Crossing Over - BK Lim

The grass is always greener on the other side - or is it? What does it take to switch careers into something you may not be so familiar with? We talk to Lim Beng Kooi, or more affectionately known as BK Lim, director of the short film "One Sunny Morning" (the film has been travelling quite a bit on international film circuits), and find out why the former banker decided to cross over to the world of filmmaking.

SINdie: How did you become being in the banking industry before this?

BK: I "drifted" into banking. As an ASEAN scholar at The University of Singapore where I majored in Economics and History, I was offered a job by a local bank while still in the midst of sitting for my final exam.

Then, somehow, I remained in banking all my professional life; the first 6 years with this local bank, and the next 25 years with a European bank (which included three overseas postings of about three years each assignment).

SINdie: What inspired the switch over to explore filmmaking?

BK: I've always been passionate about films. I'd watch a film several times over for its technical and artistic angles. And over the years I've amassed a fairly large collection of films, first on VHS, then on laser discs and then DVDs. And now, blu ray. Arguably a good or bad “investment" depending on the pace of technological evolution.

I used to joke that I was a filmmaker trapped in the body of a banker.

Through my love for films, my wife ad I got to know several local filmmakers, including professionals such as lawyers, who make short films as their hobby. One evening at dinner, a local filmmaker 'challenged' me to make a short film, offering her technical support, saying that with my huge Criterion Collection of films, I 'have already been to film school'.

So I took the plunge. In early 2004 when I left banking, I made my first experimental film. With friends. While I like my script, the colour and the sound are awful. Watching it hurts one's sensory nerves.

The following year, I did another experimental film, with no dialogue. Again with friends. Then over the next five years, nothing happened. No inspiration. No motivation.

Then suddenly one day, I felt the urge to make a film, sparked by an image of the very first opening shot of a story based on an episode in the life of a Parisian friend. That story didn't take off. Then over dinner with some friends, they suggested that I do this story, about a relationship between an older guy and a younger guy. And they helped with the script.

SINdie: How did your ex colleagues/ family/ friends react to your decision?

BK: My strongest supporters and believers are my wife and our three sons. This filmmaking thing is very much a "family business".

Among my relatives, no one's surprised as everyone knows that since my secondary school days, I'd watch two to three films every week, starting from Friday afternoons through to Sundays. Among my wife and sons, whenever we run out of things to talk about, which is, never - we'd invariably talk about films. I think the best legacy I'd leave to our three sons would be my massive and varied collection of films and music.

In that sense, I feel that it's a good investment : it's not a selfish hobby as the whole family and friends get to enjoy it, and, depending on technology, it could even be highly durable.

And now, to add on to these, as my wife puts it, our sons will always have the remembrance of the films I've made.

This, in turn, places a certain sense of responsibility on me, in ensuring that I do not make films that could potentially embarrass my family. This doesn't necessarily translate into making 'safe' films, but what it means to me is that I should be a responsible filmmaker and be able to justify my story and my visuals (Read : no cheap sensationalization of scenes deemed exploitative... Read again: no gratuitous sex scenes).

Among my friends, especially my banking fraternity, it's a slightly different scenario. Most of them are pleasantly surprised at the pace and passion in which I have taken to filmmaking. But they're all very happy for me. And they are tremendously supportive. My wife and I are very appreciative of their help and support at the recent Private Screening of my film at The Arts House.

Among my favorite feedback from my banking friends are that I have re-invented myself...and that I've found a new lease in life...and my favourite : ' How does a hobby end up in winning him an award?'

SINdie: Was there stigma knowing that you'd be seen as a "first time filmmaker" with your debut piece of work? How did you deal with it?

BK: One Sunny Morning is my first 'real' film, in that it's the first time I've worked with a full team of professionals, from the cast to the crew. I was the only 'newbie' on my own film set.

Hence winning the Best Director Short Film Award came to me as a massive shock. But with hindsight, it's also an acknowledgement of the combined talents of my cast and crew in this film.

I did it as my 60th birthday present to myself. From the outset, I decided I'd finance everything myself, as I've no filmmaking credentials and experience. And as an 'old uncle dude', I am unable to get free technical help unlike student filmmaking projects where one can afterwards reciprocate by helping back the others.

These, plus my desire to do my first film my way, guided by my passion, enthusiasm and my instincts resulted in it being a self-financed project. And as my wife puts it...even if I were to make mistakes, these would be my mistakes to learn from and they're not life and death issues.

I was extremely fortunate to have met Looi Wan Ping as my cinematographer. We hit off immediately given too, his vast and in-depth knowledge and appreciation of art-house films. When I told him that I'd want to pay homage to Michelangelo Antonioni in this film by putting in the mimes, he immediately understood what I meant and which scenes in the film 'Blow Up' that I was referring to.

More than that, throughout the entire process, from pre- production through to post-production, he continues to inspire me and not only shares my vision, but, in fact, enhances it through his extraordinary visuals. And we've incorporated a fair bit of that Antonioni effect, including long takes, the incorporation of scenery and architecture and set designs, in this film.

Given that I was the only rookie on my own film set, there were times when I wasn't aware of what I was doing and made mistakes. But I always relied on my instincts ad to how I'd want a scene to be filmed. I was helped too by a capable and helpful crew including my Assistant Director Koo Chia Meng, and my cast Keagan Kang and Nicholas Bloodworth.

My debut filmmaking experience was enhanced and smoothened by capable n creative talents not just in the production process but also in post production, particularly with sound. The guys at StudioMB, Neil, Kevin and Kenny were terrific. Patiently explaining to me the concept n value of sound post and then just as patiently helping me with it afterwards.

It was an intense four days of shoot and several months of pre and post production. Intense, but fun. Certainly much more enjoyable and fulfilling than banking.

SINdie: Ever regretted the decision, or thought of going back?

BK: As mentioned above, I'm having fun. I'll never go back to banking. In fact when I left the bank in early 2004, I received offers to return to banking, and to the corporate life... But I've never accepted, or even considered it.

This newfound lifestyle of filmmaking is so much more enjoyable and fulfilling. And my ideal situation going forward is to be able to make a film a year, or every other year.

And now that I've won an award, I'm hoping that I have some credentials to fall back on and it'd be heartening to be able to get sponsorship for my projects, even if only partially.

I'd like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt appreciation to my friends who believed in me, inspired me, and helped me through this filmmaking journey - Wee Li-Lin, and Charles Lim, Zhang Wenjie, Michael Kam, Tan Pin Pin, Sun Koh, Alan Goei, Ang I-Ming and my newfound friends and cinematic soul-mates, Looi Wan Ping and Anthony Chen.

To my wife and our three sons, my love to them for being my anchor and for putting up with me.

Trailer for One Sunday Morning:

We at SINdie wish BK all the best in his filmmaking adventures, and we look forward to his next work!

If you know of any other individuals who have "crossed over" to the world of filmmaking, drop us an email at - we'd like to feature these inspiring souls!
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