Production Talk with Ivan Tan on 'Tadpolés'

Director Ivan Tan flooded a whole house to shoot a short film end of last year. This film was screened recently at the 10th Singapore Short Cuts and more importantly won  The Film und Video Untertitelung Prize which is a jury prize for short films at the 66th Locarno International Film Festival. Seems like Ivan really got his hands wet for something. We catch up with Ivan (in photo below - middle) and go behind the scenes and his mind for this short film 'Tadpoles'.

Brief synopsis:
As an unusual monsoon threatens to flood the eastern part of Singapore, two families are forced to stay indoors and confront their fractured relationships.

Your film featured a flat flooded with water up to the knee. Technically, how was it possible to flood a house? Could you share how the crew did it? Why the decision to take such a big artistic step in flooding the house? What were the obstacles you met in realising this?

Ivan: The actual execution was a lot simpler than most people think. We just sealed up all possible gaps and poured in as much water as we could. 

We felt that the water was an important part of the story - both visually and to express the inner landscapes of the characters - and so we knew that it was something that would either make or break the film. 

We had a lot of trouble finding a suitable location. Thankfully, through the hard work of my producer Claire, we managed to secure a location just 1.5 months prior to filming. 

How was the concept and story of the film conceived?

I wrote the story on my way back from Busan Film Festival. Prior to that I was working on a semi-autobiographical story which didn't seem right to me. Something was missing and I couldn't complete the script. I decided to take a step back and try to write a fresh story that I felt more detached from. 

We had to shoot the film in December due to the schedules of our cast and crew. And I knew very well that December is the wettest month of the year. I wanted to work with the rain rather than try to hope for sunshine during my shooting days. So I wrote a film about the rain.

All of my films revolve around families, so it was almost a knee jerk reaction that I instantly thought of familial situations I could write an honest story about. The young couple's story came very quickly to me. I wrote that part very quickly on my way back from Busan Film Festival. It was the second family that I had more difficulties writing. 

Could you share with us some of your influences in terms of artistic direction which, we guess, played a big part in creating the mood for the film? For one, it shares a kind of surrealism often seen in Tsai Ming Liang's films (minus the humour).

Without a doubt, Ozu has the biggest influence in my work. I knew I wanted to make films after I saw Tokyo Story. 
My cinematic diet consists mostly of Asian directors such as Lee Chang Dong, Hong Sang Soo, Hou Hsiao Hsien, Edward Yang and Koreeda. I enjoy their films a lot because they all deal with topics such as family, relationships and real life characters with a lot of emotional depth and honesty. These are also the issues and characters I want to make films about. 

As for mood and control, I think I learnt that most from Pen-Ek Ratanaruang and Apichatpong Weeraseethakul. 

Ironically, I didn't think about Tsai Ming Liang at all during the entire process. The dominance of sounds from the news footage was an idea that came at a much later stage, suggested by my sound designer Huiting. 

How much did this film cost (given the technical difficulties) and how did you raise money for it?

We spent more than $14,000 for this film, and we raised money mostly through a combination of crowdfunding (which only gave us about 1/7 of the budget) and working on corporate videos. The Wee Kim Wee Legacy Fund also provided us with about 1/7 of the budget. 

Could you share with us some interesting incidents that happened during the production of Tadpoles? We're guessing there must be some, for shooting in a flooded house is quite a feat! 
To be honest, most of the filming process was quite daunting for the entire crew because of safety concerns with regards to water and electricity. My gaffer and grips were standing by the C-stands for every shot. Every time my Assistant Director called my name out of the blue, I will freeze for a minute because I was afraid that something had happened. But there was something positive that came out of it - which was focus. It made the entire crew very focused on getting what we wanted to get on a day to day basis. 

Strangely, for the 4 days of our shoot, it only rained on one day. Thankfully it was still gloomy on most of the days it didn't rain. 

Lastly, because we were too successful at keeping the water in, we had a lot of issues getting the water out. We spent almost an entire night after we wrapped trying to unseal everything and remove the water entirely.

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