Crossing Over: Gary Ow

Ever thought that Singapore is the perfect place to film a zombie movie? Well, too late - Gary Ow has beat you to it and will be making "Hsien of the Dead", a production touted to be Singapore's first English-language zombie feature film. The first-time filmmaker who is a computer programmer by day tells us how being funny can end you up in filmmaking business. We are just glad he doesn't turn into a zombie at night.

SINdie: How did you become a film producer being in the IT industry before this?

Gary: My entertainment career started in 2009 when my play (Vampire Monologues) won Best Runner-up in Theatre Idols 2009 contest. It was so funny that the judge, Pek Siok Lian, told me to go into standup comedy. At the time, a standup comedy open mike club was starting up and I discovered I wasn't funny on stage. It took at least three months to hone my material, timing and delivery to finally be able to "kill" (meaning, make an audience laugh with nonstop consistent strong laughter)... and kill consistently. One of my mentors suggested taping my own sets to study myself. When I did, I figured out how to frame a shot and use a camera.

SINdie: What inspired the switch over to explore filmmaking?

Gary: Well, from taping my own sets (while I was on stage), I learnt to trim and edit. I learnt how to use a greenscreen. I then started making short skit comedy videos and posting them on YouTube. But I wasn't always happy with the result. The camera was always low-res and the sound was usually weak or muffled. So I bought training material on DVDs and books on how to fix those problems. But it wasn't enough. I wanted my videos to look professional. I started taking professional short courses in editing, shooting and screenwriting.

Something happened in parallel at the time. My web programming clients started asking for videos to be uploaded to YouTube. I was a hobbyist at the time, but I was champing at the bit to put what I learnt into practice. So I started small and started making little ads and corporate videos for them. Nothing too adventurous at first, just small projects I could handle. 

A lot of things happened in that compressed period. Example: I discovered that the comedic timing I learnt on stage... applied to video editing as well. Most editors leave too much or too little lag time for that comedic pause. My cuts were right on the mark. In screenwriting classes, I learnt to "show not tell"... I learnt that "less is more" in film. In shooting, I learnt many techniques on framing, compositing, and even how to interview people.

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

Gary: They thought of me as a hobbyist filmmaker and I didn't correct them. I was still earning my keep as a web programmer and doing short films on the weekends. I was also shooting my own comedy act to watch for errors, mis-timings and places where jokes could be improved. I didn't start out as a Scorcese or Tarantino and by god, if I ever get there...

SINdie: Was there stigma knowing that you'd be seen as a "first-ime filmmaker" with your debut film? How did you deal with it?

Gary: To be honest, I have been snubbed by a lot of industry old-hats: they expect things to be done the "proper" way. See, in entertainment, I learnt comedy first, then editing, then screenwriting, then shooting and directing. I feel that the order in which I learnt it helps a lot more because very experienced editors tell me that directors tend to shoot too much coverage. I shoot usually just enough footage and coverage to tell the story and have a bit left over for the editor to save the shot.

In contrast, the old-hats expect one to sit down, finish the full script and rewrite it 6 or 7 times (or 27 times, if need be). If that method works for you, more power to you. While my scripts have an overall story structure, I prefer to write in bursts.

Lastly, the industry old-hats did cynically wish me "good luck" with a smirk and a sneer. They couldn't believe I raised "that kind of money" so quickly. But like I said, more power to them.

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

Gary: No, I wished I started earlier and in some respects, I did. As a kid, I memorized entired movie scripts and just repeated them all day, throughout school. Whenever class was starting to get boring, I would recall an entire movie and replay it in my head. I guess that's where I learnt a movie's natural dialogue rhythm.

SINdie: Why the interest of zombies in Singapore?
Gary: Look, on the surface, zombies are the living undead. But they really represent the unthinking people around us, don't they? They represent the un-imaginative, the non-creative (arrrrrgh) people we deal with everyday. You must know who I mean. The rigid, anal-retentive, stickler-for-rules type of person. The type of person who can't think out of the box, or believes "It's my way or the highway". And Singapore largely, has been criticized for creating that sort of "unimaginative administrator" culture. Kiasu culture.
For instance, name one Singaporean who has made a global blockbuster movie (I don't mean "local blockbuster" nor do I mean "critically-acclaimed-won-something-at-Cannes"). See? Nothing. I mean sure, a Singaporean invented the Soundblaster and the Thumb-drive, but movies that a global audience can identify with and enjoy? Not happening yet. So zombies gives us a good genre fan base to appeal to.

SINdie: Could you share with us the progress of your film at this stage?
Gary: I've shot the trailer. Full scale shooting started on Feb 18, 2012 and ends in March.
SINdie: What do you want viewers to get out of your first piece of work?

Gary: "Now that was fucken funny!"

We at SINdie wish Gary all the best in his filmmaking adventures, and we look forward to be tickled by "Hsien of the Dead"!

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!
Previous Post Next Post

Contact Form