26 Nov 2015 - 6 Dec 2015
One of the Ngee Ann Poly Final Year Projects that I acted in called "Afloat", directed by Reuben Foong, is going to be screened at the Singapore International Film Festival.
/ NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SINGAPORE*
Come and support local indie film makers.
Tickets are available at:
Link to "behind the scenes"...
Monday, November 16, 2015
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
For tickets, click here.
Friday, October 16, 2015
I performed this with the staff of SK Construction, as part of the 17th LTA Singapore's Annual Safety Award Convention (ASAC) at the Singapore Polytechnic Convention Hall on the 15th of September 2015. It was also the first time that I am singing on stage. The script and rehearsals are organised and supervised by Sundance-Sahara, an events company in Singapore.
|This looks so last century isn't it? lol|
|The worksite dining room as the rehearsal hall.|
All the actors in this gig are real construction workers and a very enthusiastic bunch. For them, it was a pleasant break from their daily routine. We had many rehearsals together, and that was by itself, very different from my usual gigs elsewhere.
|Backstage - waiting for our turn.|
PS 2: A Hokkien Rap for Safe Sex Education. Click here.
Monday, July 27, 2015
For completeness, read "100 gigs, 100 lessons" first, click here.
This post is about what I have learnt in my recent 200 gigs. It is long but I believe it will be worthy of your time, as you may in the process avoid some of my mistakes. There will be no post for "300 gigs, 300 lessons" two years from now, as it will take too long to write. As it is, this post has already taken a lot of time, including time squeezed in between takes on set. It is getting more difficult to find time to post here, as I am getting busier. So, you may find fewer posts in this blog here on.
Two hundred gigs in four years is quite a handful, and once again, a big "thank you" to the 200 casting directors who have placed their trust in me to flesh out the characters in their scripts, including one who has cast me as the lead character in a feature film. Click here.
"Ilo Ilo", directed by Anthony Chen, which I played a minor character in, won famously in Cannes and The Golden Horse Awards, amongst several other film festivals in 2014. Click here.
I have also made my debut as a director and won a Merit Award in a video competition. For more, click here.
Feedback, comments, criticisms and suggestions are most welcome. The objective is to learn and grow together. Some of the lessons are also universally applicable - such as those pertaining to the need for stillness and concentration to achieve our goals.
And thank you all those who have taught me so much, both in front and behind the camera.
Good actors are humble. I remember one, an A-lister and veteran in Singapore, who walked over to me to apologise for not acknowledging me when I entered the room, as he was in the middle of a camera blocking.
Good actors are committed to their character. There is one who would analyse the back story of the character to the detail of the horoscope, its cultural and family background and research on similar real life characters. The result is that he always fleshes out the character very convincingly.
Good actors do not 'kiss-and-tell', about unnecessary details in a shoot. For instance, I have not heard of good actors humouring over script relationships, they once had. For what is so funny? Once it is over, it is over. I don't find anything amusing talking about screen relationships, especially intimate ones, once they are done. Besides, it is crucial to get out of character.
Good actors speak properly on and off-reel. When required, they are able to adapt to poor pronunciation, bad grammar, slangs and accents. It is easier to speak properly habitually, then water it down when required, than the other way round.
Some actors practise method acting to get into character, but I prefer to get directly into character without any intermediary emotional memory. Somehow, it is easier for me. Getting into character starts when I read the script. I will empathise with the character immediately and experience his journey.
So when there are intimate scenes in a production, I would ask to meet the director, the co-actress and one other female member, to agree and establish the limits, the rules of engagement and proper channels for complaints/fair hearings. This will preempt any malicious attacks, rumour mongering, and yet protects the actresses concerned.
It can be complicated in a multi-religious and multi-cultural society, to be certain of what is physically acceptable or not. For instance, of knowing when a hug is just a hug, and when hugs are not practised or acceptable at all.
The rule of thumb is not to get involved emotionally with anybody on set. This is the Ying and Yang of acting. Vulnerable on-reel, cold off-reel. Otherwise, you may end up as a really busy person, since there are so many good lookers on set. So, get your priorities right. :)
Situations on set can be exhausting at times. On a bad day, everything goes wrong. Especially when you had not slept properly for days and had to deal with unreasonable authorities on location, after multiple repeated takes with the newbie co-actor who fumbled on his simple one-liner, while the feisty director screamed at everyone for the smallest mistakes, except his own. Whatever happened, remember to keep cool. I have lost mine before, and I swear I wouldn't want to again. Getting angry does not help. Unfortunately, unhappy and disorganised productions do exist and shit happens. We just have to make the best out of them. So stay cool.
Lastly, stay in character in between takes, don't monkey around. You may be able to switch on and off character at will, but your co-actor may not be able to, so team work is important.
It is important for directors to test dialogues out with the actors to see if the lines suits the actor's persona, the plot and the required nuances.
Our voice, as I have learned from class, resonates. When it resonates, we attract the attention of the audience, which is part of stage presence and charisma. Speaking properly everyday on and off-reel will help with getting the tongue twisting fumbles out of the way, to focus on our voice.
I remember lines by repeating them when I am doing safe chores at home or cycling in the park. The physical activity takes the conscious mind off and get the words right into the subconscious. It works.
Lately, I have also learned to remember lines of different genres differently. I have observed some dialogue patterns in different film genres. For instance, it was easier to remember a sci-fi anime dialogue by visualising the comic frames and picturesque fantasy. Similarly, spy films tend to speak in plots; comedy in ridicule and exaggeration,...etc.
When I started as an actor, I refused to do gore, as I felt that the media should not be used to encourage violence. Then, I realised that there are different types of gore. There are some that are so exaggerated that they are more fantasies than reality. It remains a debate whether we should tolerate such fantasies, but that can be another blog post altogether. (With your feedback and valuable input here, may be we will have such a post in the future.)
I did an anime gory scene with some students last year. It is about a kid slashing his parents with a piece of broken glass, resulting in bright red fake blood gushing out virtually from my throat. We hid a tube on my neck, connected it to a reservoir of red syrup mock blood and pumped it up when the time came. It was good fun. :)
I have also acted in characters with special make-up to look like a zombie, an injured person and an old man. In a TV ad recently, I acted as a 30something, 40something and 50something, as I ducked in and out of the make up room through the shoot. Click here.
Traditionally, TV ads are not considered as real acting. They are usually just models selling products. However, they too are moving towards storytelling, within their 30 to 60 second air time. TV ad acting has to be quick, but natural, and the footages have to be easily editable into small bites. Precision is key.
Curiously, while TV ads are becoming micro-short films, feature films are becoming more like commercials with their many product placements. Click here.
Malay language movies have a market of 10 million customers in Malaysia and Singapore, but when extended to Indonesia, it culminates to a market of 260 million customers; and so there is a healthy Bahasa Malaysia/Indonesia film market that spans Malaysia and Indonesia. But do be prepared to up your budgets to compete with the big boys.
Mandarin movies have a market of 8 million customers, and Cantonese movies have probably a market of 3 million customers in Malaysia and Singapore, though it must be noted that Singapore bans all Chinese dialect films, while ironically allows Japanese and Korean language films to screen and broadcast.
"Ilo Ilo", directed by Anthony Chen, is mostly in colloquial Mandarin and some English. It won famously in many prestigious international awards and is sold in many countries, beyond Singapore, Malaysia, and East Asia.
"Gift", a Community Chest short film, succeeded in doing that. It is acted by Singaporeans in standard English, but has been watched by more than 20 million viewers around the world; with many viewers even volunteering to translate it into their native language. Click here.
Mixing languages is probably essential in films with multi-racial backgrounds. Recently, I have acted in a character that speaks Japanese, Malay and English with a Japanese accent. The story is about a Malay women who falls in love with a Japanese man in Tokyo. Delivering three languages in a dialogue was tiring, but fun. For more, click here.
6. The Script
After several frustrating attempts, I have managed to complete a feature length script that has been peer reviewed. I will be extracting the first three scenes to be produced as a six-minute short film, to be sent to compete in film festivals thereafter. More about that later.
- For your first script, write the story in one genre.
- A ninety-minute script is not equals to the work of nine ten-minute film. It is a lot more.
- One of the main challenge is to structure the screenplay to keep the audience engaged for ninety minutes or more. Literally, there must be something interesting to make the reader turn the page.
- The lack of plot and character arcs is more pronounced in a feature film.
- Scripts have to be tight. Scenes with not much changing from start to end, is not a scene and should be taken out. Scenes that do not contribute to the story should be taken out. Redundant locations, casts and shots, are to be taken out. Remember, every time you have cast and crew on set, they cost money and time. It will also tire your team needlessly.
- Voice-overs, flashbacks and montages are to be avoided, as they slow down the pace of the screenplay.
- My preference is for dialogues to be short, if possible to have the emotions expressed visually without dialogue.
- Sketching out the scenes helps. It is a check to see if you can work the audience's emotions from the visuals alone.
Fight scenes are not the only action scenes. There are also dance scenes, bed scenes and any movements that are sensitive to telling the story. Research on the natural movements. For instance, how would one fall, drown, faint...etc., and choreograph accordingly.
Choreography dictates the quality of the delivery. Action continuity is crucial. All movements must look good relative to the camera and may not reflect how it would look like in the real world. Therefore, certain move sequences have to be slowed down or exaggerated.
Sometimes, actions and stunts involve equipment and machines, which I had the luck to do some, like stunt driving. It was a simple stunt. In the scene, I am the character that drives a car that is pursued by the police. The police car eventually catches up from behind, overtakes me, cuts into my lane and jams its brakes in front of me to force a stop. We did it slow first, then increased the speed gradually with each take. The final speed was reasonably fast as we could only increase the frames/second a little bit without it looking cartoonic. The rule is that I must drive keeping strictly to the predetermined speed for the police car to overtake and force a stop, and stopping before a certain point marked by a lamp pole. Discipline and coordination is key. Drive past the pole and I will smash the police car, too fast and I cannot stop at the right spot; too slow and it looks fake.
8.Children and Animals
It is so important for actors to get enough rest. When I am on set, when there is a chair, I sit. When there is a bed, I sleep. When there is an early morning shoot the next day, I would sleep early. "Duh!" you might say, but you may be surprised when you start counting the number of young actors with fresh young face but brown rings under their blood-shot eyes.
Some directors cast actors that have been through similar stories in their life, as those in the script. Sometimes it works, as the actor will be able to relate from his own story, but sometimes it doesn't. We once cast a real life single mum to play a single mum character. It didn't quite work out, as she demonstrated signs of trauma and appeared to release it by over acting.
How about student productions? Do professional actors need to be auditioned? Sometimes, we don't need auditions in professional productions. So, some actors feel insulted when they are asked to go through a test and selection process by a bunch of kids that they feel are not up to scratch. I do empathise with these actors, but I also think that it is important to respect students the same way we respect professional productions. That is a way of support and encouragement. The auditions may also be part of their class assessments.
Some directors act out the scenes and ask the actors to copy. When that happens, the director turns the actors from vehicles of the story to tools of the director. Then, the director becomes the puppet master and the actor the puppet, contrary to a good performance. The actors will then second guess the director for the packaged look or performance.
Any delays on set drains the actor. That is why an actor goes home exhausted. There should be minimum delays on set. "Duh", you say, but we do witness excessive discussions in between takes frequently. These discussions should instead be sorted out in production meetings and rehearsals.
In commercialised films, actors have to look good to sell. This may require adjustments in camera angles, lights, movements and postures. In the process and under such peripheral burdens, the actor may forget to listen to the co-actors and respond spontaneously. As a result, the very fundamental of a good act and the innocence of a natural delivery is lost.
The good directors that I have worked with know the script at the back of their hand and are able to focus on monumental details in the frame. They are calm, as they know that shouting on set will be counter-productive. I would say that any word that does not serve to improve the performance tends to be detrimental to the performance. And the director must stay in charge. A director can listen to feedback from the cast and crew, but must not allow anyone else, including his assistant directors, to direct.
Directors who fail to stay in-charged lose control over the cast and crew.That's when some other persons on set start to think they know better. So directors must work hard to know their stuff very well.
Generally, there must be continuity of style, so that the various shots can be edited together without jump cuts. Always shoot with a camera with a higher resolution than required. That means if 2k resolution is the minimum requirement, shoot with a 4k camera. This is so that you can crop out some images when necessary during post-production - such as getting rid of the 'boom in shot'!!!! :)
And try not to say "fix it in post(production)". It will take time and money, so unless you have a hefty budget to burn, try not to 'fix it in post'. Capture the visuals and sound perfectly on set, there and then. Going back to do it is always expensive.
Aerial shots are beautiful, but they must be appropriate. Don't do them just because you have bought a drone.:)
Certainly, it is not for the money, as acting is certainly one of the least efficient in making money, particularly in Singapore, where the market is small and that there is no union to protect our rights. The majority of actors around the world live in the brink of poverty. It is the passion that keeps us going.
In Singapore, there are near ten collaborative film maker groups that are fairly active. Two of them have produced several short films and completed a feature film each. Yet another one of them has ambition of producing a feature film.
And since most actors want to be famous, have you thought what will happen when you finally become famous?
A famous actress told me that when she hit international stardom, she could no longer laugh aloud in public, and frequently, rumours brewed around her. TV artistes in Singapore are not allowed by their bosses to take public buses and trains, though taxis are accepted. This, probably to avoid getting too close to the public and also to support scarcity marketing, a tactic which I wonder would still work in this day and age.
In the age of the Internet, actors may soon find that they need to interact with their fans more directly and closely. This is evident with some TV series contracts compelling actors to communicate with their fans in social media.
After the short films "Hentak Kaki" and "Gift" had gone viral (with the latter hitting over 20 million views now), I get fan mails and sometimes approached by strangers who speak to me as if I am the character in the film. Most are lovely, (oddly) thanking me for making the films (that I acted in but not make). Sometimes the encounters occur at the most unexpected moments and places. Some are tourists from Japan, Indonesia, India...etc. Some asked for photos together, whilst others aren't too sure where they have seen me before. Some could be sitting right opposite me while I finish my bowl of noodles, and then come over to say hello before departing.
In short, when you are much in the public eye, you lose privacy. So why aim for the fame? Rather, aim to tell stories better and entertain, inspire your audience and enjoy the act. With that focus, the rest will take care of itself. The Light will cast away the Shadows.
17. Multiple Roles
By this, I don't mean playing a multi-character character, but being in front and behind the camera in a production. I often marvel those who can be director and lead actor at the same time. I have taken the role of casting director, lead actor and co-producers concurrently in some productions. I find them tiring because one role is pragmatic and the other highly imaginative. Doing both together affected my acting.
So ideally, don't take on too many roles. Actors should just act. Ideally, an actor should have a manager. Then his mind is free to perform.
I have not been in a distribution company, so the following are based on my observations and analysis.
The big distributors and theatre owners in Singapore and Malaysia are one and the same people. In Singapore, there are three big ones that are theatre owners. This is a oglipoly and is not allowed in the US. Given that they are in such a enviable commanding position, they are an important group to satisfy to have your film screened. If the distributor prejudge your film to be not profitable, it means that he will not screen your film.
Locally produced English language films in Singapore and Malaysia stand the risks of not being distributed. An English language feature film I played a supporting role in, did not get screened, even though it has some veteran big names in it. However, another feature film I acted in was not accepted by the mainstream cinemas, even though it is in Mandarin.
Some producers co-produce with distributors, and some others create content with strong national agendas and lobby for government support to get their films screened in mainstream cinemas.
And there are shady distributors - lots of them - so I have heard. Those that ask for money upfront, promise alot but delivered nothing, or run away with the money.
I think it is a matter of time that film distribution will move online. Netflix is an obvious example and Amazon is moving in. So is Google (Youtube) and Vimeo. Perhaps a new business model will emerge. Maybe one that is funded by commercial sponsorships, ads and donations; or subscriptions. Maybe some will be specialised, like channels for spiritual genre, documentaries, action genre,..etc.
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Monday, July 13, 2015
This one for Oral-B, tells a story in 59 seconds. Shooting took one full day, started at 6.30am and ended at 10.30pm. It was a long day and I must have smiled more than 150 times, in the six scenes and numerous shots, smiling to exacting requirements and swapping between the make up of the 'young me' and 'old me'.
Here is the clip:
60s_Online_Oral B Father's Day_280515_H264.mp4
He never needed the words because his smile said it all. Happy Father's Day to all the dads whose smiles keep us going :)