Production Talk - 'Leaving Me' by Chew Tee Pao


"In mid 2008, I opted to participate in one of the studio projects for the university’s third year final assignment. Called She/He, the brief given was to create a series of short dramas around two heterosexual relationships, playing with linear time and narrative subjectivities. Three teams of five then wrote a short drama around each couple. It was not stipulated which part of the relationship each group was to cover, rather the broad character briefs were taken, and shaped into a series of unique narratives - this could be sex, trust, selfishness, commitment; something for the group to decide. I guess the main idea was to apply some sort of a ‘Sliding Doors’ theory between the couples and possibly their alternate ‘realities’.
I then remembered a subject called ‘Television Cultures’ that I took in the previous semester that I was pretty fascinated with the topic during the week, in which the cultural studies of the American soap was being covered. Subsequently, I decided to incorporate the idea, somehow into the short film itself. That was how Leaving Me was conceived, which it mainly plays around with the parallelism between the pair of caricatures in the soap and the actual couple in the middle of their living room."

Jeremy (J) : Sex , trust, selfishness, commitment, which one of these does your film touch on?
Tee Pao (T) : Hmm...it would have to be selfishness.
J : Did you have a choice? Why selfishness?
T : We weren't really given options but rather to work more with the characters minute profiles and come with a situation and a film that can be grouped to show the narrative subjectivities as well as being a stand-alone film as well.
J : That sounds quite tough..... how did you get started on the story?
T : Well, one of the characteristics that we had to follow of the male character is that he's an actor, and that the woman he is seeing is older. (Pause) At first we were pretty turned off by these characteristic cos they seem pretty predictable, almost stereotypical in some sense. So I kind of thought about how to make it a bit more interesting by creating some irony.
J : So what's the irony?
T : The male lead's an actor, he's narcissistic at the same time, at some point he has to see himself on television. The American soap is all about the giving or the abandonment of love between the characters most of the time, whereas for the actual couple, it doesn't happen in their case. (pause) The male lead behaves in different manners, on screen and off screen, even though he's the same person. J : I see.
T : While the one on screen shows love and attention for the fictional female protagonist, the other one neglects the real woman who's he been spending the time with (haha) other than that I guess the other obvious pat would be tat the soap is more entertaining than the actual film itself...a parody of the soap in some sense

J : Were you working with your school's crew? Which school were you in by the way?
T : I graduated from RMIT and worked in a team of five people
J : That's very lean. How were the 5 of you split in terms of tasks?
T : We've got a DP, a producer, a production manager (who wrote the script with me as well), someone to hold the boom and sound mixer. I also edited the film. So yeah we multi-tasked quite a bit. (pause) But it was a relatively simple shoot though...most of the stuff we did it in somebody's apt and we shot the soap in the school's studio.
J : How many days of shooting in total?
T : Hmm we took about close to 2 days I guess in total..mostly spread across some half-days within 2 weeks. It's tricky cos we had to finish with the soap before we shoot the apt scenes
J : Who did you cast for the actor? That's an initeresting role.
T : Haha. Well we cast actors from a talent agency one of my classmates was working in..so it was quite a privilege. His name is Nick Colla. He's has acted in several Aussie dramas and soap as well. It's hard for the actors, cos they have to act for the rest of the other films as well
J : I see.
T : So scheduling was a little worrying

J : How many short films have you done to date?
T : This would be the third one tat I've written and directed.
J : I really enjoyed your previous one 'Old Times'. It touches on love and relationship as well. What themes do you like to explore in general?
T : I dun think I'm into exploring specific themes,just whatever that comes across my mind or tat moment of inspiration tat kicks in. My previous films are a bit more light-hearted. And I decided I would try to make a serious film after Old Times...but i have failed!
J : Keep it that way, not many people do humour well in Singapore
T : As time goes ... I would love to explore more themes as well.

Tee Pao's Film Leaving Me is among the SIFF Shorts Finalists this year.

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