Production Talk - 'CASHLESS' by Derek Tan and Melinda Tan

CASHLESS revolves around a man’s reckless pursuit of his misplaced cash after he mistakenly transfers an important sum of money meant for his mother into the wrong ATM account. When time and money are at stake, how far must he go before he finally finds himself? Starring Danny Jow, and featuring music by local bands The Lilac Saints and RustyNailz. This short film is co-directed by Melinda Tan and Derek Tan.

Jeremy (J) : How was the idea for your film conceived? What inspired you?
Melinda: The original script was actually written by one of our friends, Izmir Ickbal, also a nuSTUDIOS alumnus. He had pitched the story to me back in 2006 and it sounded like an interesting premise - to have a guy race against time to get his money back after a wrong transfer of funds via the ATM, and meeting with various obstacles while doing it.

When I took over the writing for the film, I wanted Leslie's predicament to be something the audience could relate to, or at least identify with, at some level. While not everyone has been in Leslie's position of making a wrong transfer of money, I guess everyone has at some point in their lives experienced the frustration, helplessness, and anxiety that comes along with losing something. While the original script had predominantly comedic elements, the eventual script was a lot more emotional and our challenge as directors was how to balance both.
Derek: It was also the challenge to put into action what we wanted for our next nuSTUDIOS film. We wanted to improve our production quality in terms of spending more time developing the script, getting better actors, using better equipment to improve the look and sound, as well as paying more attention to art direction and styling. Even if CASHLESS is technically a "student film", we wanted it to have production values that were of a professional standard!
J : It sounds like it could be the idea for a short and feature as well depending on how you develop the story? Could you share more on your story or drop us some juicy hints?
Melinda: Izmir focussed his script on the big ideas of bureaucracy vs. simple common sense but when we took on the project, we wanted to anchor it to something more personal, and to focus the story on how people connected and communicated with each other in a supposedly "cashless society", with a specific focus on the mother-son relationship between Leslie and his mother. So while the premise of the story remained the same, we decided to fundamentally revise its context, as well as to further develop the motivations of each character.
It was actually quite an organic process: we continued to develop and refine the story at each step of the production process. Even at the post-production stage, while editing, we were still discovering more about the characters and their stories. Derek: What triggered us to change the context and motivation of the film were really the questions "Did Leslie get his money back?" and "Why was the money so important to Leslie?". We further developed Leslie's character and his relationship with his mother to add more layers to the original story. We originally planned for the film to be a mid-length (about 50 minutes) but during post-production felt that the story would be better off as a short. We tightened the film further by deleting certain scenes which we felt were not pushing the story forward. Of course, we had to make the difficult decision of cutting entire scenes, when we had already spent a fair amount of time planning and executing the scenes.

J : How much money are we talking about?
Melinda: In total we spent about close to $4000 on the film - supported by nuSTUDIOS Film Productions and the Singapore Film Commission (SFC), with the rest of the cost split between Derek and myself.
J : I have spoken to nuSTUDIOS before. How many films does nuSTUDIOS make a year? Is it a concerted effort by all or is each film by a separate group of people in nuSTUDIOS?
Melinda: The number of films produced by nuSTUDIOS in a year really varies from year to year (roughly 2-4 films). Generally, as we are usually only able to shoot more intensively during the holidays, shoots are typically scheduled for the May to August or December period. While there are sometimes overlaps in crew members, each film is undertaken by it's own crew and seen as a separate project.
Derek: nuSTUDIOS has a Film School programme that teaches its members the basics of scriptwriting, cinematography and editing. The programme extends with scriptwriting sessions that allow members to further refine their ideas and eventually help them to develop their scripts. A script market follows where the scriptwriter would pitched their script and gather his crew, some of whom have worked together before, while others may not. Even for CASHLESS, both Melinda and myself have not worked on set together before, even though technically we had worked on previous films before.
J : What were the biggest challenges making this film?
Melinda: One of our main difficulties was that we didn't have enough time for pre-production before production began! All of us were preparing for our final exams then (and quite a few of us in our graduating semester) and we had to juggle that with pre-production planning. As a result, because of the tight budget and time constraints, we soon discovered that the initial schedule for shoot was too unrealistic for us to achieve the quality we had set out to achieve.
After two days of mad shooting (once even working non-stop for 20 hours to meet the schedule), we decided to make the difficult decision of halting filming for 2 weeks while we sorted things out. After so much work put in, we really didn't want to compromise on both the quality of our product as well as the welfare of our cast and crew. There were consequences of course, we lost some people due to schedule conflicts but overall, I'm still glad we did it.
Derek: Another difficulty was also scheduling for our large cast size around many locations. Unlike our previous productions where the cast size is usually around 2-3 people, we had more than 15 over cast members. In one instance, we had to schedule for a fight scene that required a lot of them together (the fight scene is another difficulty all together). Securing the locations was also a challenge, as we had scenes in a bank, an office, a car, etc.
Our process of getting the bank set was like a journey that Leslie took to get his money back. We approached banks, financial offices, post offices, even the reception areas of our faculty offices, but they all rejected due to various "policy" reasons. With no choice, we decided to build our own bank set. The counter was the main prop we needed, and we decided to build it ourselves. However, due to the lack of craftsmanship and the tools, we were not able to finish the counter. It was only, by some miracle, when someone left a perfect counter for disposal, that we found the counter we were looking for!

J : Any interesting anecdotes to share?
Melinda: There were quite a few scenes in the script that required the actor playing Leslie to drive. However, our lead Danny doesn't have a driving license in real life. To get around the problem, the scenes with Leslie driving were shot with the car hoisted on a tow truck along ECP. And we caused an actual jam in the process of getting the car up. :)
Also, during the two-week shoot halt, one of our actors, Prakasam (who plays Leslie's sidekick, Ganesh, in the film), informed us that we would have to complete his scenes in a week as he would be leaving Singapore for India - for good!
He had been in the finance industry but was now going to return home to pursue his dream of becoming a film director. In his own words, CASHLESS was his "first exposure to film-making" and while we can certainly take no credit for his leap of faith (although in some ways we like to think that being on the film catalyzed his decision, but that's just us), we were extremely excited for him! So after the shock wore off, we scrambled to make arrangements to rush his scenes out. Am happy to share that Prakasam is now working at a film production house in Mumbai, one step closer to reaching his dream. J : What type of films do you like?
Melinda: I watch quite an eclectic mix of films. I don't really restrict the films I watch to any particular genre (although I generally don't watch horror films!) but I do enjoy films that have interesting premises, with simple stories, beautifully told.
Derek: I watch mostly all kind of films except gore and horror (I can't stand blood). But what attracts me most are films with strong visuals! And hence a clue to how we direct as a team. =P
J : What are your sources of inspiration for films? Any particular person? trend? style? issue?
Melinda: Watching films help me sensitize myself to the cinematic aspects of daily living but I guess everyday life is still one of my main sources of inspiration. I spend a huge chunk of my time on the road commuting. Over the years, I have used that time to observe people, eavesdrop on random snatches of conversation, and to think about possible concepts for our next film. I don't think we would be sticking to any one particular trend/style/issue, we are always trying to see if we can do something different, be it in genre or style. [Derek: Agrees!]
Derek: Images. From observing people to looking at objects at different angles, or simply by taking note of camera/actor blocking on TV shows or films. I tend to experiment by gluing these images together and see if an inspiration for my next film would appear. It takes a while, so I usually like to bounce ideas with my friends to get that whole process run much faster. And hence another clue to how we may work on our next film. =P

SCREENING DETAILS: Dates: Saturday 20th June & Saturday 27th June 2009 Venue: The Arts House, Screening RoomTime: 4pm & 8pmTickets: $8






For more on CASHLESS, visit http://cashless.wordpress.com/

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