Singaporean stories in Hollywood? Why not, says young award-winning filmmaker

Fresh off his big win at the local short-film competition ciNE65 Movie Makers Awards (MMA), young filmmaker Jastine Tan has his sights set on Hollywood.

The 21-year-old Temasek Polytechnic graduate said: "The dream for every filmmaker is Hollywood. No matter what it is, it's Hollywood."

But if you think he's going there just to be another cog in the Tinseltown movie-making machine, you best think again.

Tan is heading there on a mission, armed with his ambition and verve and emboldened by others who have travelled a similar path.

He added: "I want to tell unique stories from me and unique stories from Singapore instead of the cookie-cutter films. Filmmaking is becoming a more open industry because you see YouTube short-film makers getting big feature-film deals.

Jastine Tan snagged the ciNE65 Movie Makers Awards and Overall Best Film (Student). PHOTO: AsiaOne

"Like the director of Shazam - he was a YouTube short-film maker and he made it big that way."

So what Singapore stories does this up-and-coming director think have a chance to make it to the Hollywood silver screen?

"I think that Singapore has a wealth of stories to tell. Not just about the HDB (Housing Development Board flats), but we have many folklore stories that we have never seen on film before.

"Such as the story about Bukit Merah - with the swordfish - and Sisters' Islands. Even the China film industry is targeting (folktales) because they want to make a big spectacle and there's a wealth of stories to tell," he explained.

WES ANDERSON 'HELPED' HIM MORE THAN ONCE

Combining a uniquely Singaporean story with the Hollywood vision shouldn't prove to be too much of a challenge for this filmmaker.

After all, his award-winning submission in ciNE65 was a Wes Anderson-inspired short film titled My Homeland: A Photography Project by Grandpa Chen.

The film clinched the top prize ciNE65 Movie Makers Award, netting him a feature-film deal with mm2 Entertainment, as well as the Overall Best Film Award in the student category.

The familiar cinematography is no coincidence at all as Tan is unabashedly a Wes Anderson fan.

He said: "I find that Anderson's films are very eccentric and very inspired because he uses film as a medium not just to tell a story. He makes every frame a painting.

"It's something that's very unique and I love that he utilises every frame, every technique and every acting capability to the best of his ability."

Fun fact: Wes Anderson not only helped him score a big win at the ciNE65 awards ceremony last night (June 13), he also got Tan into Temasek Polytechnic.

All thanks to the first Anderson film he watched: Moonrise Kingdom.

"That was the film I wrote a review on for me to get into Temasek Polytechnic," he said.

However, Tan clarified that his vision for My Homeland extended beyond trying to pay homage to his film icon.

"We do not want to replicate Wes Anderson 100 per cent because if you blindly copy something, then it's not authentic.

"(My Homeland) is actually a combination of influences from other filmmakers that I try to mould and shape according to my artistic style and taste," he explained.

Where is Jastine Tan's style in this production then?

Without missing a beat, he replied: "I would say it's the conversation (between the grandfather and his grandson). A lot of people who have watched the film say that the dialogue is very me, but they don't know how to place it."

SUBVERTING EXPECTATIONS

One of the things that made the film stand out was the twist at the end where (spoiler alert!) the grandfather actually wanted a photo with his grandson instead of a historical landmark of Singapore.

Tan explained that he drew on his lesson learnt from his submission for a previous edition of ciNE65 where they made a film which felt "very pandering" to the audience and wasn't representative of the story they wanted to tell.

For this year's submission, they decided to subvert the audience's expectations while trying to tell a story that was "simply done" but also "very layered and complex".

A still from Jastine's film My Homeland. PHOTO: Nexus, MINDEF

Don't just hear it from us, though. It was a sentiment echoed by Colonel Joseph Tan, one of the judges of ciNE65 MMA.

Speaking to AsiaOne, the director of Nexus, Mindef's central agency for National Education and Total Defence, said: "My Homeland was a very interesting story with a little twist and it's something that people relate to.

"Very often when people talk about home, they relate to infrastructures, playgrounds and places. But the story was all about the people.

"And I thought that the twist in the story and storytelling were very impressive."

$INGAPURA - A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A TAXI DRIVER

At the ceremony last night, a total of 18 awards were given out to honour the local film industry's best and brightest potentials.

The awards also included the Audience Choice for Favourite Film, Actor and Actress which went to Echoes of 1965, Qushyrie Mahmud (Battle-Field) and Marleen Toh (Rojak) respectively. These winners were selected based on the total number of votes garnered from members of the voting public.

Marleen Toh walked away with the Audience Choice Best Actress award. PHOTO: AsiaOne

The ciNE65 Movie Makers Awards is a short-film competition organised by Nexus, in partnership with mm2 Entertainment.

First-time filmmaker Lan Yu, 24, clinched the Best Overall Film Award in the open category for her three-minute short $ingapura.

The film gives us a peek into a day in the life of a taxi driver as he picks up passengers that represent the everyday Singaporean and shows us (not tell) the disparate and diverse stories that he bears witness to.

For a film that was put together in two days to meet the submission deadline, that is a huge achievement.

"I think I'm still a bit stunned," Lan said in disbelief, followed with a laugh.

Lan Yu won Overall Best Film (Open) and Best Screenplay. PHOTO: AsiaOne

She added: "It was a very hectic two days. The shoot day was around 10 to 12 hours and we also took quite long to edit the film. So it might sound cliche but we really never expected to win.

"I was quite surprised that we even got the nomination."

In many ways, the taxi driver (arguably the main character) kind of takes a backseat (pun intended) as the passengers' stories carry the film.

"The idea for the film came about from us wanting to make a taxi, or even a car ride, a comfort space where Singaporeans can just relax.

"So a lot of times, when we enter this kind of space, we feel like we can talk about our friends, we can sleep, we can relax and the taxi driver is invisible. We wanted to portray that," she explained.

BEING A DIRECTOR IS NERVE-RACKING

Another young filmmaker who was feeling emotional about her win was Effie Poh, a student from Temasek Polytechnic who won Best Direction for her film Broken.

Citing ciNE65 MMA as one of her "first few experiences in filmmaking", she revealed: "I actually feel very overwhelmed because this is my first time winning an award and being nominated in so many categories for an awards show."

Being a director at the tender age of 18 was "nerve-racking" because she had to be in charge of everything - from the camera work to the acting.

Effie Poh (red checkered jacket) picking up the Best Direction award with her team. PHOTO: AsiaOne

Broken tells the slow decay of the relationship between a daughter and her karang guni father after she gets bullied by her classmates because of her father's occupation.

While Poh said that the theme of bullying isn't based on personal experiences, the inspiration for the film came from an intimate memory.

"Initially this story was more about prawning, like how (the father and daughter) used to prawn together. My father and I used to prawn together quite a while ago as well," she said.

FUTURE OF LOCAL FILM INDUSTRY

The ciNE65 Movie Makers Awards plays an important role in nurturing the young talents in the local film industry.

Director NEXUS, Colonel Joseph Tan. PHOTO: AsiaOne

Colonel Tan said: "ciNE65 is a platform to showcase and tell the Singapore story. What's particularly unique this year is that it's the first time ever that we've partnered with mm2 Entertainment.

"This partnership is a very important one because mm2 Entertainment is at the forefront of the film industry. Through this partnership, we hope to not only encourage and nurture budding local filmmakers but to allow them a possible transition into the industry.

"I hope that we will continue to grow this partnership and I'm very optimistic about where we're going with ciNE65."

ALSO READ: ciNE65 film competition draws more than 100 entries on meaning of 'Singapura'

On that note, when will we see Tan's big feature-film debut?

"First things first, I have to finish my National Service," he quipped with a laugh.

He may have just enlisted two months ago, but we have a feeling that two years won't be enough to dim this rising star from becoming a force to be reckoned with in the industry.

To watch the short films for this year's ciNE65, head over here.

This article was brought to you in partnership with ciNE65.

bryanlim@asiaone.com

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