STOP10 Jun 2017: 'BREAK' by Ray Pang

Ray Pang is a Singaporean film director who can walk the tightrope between directing family-friendly genres as well as very dark genres.  His short film The Team (2011), about a group of kids who just want to play soccer in a neighbourhood, won Overall Best Film and Best Editing at the Cine65 short film competition. His other work Closer to Me (2012), a cancer-awareness themed short film, won awards at the Asean International Film Festival, Festival Asia TV & FILM on Journey and Finalist at the Louis Vuitton Journey Awards. One the hand, if you've watched his other films like the triad/secret society flick One, you would think Ray was once a parang-wielding gang member!

Graduating with a Bachelor in Film & Television from Swinburne University of Technology, Australia. his thesis film BREAK was another one with dark themes and characters. Made in 2011, it received a Gold Remi Award at the 44th WorldFest-Houston Film Festival, the prestigious Orson Welles Award at the California Film Awards and Award of Excellence from Los Angeles Movie Awards.

Beautifully shot and directed, this highly visceral short film deserves another viewing. We caught up with Ray for a chat about this trophy in his closet.
What fascinates you about the sex, drugs and violence sort of lifestyle?

I am naturally attracted to topics that I can't possibly indulge with in real life. It's a form of escapism and also it is very enjoyable when creating this sort of fantasy through film. I feel that sex, drugs and violence is buried deep inside everyone of us. We are just suppressed because we are told it's not right to lead such lifestyle legally or illegally. It excites me knowing if there are no consequences, but sadly there are and it's pretty bad. Often we have seen people from the news that had crashed and burned while leading such lifestyle.
What inspired this particular piece of work?

This melodrama is actually about moving on with life in relationships. It plays around with betrayal and the protagonist’s obsessions for his wife. He chooses to escape from reality as a form to move on.

And exclusive only for SINdie readers, here is something I wish to share about my personal experience.

When I was in the early twenties, I have witnessed close friends cheating among close friends in relationship. People were sleeping around and temptation was everywhere. I myself had caught my ex-girlfriend cheating on me with another guy. In fact, I was going through a "moving on" period from a 6-year relationship with this girl that I had broken up with.

I tried many different ways to move on, such as backpacking alone, isolation, reading self-help books and even pampering oneself to gain back that confidence. Eventually, I learned that if you really want to move on, you've got to face 'every god damn thing' about it - and that was something I kept telling myself when writing the screenplay for BREAK. The title BREAK also stands for everyone's breaking point in life.

So when given the chance of an open brief to make my thesis film in Australia where I was pursing a degree in film and television, it was a film that I had to make. Paris Texas the movie was a big reference for this film.

What elements in film did you play with in this work, to bring out the atmosphere and intensity?

Initially, there was a voice-over through-out the film which I thought was poetic. When I striped off the voice-over, it was more impactful. I learned from making this film that as a rule of storytelling, showing is better than telling.

From the start, it was clear from narrative standpoint, I wanted it to be non-linear, to give a sense of a deconstructed feeling from our protagonist. It is as if the good and bad memories kept coming back to haunt him.

For the visual storytelling, we wanted a raw and gritty feel. Hence we knew it was going to be handheld, low-key lighting and mostly shot at night. I was very lucky to work with a talented cinematographer, Shelley, who did an incredible job to make the film look so cinematic by using a DSLR instead of a Varicam after some test shoots.

Jacky Lee, the art director, was all about details, naturalism and the choice of cool color and tones to set the mood for the film and the characters.

We knew that in order for the audience to believe the world that we had created, what they see on the characters needs to look convincing. In my previous shorts, I feel a lot of the blood scenes didn't look realistic.

We conducted makeup and screen tests for injury and bloody looks before the actual filming to be sure how it will look like on screen and after grading. For this particular film, the actor grew a real beard to get into the character.

A note about the choreography of the fight and run sequences, we had professional help and I am so glad we did! I was so lucky to have convinced the professional stunt team from Australian Stunt Management to help us. They had worked on multiple Hollywood blockbuster movies before and were helping us on this project on a goodwill basis.

The sound designer, JP and the music composer, Natasha, did a great job by experimenting different sounds such as the drones effect, to bring out what the character was feeling in each scene. We didn't want it to be too conventional.

Finally, the film would not be this convincing without the great performance from William Emmons who played the protagonist.  There was more talking and sharing of real life experiences than rehearsals. I got to know William as a brother and it helped when directing on set for certain intense scenes. I am grateful to all actors in the film. They all bounced ideas off each and delivered genuine performances.

Considering that this short film has done well overseas, why do you think it is relatively quiet locally?

I am just glad that the film had travelled far to be seen by different audiences through a few festivals. Perhaps for the local market, I feel this genre is not your typical and familiar entertainment fare.

Watch BREAK here:

Interview by Dawn Teo

For the full list of June 2017's 10 films under STOP10, click here.
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