Production Talk - "Scot Free" by Chia Pei Zhen

Scot free is a final year thesis film made by a group of students from Ngee Ann Poly School of Film Sound and Video in year 2008.It was completed in early 2009. it was the first student short film to undergo 2k processing courtesy of blackmagic design. The shoot took like 12 days, was shot on 16mm film. The film has participated in the the bangkok international student film competition ( it hink thats what its called), 2010 singapore short film festival (panaroma short selection), 2nd vancouver singapore film festival and was recently nominated for 3 awards at the 2nd singapore short film awards.

The shoot was shot all over singapore mostly on a 5 men crew and a truck full of equipment and it was mad tiring. The idea of the film was conceptualized and set in stone from an accumulation of different ideas over 7 weeks which basically started when we were thinking, "what if we made a film about 2 foreign bagpackers?" that was where things get as crazy as the film gets.

What was the idea behind Scot Free?
Why we got to the point of making scot free was that we were reaching our final year in Ngee Ann FSV and we needed to do an industrial based project or be attached to a local production house for that semester. Groups were formed and we also formed our own group. So we started to write. From the very start, Pei Zhen was quite adamant on shooting something with foreigners in it lol,(all her projects have foreigners in it). Ideas were scattered, it was a potpourri of a random influences, experiences and ideas as evident in the film. If my memories do not fail me, i think Pei Zhen said something like, "maybe lets do something about murder" which might seem lame because student film plus murder just seemed like a inevitable concoction for celluloid diarrheoa. But somehow, both Pei Zhen and me were confident that we were able to pull of a simple tale that has murder in it. Our DOP shawn who has previously lensed our projects was down with us. Even though he probably only seen like 10 films in his life and quote the cinematic awesomeness of "no country for old men" everytime we discussed shots, he is the best DOP in the school and had a clear grasp of where we were heading visually.

What inspired you to write Scot Free?
We had scattered ideas before everything was real solid. Pei Zhen wanted to make a film about backpackers in a foreign country. Another major inspiration was an experience of me in Germany: I was sleeping in my room when i heard knocks on the door, without thinking much and my spectacles, i opened the door and this drunk guy come in shuffling things, checking my bedsheets and my toilet like he is looking for something real important, he then left the room as i stood there half naked. I think that anecdote sort of became a catalyst in our writing process. We were also inspired by Pedro Almodovar's Volver quite a bit on how they were able to make a film with murder in it and yet elicit so many different tones and emotions with these great female characters. And when we thought of murder, we thought of durians and how it rubs tourist off in such a hilarious and frenetic way and thought it will be freaking badass if a durian was a murder device. Its that something a million people probably thought off but never thought that combination will ever see the light of the day.

How did you managed to cast for the main leads? Did you already have certain choices in mind?
It was hard finding the leads, we tried different places, AADB for one. We were so desperate to a point we were like, "we'll find any actress who is white!" We tried the Alliance Francais but it failed as well, until we finally came across the French Association of Singapore. This lady by the name of Emmanuel something who helped us to send the notice out. That is how we got the 2 actresses. We were looking for younger actresses initially, sort of like those adventurous types that love bali with their lives on the line. But we found our leads who were in their 30s and it had a better feel.

What were the challenges you've faced from pre-production to the post production? How did you overcome them? Especially when the film is in french, how did the editing go?
In Pre-Pro, for one, scripting was a problem but nevertheless an immensely enjoyable process. In Hindsight, its amazing how we trim a 30 page draft to a 17 page one. Finding our actors were hard as well, all those roles. It was hard to cast the 2 leads and it was hard to cast the murdered guy as well, i remember after a series of email back and forths, we casted him in a very james bond espionage manner in an MRT train where we were constantly tracing him until we finally found him. The locations were tough as well, most hotels couldn't care less about allowing people to film. My dad helped alot in helping to find the bangladeshi workers.

When it came to production, the scheduling of the actor's dates was insane, the one who acted as sabine is a pilates/dancing instructor and the whole schedule was pretty much based around their schedule. On another hand, we were underhanded like mad, we were pretty much a 5 man crew all the while, we did makeup, props, basically everything ourselves. The locations also tested our limits. The beach for example which looked so cool in the film was insanely hot in real life, it's like we were filming a sun commercial. Some of the locations can be quite a bitch as well. The indian restaurant we were filming at was all nice when we started but when we took abit more time, they looked like they were going to bodyslam us or something, one of their shoddy workers that resembled a pirate even wanted to extort us behind his boss's back. Some white expats also messed around us when we were shooting at clarke quay, bunch of jerks they were. The fact that they convinced the people around them to cheer their childish behavior really reevaluated our faith in the people of our country at that point of time.
When it came to post-pro, Pei Zhen got to step in to fill the shoes of the editor position because our editor who did less than filling half a log sheet on set was more concerned about becoming a runway model and getting people to vote for her as miss chinatown, lots of unnecessary irresponsibilities coming from her.
The difficulties of editing wasn't really that much on the fact that the film is in french but more like us trying to put these scenes together seamlessly and making sure that we were able to bring the story out.

Has the film turn out the way you have envisioned it to be? If not, what would you have done though?
For the most part, the film turned out how we planned, but it would be better if the quirk and randomness in the film was balanced with more grounded reality.

Any future projects?
As of now, Pei Zhen is studying in Concordia Montreal so i guess she should be churning out something soon. Other than that, the rest of the crew is still in NS .

Click here for the article Kodak did on Scot Free!
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