Author: Elise Shick
I'm chocked with words, heart's still beating hard. If you don't see my blog by tomorrow, do send my friends and family condolences because I'm sure the cause won't be others but heart attack. I mean, to die from heart attack in this situation is something to be proud of because I witnessed the ups and downs during the shooting and felt the participants emotions like I was one of them. But I was actually just an extra spy.
The Day Has Come
Waking up early to proofread my own blog was a very narcissistic action. Mui (I've already introduced her in my previous writings so if you did read them you would already know who is this person I've been mentioning about, if you don't know her yet, it is your privilege to devour my previous writings again, thank you) in her morning post mentioned that she got a sniff of the coming thunderstorm. Now I understood why the previous director I had worked with said that Mui has something. Yes, she has the nose to predict today's weather.
The pre-production ended super late last night. No, it ended this morning! I was lingering between waking up and half asleep because I felt so nervous like I was one of the participants. Maybe it was because my best friend was one of the participants. I wasn't sure Mui and the mentors felt this way too but they were always eager to know what was happening amongst the participants. So I half opened my eyes at dawn and saw my bestie gazing at me. Her silhouette was kind of creepy. I've never believed in horror story but when it happened coincidently to the person you love...Anyway, later in the day I found out that she just slept for one hour and a half. No wonder she looked like a spectre. So you understand now why some filmmakers do not live long. This is not a curse, it's a fact. That's the case for me too. When your best friend is a filmmaker, you don't live too long too because you just get so nervous with them and cry and laugh together like crazy nuns on cloud nine. That's how I will die from heart attack.
Well, Mui was right. What could go wrong will go wrong regardless how much preparation was done during pre-production. Remember the line from Les Miserables '...and there are storms we cannot weather...' This explains all except for Mui because she has the nose for weather forecast! By the way, there was no rain today but invisible thunderstorms. The sun grinned from ear to ear and tanned some of the participants. The shooting locations were extremely stuffy and packed. Nearly airless. Even an extra spy who occupied a little of their precious space would upset the whole technical team. I pitied and respected the three production crews from the deepest of my soul. Yes, they were all very professional and lamented nothing except Stephen. Stephen was staying outside for almost the whole day as a runner and he said he was unhappy due to the complex combination of food preferences of his production team. Gluten-free actress, vegetarian producer, no rice no porridge no noodles for cinematographer, and...And so he talked to me about that. It was very difficult for him and I understood that this was not a complaint but a confession. Otherwise, everything seemed to go well and smooth. At least I believed so.
Group A: I Want A Rose Not Your Armpits
Han Loong–the publicity manager of this workshop–was spying side-by-side with me on the film sets. Do you understand that spying is so difficult especially you are spying in their faces? I admired Matahari. The participants would not tell me the truth (I sensed that) because they knew I was absolutely a betrayer. So they would tell me the sweetest thing in fairy tales. Of course I knew we were not living in the fairy tales, do you think I was such a failure to not realise that? Perhaps I still have a brain to realise that I was a failure to be a smart spy. Perhaps they were right, spying wasn't my strength. Please don't expect a fish to climb a tree. Some people said that talents can be nurtured. The thing is that no matter how hard you train a fish to climb a tree, it just can't, ok? Unless you make a squirrel wearing fish skin, then stupid people will eventually believe that a fish can climb a tree, that there's nothing such as impossible in this world. This statement will be the explanation for the section or sections below.
The first group Han Loong and I paid a 'visit' to was group A (Gogu, Benedict, Farries, Aishah). By the time we arrived on set, they were already an hour ahead of the schedule. So I think we missed out quite many parts. Let's be honest, we missed out every part except from 2:30 pm to 3:45 pm if I wasn't mistaken. I was soproud of them for no reason. The mentors said that the participants were too ambitious in the beginning. But look, they actually hold up to their ambitious ambition with the help of some magic rituals they performed on sets.
The worst characteristic that a spy should ever have is to be objective. I had been hearing different kinds of stories from different people. Story one went like this: The producer (Benedict) kept making decisions; the director (Gogu) could be more decisive; the shooting was progressing very slowly; there were too many unnecessary props. Story two:Everything was on time; the editor (Aishah) was doing her job very well; they took five takes the most. Story three: Bla bla bla...And I failed to be a smart spy by conforming to this characteristic: be objective as much as possible. So I decided to take a look by myself, well, with Han Loong too of course. We tiptoed upstairs to an unit in Tong Soon mansion to smell the film set. Hmm, the whole set emitted a strange smell. I called it 'the smell of inequality'. So what I wanted to say was that this was my first impression when we just arrived. The smell was just so wrong. I wanted a rose, you gave me an armpit.
As I stayed longer for an hour and fifteen minutes, the time blew away the awkward smell. I came to a revelation that everything was a false impression. We were observing the production team in their faces. Gogu was talking a lot to the talents. He explained everything meticulously and dived in too deep so that the talents could see his film world. Benedict became the assistant director/producer/art director. He was so loud that anyone who simply passed by would think that he was the know-it-all kind of person. But no, he was just loud and did his job. For god is fair to give such a slender body a loud voice like thunder. If you hear Benedict on set, you can expect a thunderstorm. Aishah was in charge of continuity. She just did what she had to do and I had no further comments.
The cinematographer (Farries) was adjusting the framing. Next to him was his assistant camera, sometimes I called it camera assistant by accident. I didn't even take note of his name but look at how beautiful he thought he was, I didn't feel bad at all for not remembering his name. It seemed like everything was cool and everyone was doing their jobs, right? I stayed for two rehearsals and recorded some cute spying videos before we left. The results weren't that good but at least I tried hard. We had no idea what happened before that or afterwards but there was always an invisible thunderstorm that only Mui could scent I guess. The most important thing I've learnt today is to trust your first instinct. If you don't have any instinct at all, at least trust your sense of smell.
Group B: Goosebumps Everywhere
I've always loved the titles or headings I named because only few people who have some space for imagination can make sense of that. If not, just take me as an eccentric writer. I remember Abbas Kiarostami once said, 'Too much information is a kind of pornography'. So no porn here, ok? Before I continue my long-winded stories, let me advice you to better stop reading if your power of imagination suddenly disconnects.
Han Loong and I walked to check group B (Yazeid, Xiao Rui, Jasmi, Pey Sien) out right after escaping from Tong Soon mansion. This was the warmest shooting location amongst the three. The producer (Xiao Rui) was definitely a psychopath with severe OCD. When I started sweating just in five minutes, I saw her wearing her black Next New Wave t-shirt adding another thick layer of green hoodie. Yes, she was wearing it for the whole day. Well, I left her alone because there was no point of me debating about this clothing issue. But I struggled throughout the spying project.
I went into the room where the editor (Pey Sien) was transferring the footages. She was smiling at the laptop screen. This film set was very eerie. The other corner of the room sat the make-up artist who installed a mini fan on her smartphone. The fan with soft wind blew and blew her hair. She was smiling a little bit at the mini fan. So I made up my mind to get out from this room as fast as possible without taking any picture. Swift move and cowardice brought me to this living room where I would stay for another hour. You should be able to spot the producer (Xiao Rui). The guy next to him was of course the director (Yazeid). The guy who was holding a green colour thingy was the cinematographer (Jasmi). Even though we can't really see his face but if you read my blog yesterday about the overtly enthusiastic cinematographer who insisted on 'I want to shoot in 4K' philosophy, yes, this was him.
I was still curious about his 4K shots so I went up to him and asked what was the plan. Sadly enough, he had already given up on his '4K'. I was very sure at that moment that it was a very difficult decision for him. He must have punch himself for a thousand times to let go of his 4K shots. It also meant that he capitulated to the mentors during yesterday's mentor consultation session. No matter how, Jasmi was still discussing with Yazeid about his perfect shots. It was good to know he still loves films even without his 4K shots. I asked Xiao Rui how was the schedule and everything else. This group was an hour and fifteen minutes ahead of time. Cool. Most of the takes were one or two. A very beautiful record. Jasmi said to me confidently that they would wrap early. I believed him and indeed, they were the first group to finish the shooting. This bunch of weird people had supernatural power. Then behind this supernatural power there were something else.
Technically speaking, every aspect from lighting to sound was fully prepared. When Xiao Rui shouted 'reset!' everything was back in the same position in just two seconds. Besides that, the director rehearsed, rehearsed, and re-rehearsed with the actor and actress until they reached the point beyond perfection. Look at the way the actor stared at me, I did not owe him any money nor steal his underpants. But he just wanted to give me that hatred look. Maybe he was rehearsing so hard that he had to be in that emotion for the rest of the day. Fine, I held no grudges. So, Yazeid was rehearsing so hard with them that even an unpredicted raise of tone or eyebrow would make him question the take. He checked, and moved on. The talents were very professional and understood him in just one click. All these added up together and made it possible for them to wrap up an hour earlier than the schedule.
However, I decided to leave in no second when something proved that this film set was truly eerie. While the talents were speaking their very creepy lines, the light went off. I told Han Loong that we should leave immediately. There was no place for us here but there was certainly a place for the film and the supernatural production team.
Group C: I'm Looking For Where To Have Our Wrap Up Dinner
My energy had all drained out in the previous film set. Worse came to the worst we had to walk to group C's (Azim, Amanda, Boon, Ariff) shooting location. I knew that I was sick but I couldn't complain much because the producer (Amanda) was my sick mate too. I understood her feeling perfectly when we arrived on set. The condition was a bit harsh due to the super squeezy space. I actually really wanted to talk more to Amanda but it was obvious that she was too sick to reply me for more than three sentences. Group B had last year's participant Nathan to be the AD. While Amanda was sitting alone at the staircase, I tried to ask her some questions. I thought she was emo at first but it turned out that she was already figuring what to eat as wrap up dinner. To have a producer like that your stomach will remain in the state of bliss. Forever.
Oh well, I think this picture didn't represent well the meaning of squeezy little area I meant earlier. Anyway, the space was small and precious because when I walked into this territory bringing along with me my big heart, the whole technical team squinted their eyes. I could feel an intense pressure accumulated in the air. So I talked to only few people, trying to grasp what had happened, took some crappy pictures that I myself felt so proud of, squinted my eyes against them too as a revenge, and walked out from that space.
The person whom I approached first was the editor (Ariff). He was sitting alone in the corner of the room and writing something on a paper. Many more than a piece of paper. So I had this quick chance to ask him what was the matter. Shy as usual, he gave me that sweet smile followed by a confused face. For some kinder and purer participants, they would tell me the truth and then polished it slick and shiny to cover up their raw honesty. I really appreciated that. So this was the problem: scene one had three shots but he was confused about the sequence and the shots. I went straight to Boon because he looked genuinely chill in the other corner. The chillest man ever reassured me that everything had been settled. Ok, I trusted him because no one will have another assuring face like his. I respected Boon because he seemed so relaxed in that squeezy corner. I would have suffered from claustrophobia and punch the technical team if I were him.
I spotted Mr. director (Azim) as I turned my head. He gave me this expression like he had done this for decades. I admit that Azim was quite adorable in person but he surely shouldn't do that to me in the public unless he wanted to dig out some secrets from me too. I felt so touched that this group acknowledged and respected my crappy spying skill. When I felt my presence being received, without hesitation I squeezed myself to the other corner where the tiny gap between the boom microphone and the wall could fit me just nice. Azim was nimble-witted especially when dealing with sound. He pressed the replay button on that thingy he was holding to check if the dialogue was clear enough since the talents were wearing microphones. That was an initiative.
It's A Wrap
I felt happy and sad at the same time when I heard the director said 'it's a wrap'. Group B was the bullet train, followed by group A. Han Loong and I were there with Gogu when he delivered his 'It's a wrap' speech.
I had to quote him anyway because he almost made me cry like an abandoned infant when the shooting ended. I wasn't in time to go to see what was happening with group C but over the phone, I heard TK–our workshop production manager–said that they joined the queue too. I had chosen not to say a lot of things and I think this piece of childish writing will turn out to be a dissertation if I express myself too well.
For all the participants, your spy still love you deeply and wish to see the best out of all of you by the end of this workshop.