ShoutOUT!: Profiling technical craft in upcoming National Youth Film Awards (NYFA) 23 July 2016

National Youth Film Awards (NYFA) 23 July 2016

Aspiring youth filmmakers from local Institutions of Higher Learning (IHLs) will take the spotlight next month, as they compete in this year’s edition of the National Youth Film Awards (NYFA).
Organised by *SCAPE, the annual marquee initiative discovers and celebrates the best emerging talent for technical film crafts in Singapore, and aims to establish and raise a national benchmark for excellence in film. A record number of 260 submissions were received this year, and the films were put through a rigorous shortlisting process by NYFA’s 15-member jury, including award-winning director and screenwriter Lee Thean-jeen, veteran filmmaker and actor Jack Neo, film composer Alex Oh, and Vikram Channa of Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific, among other distinguished industry heavyweights.

Highlighting technical craft.

With the introduction of seven new categories this year to recognise the technical craft that goes into film making - awards for Best Camera Work, Best Colour Grading, Best Lighting, Best Character Design in Animated Film, Best Writing in Animated Film, Best Editing in Documentary Film, and Best Camera Work in Documentary Film - SINdie thought to profile some of the individuals who have contributed behind-the-scenes.

  • Julie Heather Liew (JHL)
From NTU’s Art, Design and Media School (ADM), Julie would be able to share more about the process of creating the sets for two of her films, Han, and Sweet Bloom of Night Time Flowers – both of which have garnered nominations for Best Production Design Award 

Film stills and behind-the-scenes


 Sweet Bloom of Night Time Flowers


  • Russell Chan (RC)
Russell recently graduated from NTU’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information (WKWSCI) and took up the role of Director of Photography (DOP) for two of his films, Holding Room, and Call for Justice. Both have been nominated for Best Camera Work Award, as well as Best Camera Work in Documentary Film Award respectively.

Film stills and behind-the-scenes

Holding Room

Call for Justice

How did you first get inspired to work in your chosen creative field of being a director of photography?

JHL: Growing up, I couldn't really afford expensive hobbies or toys so I loved embarking on D.I.Y. projects, like making my own toys or drawing my own comics. After my 'O' Levels, I enrolled in NAFA to pursue a Diploma in Fine Arts (Sculpture) and that's where I really fell in love with the craft. In my practice, I naturally drifted towards ideas of impermanence and temporary installations, and soon found myself interested in production design and art direction in film. I've always loved film as a medium, and making art that doesn't last longer than a production schedule but looks like it could both fascinates and challenges me.

RC: I started out with an interest in directing, but I was always fascinated with the technical side. At that point, starting out as an amateur trying to make sense of all of it, I figured that to even begin directing you needed to know your camera, you needed to know lights, things like that. Very quickly I learnt the basics of cinematography and because of that, I got thrown into the field. More out of necessity than anything, I took on the role of Director of Photography (DP) for many projects because my peers saw value in my skills and vision as a cinematographer. People started to shoehorn me into the role — not that I hated it. I loved every minute of it. And slowly I got convinced that I have a flair for it. And of course, I had a lot of help along the way. So here I am. And going forward, I think I want to try different roles and just have a feel of what it's like being a writer, being in the directing or producing departments. I think having a strong understanding of how every department, every role comes together to create something good, is essential. And whether I end up as a professional DP or not, I think I will always have this affinity with the craft.

How would you describe your work and contribution?

JHL: I would still like to consider myself an artist, except that now I have a different set of expectations for my viewers. Instead of trying to make my audience guess some hidden meaning of my work, I create installations that instead reveal the narrative to the audience. I still make use of colours, metaphors and symbols like an artist would, but when these come together in the final frame, the audience should get a sense of who the characters are, where they come from and where they're going. The most important part of my work has always been to help the director define characters and their environment, whatever it takes to visually support the narrative.

RC: For most of the projects I've worked on so far I have had the fortune of working on all stages of the production — from conceptualising to delivery. As a DP, I rue the day that I won't be able to do that any longer. That's what I enjoy most about the job. Especially in a microscopic film market in Singapore, how often do DPs actually get to work on productions they have close to full autonomy over? As a DP, you want to be involved in the creative process because that determines what your shot is, what your sequence is. That is ideal. The craft only makes sense as a part of the greater whole. Of course, in the real world this most never happens. The DP's job is then to make sense of the story given to him and mould it into something better in a transformative way, without overwhelming or distracting from the essence of it. That is what I try to do in my work — to find ways to make elevate the story without diluting the message.

Do you feel if the recognition received through the award has or will help highlight these essential film industry roles?

JHL: I really hope it does! One of the blessings/curses of great production design is that viewers cannot tell if it was constructed or added to a scene; the more well-executed it is, the more seamless it appears, but the less credit a production designer gets, as a result. In the local industry, it's common practice for the art department to be overlooked and under-appreciated, simply because few understand the amount and value of work that goes into good production design. NYFA acknowledging this industry role as an important contribution truly heartens me, and I hope other young filmmakers will be inspired to become production designers too, because in our own unique way, we're storytellers too.

RC: I'm not sure how qualified I am to answer this question, because (as a DP) I'm at the bottom of the food chain in the local industry! I think DPs in Singapore take care of themselves well enough. And I think many people aspire to be professional DPs because there's a certain prestige that comes along with it. Competition is always good. And I think as a whole, in Singapore, the industry definitely needs to evolve, to rise towards a level closer to our Asian counterparts if we ever want the local industry to be taken seriously, whether by Singaporeans or by the international audience.

Images courtesy of the National Youth Film Awards
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