Production Talk - 'A Young Man' by Claire Matthews, Sharlene Lim and Zoe Lim

'A Young Man' tells the story of Freddy (Darrel Tan), a simple and shy young man who is content with living life alone. His mother (Debra Teng), however, is not. Bent on marrying him off to the Perfect Wife, she sets him up on blind date after blind date - in their own dining room.

Freddy's conversation is uninspiring. The girls - sullen, disinterested. The dates are failures... until Freddy finds himself seated across an alluring girl, whom he finds naggingly familiar. Has he met her before? And why can't he remember? Driven by a desire to find out, he seeks her help in jogging his memory, leading him to a startling truth.

We speak with Claire and Sharlene about the making of this film, which was screened at Filament 2011, a screening of final year project dramas & documentaries produced by students of the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information.


What was the inspiration behind this script? How familiar with Alzheimer’s Disease before the production of this short film?

Sharlene (S): We wanted to do a film that would take the audience into the mind of someone with a different worldview... and yet we felt we had to draw the line at pure fantasy. Dementia was a topical issue at the time of our brainstorming sessions, so we latched on to it pretty quickly. Aside from our own personal experiences with dementia sufferers - my grandfather is one - we weren't really pundits on the disease itself.

Claire (C): We wanted the space to write a story that could be surreal and unexpected, and yet keep it relevant and relatable for the audience. Locking onto a current issue was a way to ground the film in reality, and for some reason we kept gravitating towards the concerns of an aging population. Sharlene was really the one who started us out on dementia, because of her grandfather, and it so happened that I'd just read a very good article from the New York Times about an isolated community in Columbia where people as young as forty were developing a most crippling and horrific form of Alzheimer's. That was the first spark: the idea of giving a young person dementia, and so hopefully making it relevant to a younger audience who may still think that it'll never happen to them. From there we just began collecting research and stories and fleshing out a story from that skeleton.

What were the easiest and most challenging aspects of making this film? Were there any memorable experiences that you’d like to share?

S: The easiest bit was... ... I'll let you know when I can think of it. The most challenging aspect was translating our conceptual ideas into visual cues that the audience would get. One of the most memorable experiences would definitely be the three of us running around in circles behind the cameraman because we had to circle our male lead in the shot, and the only way for us not to be seen was to run with the camera. It was hilarious!

C: We did grapple with the technical aspects of production a lot. Shar and I are scriptwriters at heart, so most of the time only Zoe really knew what needed to be done technically. We had a lot of help from our friends, which is why the film looks the way it does and doesn't have like completely different colour temperature in every shot! Every night when the crew and cast left, Shar and I would sing "I Can't Make This Movie" from the musical Nine, which ironically kept us going during the long hours of preparation for the next day's shoot. And I think Zoe would agree that copious amounts of bubble tea were also a key ingredient.

Does the label of a “student production” bother you? How so?

S: It doesn't bother me, because we all have to start somewhere. To me, saying that a film is a "student production" is just a statement of fact. People may interpret it as being a low-budget film, or one that's not up to box office standard, but that's what they want to think. Of course, it doesn't help that there are only two responses one can give after watching a student film: "Wow, that was good... for a student production" or "What did you expect? It was only a student production"! But seriously, I'm okay with "student production", because that's the truth - we're students and we produced this film.

C: I agree with Shar. Why try to be something we're not? The truth is, without our coursemates and lecturers to help us, our film would suck big time. So I'm perfectly happy that we were a student production, and proud of what we managed to achieve within that framework.

What do you hope viewers take away after the end credits roll? Why do you think this short film is worthy of more people’s attention?

S: My dream reaction is for the viewer to sit back, remain silent for one second, and then go, "Whoa". A Young Man is worthy of attention because it's about a pertinent issue and it (I hope) manages to make the audience, if only for a brief moment, see the world the way someone with dementia might see it. It's ambitious, but I hope that our film helps people to understand why those with dementia behave or react the way they do sometimes.

C: We left things in the film that were intentionally not resolved. I think the ending was pretty clear, but if people are still confused and that makes them talk about it afterwards, that response is just as good, because that process of un-puzzling is something sufferers of dementia go through daily. Sometimes all the pieces fit together, and sometimes they don't.

After a number of grueling months producing this baby of yours, do you foresee yourself making more films? What’s next after graduation?

S: I would love to make more films... after some much needed rest! I'd definitely love to work with Claire and Zoe again in the future. Perhaps... A Younger Man? Just kidding.

C: Who wouldn't want to make more films?

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