Production Talk: November by Shane Lim.

Synopsis: Kai brings Min to a clinic after he tests positive for herpes. With the looming shadow of Kai's infidelity, Min is forced to face her fears, and the oncoming tempest of adulthood.

'November' premiered at the 25th Singapore International Film Festival. It was also awarded "Best Script" at the 6th Singapore Short Film Awards, and was nominated for the "Golden Reel", awarded to the best short film, at the 31st Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.

 1. What inspired this short film?

At the age of 19, I experienced my first STD scare. The discovery, the anxiety and fear of testing positive, and worse, passing it on to my partners, brought upon an overwhelming feeling that I couldn't right this wrong. Up until that point in my life, I never found myself in a situation so dead end.

I had a difficult time coming to terms with how I potentially ruined people's lives. There was a part of me that wanted to keep mum, and hope everything would be ok, that it was just my imagination, that it was paranoia, but I couldn't get a peace of mind.

Eventually, as my conscience would have it, I came clean with the people involved and this lead to difficult confrontations, which formed the basis of the script.

As I recalled the experience during the writing process, I felt strongly that it was a very maturing experience, but I wasn't really sure why. What does it mean to "grow up" exactly? What does it mean to "mature"? These became the questions which drove the plot, so over the course of a night, Kai and Min slowly shed their innocence, becoming a little less fluff, and a lot more honest.
 2. November is a beautifully directed film, how did you work with the two actors? Also, how did you cast them?

I'm not sure how people would take to this, but besides the synopsis, Kah Yong (Kai), and Cara (Min) didn't know anything about the film because I refused to show them the script. I didn't want them to be caught up memorising lines, planning each scene in their head, etc.

In the weeks leading up to production, we spent quite a bit of time rehearsing scenes without a script to get them comfortable being in a scene without any material. Improv, if you would. I didn't want them to feel like they needed to "be" somebody. They're interesting people to begin with. I had an ideal version of who "Kai" and "Min" should have been, but rather than force Kah Yong and Cara to be those people, I preferred to have them be comfortable being vulnerable in front of the camera as themselves.
 When production began, they would learn about each scene right before we shot it. We would talk about what happens in the scene, and discuss similar experiences in their own relationships. Then we'd draft out some lines together, rehearse once or twice, go for a take, tweak, repeat.

They also didn't get to see any playbacks of their performance, which could be completely unacceptable for some actors, but as with the rehearsals, I didn't want them to be self-aware.

As for casting, Kah Yong was referred to me by a friend. I first met Cara in school during an acting class and found her performance particularly memorable. We contacted her for the film and she agreed to be a part of it. It sounds really simple and straightforward, but in reality we came really close to our last resort which was to have me play the role of Kai, and trust me, that would have made for a terrible film.
 3. One of the cornerstones of your film is the poignant and realistic dialogue. Was it scripted or did you allow the actors to improvise? Tell us about how you developed the dialogue.

There was dialogue in the script, but those were more for my reference than for the actors.

I'm not great at writing dialogue, so we approached dialogue based on what Kah Yong and Cara would actually say in those situations. As far as "scripted" goes, we drafted the lines right before we shot each scene, but otherwise I wasn't really strict about it. If it felt natural to them, then I wanted to hear it.

As to how the initial dialogue in the script was developed, they were based on my experience.
 4. The cinematography has a strong character. Could you share about the cinematographic treatment? What was it shot on?

The director of photography, Marx Yim, and I knew we wanted to shoot hand-held from the start. I could indulge and wax lyrical about how the story influences this and that, but really, the way I was working with the actors meant that the camera had to be dynamic. I didn't want framing to become too restrictive of their movements, so instead of the actors accommodating the frame, we accommodated their movements.
 The difficulty with this was having to light a bigger area with limited resources, especially in the scenes which took place in the clinic reception area. To solve this, Marx built an overhead rig out of metal beams, criss-crossing them to create a grid, then mounted lights and adjusted them according to the scenes. He basically converted the space into a make-shift soundstage.

We could have really just lit the whole place with fluorescent lights like any normal clinic would, but the challenge was to create a realistic clinic space without it looking too flat. Marx is a really talented DP, who had a lot experience as a grip for someone who was still a student, and he really brought that experience on set.

The film was shot on the Sony F3.
 5. Who are your influences in cinema? Any favourite directors?
With regard to "November", the two main films which the crew and I used as references to communicate our intent was "L'Enfant" and "Blue Valentine". I also made sure to show Kah Yong and Cara those films, so these two films definitely played a part in the making of "November".
 The list will continue to change and grow, but the few directors who have stuck with me throughout my cinematic pursuit and continue to inspire me are the Dardennes brothers, Michael Haneke, Lars von Trier, Steve McQueen (not the actor), Abbas Kiarostami and Brilliante Mendoza. All for different reasons, but in principle, they share the ability to make sense of the modern world; something I find very precious and admirable.

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