Production Talk: 4th SSFA - Broken Crayons by Priscilla Ang

After several patchy calls later, we finally spoke to Priscilla Ang, director of the short film "Broken Crayons" that won the Best Fiction award at the recent Singapore Short Film Awards 2013. (Read our coverage via this link here). 

It was very brave of you to choose a topic like this. What triggered the idea? Is this based on any research or news or is it an imagined story?
The film is based on a true story and seeks to spread awareness regarding the social issue of child sexual abuse. Though the topic of child abuse is often brought to light in public, the topic of child sexual abuse remains one that is difficult to tackle due to the clandestine nature of the abuse and also the ambiguity as to what constitutes to the crime, taking into the child’s or children’s lack of knowledge regarding the matter. However, despite that, a child may able to discern what it means to be “touched in a bad way”, but may remain helpless and confused if not given the right help or attention.

What was your message in the story? Did it worry you that it may provoke some backlash? 

The message in the short as mentioned, is to highlight the dangerous of child sexual abuse. I also intended to show how adults deliberately ignored or pretended it did not happen because they do not want any "trouble" to befall on their relatives. However, therein lies the danger of not protecting the welfare of a young child being abused in this way. There are 2 forms of abuse in the short - 1 is of course, not educating the child appropriating on sex and the other is the child sexual abuse. Well, regards to backlash, I never thought of it - I just know this story needs to be told.

A lot of well known directors have 2 rules they have when they make a film – never to work with children and never to work with animals. You did it for this short, with the lead only being 6 years old. What do you feel about it?
I think films is a important and impactful medium to tell stories, and through telling a story I want to send a message as well on sexual abuse experienced by children. I want to represent children who are victimized without knowing that they have been victimize, and children who sexually abuse other children without knowing that they are harming other children. It is not a message to spread per se only to children, but to adults as well. I feel that it is also especially imperative for adults to be aware of the consequences of exposing young children to sexually related content without proper guidance and counsel. Lastly, and more importantly, for adults and parents to be vigilant and to have the courage to seek help if they cannot handle dealing with this sensitive issue on their own.

How did you manage to bring the most natural performances of out the three children? Did they know the content of what they were acting? 

My producer, Xinni and I actually approached Children’s Society for help (but apparently they have very limited resources with this topic and in the end we couldn't collaborate on this project) and specifically speak to professional children counselor to seek for advice. My utmost concern for this film is definitely not the performance of the children or my film but the well-beings of the kids. I told my producer I would give up this film if I had to - even if it was in the middle of the shoot, I had to be mentally prepared for it. Of course, there was one particular scene, Denise felt really uncomfortable and I managed to convinced her by hiding behind the toilet door- making sure that she was safe. 

Denise, my lead, knew the content as I explained to her during our rehearsal (only me and her in a room). I spent alot of time with Denise compare to the rest of the casts. My producer and I also spoke to all the kids' parents for support and assuring them their kids are on good hands. Most of the parents were actually very supportive when they understood my objective in making this film, and they were very enthusiastic that their children can act! Nowadays, the kids are pretty smart, you do not have to tell them much - they already knew the content of the film. Nevertheless, I make sure I don't lie to the kids about it because they are going to know the truth one day when they grow up. After talking to the counseller, I realize truth is the best for them. It was a lot of decision making during the pre - production and I'm really grateful I had many great people and supportive friends helping me through these. 

Denise was very smart for a 6 year old. After the shoot, she was able to explain to her mother how the shoot went and how I had made her feel safe on the set.


How did you find/cast the kids? 
My protagonist, Denise was actually not my first choice, but due to certain circumstances, I went back to her. It was really a chance encounter on how I stumbled upon Denise. It was preproduction time and we were on the lookout for children to cast for the short film. On my way to a meeting, I had a sudden random craving for mooncakes (and I don’t even eat mooncakes frequently!) so I went to get myself a durian mooncake. The stall owner was very good in upselling, and I eventually got a box. However, as I was going for a corporate meeting then, I was making arrangements to pick up the moonckaes later. So then the owner and I made some small talk as she packed the mooncakes and found out that I was looking for children to cast in the film. She then eagerly volunteered her daughter, Denise. We saw her at auditions and liked her very much. She fits exactly my vision on how the protagonist, Ah Girl, should be like. However, as Denise was a very quiet person in real life as well, we initially chose another girl to take part. However, due to certain unforeseen circumstances she had to pull out. So Denise stepped up, and we had never looked back.  


“Broken Crayons” may not have the most extravagant shots or the most fanciful editing, but I really commend the way it is shot. Camera angles were well thought out to not forcibly drag the viewer through the storyline, and yet provide enough snippets to tell the story. Therein lies the beauty of suspense, and makes the unknowing known storytelling even more powerful.

In an exclusive, Priscilla let known that she will be working on for more opportunities to screen “Broken Crayons” to spread the message of child sexual abuse, and is also currently working on 2 more followup films on “Broken Crayons”.

All the best, Priscilla!
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