Production Talk - "Mandy's 8 theories of sleep" by Wendy Chee

16 hours a day keeps the doctor away. With 7 more theories in her pocket, Mandy must convince Jia Ming, that with bountiful sleep comes plentiful surprise, joy and flights of the imagination.

Where did you get the 8 theories from? How did it become the idea for your film?

This story is a mirror of my life when I was young where I habitually sleep an average of 16 hours a day. Back then, I was still young and ignorant and was frequently reprimanded by my elders. Sleeping long hours was what I considered to be a biological need for a good rest, but soon it became a mark of laziness. Hence, the label “lazy pig” was easily cast upon me and I wasn’t happy about it. I was determined to prove them wrong.

The theories came from the jokes about my sleeping patterns, as I’m taller, skinner, and hmmm… prettier than my siblings. I love chocolates and sleep when I’m stressed; I do oversleep in MRT trains and wake up in unexpected places. Some of them are also ideas that I came up with while writing the script.

With these theories in mind, I want to prove that sleeping long hours isn’t a sin. Moreover, it is to let the audience find out what they have been missing out from this luxurious sleeping hobby and to introduce them to this girl who has came up with all these wonderful and almost heart glowing theories.

I hope to bring a fresh perspective that would attempt to reconnect the workaholics of the society to this film so that they could find some vitamins to replenish their thoughts and say “Hey! It’s ok to take a break, let’s be lazy today”.

Your film is very original, do take us through how you developed the film's narrative and style.

I wanted the film to be a lighthearted comedy where witty, funny and clever theories will be introduced to the audience. Accompanying that is richly detailed characterization that would remind us of our long lost juvenile childhood days in the 90s. To preserve certain relics of our childhood like the chalkboard classroom, mama shop etc., things fast becoming extinct today.

Besides that, I want to reveal the inner thoughts and struggles of the strong-headed protagonist through her free spirited actions and quirky voiceovers. A series of curiosity and love-hate chemistry between the two characters would also reveal the whimsical theories in sequence as we progress through the film. And finally the relationship change between the two characters would reveal to the audience what Mandy actually lacks in her world.

The script at the beginning was very driven by the 8 Sleeping Theories and it was very much like listing them one by one. I had another writer, Roseane Kala, to help in seeing what was missing in the script and added in plot points to bring out the character of Mandy by adding little details to highlight her quirkiness.

We added flesh to the bones of the 8 sleeping theories, and also to introduce the film in a scrapbook montage style. Animal metaphors are also present throughout the film, for example, the cat as Mandy and Jia Ming as Dolphin etc. Besides that, we also decided to add a random character, which would keep appearing in the film to add to the comical factor of the film.

Beside the details in the characters, the film would also drift in and out of surreal worlds as defined by the theories. Using stop motion and animation to illustrate the out of the world concepts, for example the dream machine factory bed that she sleeps on everyday.

Other than that, sets will be heavily designed with recycled materials would explains Mandy’s love for art and craft. Absurd props and quirky wardrobe will also be used to depict Mandy’s imaginative and whimsical world.

What was your experience working with the kids? You seem to have a way with them.

Patience is the key word. This is my first time directing kids so it took me a while before I get used to it. I had to relearn communicating to them, to speak in simpler words. Kids aren’t as discipline as adults, it takes effort to get them to cooperate me when they are complaining about the hot weather and the mosquitoes.

A rehearsal was held before the production start, to introduce the main cast to each other to break the ice and also get to know each other better. I organized the rehearsal with the cast and the parents together, explaining the story and going through the script in sections. The parents were around to get their child to listen and pay attention to me.

I make it a habit to go through the scenes at the beginning of the day, to get the actors to rehearse through their lines till they remember it clearly. Also both actors seem to have hit off well, especially when we are not shooting they are always seen playing with each other. Directing them was easier as I get to know more about the two of them, though at times they would take advantage of the my easygoingness and throw tantrums.

What kind of films are you inspired by? There were many visually brilliant moments in the film that delighted the audience.

There were a lot of films, photographs and books that I was inspired by. Some of them are, “Amelie” by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Thai film “My Girl”, “Love me if you dare” by Yann Samuell, “Science of Sleep” by Michel Gondry and also several photos by Lorna Freytag and Jan von Holleben and Jimmy Liao books. I was attracted to the beautiful surreal sequences in these films and also the awesome art direction, imaginations and thoughts that provoke me while reading and browsing the books and photographs.

What were your greatest challenges in making this? It seemed very painstaking to put together.

Money and time is always an issue for this film due to the huge amount of props and sets, food, wardrobe and coordinating extras. The short amount of time we have to build props and sets due to the limited amount of rooms we have. We had to quickly build a set in a room and tear them down right after the shoot and build the next set. The limited crew and art assistant we have also slowed us down for this art direction intensive film.

Working with the huge amount of kids. It takes a lot of effort to bring the kids to the set, convince their parents that their kids are safe with us. Besides that, getting the kids to be careful with the fragile props and sets, and also facing stubborn kids that throw a tantrum on set.

Share some interesting anecdotes during the shoot.

Huge amount of mamee snacks and london choco roll were bought to keep the kids happy. The main cast Mandy gets a nice wooden peg if she managed to get less than 7 NGs.

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