STOP10 Oct 2017: 'Raffles v Utama: Dawn of Singapore' by Team Marcus Goh - GV25 Finalist

Still from 'Raffles v Utama: Dawn of Singapore' by Team Marcus Goh

It has been 25 years since Golden Village has opened its very first theatre in Yishun and to celebrate their 25 Year Anniversary, Golden Village has launched the GV25 Film Shorts filmmaking competition where aspiring filmmakers are to submit their applications based on the very apt theme  of ‘The Past, Present and Future.’ Check out our post on the competition earlier this year.
Mentored by either of three local film directors Boris Boo (Lucky Boy), Kelvin Tong (The Maid), or the Singaporean YouTubers Tree Potatoes, three applicants were shortlisted and given a grant of $2,000 to produce their short film over the time span of three months. Their films are available for viewing in this link and public voting for the films takes place from 10 to 16 October with the finale event on 30 October. The winning short will be screened at GV cinemas from 9 November and the winning team will receive a cash prize of $3,000.

In an interview, we had the opportunity to speak with each of the three teams regarding their film and the experience that this project had given them. 

Team Marcus Goh, needless to say, is formed by Marcus himself and a group of friends (which includes a rather famous friend, Nat Ho). Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter, having written for familiar titles like Police & Thief, Incredible Tales, Crimewatch, and Point of Entry. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. Check out his site here where he writes extensively about almost anything!

His team's entry Raffles v Utama: Dawn of Singapore is about a group of students who bicker about who the founder of Singapore is for a last-minute project. In doing so, they inadvertently summon the ghosts of Sang Nila Utama and Sir Stamford Raffles – who end up arguing about who founded Singapore, too.

How did you conceptualize this film? 

I've always wanted to see Sang Nila Utama on screen, but I think it's difficult to do so for cost and logistical reasons (even for a well-funded production). The only onscreen depiction I've managed to find is from this SG50 documentary, "The Hunt for the Red Lion", where he's played by Zachary Ibrahim (I think). So, when this opportunity arose, I thought the GV25 Film Shorts theme provided a good rationale to have Sang Nila Utama appear in a modern context (hence skirting around the issues of having to show his royal retinue, palace, a ship, a crown, and a lion when he appears). Then I thought it'd be funny to see him and Raffles being kiasu, which is, you know, the quintessential Singapore trait. 
What was the most challenging aspect of writing this screenplay, given its historical context? 
I hope I don't get publicly lambasted for this, but my main concern was to make people laugh, so I'm not going to claim that it's historically accurate. After all, Raffles and Sang Nila Utama are interacting with anachronistic objects and they clearly understand how modern technology works, so there's already that suspension of disbelief required. Plus, they are ghosts. I mean, historically, ghosts don't exist, right? But Raffles' Wikipedia entry states that he understood the Malay language, which is interesting (though not critical) context to have when watching Raffles v Utama: Dawn of Singapore. In addition, there's this book that came out recently, called "William Farquhar and Singapore: Stepping out from Raffles' Shadow", which paints a less unflattering picture of Raffles than what most people imagine, and I tried to characterise him based on this information.  That being said, the most challenging part of writing the screenplay was to ensure that the voicing of the characters was distinct (meaning that you would know who spoke the line based on how they phrased their words). Is that very boring? I would like to say that I was struggling to stay sober or something like that, but I approached "Raffles v Utama: Dawn of Singapore" the way I would with any other professional scriptwriting assignment (ie, staying sober for the entirety of the writing).
What aspects of this film make it relevant to contemporary Singapore society? 
Well, it touches on aspects of our education system. I think everyone can identify with doing last-minute projects/homework. My apologies to all my teachers out there. More importantly, it also touches on the issue of nationality and the Singaporean identity. I must also state that I am not funded by MND nor did I get an NE grant to make this (the only grant I have is from Golden Village), so this message comes from me. Oh, and mobile phones. I think that I have a fairly accurate depiction of how pervasive mobile phone usage is today in "Raffles v Utama: Dawn of Singapore", ie, all the time.
Why do you think this debate of 'who founded Singapore' is an important one?
For rather practical reasons, it's because because the theme of the GV25 Film Shorts Competition is "Past, Present, Future", so the founding of Singapore corresponds to the "Past" component of the theme. However, the resolution to this debate is answered in the film (which of course, you have to watch to find out). I think that there have been several divisive issues that come up lately, but at the end of the day, we're all one people, one nation, one Singapore, and hopefully this short film reminds us of that. Again, not MND/NE-funded to say this (but I welcome any offers of funding, heh). 
What are three words (each) that Sang Nila Utama and Sir Stamford Raffles would use to describe Singapore today?
Sang Nila Utama: 
- Bigger (remember we've reclaimed a lot of land since then)
- Lion-less (besides SNU's first sighting, we haven't seen any lions since), 
- Hotter (global warming must be pretty significant since his era)
Sir Stamford Raffles: 
- Immaculate (I had the impression that the streets were rather dirty during his time)
- Brilliant (we top PISA rankings yeah, plus the best school in Singapore is named after him)
- Organised (I vaguely recall during Geography lessons, I think urban geography, there's one whole topic on city planning and how Raffles planned early Singapore in this very organised fashion; we're even more organised now)

Look out for Raffles v Utama: Dawn of Singapore online soon!

Interview by Timothy Ong

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