10 Things We Learnt From Making Singapore Standard Time
The producer of Singapore Standard Time gives us a snapshot of her team’s experience while making the film for their final year project at Nanyang Technological University.
1. Treat your equipment like a newborn child.
When you are merely lowly, unemployed media students, taking the utmost care pf your audio and video equipment is critical — especially if it’s the school’s equipment, because angering the camera’s parents (i.e. the school technicians) would be a fate worse than death.
2. The manual is your best friend.
As we were one of the student groups with the least production experience, it was easy to lose count of the number of times we stood there, panicking to the high heavens whenever something didn’t quite work properly. We eventually cottoned on to the fact that we were probably safer if we had the equipment manuals tucked safely under our arm on location.
3. Offering a quick prayer to Mother Nature won’t hurt.
There’s nothing worse than planning a full day of shoots only to have it rain out on you, especially when there isn’t a backup plan in your production schedule. We ended up carrying large plastic sheets around with us in case the skies decided to open up and pour.
4. More is better. Always.
Feel free to overestimate the resources you need. We started out thinking that for a short film we wouldn’t need more than 15 miniDV tapes. As the days progressed, we found ourselves buying tapes to keep up with the demands of our shoots, and our final count stood at 46 tapes. That’s over 45½ hours of footage not in the final cut of Singapore Standard Time. Of course, now the million dollar question is, what do we do with all the spare footage? Extended editions, anybody?
5. Sometimes, the solution is simpler than you think.
One time, we were wondering why the boom microphone wasn’t working, and all sorts of complicated reasons flew through our heads: Was it spoilt to begin with? Had we damaged it accidentally? (God forbid we had been careless with the equipment, see #1.) As it turned out, it was simply that the AA battery had gone dead and needed replacing.
6. Interviews are a tricky business.
Keeping interviews focused and to the point turned out to be a bigger challenge than we expected. One reason was that we were trying to tie these seemingly small and trivial issues to a much larger theme. But sometimes it paid off spectacularly. For instance, while we didn’t plan to splice the interview with botanist Dr Wee Yeow Chin across the film, we realised after reviewing the interview transcripts that this was the thread that would hold our story together.
7. You can’t leapfrog the bureaucracy.
Thanks to our media law professor, we were prepared for some degree of legal wrangling when making the film. What we didn’t expect was the mind-boggling amount of negotiation required to just to get permission to use the footage we’d obtained. The lesson learnt: read up on local media laws and rights, and get all the necessary permissions before you start shooting. We actually cut an entire segment from the film because of legal issues. (And no, we’re not planning to sneak it back in either.)
8. Trees are beautiful, beautiful things.
As trite as it sounds, they really are marvellous organisms. Time and time again, we found ourselves trying to bring out the best in a raintree’s gnarled crown of branches t or focus on the vivid colours of a flower on a simple roadside shrub. We were enthused to learn that most of the roadside trees in Singapore aren’t native to our soil — which makes me wonder, what is?
9. Who says Singaporeans aren’t inquisitive and curious?
Just ask the people who gave us prolonged strange looks and stares while we were out and about on shoots around Singapore. I imagine the sight of three girls manning a camera on the back of a pickup truck while driving along the expressway is something they don’t see often enough!
10. Filmmaking broadens your horizons in the most unexpected ways.
It’s still amazing to think of the places we were able to go to and the people we were able to meet. We didn’t think we would ever get the chance to step into a government-run nursery, Dr Woffles Wu’s operating room or an instant chicken rice factory. On hindsight, those were real eye-openers for us. When you’re so accustomed to seeing the Singapore of your daily routine, it’s so refreshing to learn that there’s still something more about your country that you don’t know yet.