Production Talk with Geraldine Lee and Christopher Khor on "Some Reassembly Required"

Some Reassembly Required is a forthcoming documentary film that will be Singapore's first on transgender men. It will center around a group of transgender men in their various stages of transition, including one of the production team members, "creative content guy" Christopher Khor, as he prepares for surgery.

SINdie spoke with Chris and producer Geraldine Lee about their team's motivations for making this film, audience engagement both online and offline, and the ups and downs of crowdfunding.

We understand that Some Reassembly Required will follow transgender men—who are in various stages of transition—in Singapore, and will be documenting Christopher's surgery. This is likely a very personal journey, yet one whose outcome may have a wider impact. Why did your team choose to make a documentary film? Did you have to take into consideration any matters such as privacy of the individuals featured? How did you build up trust and rapport with them?

Geraldine: I think the idea of doing a documentary came very naturally to us. We had been interning together in San Francisco at Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC) where we interviewed lots of documentary filmmakers and learnt a lot from them in the process as well, from crowdfunding, to organising events, to even ethical issues such as the right of an individual to choose to appear in a documentary, versus the potential repercussions of their appearance. Our interviewees’ privacy was definitely an issue we discussed a lot.

Christopher: Privacy has always been a huge consideration for us, especially since some of the guys who are in the film aren’t out to their families yet. So we never want to put them so far out of their comfort zone (seeing as being in a film is already out of the comfort zone of many) that they are afraid to see themselves on the big screen. As for building up trust, I think it was much easier because I’m a transgender man, and some of these guys I’ve known for a long time. Others were willing to be in the film because 1) they trusted us with their stories, 2) I was visible, open with my transgender status, and they knew they would not be alone, and 3) honesty and transparency with what we intended to achieve was another thing that really helped, and they knew that their stories would (treated with care and consideration) be well-told.

And our crowdfunding is up!! Find us at
#scaredproducer #srrdocu #TRANSpire #crowdfunding #documentary #film #filmfunding

Geraldine, on your team's blog, you wrote that crowdfunding is the "scariest thing I've ever done". Was the team clear from the start that crowdfunding was the way to go? Did you consider other options such as applying for grants? Why or why not?

Geraldine: When we first decided that we were going to do this documentary, the first thing we thought of was grants, haha. But we knew there was a possibility that we might not receive any local grants because this wouldn’t be considered “family-friendly”, so the idea of crowdfunding was a natural progression. We did apply for the MDA grant, but so far we haven’t gotten back a response to our application. 

Group #selfie #wefie after #pinkdotsg 2014! #srrdocu #goteam

You have an active social media presence—website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagramblog—and have also held events such as a crowdfunding launch party. Have you found one avenue (online publicity vs. "real life" events) more effective than the other in raising funds and awareness? Or do you think both are necessary?

Geraldine: Both are necessary for us to raise funds and awareness, and they function differently in terms of audience outreach and engagement. For example, events are better at putting a face to a name (i.e. Chris). We knew we could not do this without the support of the community, and y’know, we thought, what better way to engage them? Let’s have a launch party where people can meet us one-to-one and chill out to a night of great music. 

But...not everyone is able to be there in person, and that’s where social media can come in. You can talk to someone who’s 10,000 miles away; or they can follow your Facebook page for interesting and relevant news they want to hear about. So there’s two very different ways of promoting and marketing, and they’re both good to do, but it’s not a must-do because your mileage may vary.

Do you feel Singapore is ready for such a story to be told? Do you feel now is the right time? Why?

Geraldine: Definitely. Since last year, there has been increasing awareness about LGBT issues in general, from the Wear White campaign to the recent book-banning controversy. Things are not always painted positively, but the upside is the dialogues that people are finally having. Be it for or against, we are moving away from sweeping things under the rug. If you really think about it, Singapore’s kind of going through her teenager phase now, haha. It’s a good thing. We’re no longer content to just take in information we’re fed, because we want to make our minds up for ourselves. 

Christopher: What’s great is that we intend to show that we are much more than just the fact that we’re transgender. We are sons and brothers, lovers and friends. We travel to work on the same public transportation networks, struggle with the same working hours, have the same hopes and dreams for the future. It’s just a different sort of journey to get there, you know?

The very wonderful people at the #barclayspectrum #lgbt networking event! 
Met and talked to a lot of people, thank you for having us -- really appreciate your support <3 comment-3--="" nbsp="">

If you feel comfortable sharing, has there been any backlash? What has been the most upsetting response?

Christopher: We’ve actually had minimal backlash, and I’m almost a little bit disappointed about that, haha! So with that in mind, I think the most upsetting thing for me was a fellow transman who said that he didn’t want “a transgender 101”, so that “anybody can tell who a transman is with one glance”. I understand where he’s coming from—many transgender men have gone "stealth", which is, in essence, having the privilege of not telling anyone who did not know them before their physical transition, know that they have undergone said transition. 

That sentence is a little bit convoluted, but it’s the best way to put it, I think. And I get that—it’s one of the reasons we had to sit on this documentary idea before I agreed to do it. It is easier to never have to explain yourself to anyone (besides your future partner). But I decided to be open about this because I realised I never had any openly-transgender male role models when I was figuring myself out, and that feeling of being alone is awful. Hopefully we can bring hope to those who are struggling, like I was, with this documentary.

What has been the most encouraging response to your efforts to date? Have your crowdfunding campaign backers been mostly family and friends so far, or people you don't know personally? Have you had backers from outside of Singapore?

Geraldine: While we definitely have friends and family who are supporting us, a large number of our backers are fans and supporters who learnt about us organically. We have backers from the United States, Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Ireland, and even as far as Spain! It’s been very encouraging to receive their support, and knowing all that, it pushes us on to make sure that we do our supporters right by producing this well.

Shoot shoot shoot! #shoot #video #crew #srr_docu #documentary #intro

What is your hope for the documentary? What message would you like to convey to the community at large? (Anything else you would like to add as well?)

Christopher: Wow. I really hope this documentary will be successful, not only here in Singapore, but across the globe. By that, I mean that (making money and winning awards aside, hur) we give hope to transgender people, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, because there are many more documentaries made in America and Europe about transgender people. I also hope that we can educate families, move parents who may be struggling with accepting their transgender children, and even win the hearts of those who have never even thought about transgender people before. We may be transgender, but we are also wholly human. And I hope people learn to see past the labels, because really, we are just like you.

Geraldine: Adding on to what Chris said, as filmmakers, we would love for our films to really reach out to people internationally. Getting into film festivals would be the first step—I want to be part of a generation that can say, y’know, we helped make our industry into what it is today. Im quite an idealist, if you couldn't tell, heh, but really, if this film could help someone out there whos struggling to find him or herself, or a partner or family member who is trying to understand but doesnt know how, then all the hard work we’ve been putting into this film would have been worth it.

Some Reassembly Required's five-week crowdfunding campaign ended on 24 August and raised about US$9,300—about 60% of their goal. Follow them on social media to stay updated on future events and the progress of their film. 

Interview by Ivan Choong and Aditi Shiva 
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