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


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Sunday, November 5, 2017

Malaysian Film Festival in Singapore 2017

@ The Art House, Old Parliament, Singapore from 31st August to 3rd September 2017

The most beautiful movie tickets I have ever seen
Malaysia and Singapore used to be one country, so it is apt that the Malaysian Film Festival in Singapore is inaugurated this year at the Art House, Old Parliament Building. So now we can enjoy the curated movies this side of the Causeway. Films like "Ola Bola" and "Adiwiraku" bring back fond memories of what Singapore used to be.

"Ola Bola" (2015) directed by Chiu Keng Guan, depicts a time during the 1970s when religion, language and race needn't matter in the game of soccer. Everyone united to play for the country. The movie culminates in the match between Malaysia and South Korea, to qualify to play at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow in the Soviet Union. While they did not explicitly mention the players' names, I could identify some of them based on their character traits and positions in the team, namely: Soh Chin Aun, Arumugum (the goalkeeper) and James Wong (from Sabah). 

"Adiwiraku" (2015) directed by Eric Ong, is based on a true story of Cheryl Ann Fernando an English language teacher and her struggles and successes in a rural school in Kedah, Malaysia. It brings to life the story of SMK Pinang Tunggal and how its students worked towards a choral speaking competition. While this may not seem much to city dwelling folks, it is an impressive achievement for a rural school where most students had a very poor grasp of the English language.

It reminded me of the time when I was in primary school in Singapore, when English was rarely spoken, if at all, outside the classrooms. Then, we all spoke Chinese dialects and some Malay. To force us into speaking English, teachers fined us five cents each time we were caught speaking dialects in school. So yes, while it is reflex to speak English in Singapore nowadays, we didn't start off that way. 

"The Kid from Big Apple" (2015) directed by Jess Teong, brought me back to my childhood memories in an instance, experiencing the world through the eyes and minds of those lovely children.  I love the innocence and the fine details depicted and expressed. As a film maker and actor myself, I know it takes a lot of time and perseverance to bring forth such beautiful nuances and moments. It was so good that I also watched Part 2 of the sequel last month.

Redha (2015), directed by Tunku Mona Riza, is about a Malay couple who find their life crumbles as they realised that their child is autistic and struggles to confront the harsh realities of raising a child disabled by the condition they hardly knew about. The father's inability to accept the truth causes friction within the family but his wife's perseverance & maternal instinct help wade through the difficult times raising the child.

The director put in a lot of effort in researching about autism and also training the young actors to act as autistic kids. They played their part very convincingly.

There were three other films screened, namely "Vere Vizhi Ille" (2015) directed by M. S. Prem Nath; "The Dream Boyz" (2015) directed by Ryon Lee; and "Jagat" (2015) directed by Shanjhey Kumar Perumal; but I didn't have time to watch.

I also attended some talks by some film makers. This is what I have learnt:
  • Films are more influential than books put together.
  • 20% of the 23 million tourists in UK visit the country because of the films they have watched
  • Happy ending in movies sells
  • The depiction of alcohol being drunk in films will put them into PG13 rating in Malaysia
  • Always tell your story from the heart, so that it can reach the audience's heart.
  • Distributors like to ask what the tract record of the lead actors are.

For posts about film festivals in this blog, click here.

 #cinema #cinematicket#cinematickets #malaysian #malaysia#filmfestival #filmfest #filmfestivals#filmfestival2017

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Hokkien Voice-Over

Still recovering from the crazy 11-hour voice-over in Hokkien (a Southern Chinese dialect) last Monday. I was drained and subsequently caught a cough and cold.

The voice-over is for a hospital app that caters to older patients who are only conversant in Hokkien - probably about 200,000 of such people in Singapore. 

First, a quick question...

Which one is correct in Hokkien, to say "I tell you"?

A. Wa ka li gong.
B. Wa kai ler gong.

According to a language expert, it should be A. The second answer, B, is influenced by Teochew, but is commonly heard in Singapore. Oh, by the way, as I learned later on, strictly, neither is correct, as to be fully correct it should be "Gua ka li gong".

While it is important to stick close to standard Hokkien, we also need to make the voice-over instructions intelligible to the recipients. That means choosing to go colloquial when appropriate.

For instance, while the standard Hokkien word for soap is 'teh-kor' (literally tea leaf cakes), I have never heard it used in Singapore before. Instead, the universally understood Malay word 'sapboon' is commonly used. The Malay word 'sapboon' is in turned borrowed from Portuguese 'sabonete'.

Some Hokkien words are trickier. For instance, how do you say 'money' in Hokkien?
Is it 'looi' or 'jhee'?

While 'Jhee' is used in Xiamen, Fujian, and therefore is correct, but (to my surprise)  'looi' is also used in different regions near Xiamen. Surprise because I had always thought that 'looi' is borrowed from the Malay word 'duit'. Which could well mean that the Malay had borrowed the word from the Hokkiens, and then to have the Hokkiens borrow it back years later.

Note: The word 'looi' also has an influence in the Cantonese spoken in Malaysia and Singapore, as now the Cantonese call money 'luooy".

Hokkien is an ancient language, pre-dating the common use of Mandarin, but is now declining in usage. Some words in Hokkien use very ancient Chinese characters and phonetically sound more like old Chinese. eg.

This voice-over assignment is the toughest I ever had, not only because it took 11 hours, but also we had to debate what the suitable spoken form should be vs the standard form. Besides, we also have to translate  technical terms of hospital equipment and personnel-on-duty  to terms easily understood by the old folks.

And that was why I was drained!!!

In all, it is very thoughtful of the hospital executive to implement the app with instructions that the older folks understand. This will definitely help the staff and nurses, many of them whom are from the Philippines and do not speak Hokkien.

I think these senior citizens have been denied their right to their true mother-tongue for far too long - a sacrifice in making Mandarin as the common Chinese language. Now we are experiencing the painful aftermath.

PS1: One fun (crazy) fact. While 'chiobu' is commonly used by young people in Singapore to honour a beautiful young lady, the original use of the term was used to describe a slut. Yes, the kind that sleeps around. :)

PS2: The Malays could have borrowed the word 'duit' from the Dutch, who used it as a unit of money during their colonial days in Indonesia.

For all blog posts that involves Hokkien, click here.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Film Review - Certified Dead

By Michael Lim. Before you can say, "another local movie" and dismiss it, "Certified Dead",  being an honest first time effort at movie production, by Doris Young, actually accomplishes several well deserved accolades. Young, better known by her nom de plume, Marie Lee, is best remembered for her 1970s role in the genre of action karate flick films "Cleopatra Wong" and shows that she can also be an accomplished movie producer and director in her inaugural feature film. 

Considering that this is her first feature made with a shoe string budget of $44,000 and volunteer actors, it would be unfair to compare this with a  Hollywood indie feature. Sure, there are areas for improvement but consider the difficulties and the learning curve the director, actors and script writers have to overcome to distill the end product of this feature, it is a triumphant accomplishment for Young and her crew. 

Helmed by a cast of mainly Singaporean actors, it tells the story of Ian Lee, a middle aged man, who in his earnest to live long enough to provide for his family, becomes a "rodent" for an experimental new serum developed by his best friend Dr. Charles Moore, played by Richard Muru. The drug that is supposed to help sustain Ian's athletic pursuits but has other unintended side-effects. For starters it triggers Ian's adrenaline and ups his athleticism and pheromones. This triggers his boss Hilary, as she finds him suddenly the object of her sexual attraction. Hillary,  played by Toni Ravelo, a Cuban Mexican actor, provides the love interest character to Michael Chua's Ian Lee.

Eventually the drug takes a toll on Ian's life and he suffers a heart attack, and supposedly drowns while swimming in the sea. But he is still walking around, seemingly alive only to be discovered by his doctor friend that he is actually dead and the serum is somehow sustaining his brain while the rest of his body is in a state of rigor mortis. Upon realizing this, Ian tries to fulfill his bucket list before the entirety of his body succumbs to complete decay. 

The movie showcase some fine acting by Michael Chua, who is a veteran staple of several locally produced independent films. Ms Ravelo also has some scene stealing performances as Ian's boss who asks Ian to remain behind after a meeting, if only for a post conference tête-à-tête. 

While being a generally dark drama, Certified Dead has some lighter moments, such as when the mediums visit to Ian's home in an attempt to exorcise him, and his supposed wake at the funeral parlour where he starts talking to his Doctor and his daughter Erin, played by an incredibly talented Shayleigh Koh. 

Eventually, the finale was sad as Ian realizes that his demise can only be resolved by his own departure from his family and he is no longer in the land of the living. In a way it reminds us that as Singaporeans when we yearn to strive too much for success, we get so distracted by what we think is important that we depart from and leave the things that most matter to us in our everyday life - family, friends and loved ones.

The last scene of Dr Moore's enticement of a new rodent may serve the possibility of a sequel.

Certified Dead (Final Trailer) from Reel Frenz on Vimeo.

Some photographs of the Singapore Premiere on the 30th October 2017.

For other posts about Certified Dead, click here.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

In Conversation with Aamir Khan

Aamir Khan needs no introduction to any Indian. He is a Bollywood superstar that has consistently made lotsa money with movies he acted in, often also championing social causes.

He was in Singapore to promote his new movie "Secret Superstar" and to meet his fans at the event, "In Conversation with Aamir Khan" @ Mastercard Theatres, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. 2 Oct 2017. 

4 things I learned from the interview:

  1. Aamir makes sure he gets 8 hours of sleep during shoot days. He loves sleeping.
  2. He is attracted to unusual things.
  3. It is more important that his audience loves his films, than if his films win awards.
  4. Between a camera take that captures the inexplicable magical moment but technically imperfect, versus one that is only technically brilliant, he will choose the former.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Lost Night (Official Video)

Debut music video, with music and lyrics written by Victor Chua, in between mugging for his university exams in Europe. Great escapism stuff, singing in the woods in the dark of the night. #victorchua #indie #indiemusic

Support independent music, To 'like' his video, click here.


I lost my night through strange events Looking for sleep in the dark Have you found my inner peace Cos I'm still looking for that spark And I'm tired of trying to be neat So tonight would you have that dance With me

So tonight would you have a dance with me
Let's break the walls that they built Let's build back some of what they've broke Running away Running away From all that secrets that we keep That left us empty, unachieved It feels so good To be free
It feels so good When we just let ourselves be And we'll make it Yes we'll make it For you For me So tonight would you have a dance With me

Video by: Louis Stul

Sunday, September 24, 2017


This is a Ngee Ann Poly student film "Closure", adapted from the book "Men from the Boys" by Tony Parsons. It was again a late night shoot, given that the whole story happens in the evening.

The story is about a teenage boy struggling with his biological mother's attempt to come back to his life.

The working title of this short film was "Mothers", but it was changed to "Closure", as the former comes to close Darren Arronofsky's "Mother" currently screening in the cinemas.

This is my first time working with James. My second time working with Ling and Carin. You may remember seeing Carin playing the role of my daughter in "Father's Devotion" :). See here.

Now, the film itself...

It was quite a struggle remember long convoluted lines after midnight. That is why late night shoots are to be avoided where possible.

For more Ngee Ann Poly shoots, click here.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Let's Go Bananas

Event: Let's Go Bananas (Open Mic)
Date: 12 Sep 2017
Time: 8pm to 10pm
Venue: Flying Monkey
67/68 Bussorah Street, Singapore 199480

Organiser: Stagecraft

Performed a 6 minute Standup Comedy at the event with very local content.

For non-Singaporeans, you may need some background knowledge to appreciate the sarcasm. Click here and here.

Also, 'Angmoh' means White people or Caucasian. 

The next event will be at 8pm on the 26th September 2017 at the same venue. Come and join us.

For other blog post on standup comedy, click here.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017


"Fatima" is a story about an older Malay resident who meets a middle-aged Chinese man during her final days of her life in a nursing home.

I love acting in Malay films. It brings back memories of old Singapore when the language was more commonly spoken. However, as this story is contemporary, more English is used in my dialogue.

See the video:

 It was a hot day and the location was very noisy. So the perspiration on our faces were blotted/powdered away and the sound laboriously cleaned up and designed. Thanks to the industrious crew.

For more Ngee Ann Polytechnic films, click here.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Ask Me Anything in Viddsee

Viddsee.com, an Asian short film curator site, has invited me to their "Ask Me Anything" page.

Click here.

#acting #act #future #futureoftv #futureoffilm #michaelchua #viddsee #questions #films #film #filmmaking #shortfilm #curated

UPDATE (31st August 2017):

It was an overwhelming response - 39 questions!  My favourite question is question 13:

"Can you tell us what been the funniest moment on any of your sets so far? :D"

And my answer is:

Okay, I am mentioning this because this is funny and that you have asked for it. 

In one intimate scene, I was to surprise my screen wife by lifting her up suddenly to  the bed, rolling over and kissing her on her lips, then 'cut'. We rehearsed that and all was well and agreed.

However during the take, the director (a lady) didn't say 'cut' at the point we had rehearsed to. With no 'cut', we had to continue and improvise with our act. That was not a problem between the actress and me, as we were very professional about it, but next to director was a young chap prompting "Cut! Cut! Cut!" next to the director's ear. It was very annoying, but the director ignored him and called 'cut' only at a point she deemed appropriate.

The director prolonged the take because she likes the delivery and didn't want to break the flow too early.

As for the young chap, we learned that he had the hots for the actress and was jealous.

The lesson learned was that there should be only a minimal crew on set during such takes. Young jealous chaps not allowed in.

Here are the list of 39 questions:
Click here to read the answers.

1. I really enjoyed your acting. Can you share some of the challenges of being a local actor?

2. If you are asked to perform for no fee, and you are willing to do so. How does that affect the final film production?

3.If the part asks that you kiss a person (male or female) that you are not attracted to and the kiss must look most passionate. How is this achieved?

4. Thank you for the previous answer, I am also curious to know how you cope with rejection. Is it a natural response or a skill you have developed?

5. Have you ever had strong disagreement with the director on set, and if so, how did you deal with it?

6. What tips could you give to aspiring actors to guide them along their career path?

7. When reviewing a new script, what do you look for and what would you avoid?

8. Which local and international actors do you admire and why?

9. What do you hope to see more in Singapore development of movies? Budgets, scripts or supportive audience

10. What advice do you have for people who have ambitions to become actors/actresses? How do you compare Singapore film industry vs film industries in other countries?

11. What is one advice you have for actors in Singapore?

12. How does the Director help out with uncomfortable parts, if the actors /actresses feel uptight, like sex scenes, etc

13. Can you tell us what been the funniest moment on any of your sets so far? :D

14.What innate talents does one need to have, to make it in acting?

15. Why do some actors /actresses get stereotyped into certain roles?

16. How does a director help the actors portray their characters convincingly?

17. As a Freelance Actor, do think/feel that it is possible to rely solely on Acting(silver-screen only) to earn a living in Singapore?

18. I thought the a couple of the short video clips I saw were quite good, story-wise, acting-wise, not those over-exaggerated acting the I observed in local mandarin movies. Just wondering why we hardly hear or know about them. What are the problems the local English language movies faced?"

19. How far do you think the Internet will disrupt the traditional theatrical distribution of films?

20. What's your advise for those who wants to get into acting?

21. What's your biggest achievement thus far?

22. You left an exciting career in the Cyber Security space to follow your heart and passion in the creative and performing arts industry. Do you have any regrets? What inspired you to make the transition and was it a tough journey ?

23. How has acting changed/enriched you as a person?

24. ...as we all know, 'the Gift' was amazing. How did you prepare for your inspiring role in this film?

25. What's your worst filming experience?

26. Is there any other roles / characters you would hope to attempt in the near future?

27. If you could have it your way, what would be your dream role and movie?

28. What are your artistic inspirations, Michael? And what considerations do you have when taking on a project? What has been your best film experience so far? Would care to elaborate more on that experience? Would you also care to tell more about what is your opinion on the growth of the local art scene?

29.  I will like to know what are some do's and dont's of directing, specifically from the perspective of actors? How can directors work with actors better to create a great piece of work?

30. I have seen that films are made in an order that is not the same way as the final storyline is edited. How do you, the actor, keep track of the emotion and intensity of the scene when they are being created in such a different way to the final sequence?

31. What got you into acting?

32. ...you are very good in crying in your role, how do you make yourself cry?

33. Beside being actor and director have you think of writing , you are good in writing as I have read some of your blog?

34. Good to see your passion for acting. Could you elaborate what drives you the most?

35. Of all the roles that you have played in the past, which is your favourite?

36. When was your first role as an actor?

37. Also would be interesting to know what is the most extreme change to your appearance - in terms of hair, body weight, face changes etc etc, that you have done to prepare for a role?

38. Have there been a time when you had a really bad day but had to act or perform that night. How did you get through it?

39. I'm interested in how you feel about playing against type.

I'm specifically thinking about when you have to assume a character you would not like in real life - how do you approach that, and do you 'enter into' that person's psychology, or distance yourself emotionally?

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


If you are in your 50s or 60s that have lived the pop scene in Malaysia-Singapore in the 1970s, you must watch this movie. It is based on the real story and teen years of Singaporean singer-composer Dick Lee - with lotsa drugs, sex and music.

Such films wouldn't have been possible, say ten years ago, with our censorship board in this draconian part of the world.

To the younger audiences, this may be your chance to take a peek at how your parents might have lived their lives once upon a time. And understand why they may be nagging at your hanging out with friends during the wee hours of the morning - knowing the perils lurking in the dark.

"WonderBoy" will bring you monumental detail of nostalgia, like: buying your first cigarrette and taking that timid first puff; and your crush on school boys in all-white uniforms, or girls in blue pinaforte at your favourite bus stops in town. And also those house parties and slow dances where very soon you find everyone else snogging away like hippies. 

The trailers:



I particularly like the concern for details to the locations, set design and props used in the movie. Like the choice of colours that symbolises the psychedellia presiding in youths as they stoned their brains away frolicking, amid high colour saturation and smooth camera movements bringing the surrealism to the surface.

The film is well scored musically, as it should be with Dick at the helm, directing it with the help of Daniel Yam, a director that has made films that literally got millions of people cry their hearts out all over the world. This is Dick's first time directing a  film, as in a non-stage production.

I would rate "Wonderboy" highly as a musical with great cinematography and acting.

Benjamin Kheng carried the nervous and frustrated teen and lead character very well, so did the rest of the main cast delivering their parts.

However, I do find the script a little weak with relatively flat character arcs.  Also, while I like all of Dick's compositions, I find the last song in the film, sang by Dick himself, a little out of place. But I won't spoil your fun by telling you,l. Go and watch the film and find out.




This is MM2's first foray into an English language movie. Do support, so that it will pave way for future such films to be made. 

"WonderBoy" movie premiere gala @ Marina Bay Sands Mastercard Theatre, Singapore on 1 Aug 2017. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

300 gigs, 300 lessons

For completeness, read  "200 gigs, 200 lessons" and "100 gigs, 100 lessons" first, click here.

This post is about what I have learnt in my recent 300 gigs. It is long but I believe it will be worthy of your time, as you may in the process avoid some mistakes I had made. I did say that there would be no post for  "300 gigs, 300 lessons" two years ago, but decided to write one anyway, as there is so much to share. So here it is.

Have I done three hundred of them in six years? Honestly, I have lost count, but at rate of roughly one gig a week, it averages out to be 300 in six years. Again a big "thank you" to all the 300 casting directors who have placed their faith on me. In the last year, I have been more selective of the gigs I accept, going for quality more than quantity. As someone once told me, "first go for the volume, then go for the value".

Since my previous post "200 gigs, 200 lessons", I have also gone more behind the camera, into screen writing, producing and directing. I have also been learning about film distribution and how the Internet is changing the game very quickly. For more, click here.

Meanwhile, "Certified Dead", the feature film that I played the lead character in, has gone places, namely:
  • The official screening at the 4th Hanoi International Film Festival (2016);
  • The official selection at the UK Screen One International Film Festival (21017);
  • The Best International Film at the 14th Royal Bali International Film Festival (2016);
  • An official nominee at the Best Feature Film award at the Utah Film Awards 2017; 
  • An official nominee at the Best Film Award at the ASEAN International Film Festival and Awards (AIFFA) 2017; and
  • An official selection at the Brazil International Film Festival 2017.
This includes the galas, the red carpet events, the cameras , screaming fans and their totting cameras,...etc. It is flattering to feel like a VIP. :)

Life behind the camera is laborious. The crew comes in first and leaves last. So the next time you are on set, be nice to them. Usually on set, I am pampered as an actor, but behind the camera, it was my turn to pamper the actors.  

This post is to share my experiences as they are - the good, the bad, the ugly, warts and all. Take what you agree, or believe in, and leave those that do not resonate with you. There is no compulsion. Some of you who are more experienced may already know much of what is written here, others may know it subconsciously, but were unable to put a finger on them and bring them to forth. 

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.

1. Be The Good Actor You Want to Be

It is easier to have a reference. So pick two actors, one who is a local actor that you may have a chance to meet, chat with and learn from; and another who has an international exposure.  For the latter, watch his movies, read about him (or her) in magazines and books and find out about how he got to where he is today.

2.Getting into Character 

Stay in character in between takes, don't monkey around. There are actors who make monkey faces at their co-actor as a prank, when the camera is behind them, but pointing at his co-actor. That is naughty and  stressing out the co-actor unnecessarily. I heard in Hollywood, you will be fired if caught playing that prank.

Besides staying in character, it is important to help your co-actor get into character by staying in character yourself. Don't worry for the co-actor, as somehow, thoughts travel and they affects your co-actor's confidence.

In one such instance, my co-actor could not tear, and I was consciously doing a lot to make her cry on camera which stressed her out and made it even more difficult. This despite her tearing with no problems during rehearsals.

So in the end, we took a break, chilled and just told her to think of a sad incident and try again, and that if she really couldn't cry, it would still be alright. That worked! She cried on camera. So team work is important.

3.The Master

I have learnt a lot about scriptwriting, producing, directing and distribution through master classes conducted by very experienced film makers and actors at the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF). They are free and of such good value.

In the 27th SGIFF 2016, we had master classes conducted by: Darren Aronofsky, Tran Anh Hung, Naomi Kawase, Herman Yau, Anurag Kashyap and Fruit Chan.

If you are based in Singapore, the Singapore Film Society and the Singapore Screenwriters' Association are also good places to mingle and learn.


Add caption
As a rule of thumb in film, 'show, don't tell'. In other words, use visuals, and less voice-overs and dialogues. 

However, there is  no fixed rule. Generally, stage plays have longer dialogues as the capability for visuals is more limited. TV has less dialogues than stage plays, but more dialogues than feature films and short films. This is because TV viewers are more likely to be distracted and not have their eyes fixated on the screen, or that they may be doing something else like wandering off to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. So, while they are away, they can continue to keep track of the story by listening.

Also as a rule of thumb, dialogue lines should be as short as possible, but there are exceptions when portraying a very chatty or eccentric person (who talks a lot). When it is so, it is important to rehearse the lines together with the actors' movements on set, so that movements and speeches are synchronised to start and end without having to rush the lines.

Straight forward lines are boring, so add sarcasm, cynicism and subtexts to make them alive, such that the audience are compelled to stay engaged in the thought process as the story unfolds.


How much realism do you want? This is the question I asked myself a lot while directing the action film "Bloodline Blues". See section "Action" below.

Sometimes we achieve 'realism' by 'faking' it, so that it will look real on camera. The is because we are 'squeezing' a multi-dimensional world into a 2D or even 3D camera. Besides the visuals, there is this inexplicable emotional delivery that must turn out right. This constitutes the language of cinema.

This language will evolve with new technologies available and trends, like miniature cameras, 360 cameras, virtual reality viewing pods, change in audience culture and sophistication, ...etc.

In a multi-racial and multi-lingual country like Singapore, choosing the language for your film to suit your audience is complicated. While everyone is educated in English, the Chinese (which is 75% of the population) prefers Mandarin. English language films have a hard time getting screened at cinemas as theatre owners prejudged them that they won't sell. Audiences also instinctively compare them with big budget Hollywood movies to the detriment of local films. I beg to differ, as I think there is room for change here. That is changing the audiences' and distributors' perception with strong scripts that are very local and honest.

Boo Jun-Feng, a Singaporean film maker and director of the feature film "Apprentice", adopts a different tack. In "Apprentice", he first looked for actors that fits the story and have chemistry with each other, independent of the language. Then the language came as a consequence - and in this case, happens to be Malay.

Ultimately, the language used needs to be real to the story. For instance, it will be out of place to use  polished Queen's English to portray a commonly Singlish speaking Singaporean heartland.

6. The Script

I have directed and produced the first three scenes of my feature film script as a six-minute short film, called "The Next Plot". It is about a grieving old man struggling against religious stigma to have the right to be buried next to his late wife.  For more, click here.
I have learnt that it is difficult to make three scenes extracted from a longer script  to be a standalone short film. This is because generally a feature film tells a story with a relatively slower pace, while a short film is tighter, with a lot of details and depth.
In my view, "The Next Plot" fails to visually allow the viewers time to sink into the climax of the story. For this reason, I did not send it to festivals. It was hard work producing this 6 minute film, as it required three locations, with one of them requiring some set design.
I am currently in post-production with another short film, an action genre called "Bloodline Blues", which is also an extract from the same feature film script and blended with newly created scenes.
Making both films have made me a better script writer, more aware of the technical practicalities (like locations, budget, casting, ability to capture the visuals,...etc); and how I can leverage on actors to make scripts come to live.

For more about script writing, click here.

 If it is an action movie, I would rather be the actor than the director.

While directing  "Bloodline Blues", I often have to decide the level of fantasy I want to allow in the film. Remember real fights are never what you see in a  movie. Real  fights are ugly, gory, bloody and over in a few minutes. Very few people, if at all, would want to watch that. Real fighters won't be fighting from a few storeys up, fall down a few stories down smashing through floor boards and still literally hitting the ground running. Audience that buys a ticket to an action film, isn't going to the theatres to watch real life, they probably have enough 'real life' everyday, 24x7. They buy a ticket to watch fantasy. You provide them this fantasy, this escapism, to relieve themselves of the cut-and-thrust in their daily grinds.

Whereas, as an actor, it is fun to act in an action film. It is like a workout with lots of weapon props to play with, sets to smash through and lots of makeup to mock up the punch ups - the ultimate alpha-male escapism!

Action scenes takes a lot longer to shoot as you need a high coverage from many different perspectives. I think it takes three times as long to shoot. So, a one and a half minute action scene is estimated to take about a 10 hour day to shoot. 

Your fighters don't need to be martial art exponents or street fighters, but they definitely need to be fit. Most importantly, they need to be cinematic with their movements. If your actors can fight, then you may use longer takes of mid and wide shots. They look better. Do not interrupt these long shots with too many closeups and cut-offs.

8.Children and Animals

When shooting films with some content not suitable for children, the production must remember to keep all minors out of set during those scenes.

When foul language is used during scenes when the minor is present, remember to seek the parents agreement. Let them know early during audition, so that we won't waste anyone's time.


There are actors that have very bad sleep cycles. That can't be good for their performance and definitely not good for their health in the long run. Our bodies are tuned to sleep when the sunset, however this is upset with electricity lighting up our nights and providing us night life entertainment.

If you have the bad habit of sleeping past midnight, it is time to shift your sleep cycles. It is hard with late night shoots, but it is either making the necessary shift back to normal sleep hours or see yourself aging rapidly and losing your short term memory and your good looks. Consequently, faltering your lines on set.

10. Rehearsals

Rehearsals are absolutely necessary. Apart from getting the actors ready, it solves many practical issues on set. It is best if rehearsals can be executed in the actual locations, granted that having the accessibility to locations is often a problem.

I get some of my best acts because of the many rehearsals we had. "Hentak Kaki" dialogues were rehearsed many times, until they all turn out smooth - such that an audience told me that it could not possibly have been scripted. Unwittingly, that is a real compliment and music to my ears.

Likewise, stand-up comedians rehearse their lines over and over again, until they appear spontaneous.

Wrestlers too rehearse their fights until they appear real.

Some actors do not like rehearsals. I read that Anthony Hopkins, a Hollywood great, does not do rehearsals. However, he delivers great performances.

There is also such thing as an over-rehearsed act, such that all the spontaneity is gone.

11. Auditions

In the last 12 months, more and more productions are asking for self audition reels. This saves a lot of time for everyone and I foresee this to be an emerging trend. So get your own cameras and tripods ready.

Take advantage this by capturing your performance with a relevant background. For instance, if it is about food, shoot it in the kitchen; or if it is about basketball, shoot it in a basketball court. Make them as close to the real deal as possible. The director will love it as you are helping him to visualise many possible backgrounds. I have got a gig once because the client loves my kitchen (the subject was food).

12. Directors

To date, I have directed the following short films:
·         "Rene" (co-directed)
·         A forty second video that won a merit award  in a competition. Click here.
·         "The Next Plot", click here.
·         "Bloodline Blues".

It has been a steep learning curve, as I am very much a rookie.

The role of the director is to guide and coach the cast and crew to flesh out his visualisation and capture it on camera. So, he has to communicate well.

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.

But do allow creative input, albeit in an orderly way.

13. Cinematography

Cinematography contributes a lot to the storytelling and so cinematographers ought to consciously establish their own style guide. Such a guide is based on the seven fundamental elements of art, namely: line, shape, form, value, space, texture and colour. For more details, click here. 

These seven fundamentals manipulate the viewers' emotions subliminally, so that the result will turn out right.

For instance, the cinematographer may choose the colour red to represent danger, so he may have the frame in low colour saturation (apart for red) and have the red colour entering the frame and gradually dominating the frame before (say) an explosion happens.

He may also use shapes, like triangles to represent obstacles or breakdowns. While the adoption of art forms are arbitrary and subjective to the cinematographer, consistency of style is necessary.

Some more sophisticated practitioners will develop their own symbols, that are composites of fundamental art elements,  to express certain emotions.

In "The Next Plot", I developed a fictional religious symbol that appears in several places in the film. Click here.

14. The reason to perform

Why am I an actor? I question myself every now and then, to check if my reasons change over time.

I have enjoyed most of the 300 productions over the last 6 years. There were a few that I hated.

One had a director that was very rude to everyone, as he could not cope up with the pressure. He was even rude to a passing car and was at the brink of getting into a fight with the driver.

Yet another director was also not coping up well and was belittling his actors. He ought to know that hurting the actors hurts delivery and therefore the overall quality of the film. Any caustic words that do not contribute to enlightening the actor, should not be uttered. The director must try more effective ways to communicate. That is his job.

In one production, there was a bullying producer who did nothing but bark at the director persistently for responsibilities that rightfully belongs to him. He would lose his temper and publicly shame the director for cooked up reasons, in front of his team. Was he trying to make the team  members lose respect for the director so that he can take over? It was definitely uncomfortable and negative.

And yes, he wats trying to take over. He shutdown the production and tried to continue it behind the director's back,  by installing himself as the director. But the cast and crew remained loyal to the original director and continued their work with him and completed the production. It was shocking experience - probably one-in-a- million, and hopefully the only such unethical one I will ever have to face.

In yet another production, the director uses shots that are super short. Actors hate micro-shots, because they are too short to carry the emotions effectively and ensure smooth continuity. Directors of micro-shots usually have storyboards drawn like a comic strip and they shoot them one comic strip frame at a time. This drives the actors mad.

Thankfully these are but a small drop among the many gigs I have done. So all is good.

15. Opportunities

At some point, somebody is going to sell you some opportunities in return for something. Common sense dictates that you should weigh the cost vs benefits. Be careful not to trade many things precious to you for mere hot air.
Networking is important, but is often overrated. I wouldn't spend a disproportionate amount of time networking, as fundamentally, it is still about the craft. I believe that if you deliver good work, good producers will engage you. 
Social network is an effective way to extend our reach, but it can be a double edged sword. Bad stuff travels as fast as good stuff on the Internet. Personally, I do not subscribe to the saying that 'any publicity is good publicity'. So build and maintain a consistent online persona and brand that works for you.

16. Luck

Some people appear to be more lucky than others in progressing up the ladder of getting more gigs, better roles, better scripts, better directors to work with and smashing box-office successes.

But really luck is but opportunities meeting preparation. So prepare a lot. The Chinese saying goes, "One minute on stage is ten years of off-stage preparation (台上一分钟,下十年工).  This rings very true.

17. Fame
After some years, you may be recognised in the streets for the roles you have played on screen. This is fame in small ways. It is an invasion of privacy, but fame is also an actors' currency.

Fame implies that the production you will be in will sell better and so you will be accorded with bigger roles. When you reach a certain level of your craft, the rest of it is fame, reputation, who you know and what horses you trade.

So reach out for the stardom you seek, but remember to be in this world, but not of this world.

At some point, you will also learn that there will be gossips and rumours surrounding you. Do not be upset, as this is a natural progression. Do not let it affect your life. Most importantly, insulate your family from the rumour mills. Think of it on the upside, that is, if nobody knows of you, there would not be any gossips to start off with. I think as long as there are more good words about you than bad ones, then you are on the right track to fame, :)

In short...

We can accelerate our learning if we have mentors or models to follow. So pick two actors, one local and another international. Do question yourself every now and then, why you want to act. The reasons do change over time. It can be quite revealing. Maintain your beauty sleep - early to bed, early to rise. Doing otherwise will hurt your performance and your health in the long run. 

In the last 12 months, more and more productions are asking for audition reels done by yourself and sent to them, rather than asking the actors to cast in their premises.  I predict that this will happen more frequently. It is an emerging trend. Use it to your advantage.

As a rule of thumb in film making, 'show and don't tell', but the extent of it varies with the medium. Also, unless you are making dogmatic films, aesthetics is important - even when you are representing ugly stuff.
My experience behind the camera as a scriptwriter, producer and director have helped me to be a better actor, and vice-versa. Having a broader knowledge and experience of film making helps a lot.

Action genres take longer to shoot due to the need for intensive coverage. However if you have capable fighters, you can rely more on longer mid to wide shots, and less cuts.
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. But do allow creative input, albeit in an orderly way.

Cinematography contribute a lot to the storytelling and so it is important to consciously establish your own style guide.

Networking is important, but is often overrated.  Fundamentally, it is still about the craft that is the most important.

With fame, comes the rumour mills. Don't pay attention to them and shield your family from them. As long as there are more good words about you than bad ones, then you are on the right track to fame. :)