SIFF 2008: Interview With Royston Tan, Director of ‘After The Rain’5 min readReading Time: 5 minutes
If it wasn’t for Royston Tan’s short film After The Rain to be shown as a fore to Abdul Nizam Hamid’s documentary Keronchong For Pak Bakar, there would have been a marked absence from screens at this year’s SIFF (Singapore International Film Festival).Catch it at the festival’s newly established “Singapore Panorama” section at Sinema Old School. I had the opportunity to sit down with Royston for an exclusive interview on (one of) his most recent achievements.
Mathias Ortmann (MO): You don’t seem to tire of short films. How important are these seemingly minor works to you as a director, your development as an artist?
Royston Tan (RT): To me, short films are certainly more personal. They are reduced and much more tighter. It has the intimacy almost of an autograph book. For me it would be an insult to the genre to think of a short film as a kind of rehearsal for a feature.
MO: When and how did the idea or actual script for ‘After The Rain’ originate? Is it truly and originally a commissioned work done for the ARMS?
RT: The idea to After The Rain I had two years ago. They form a trilogy actually, Sons, Mother and After The Rain. So the idea was with me for quite some time. I had always wanted to round it off, and so there were just a few minor adjustments to suit the Army context. I made it a condition that there be no changes to my script. I would not change a single word, absolutely nothing for the Army, that’s what I said. And they agreed.
MO: How much of your own self situation and personal experience/history with National Service is there incorporated in ‘After The Rain’?
RT: No, there’s none, no personal connection to the Army for me. It is more about changes, friendship and nostalgia, but not National Service. I have no real connection to it. After all, it was not weapons but the people who made this country. I feel absolutely nothing about the Army.MO: There seems to me a striking connection between Sons of 2000 and After The Rain in that both reflect on a father-son relationship. Are you done with this theme, or do you feel it might resurface, in some other form, somewhere in your future work?
RT: Yes, there is this connection between Sons and also Mother and this one. It is actually a thematic relation between those three. That’s why I feel like they form a trilogy in that sense. But I’m done with the angstiness on this topic, I think. I’ve changed myself since then, have made peace with myself; a part of me has. It was something I wanted to tell and unconsciously that’s how it turned out.
MO: Was there a visual concept in place for this one?
RT: With this, I wanted to narrate through the images alone. Also, I didn’t want to have any voice-over in this one; it is more showing than telling, let the images tell the story. It has to do with maturity, I guess.
MO: This short has been shot shortly after principal photography wrap of ‘881’. So is there reflected in this piece a need for slowing things down, which must have been your secret wish at the time, a deliberate choice of contrast?
RT: I had a total burnout after the shooting of 881. My system just broke down and I couldn’t function properly anymore. So we were just following the basic structure and let the set and everything take over, let myself be guided by instinct, let your eyes become the lens. And it just worked, it added up to something. At some point we were all just sensing that something was coming about, something was shaping up.
MO: So was it a surprise for you then, to see the final result once it was finished?
RT: Yes, very surprised, all of us were. But when I saw it, I just knew it was right. Ya, I just knew it! Like from the subconscious, the flow just came. It affirmed me as a person.MO: What to you is beauty in a film?
RT: Innocence — to me it is innocence; it is to capture innocence in a film. There is no right or wrong in innocence. For After The Rain, I worked with an entirely untrained cast. But it is not just in people, it can also be the innocence in a feeling for instance.
MO: Looking back at the string of your latest films, there appear to be mostly memory pieces of late: sensuous, impressionistic, affirmative?
RT: I’m always living in my memories, I am trapped in time. So I want to capture places, people, music, before they disappear. But I try not to over-sentimentalize my films.
MO: Remembering ’15’ and how it all began, the earlier short films you did, it seems only fair to ask: Have you lost your edge?
RT: I think there still is an angry Royston, definitely. With the honing of the craft is like with a knife: the smoother you become, the sharper you become. If I can’t do it in the head-on way, I’ll just do it subtly. Like I did with 881, then raise the level from there. At this point, first there are these stories I want to tell [meaning: the ongoing production 1028 (working title); MO]. But there’ll definitely be something rough again in the future.
MO: Now you’ve just launched your own company, 1028 productions. What is this move about? Technically speaking, how is this supposed to affect your future films? Does it imply a change in your agenda as an artist as well?
RT: In essence, what it is about is making a new step, like a new chapter in my life. I’d always wanted to have my own company. Now I have to train myself on how to manage, I have to learn how to organise, because I’m not a very organised person. So it is like having to step out of my comfort zone. But artistically, nothing will change.
MO: Thank you so much for taking your time and providing some additional background. And as you’re currently in production of your next feature film, here’s my wishing you all the best for that one! Looking forward to catching it in cinemas this August!