one can easily be dictated by scripted dialogues, camera angles and directors' visions of how a performance ought to go. Then, spontanaeity goes out of the window.

 I think Standup is one of the hardest form of improv acting, as the performer has to adjust to the audience, on the fly. He has to think on his feet and yet be on his toes. Now is that possible? These are what I have learned on the job so far:

1. Don't try to be funny
Don't try to make people laugh. Just go on stage and be enthusiastic. Everyone loves a high spirit.

2. Don't try to tell stories
Stories are too logical. Humour is often not. They are usually surprisingly cruel. Sometimes the more cruel they are, the more laughters you get.

3. Talk to the audience
Interact. Get them involved.

I bet there will be lots more that I have to learn. It is a job that can only be practised with a live audience. Dead ones are more challenging, but they will lift your performance to even greater heights.

The moral of the story here is to get started and jump into the deep end. If you happened to have led a miserable and troubled life, then don't despair, for you are more than likely to have an unfair advantage. Laugh and the whole world laughs with you.

Come and support us on:

Date/Time: 29th January 2015, 7.30pm

Place: Laffio, 337 Beach Road, Singapore 199565

There will be other comics performing that night too!



The sound recording is bad, so I have a transcript of the first minute or so...

...as a very angry and frustrated man. So I was thinking,... how I was as a newbie, how I can get into character of such a big role

So I observed how sergeant majors behave, researched on them, scripted Singlish and military lingo, practised them over and over again , and finally, abstained from sex. 


It worked. I won the Best Performance Award... for acting as a frustrated sergeant major.

So I thought it was good news right? So I went home and told my wife that I won the Best Performance Award, she said, "I am not surprised!".


Ok, some of you didn't get it... probably because you are getting it every night.


If you are wondering which sergeant major that was, it is none other than the famous Warrant Officer Lee Teck Hong in Hentak Kaki, For more, click here.

For more posts about comedy, click here.

Tin Kosong

Tin Kosong is a short film adapted for Utter 2014 (The Singapore Writers' Festival) from a novel of the same name,  written by Mohammed Salleh, It is directed by Mr Sanif Olek. 

The film is about a Malay man who lives in a make-belief that his wife and family are all well and with him, He spends his time doing odd jobs and collecting empty tin cans to be sold for scrap.

The production overran a little on the day of my shoot, I think it was due to the dance sequences in the preceding scenes. My scene was captured just in time during the golden hour of sunset amid the lovely art-deco buildings at Tiong Bahru, Singapore. 

I was directed to set my eyes on the empty cans in the scene, what was treasure in their little word. The cameraman captured the nuances of the ambiguous intentions spot on, though no words were spoken. I think Mr Khalid Baboo also fleshed out the vulnerable and tired character very convincingly.

There was no audition for me for this role, my suitability probably based on a similar Malay speaking Chinese man role I did in Utter 2013.

I am getting used to acting in Malay. Besides the two Utter films I acted in, I have also acted in some Suria TV (Malay Channel) dramas. In all the productions, they always want me to deliver like how a Chinese man normally speaks (Malay), with slangs like "Gua" for "Saya" (me) and "Lu" for "Anda" (you).  Both which are words derived from Hokkien and propagated by the Peranakans. Ironically, that makes it more difficult as I only studied standard Malay in school. :)

Here is an interview with the director...

And here is the film proper...

For more films in Malay in this blog, click here.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


"Checkmate" is Willy Yong's final year project at NAFA (Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts) in the Year 2014. He wrote and directed the ten-minute film about a disillusioned man going through counselling in prison for the murder of his wife. The dialogue is long and pompous and cleverly spiced with metaphors of chess to illustrate the many trappings of a failed marriage.

Originally, Willy intended the counsellor to be a man, but I suggested to him to change it to a lady character for added intrigue. Dr Lee, played by Amy Yan, represents the conscience of the disillusioned man, complete with prim, proper and polished English.

The script and cast were confirmed only a few days before the shoot. There was no time for rehearsals as the project had to be completed before their course officially ends. I also happened to have several other shoots during that period and only had time to memorise the dialogue on set. It was hard as they were not lines one hears everyday, but of those depicting the harsh reality of a failed marriage with the cynicism and ego of a badly dejected mind.

Here is the film proper...

For other NAFA films I have acted in, click here.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Unlucky Plaza

Producer/Director/Writer - Ken Kwek

Father. Restaurateur. Hostage-taker. How one man's financial woes spiral into a harrowing crisis that captivated the world.

Genre: Drama

I am lucky to be invited to the private screening of "Unlucky Plaza" for the cast and crew, at The Projector. It is also the first movie to be screened at the 25th Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) 2014. The Projector is  a recently renovated cinema for independent films, at Golden Mile, Singapore.

The title of the movie, "Unlucky Plaza", is  a cheeky snide at Lucky Plaza, a mall frequented by Filippinos living in Singapore. The "Unlucky" bit is also a hint of the lead character's calamitous journey as a migrant, father and businessman, played convincingly by Epy Quizon, a Fillipino actor, based in Manila.

Among some of the director Ken Kwek's work is "Sex.Violence.Family Values", an anthology of short films, which was banned by the Singapore and Malaysian governments in 2012. It was later allowed to release in Singapore and sold-out to packed audience.

The screenplay of "Unlucky Plaza", started with the portrayal of individual characters: of the migrant filippino father and his son; of the Singaporean motivational get-rich-quick speaker and his frustrated and adulterous wife; of the pastor who has sinned and fallen prey to the seductress; and of the gangster from China who comes chasing after his money. I was so mesmerised with each of the quirky sub-plots that I did not expect a crisis looming in the background and their paths to cross and culminate in a kidnapping-hostage situation. (I had no idea what the film is about at all before I entered the cinema hall.)

I like the sound and camera work, particularly the smooth flow of steadicam work gliding up the stairs exhibiting the opulence of the bungalow with a swimming pool, two maids and a lavish interior.

While the movie has many funny bits that made me laughed, I cannot help empathising with the stories of migrant workers from developing countries and their plight striking out a living in a foreign country.
"Unlucky Plaza"  convinced me that there are more than one way to make a film that can sell in Singapore and Malaysia, without having to resort to highly localised slapstick and coarse comedy.

I would highly recommend you to watch the movie.

Thursday, November 13, 2014


This is my first time acting in a horror film and also my first time having lines in the Thai language, which I had no prior knowledge of. Like the Chinese language, Thai is tonal and so the same phonetic in the wrong tone can mean something very different, often with hilarious results. Also, it was hard keeping up with  the gentle Thai soft and pampered ways of talking.

"Stitched" is a Temasek Polytechnic Year 2 project, written and directed by Paul Tang and brilliantly executed by his dedicated and talented team. It is about a father who thought that he could get away with a fling in Thailand, only to discover the horrors that had followed him thereafter. I won't spoil the film for you. Here it is...

We were very lucky to get this apartment for the shoot - so lived-in and complete with all the oriental charms and character - so unpretentious and so un-self-conscious. Other than some minor technical adjustments, what you see comes original with the house. I think the house itself is half the battle won.

An art director would have to spend a lot more time and money if we had a common run-off-the-mill pristine looking apartment in Singapore. Look at the details... the cuddly toy, the notices stuck on the wall, the left over Chinese New Year kitsch dangling... the details that captivate and tell so much.

We had to stand 'the ghost' on a pedestal, so that the lighting and camera angles turn out right. In film making terms, it is called "cheating".

I bet you won't see cuddly toys the same way you used to after this film. Oh ya, Paul and his gang bought three of them from Taobao. One of them got mistakenly loped into the rubbish chute, another got burned alive, and then there was one (left). Did you remember the name of the teddy bear? It is Luap, which is 'Paul' spelt backwards. There goes the saying that no matter what you write for a film, even if it is about a fish (in this case a Teddy), the story is about YOU.  lol

The scenes with the teddy bears were not much fun. The intestines stuffed inside were pig intestines and the smelled really foul. So foul I nearly puke and only held back because the camera was right below my mouth. The camera guy told me he was so impressed with my act that if I had thrown up, he would have stood still to capture the action!

Oh yes, if you think that I had done a convincing apprehensive look during the burning of the teddy bear, you were half right. The truth was that I was REALLY scared. Scared that the tin may explode with the added combustible fluid soaked in the teddy bear.

The burning of the teddy bear was the last act. It was done late in the night to avoid bystanders and busy-bodies, but even then, it didn't stop a few guys up in the blocks of flats upstairs ready with their cameras and binoculars, probably waiting to post us on social network.

We waited for more than an hour, then decided to go to a new location from those prying eyes. We then shot the burning scene swiftly and then quenching the flames, clearing the debris and making our run just as quickly.

See, even the toothbrushes seem to talk to you in this film. :)

Saturday, November 8, 2014


This film is originally called "Shrink", which as its name implies, involves shrinking objects of sorts to fit into an evil plot. That's so much I am revealing for now, as I won't want to spoil your fun watching it later.

Perhaps in the quest for uniqueness, the producers have changed the title of the film to "Dispher" - as there is no such word in the English dictionary and also that there is no other film with such a name in the market.

Uniqueness is important in a name, but a film title should also represent the story, as that is how viewers will decide if they would want to invest the time and money to watch it.

Here is the film...

I applaud the production team for the results, particularly one with tight budget and time lines. Ironically, it was also a laid back and enjoyable experience, working in the more idyllic locations in Johore Bahru, Malaysia - away from the hustle and bustle of urban Singapore. It is healthy to do that once in a while in a place where the common people in the sleepy kampungs (villages) has time to stop and stare, and chat with you endlessly.

As this is kind of a horror flick, much of the scenes were done at night. The few day scenes were shot well indoors under ceiling fans or under the canopies of the generous rural vegetation, well protected from the harsh tropical sun. Not something folks from miserable cold weathers can understand, but you will if you have lived here long enough.

I particularly enjoyed working with my co-actor Daeng Amer. Daeng comes from 30 years of theatre experience, and he gives all he has as an actor while on set. One could easily be captivated to believe that he was indeed the deranged character in the script. He told me that while many actors like to choose the roles they like to play, he does the opposite by declaring that he is willing to accept any role directors offer him. As a result, he has landed on many diverse and challenging roles. And that is real growth to an actor! Something actors may like to rethink.

The village environment is such an antiquated charm for a Singaporean city slicker like myself. I need such getaways once in a while, and it is so nice on this instance that I am paid for doing so.

Here is the production team.

Patrick (the guy on the string) acted as the passenger that I picked up in the night cab, and literally so (picked up) after he is shrunk to size. For that to happen visually, video captures of some stunts were necessary in the green room, and subsequently, applying the digital special effects on the video complete the rest of the magic.

For those of you who do not know, videos of Patrick being hoisted were taken with a green background, in order for it to be replaced with the desired background subsequently.

Green is chosen because none of our body parts are of that colour, unless if you happened to be  one of the few that has green eyes. Not something to be jealous of in this situation. In fact, productions used to use blue screens, but found them  a problem with blue eyes.

Here are some of the special effects that required lots of patience and long iterative processes.

While this film is a short horror flick, I can't help reading more to it and relate some of the plots to what I observe in real life. For instance, about making people feel small and putting them in confined career ceiling - isn't this virtually the same as putting a bunch of shrunk people crying out in a locked box?

And passing the evil box to the next victim - isn't this what investing in properties or stocks are like? That is, to buy it cheap (or even at an outlandishly high price) as long as you can sell it in time to the next ignorant investor just before the market crash!  :)

Finally, one criticism of the film I have is that I find the ending a little abrupt. I don't know why. Is it because they didn't get enough footages for the ending or they did not plan it in the first place? Who knows?

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Problem With ‘Less Is More’ and Other Acting Instructions

This is a useful article written by Paul Barry, an L.A.-based Australian acting teacher, that  I read on Backstage.com. Reproduced here with permission. 

As a director, my job is to collaborate with actors in guiding the audiences’ attention to what’s important, and away from distractions that may obscure the story. It is not to teach them to act.
As a teacher, my job is to create self-sufficient performers, capable of working with directors who may not know how to adhere to my first point. It is not to direct them.

The two jobs are quite different, but the common denominator of all great teachers and directors is their ability to use an acting vocabulary that is doable

Aphorisms such as “less is more,” “just feel it,” “sit back into it,” and “really connect” do nothing to help you become self-sufficient. Less what is more what? At best, such generalities foster dependence on the apparently omniscient instruction-giver, and at worst cause distrust in all future instructors’ advice, because such suggestions—without the fortification of reliable technique—are ultimately indefinable and therefore unplayable.

Good acting teachers will help you understand the mechanics of translating generalized direction into specific, doable action, and good directors will speak only in such terms. Anything else, though often well intentioned, perpetuates the myth that acting is probably an unlearnable art; that it is mystical, ephemeral, and can only be mastered through closing one’s eyes, rolling the dice, and praying not to land snake eyes.

Aside from being a fundamentally flawed strategy, this line of thinking disempowers all who see it as normal.

Unproven dicta, such as “just listen,” “build the chemistry” and “it’s all in the eyes” are additional clich├ęs eroding actors’ common sense understanding that acting is not a guessing game, that it should be doable, and that doing is everything. None of the above suggestions can be done, and certainly not to a point where everyone would agree on the actual result. Even listening has sub-considerations, such as “What do you want?” “What is your opinion of what you just heard in that moment?” and “Are you getting closer to/further away from your objective as a result?” Reactions and feelings in the moment are the reflexive result of things being done by us, and done to us.

Doing is everything.

It is very easy to hear sounds and make facial expressions indicating that you have been affected, but knowing what you want, and having opinions of everything you hear makes listening more real for your scene partner, more engaging to the audience, and of paramount importance, more doable by you.   

A great director may inadvertently teach you a tremendous amount about acting. A great teacher may inadvertently give you a stellar direction in a scene. But it is incumbent upon neither to do the other person’s job whilst attempting to do their own. The fact that many teachers and directors are confused on this point is evident in much of the advice offered to actors these days, from both fields.

The terrific advice of Sanford Meisner, that acting is “living truthfully in imaginary circumstances” is useless without the specific exercises he taught to ensure that such a generalization could actually produce the “truth” he so passionately advocated. Stanislavsky’s assertion that, “The person you are is a thousand times more interesting than the best actor you could ever hope to be,” is icing on the cake of his “system” designed to help you do, through techniques such as objectives, given circumstances, and sense memory. David Mamet and William H. Macy’s method of script analysis though Practical Aesthetics repeatedly emphasizes viewing the work stoically and finding the achievable action in order to provide a foundation for Mamet’s advice in “True and False” to “invent nothing, deny nothing, speak up, stand up, stay out of school,” which would otherwise be a catchy quotable sound bite, but ultimately hollow, useless advice.

Declan Donnellan in “The Actor and the Target” coined the term “unuseful truths,” and suggested that when viewed as the garnish rather than the meal, there is nothing wrong with hearing, or even repeating them. Treating such truisms as some kind of panacea for what ails your acting though is incredibly dangerous, since each one seems to promise that its pat and pithy structure holds a deeper meaning. Yet with no clear instruction on how to actually enact them, we are left worse off than we were before they entered our ear. Much like someone advising that, “Happiness is simply a matter of being true to oneself,” it draws our attention to an ideal we now have no idea how to personally attain, due to the advice’s lack of specifics.

The antidote to such deceptive sound bites in acting is the kind of specific instruction one can easily understand, successfully interpret, and finally, competently do.

Next time you hear a teacher or director describe acting in generalized terms, make it easy on yourself and ask instead: “What am I doing?” If you can’t say it, you’re certainly not doing it. The problem is not that you haven’t “dropped it in,” “kicked it up a notch,” or “really opened up.” The problem is that you don’t know what to do.

Work out what to do, and then do it.  Doing is everything.

Like this advice? Read more from our Backstage Experts!
Paul Barry is an L.A.-based Australian acting teacher and Backstage Expert. For more information, check out Barry’s full bio!