Production Talk - The Legend of the Impacts by Jeevan Nathan

Blurring the line between reality and imaginary tale, The Legend of the Impacts is set in 1966, where music was rocking and rolling in a newly independent Singapore. Mike reminisces about his past as a member of The Impacts, a Singapore band formed in the 1960s. It was a bittersweet and unforgettable time of his life.

The idea for the film, which was screened at the Southeast Asian Film Festival 2012 last month, was first conceived several years ago during a talk about the Rolling Stones’ visit to Singapore in 1965, held at the National Museum of Singapore. Michel and Panuksmi, producers at M’GO Films, who attended the talk, were inspired to make a film about the very vibrant era.

Discussion, consultations and chats with various music lovers soon followed, as well as brainstorming sessions with film writer Ben Slater. A few months later, a script for the feature film was ready. Eventually, it became a short film and Jeevan Nathan, a music lover himself, came on board to direct it. We speak to Jeevan to find out what he thinks of the local music scene.

What was the inspiration behind this film? How much did you know about The Impacts?

The inspiration behind this film came about from my love of (60s) music and the pop cultural vibrancy of the scene then. It was heavily influenced by my father back when I was a child growing up. The records being played would echo thru the house and I guess a subconscious impression was left on me. Growing up there was also this desire to be a musician/rock star, but since I cannot carry a tune and have bad hand-eye coordination...filmmaking became my outlet to tell stories and to entertain people.

Having directed a bunch of music videos for local bands, I started to become aware of the offerings and talent of our local musicians (and have used their music pieces/songs in several of my short film/ tv productions). The more I collaborated on these videos (talking, mixing with local musicians) the more I wanted to do a film which married a great soundtrack with a relevant narrative. And when Panuksmi of M'GO films offered me the the chance to direct the script, which M’GO Films developed with Ben Slater (the scriptwriter), not much convincing was needed to get me on board this project.

I did not know about The Impacts in particular, but I knew of several local bands in the 60s and their stories. But when I read The Legend of The Impacts... the story, the characters, the message felt all too familiar. Too relatable. Not just to the music scene then (and now), but to me as a person and filmmaker as well. It suddenly became like I knew these people in the script...I have 'met' versions of them in life. This concept of memory and imagining also influenced me later in the approach we would take for the film. I feel The Impacts is a great homage to the story of (our local) music and film scene.

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

Easiest would have been - finding the production team and local music consultants willing to come on board to collaborate on this. Everything else was an effort as this was a small budget film that was to be set in a specific period, had a specific look & sound, and required actors with a particular skill set.  

Location scouting in modern day SG proved to be a let down, for the actual look I wanted. Other options would have been either be too costly or unneccessary. Wardrobe and styling also involved a lot of research, discussion, sourcing. The latter also being just as key to the 60s as music was. So the pressure was on.

Then came the Visual language of telling the story. This I discussed with Producer Michel and my DP at great length. Where we talked about long-takes, shooting on different formats, the lenses we wanted to use, etc.  And it evolved as we went along. This was a really fun process as thru our discussions and research, new ideas formed.

The biggest challenge was casting for the film. This went on for weeks and we did open casting calls hoping to find new fresh faces. But just like locations, I was not seeing "The Impacts". While the shortlisted actors were good, had some musical instrument knowledge...there was something missing that I noticed in actual performing musicians.

This was especially so for older Mike. We saw people who could act the part, but when we talked to Jay Shotam, lead singer of October Cherries (then just a consultant to our production), it was like - Hey, you ARE Mike! It was about having been there, done that. It was being on stage, performing, it was about being themselves.  In that vein, I talked it over with the Producers who shared the same feeling and were bold enough to allow us to have the film rest on the shoulders of non-actors. Thus, Karen tracked down several true 'rock stars' in the indie circuit and we auditioned and cast them for the roles for The Impacts. And while being the most challenging thing it was also the right way to go.

So here we are working with logistics and other factors for and against us on the 2 long days of shoot...and on the end of the 2nd day with daylight going down fast, we took 9-10 takes of the final song in the film (Long, Live Rock and Roll). The band or tech side was fumbling, and I was not feeling it (as they say). Knowing the cast were exhausted I called for another take, and somehow they dug deep and that last performance was the one! My DP was not pleased with camera. But it was not about that, it was about watching The Impacts, it was about seeing Haji lane, Straits Records. So I kept it as shot. That was really memorable for me (watching and listening to them), and I felt cutting it or turning it into an music video would take us away from the impact (no pun intended).

Lastly, the awesom-est things that could happen for our small film, are that we had Jay Shotam in our cast and that we managed to secure rights to use the original songs from 60s bands for film festival screenings. The music in this film is not just a soundtrack to groove to but the subtext and voice-over to complement our story. 

Do you regard local music differently after the completion of the film? How so?

My view on the music scene has not changed, it has broadened. What I felt about music and learnt about the scene remains the same. You hear stories about the good and bad, you hear the stories of passion vs politics. Times have changed but some things remain the know what I mean? Perhaps the film has further reinforced what I have come to know about local music talent and also to see if we could take the Impacts into another evolution.

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

To not get the not think they 'got it'. Watch it again. Or Turn off the visuals next, and just listen to it. Each time I watch the film at a screening or review, it speaks to me on a different level at a different part of the film. It also speaks differently depending what state of mind I am at when I see it. So I hope people let what they watch simmer in their heads for a bit. Ask questions, get interested in the 60s, in local music...ask themselves if they see themselves in the Impacts.

What’s next in your filmmaking journey?

In the most immediate future, I will be wrapping up some other productions. But I will be going back to writing soon after...I just feel restless with what I am doing now and with the landscape of our media industry. And I need to get away to get back to some pure simple form the craft...maybe something vaudevillian or a musical!

To find out more about The Legend of the Impacts, visit the official Facebook page
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