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Sinema interviews Ting Szu Kiong on winning entry

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Based on the principle that an idea can develop into 10 original works through 10 filmmakers, filmmakeriq.com has teamed up with Celtx to organise Raven Storyboard Contest.

Contestants have to come up with a storyboard and screenwriting based on the poem “The Raven”, and Singaporean filmmaker Ting Szu Kiong was announced the winner for this contest.

1) What made you join this contest?
I find this contest very specific and clear. It is to adapt a poem. I mean the story is already given to me. So I just make full use of my sense of cinema (I hope I have some) to bring out the story in the strongest possible way. Unlike in other competitions, I have to make a lot of guesses to what the judges are looking for. That’s why you seldom see me participating in contests.

Also, I have had an idea of adapting some of the English classic novels to Singaporean or Asian context. These novels have timeless themes anyway. So, THE RAVEN would be my first attempt to work on an English classic work, though I didn’t localize it.

2) I saw your storyboard, and they reminded me of Quentin Blake’s illustrations. Who/what inspired the style of illustrations?
I engaged an illustrator (Wong Xing Jie) to help me. It was easy to communicate my idea to him as he had watched Tim Burton’s NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS and his other films. To make it even easier for Xing Jie, I drew the floor plan and showed him artworks by Dante. Lastly I gave him the script and shot list. He showed me his pencil sketches and I was totally satisfied. I don’t know whether his drawings were influenced by Quentin Blake’s works. To me, the protagonist tends to look more like Tim Burton’s main character in CORPSE’S BRIDE.

3) How long did it take for you to conceptualise the storyboard?
I took about a week including analyzing the poem and researching on it to understand the psyche of Edgar Allen Poe as he wrote it.

4) How do you think your experience as a filmmaker has affected your visual interpretation of The Raven?
My previous works do not deal with mentally deranged characters. So, I seldom make use of very high or low angles and extreme close ups. THE RAVEN focuses on the unstable mental state of the character. In this case I began using high and low angles and extreme close ups in planning the shots.

5) Did you have any difficulties with the poem?
I am a Science graduate, not at all a Literature person. Still, I didn’t find much difficulty in understanding the poem not because I am smart (I don’t think I am) but because of the Internet that offers so many explanations on the well-known poem. Also, thanks to the Internet, I am able to easily research on how the interior of typical chambers in 19th century English mansions look like. Last but not least, each stanza of the poem clearly tells of a particular mental state of the character making it easy for me to plan the shots.

6) Were there any relevance/similarities between the poem and yourself?
The more I try to understand the poem, the more I see how it is similar to me. I am an introvert filmmaker, staying at home most of the time. Like me, the entire poem is confined in the chamber too. So, I know what loneliness can do to your mind. It is just like what’s in the poem.

Once in a while, when I was a child staying alone at home, a different animal such as a black dog came to visit. It happened in Malaysia. I would try to talk to these animals. It is exactly like how the character in the poem talks to the raven.

I lived with statues at home when I was a child. One recurring element in my previous films is a statue: the statue of the Goddess of Mercy in MY KEYS, the statue of Lightning God in MICHELLE, and the statue of Tang Dynasty musician in THE FOREST SPIRITS. Coincidentally, THE RAVEN also features a statue. This time, it is a statue of the Goddess of Wisdom. I went to include the character talking to the statue to inject a comedic moment.

In effect, to my surprise, the whole poem is like my childhood world.

7) Now that you have won this contest, would you consider doing a short film on this?
Yes, I would love to. In fact, I have a few ideas. Some are short films. Some are even feature-length film ideas. I just don’t have the funds. I am hoping for people or organizations to have confidence in me and fund my projects, or at least help give recommendations.

Read Ting’s winning entry >>

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