Production Talk - "Flux" by Nigel Heng

FLUX is a dance film that basically has this housewife-alien-dancer-person that performs a set of movements for the camera.
The film is done in collaboration with local Choreographer Elysa Wendi. I wouldn't call it an experimental film although a lot of people seem to see it that way. Not that I have an issue with it, but I just always saw it more as a straight forward dance film with a sort of Music Video aesthetic.

Although the film itself is not experimental, but the process definitely was. We made it such that prior to shoot day, there was no dance, no music and no shot list. Cause of that, there was a lot of adrenaline and we had immense amount of fun.

Came time for post production, I had to edit the dance with no music. Likewise, You And Whose Army (made up of local musicians Adam Shah and Bonk Khoo) had no dance to score to. We had to slowly home in on each other with every draft we sent. (Roughly a dozen)

Lastly, as opposed to coloring the film in a video editing program, we did it with a stills photography program. Which meant that we had to grade each shot, frame by frame. I'm still not sure why we chose to do that to be honest. I think something short circuited in us after those twelve aforementioned drafts.

Why did you decide to direct a dance film? Is there a personal significance to the genre?

We were supposed to shoot a music video for this certain module in class but I wasn't too keen on doing a band video. Not that I have anything against it, it's just that I didn't feel like doing it at that point in time. Elysa ( The choreographer for Flux) came down to ADM to give a talk about what she does and dance films in general. She was looking for collaborators and pitched this one idea she had floating about her head. The moment she said the words "house wife" I doodled a drawing of a house wife in my falling-asleep-at-lecture doodling style which had a bob hair cut and Tin Tin eyes. I stared at it for a while and thought, "Wouldn't it be cool if we could get the dancer to look like the drawing in real life, down to the Tin Tin eyes?"

But well, to answer the question more directly, I decided to do it cause I thought it'd be a lot of fun.

What was the inspiration behind the film?

I had this one project that I was stuck with in post-production limbo for a really long time. That short film is pretty long, quiet personal and meditative. It drove me crazy. There was so much suppressed energy that came from that project. I felt like I needed to jump around and do really fast cuts- or just do something weird and fun. I was feeling really down about it (because it was just really draining)  and I needed a new project to sort of get the groove back.

So when Elysa came along and described this image she had of a woman dancing by herself when she's alone at home it just sort of blew the flood gates. I went up to her all excited after her talk and promised her a treatment in 2 days time.

In that sense, I guess Elysa was the inspiration.

You've stated that the film was not intended to be experimental, but rather the process instead. Why so? 

Because instead of locking down things like music dance, location and all of that, we spent most of the pre-pro period just jamming. I threw a few Chris Cunningham videos Elysa's way and she introduced me to Pina Bausch and the DV8 Dance Company. Adam and Bonk ( You And Whose Army) were throwing me samples and random doodles they did on Reason. I would then pass that stuff to Han (The cinematographer for Flux) and he'd let me know if he thought it was cool or if it sucked.

Basically stuff was just ping ponging back and forth so that we could slowly lock in on an idea together in the most organic ( and democratic ) way possible.

On shoot day, we made it such that there was no dance, no shot list, no music prepared. The situation went something like this: I would choose a space in the house, Elysa would walk in with her dancer and choreograph and rehearse within an hour and a half. At which time the crew would just be chilling out. After the dance is done, I'd gather everybody and we would watch it together . That was really interesting, because the dance was conceived, rehearsed and performed to an audience -then reinterpreted for camera in under an hour and a half for each scene.

Yi Xin the dancer would then be hurried off to do her "Tin Tin eyes" makes up which usually takes 45mins to an hour. At which time I would work with Han on how best to shoot that particular which usually takes 10 minutes. After the camera gets locked, Jac Min ( Benjamin Tan) would then take about 30 mins to execute the lighting. This would then be repeated for each scene. It was really loose but extremely tight at the same time.

In post,  there was this weird Catch-22 of no music cannot edit, no edit cannot make music, we just kept revising and revising until we got it right. It took me and the musicians about 10 drafts ( of sound and image) to arrive at the final cut. 

While preparing for/ shooting Flux, what were the challenges you've faced? How did you managed to overcome them?

There was just this one hiccup where the Liquid latex got shipped to singapore late. But other than that it was quite okay. 

You've mentioned earlier on that during your post-production, you guys utilized the stills photography program instead of the usual video editing program. Why the choice?

Someone from my class mentioned that Photography programs handled images in a way which was much more sophisticated than your regular video editing software. So I thought I'd give it a go. It was nice because, we didn't have enough time to set up the big black cloths to get enough negative fill for the wide shots, so I just burned them in manually with my mouse frame by frame.

Was the result worth the time and pain? Nope. On hindsight I could have just done that kind of thing with a couple of vignettes in Apple Color. It was roughly 7480 - something frames. That gives you a lot of time to reflect on your own foolishness. Never again. 

Most importantly, how did the budget for Flux went? What about getting the crew too? 

Because It was a school project and I was still in school, the crew was made up of my film seniors, juniors and (My non film school ) friends. The budget for the film was about $500. We got all the grip/ lighting stuff from school and Han had his own 7D, so we didn't have to rent anything other than the Van. Food was made by my father ( The best bee hoon you'd ever taste. ) 

$500 just about covers the wardrobe, van rental, wig rental, 2 jars of latex and little bit left over for misc stuff. 

Any future projects?

I'm working on my thesis film right now. It's a short Sci-fi black comedy about a guy who's trying to save his failing marriage while fighting his growing attractions for his new second-hand android.

It's called "Lucy" If anyone wants to find out more you could visit our facebook page!
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