Film Gems made in 48 Hours - 'Passengers (Beep)' by Team Beep (Martin Hong)



27 groups of people in Singapore spent the last weekend crafting a short film within 48 hours under the 48 Hour Film Project. The teams’ tasks were to make a short film using these elements – Malone Lim or Marilyn Lim the taxi-driver, a guitar and this line “The book says that it is important not to miss this step”. As hard as it was for the judges to make their decisions for the many awards given out at the award presentation on the 8th December 2013, two teams, Superfly Monkey Dragons and Beep took home with them the most prizes. Our writer, Gwen, reviews the winning film 'Passengers' and speaks to the Martin Hong, leader of the team Beep.

Review: Passengers
Won for: Best Acting (Drama), Best Cinematography, Best Directing, Best Film, 48HFP Audience Award

An extremely introverted taxi-driver on his way off to work witnesses a broken-hearted girl crying her eyes out at the carpark. The above sentence sums the story up, yet does not fully play tribute to the wonderful short. It is a sparse script, with little dialogue, but its emotional intensity not to be undermined. There isn’t much said, because Ma-Long (very interesting use of the character name given –Malone) probably has more internal dialogue going on within his head. This isn’t to say that there was little effort in Passengers in terms of its audio presentation, because there was even a song written about the girl, “Marilyn”, showing strong use of the character name Marilyn in regulations with the competition. Without trying too hard, Passengers delivers a short that uses the elements given creatively, and makes the audience tickled at the right bits. Made by students from NTU ADM school, we can be sure that this will not be the last we hear of them.


Interview with Martin, Passengers

Thanks for sharing with us about Passengers. What inspired the story line of this short?
I think the main idea was about communication between 2 strangers. One of the earliest ideas involved just two people sitting in their own cars staring at each other. Later on as we developed the story, we thought it would be interesting to maintain it at a non-verbal level. It was also partially a practical decision; since we knew we had so little time to script the short, we chose to concentrate more on the acting and characters as opposed to the dialogue. 
'Taxi' was also one of the elements we were given by the competition, so a lot of creative ideas emerged from that. The idea of an introverted taxi driver who is used to delivering customers but never making contact with them, that was also one of our main premises. I also liked the idea of an entire emotional journey happening within/around a taxi that never moves.
On a production level, filming becomes alot easier because you only have 1 location (you can spend more time on blocking and acting). On a creative level, it also allows you to focus more on the characters and their motivations instead of planning a whole sequence of events happening. I think for short films less is definitely more.
There wasn’t much dialogue for the male lead – and he won the Best Actor for Drama. How did you get your cast member to bring in so much depth to his character?
Roy was amazing in his interpretation of the character. He fleshed out most of his character by himself, and improved on many of the actions like the cleaning of the steering wheel or the way the character walks in straight lines . During the rehearsals when we were discussing the character's backstory, Roy already had certain histories that he thought of for the taxi driver. He was constantly trying new ways of revealing the taxi driver's character without being too blatant. The lack of dialogue also meant every minute action on screen became more significant, but Roy was always aware of his character's motivations, which was what made the performance so convincing. 
I used to over-direct my actors but now I try to give them as much freedom as possible. I think directors should help actors breathe their roles as naturally as possible, not to dictate every single result or action. With this freedom I think actors feel more comfortable 'existing' as their characters and this allows them to give their most naturalistic performances.
I also have to mention that Clarice, our female lead, was also extremely professional. It was very emotionally straining for her to keep crying and breaking out of character (because we didn't shoot chronologically), but she was always in high spirits and never once complained. Even though her character had less screen time than Roy's, she brought a sense of fragility to the character that was very sincere, and her performance also made it easier for Roy to bounce off as well. We're very fortunate that both our leads had the same passion and commitment to their characters.
I noticed that the radio broadcaster’s voice sounded really familiar (and professional). Did you use a recording of an actual talk show or have a voice actor record it?
The voice-over and the final radio song were all recorded and produced during the competition. The guy behind the voice was actually Long Hao, the 'neighbour' in the first scene, which was also our 1st A.D. (in budget filmmaking this is what happens). He wasn't a trained actor, but he was naturally very eloquent. 
We actually had him try it different tonal variations, and eventually we took the one that sounded more exaggerated and feminine, which somehow worked perfectly! Jonathan Chan, our music and sound designer, did an excellent job in creating the tacky radio-program music for the scene. We asked him to go over the top with it, and I think the kitschy music contrasted really nicely with Roy's subtle expressions.
What were some difficulties you (or/and your team) faced in making Passengers?
I think the lack of time was probably the biggest issue. The pre-production process was insanely short, but our producer Terrance, took charge of the whole situation effortlessly. Everyone was rushing frantically but every member was committed to their task; no one slacked off for a moment. We're so blessed to have such a strong team, and everyone was on the same page from the very start, which made the whole process very efficient. 
Within a few hours we had our taxi (which was generously lent to us by another friend, Nelson), our cast, our location and props. Long Hao and Farreha doubled up on roles, working both on and off set to get everything together. Our production crew which included Hong Kun, Jasmine, Victor, Nelson,  Rui Wei and Warren, were also extremely efficient and co-operative throughout the shoot. The shoot itself was pretty smooth.

There were some technical problems initially but our DOP Kelvin Chew resolved them really fast. Usually, Kelvin and I work with moodboards and storyboards planned before shoot, but because of the nature of the competition we didn't have time. Hence all the shots were planned during the shoot itself, and I'm so glad Kelvin was in this because he made sure every shot could transition from the next seamlessly. 

Film making can be incredibly expensive.  Yet sometimes, it doesn’t even have to cost a cent. Just curious, how much was spent on the filming of Passengers and what incurred the expenditure? (Also, did you have an actual functioning guitar thrown on the carpark floor?)
We spent about SGD 420 in total, about $100 for transport, $45 for food, $100 for equipment and $170 for the competition registration. 
We were also fortunate to obtain some sound equipment from our school, NTU, as well as Kian Teck for allowing us to use his studio as our HQ.
As for the guitar scene, it was all real. Initially we were discussing if we could just stuff the guitar case (since you don't actually see it), but then the weight of it hitting the floor won't be realistic. And the scene was important because we needed the show the boyfriend doing something completely ‘douchey’ to the girl. So in the end Terrance sacrificed his guitar. Surprisingly, even with multiple takes the guitar is actually still in okay condition.
How long did it take for you to i. write the screenplay ii. Film the short iii. Have it edited? Did you and your team get to sleep at all during the 48 hours?
It took 45 minutes to write the script, 4 hours to film, editing took the most amount of time, about a whole day. The post-production included foley sounds, colour grading and the recording of the radio DJ, so there were quite a few elements to assemble.
We did manage to sleep a little. We staggered so that the whole workflow would be more efficient. I think for the main team, we slept about 5-7 hours in total for both days. It was extremely draining but I think all our late-night productions we done previously trained us for this competition haha.
Stay tuned here at SINdie as we are trying to get our hands on this winning clip. We will post it here once available.




About Martin

Born and raised in Singapore, 23 year-old Martin Hong is currently studying at Nanyang Technological University's School of Art Design & Media (ADM). He is majoring in Digital Filmmaking. He is also part of a young multidisciplinary collective called Freight, which had core members in this production.
He is currently a participant of the 2013 ASEAN-ROK Film Leaders Incubator (FLY) program, a workshop to nurture film-talented youth and to build up human infrastructure for a variety of film productions in the 10 ASEAN countries and Korea.
You can view more of Martin’s work at: www.martinhongwork.com

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