SH: When I was a teenager, I would skip school to go to the cinema. I was obsessed with them. But I wasn’t so much into making films as I was into watching them. It was only when I went to film school that I started thinking about creating movies.
E: Speaking about that, my mother had this Super 8 camera that could record only five minutes of footage without sound and it taught me how to make a silent short film. What are you working on now?
SH: My new film, which has to do with surveillance and this idea of being watched. It’s not just about CCTVs but also about voyeurism in Singapore. I live in an HDB flat. When I wake up every day and wait long enough, I can see my neighbours. I know they can watch me and I can watch them as well. I wanted to explore this idea, especially in this social media age where we watch and want to be watched.
E: The good thing is that you can do it with very little money. I’ve always wanted to make a film on a smartphone. These days, the resolution is great and the younger generation care more about content than appearances. Back in the ‘90s, there weren’t a lot of local filmmakers. Now, there’s you, Anthony Chen, Kirsten Tan, etc.
SH: You were probably the first Singaporean filmmaker going to all these big film festivals.
E: Funny story about my first feature film Mee Pok Man. The inspiration came from a Damien Sin short story about a mortuary attendant who falls in love with a cadaver that I helped to illustrate. Then, when we were at Newton Circus having supper one night, I was eating mee pok and drinking Anchor beer and belched. The smell of the mee pok with the beer gave me an epiphany and I told Damien I wanted the character to be a noodle seller who falls in love with a prostitute. Two weeks later, he came back with the finished script. The film is 25 years old now and I’m happy to say that I’m still working with some of the same people from back then.
SH: Do you want to do more directing or producing now?
E: Producing. There are so many talented filmmakers not only in Singapore but in the region right now. And I think OTT (over the top) platforms are the future of film now. For more mature markets, Covid-19 has ended the cinema as we know it. OTT platforms level the playing ground a bit in terms of distribution but we still need content at the end of the day. The way I look at it, it’s going to be hard to sell films to theatres, so you have to strike deals with OTT platforms. Ultimately, the fate of a film is not just how good it is but how well it is distributed. I want to play a part in that.
SH: I’ve always wanted to ask you this. Does a local film have to go international to be successful?
E: Not at all. Over the top platforms play a role in that. But everything is relative to the budget, right? Maybe you can’t do that period piece you’re dreaming of but if you want to do a film you can shoot with an iPhone, you can probably do it for $250,000 or less. It’s doable and there are so many film grants out there now, too. I always believe that if you keep things small and within budget, you’ll break even.