Production Talk - "Sisters" by Lincoln Chia & Michael Tay

It is customary that during a traditional chinese wedding, the bride usually hires a group of close friends to be her 姐妹, internationally known as bridesmaids, to come and tease the groom. In this short film, the role of 姐妹 is portrayed in multiple ways, such as the sisterly love between mother and daughter, brother and sister, nephew and auntie, niece and auntie etc.

On the wedding day, Sam, the homosexual brother of the bride, is roped in by his cheeky auntie to become one of the 姐妹, which forces Sam to confront his one-sided feelings for the groom.

The subject matter you have chosen is pretty fresh! Why the take on homosexuality and wedding in this film?

It was partly inspired by my an incident that took place at my cousin's wedding. The Justice of Peace (JP) who conducted the solemnization said "... marriage according to Singapore law is between a man and a woman... er.. are you a woman.. confirm ah.. must be real woman and man you know.. cannot be man and man... or woman and woman... (JP turns and looks at groom) confirm a man?"

Honestly speaking, I had mixed feelings when I heard the crowd bursting out with laughter. I must admit I felt a little uneasy and offended. It was this experience that got me interested in directing a screenplay about a homosexual person's involvement in a heterosexual marriage.

What's the inspiration behind this film?

Michael Tay, writer and actor for the role of "Sam" in this short film, attended his sister's wedding in JB, Malaysia in June 2009. He was accidentally roped in by his auntie to be one of the "sisters" to help tease the groom. He was so intrigued by this experience that he decided to pen it into a short drama. During one of our weekly coffee meetings, Michael shared this experience with me and requested that I direct this screenplay. Hence, I took up the challenge and also asked him to take up the role of Sam. He agreed and that marked the birth of Sisters.

Hey, I realized that Michael Tay's in one of the production stills, which brings me to the next question: how did the casting go? Did you deliberately rope Michael Tay in?

Michael played the role of Sam, who is the brother of the bride and is homosexual. As Michael was equipped with real life experience of being a "sister", I casted him as Sam without hesitation. To me, nothing beats real life experiences. Having been my classmate and a close friend for 5 years, Michael and I connect very well, hence directing him was very easy. He is my most ideal choice for the role. I would like to thank Fly Entertainment for sponsoring the female lead of my choice, Adele Wong, who played the role of the bride. I casted Kelly Lim and Eric Gwee through AADB. I knew Molly Jan back when I was freelancing as a wardrobe stylist for a Courts TVC. Priscilla, my junior and casting assistant rendered her help to find the rest of the cast.

Since this is your first production after graduating NTU-ADM, how did you guys managed with the financing sector? Did you guys have financial support? How about your crew support?

The producer and I tried all ways we could think of to source for funding to make this short film possible. We applied for the Short Film Grant from Singapore Film Commision but was rejected. We also approached private companies, foundations and organisations for funding. We made many cold calls and sent our film proposal. Eventually, we managed to get positive replies from 3 sources which became the primary contributors for the production. They are:

NTU Alumni Office, Fridae and Mr Kelvin Ang

As for the shortfall in funds, Teck - my cinematographer and I ended up shouldering the burst in production budget. Often, we freelance in the film industry to pay off the debts incurred in our pursuit for indie filmmaking.

Crew support was very healthy. My tech crew is a very experienced team who is working for Mr Bert Tan. I had Dollei Seah and team for my hair and makeup support. Also, I am grateful to my ex-classmates and ADM juniors who assisted in the primary shoot. Every team involved in the entire production was made up of a mixture of experienced industry players and graduates/undergrads of ADM. I intentionally formed the teams this way to encourage industrial practices and exchange of ideas so that we can be better equipped with knowledge in our future endeavors.

How long did you take to make this film? What were the biggest challenges you've faced while making this film?

It took us almost a year to commence primary shooting. The delay was due to insufficient funds and therefore we only managed to shoot the film in May this year. Primary shooting was 2 days. All our product sponsors waited eagerly for the big day. This journey has been an emotional rollercoaster ride. We received many rejection letters from foundations and companies which we approached to fund this short film. Finally, we managed to get positive replies from the 3 sources as listed above.

Did the film turn out the way you've envisioned? Looking back, would you have done anything differently?

I tweaked the story, hence it's not the exactly the same as the initial script penned by Michael. Working with Michael has been blissful as he was receptive to the changes I made to the screenplay. I like the pacing of the film and the comical moments that were delivered through the performances.

Any future projects?

A week after we wrapped up primary shoot for Sisters, a screenplay that I wrote, titled Echoes, got selected for Film Expo Asia 2010 in Bangkok. Teck, Rachel and I packed our luggages and stayed in Bangkok for a month to make Echoes. Out of 99 international entries submitted for this film competition, we were shortlisted as one of the 30 finalist teams. After making Echoes in Bangkok, Rachel Lim (Music Director) and I developed a feature film outline about an obsessed female musician finding the meaning of her existence. We researched into the life of classical Russian composer, Scriabin, as we subscribe to his dark style of music and theory. We are looking for writers to help translate our dreams into frames in motion.

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