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Sinema interviews Lincoln Chia on “Sisters”

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Sinema interviews Singaporean filmmaker Lincoln Chia on his new film “Sisters” and issues he faced as an independent filmmaker.

He shared that “Sisters” was inspired by a true incident that happened to Michael Tay, writer and actor for the role of “Sam” in this film.

Tay was accidentally roped in by his aunties to be one of the “sisters”  and tease the groom just before he met the bride. Upon hearing his experience, Chia agreed to direct the screenplay for Sisters.

Synopsis
It is customary that during a traditional chinese wedding, the bride usually hires a group of close female friends to be her bridesmaids to tease the groom. In this short film, the role of bridesmade is portrayed in multiple ways, such as the sisterly love between mother and daughter, brother and sister, nephew and auntie, niece and auntie etc.

On the wedding day, Sam, the homosexual brother of the bride, is roped in by his cheeky auntie to become one of the bridesmaide, which forces Sam to confront his feelings for the groom.

For your new film Sisters, did you encounter any problems? And how did Kelvin Ang helped you in this production?

Since this is my first film upon graduation, we did not enjoy the same privileges as we did when we were doing student projects. Although we got promoted to being indie filmmakers, it also meant a bigger price tag.

Fortunately, I still managed to garner the support of many industry players who ensured that my “wedding” proceeded smoothly. Filmmaking to me is about problem solving and I always enjoy the process alot.

My producer Yanyun and I worked very hard to have our art department fully sponsored and I was overwhelmed by the support I got.

1) A bridal gown and suit tailor-made specially for the film by Kevin Seah
2) A Mercedes Benz for the wedding car sponsored by Daimler South East Asia Pte Ltd
3) Jewellery and wedding bands by Goldheart Jewellery
4) Car decor and hand bouquet sponsored by Princess Flower Shop Pte Ltd
5) Wedding decor and traditional items sponsored by The Chinese Wedding Shop
6) Cosmetic by MAC and hair products by Redken, courtesy of Dollei Seah
7) Wardrobe for featured talents from Metro Singapore

However, cash sponsors remained the biggest obstacle to making the film possible. I have known Mr Kelvin Ang since Flare 2009 (my graduation showcase) and since then he has been very supportive of local budding filmmakers. He is one of the primary contributors who partially funded this short film production. Other cash sponsors were NTU- Alumni Office and Fridae.

I would also like to record my thanks to Mr Samuel Seow who very kindly handled all legitimate matters pertaining to this film production. Equipment support came from Canon Singapore and Bert Lighting House.

I read that there were some funding issue for Echoes. How did you guys overcome it?
Shortly after I made Sisters, I received the good news that my key team was the only Singaporean team which got selected for a film competition in Bangkok. During the short period of about a month, we approached over a hundred local companies for cash sponsorship and did not managed to get any positive response.

In the end, Miss Anita Hatta saved the day and made my first overseas filmmaking experience possible. She is an overseas contact from our Producer/Cinematographer, Teck and his sister, Sherry Lim. She also accepted our offer to become the Executive Producer for this short film.

How do you feel about filming in overseas for the first time?

Bangkok has never felt foreign to me as I have been there a couple of times due to dog showing in the past few years. I also have friends living in Bangkok. Thus, I went there worry-free and with the intention to enjoy the entire filmmaking process.

The whole experience turned out to be truly rewarding. In actual fact, the filmmaking process was much smoother than expected. The prompt assistance and generous hospitality of the Thai people helped me grow alot as a filmmaker.

I felt very honoured that local Thai producer, Judge and TVC director, Tong came onboard my production to AD for me, mainly to help me translate my directorial intentions in Thai. Judge also helped to put a thai production team together with production manager Brandon (Singaporean and Executive Producer of The Illusionists).

I think I am very blessed and pampered for the fact that the organiser, FEA, very generously gave me a car with chauffer, Samorn attending to all my transportation needs and a local assistant, my lovely Dollaya to help me with translation as my conversational thai skills are indeed limited. We were very well taken care of during our stay in Bangkok.

Living under one roof with Teck (cinematographer) and Rachel (music director) for a month definitely brought our friendship to a higher level. This “survival” made us understand each other better and personally I feel this is very important for our future collaborations. I must say it was a very pleasant experience.

Without hesitation, I would love to shoot more films overseas in future.

Were there any problems filming in Thailand?

As previously mentioned, there wasn’t any major hiccups. Personally, I do not usually forecast problems, I would rather take them as they come as I enjoy the process of solving them.

Under a shoe string budget and limited resources, we had to carefully plan and budget for every step needed to deliver the story. This short film is heavily driven by music and I insisted on acoustic recording of the piano and cello.

This being the case, quite a substantial amount had to be spent on music recording and sound design services in order to not have my visions compromised. Our music composer was in Germany during the production period and Rachel had to depend solely on Skype to discuss the music arrangement.

She also had to find me a highly proficient cellist in Bangkok when is able to match our rehearsal and recording schedules. Luckily, through the contacts of our music composer, Tan Tuan Hao, we got in touch with Zurasak, a Thai composer and conservatory lecturer who linked us up with musicians from Rangsit University. Eventually, we found our cellist, Nui and both her and Rachel began their rehearsals for several nights before the actual recording.

Editing of the short film also began concurrently and the music department even scored in a way that the music served to fit every second of specific scenes in a precise manner. I was very touched by the dedication of the music team under the leadership of Rachel Lim.

There were 99 shortlisted teams altogether in this student film competition and there were 3 teams including us who were vying for the same filming location – the blind school. We had to pitch our story to the management of the school. Eventually, we managed to touch their hearts with our story about a blind boy who wants to become an accomplished musician when he grows up.

Crowd control during the school’s operating hours was very challenging as I do not have a complete production team and the luxury of hiring PAs. We needed alot of patience to clear every scene while filming in their premises. We had to ensure the safety of all students and avoid accidents by keeping a close watch on our film equipment all the time. I am very thankful for the zero accident record.

According to the script, we had to film the blind students singing the Thai national anthem during their morning assembly, I relied alot on the school teachers (who are mostly visually handicapped) to help with the logistics to make this scene possible as I was shorthanded. The management of the school was extremely supportive and gave in to all my requests while filming. I am truly grateful for their generosity and kind understanding towards my production.

Why do you think local independent films have such little support locally?

I think local indie films have very healthy support in terms of props and wardrobe, as you can see from the sponsorship that came in readily for Sisters. However, other than SFC-Short Film Grant, we need more organisations to set up funding channels to help budding filmmakers make their films.

I hope that in time to come, NTU can set up a film grant to help Alumni who graduate from the School of Art, Design and Media to continue their filmmaking efforts after graduation and contribute more significantly to Singapore Cinema. Other film schools and institutes in Singapore should also consider setting up their film grants to benefit their graduates.

Recently there have been a few filmmakers who source for resources and promote their films through the internet (Ed Burns says digital is future of indie films). Do you agree with what Burns has said, and will you consider doing the same?

I personally feel it’s a very effective way to generate publicity for both the film and the filmmaker. I will consider uploading my show reel and trailers of my current works to the internet via my personal website

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