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19 August 2019 11 min read



Reading Time: 11 minutes

Production Diaries provides a peek into the inner workings of film and television, uncovering filmmakers’ personal experiences. Candid and conversational, these interviews and “diary entries” hope to shed light on the enigmatic nature of the craft.

Kiki, a local, fantastical twist on the typical boy-meets-girl story — perhaps you’ve heard of it, or you might have already seen it and (hopefully) read our insightful commentary on the series and its deeper nuances. But how about delving further behind the scenes… from the very people who brought it to life?

Well, now you have it! We’ve spoken to the people who have worked tirelessly on this project, from the cast to the crew, and learnt about their insights on following this project from start to finish. They hail from different facets of production, and here, we bring their experiences to you. Be warned when going ahead though — this article contains mild spoilers!

For the uninitiated, Kiki is available to watch on Toggle.

Brian and Kimberly as Jay and Kiki

Brian Ng (Jay); Jannassa Neo (Sammy); Kimberly Chia (Kiki); Munah Bagharib (Catherine)

Sinema: What were some of the challenges you faced when acting as your characters?

Brian (B): The biggest challenge would be finding the physicality of Jay. The discussions with the producer and writer before and even during production were very helpful to situate Jay on the Autism spectrum, so we had an idea of Jay’s likely response in more extreme situations where he was distressed. But the challenge was to play Jay in the everyday conversations he had; how to present him as a guy who has Asperger’s clearly to the audience, but yet not over-do it so much that it becomes a caricature.

Kimberly (K): Kiki is a character with so many layers and because she’s a drawing with no past and no memories, it was hard to reference from any real life experiences and I could only rely on imagination. 

Jannassa (J): Emulating the close bond that Sammy has with Jay. They have been best friends for a very long time! I’m glad that Brian and I work very well together, on and off screen.

Munah (M): Cat is a little more subdued than I am. She’s fun and quirky but at the same time very balanced so I do have to make sure there is a fine line between those two things. It’s fun!

What was the most rewarding part about acting in Kiki? 

B: The entire journey was a lot of fun with a great cast and crew, so I’m thankful for the friendships formed on the project. But for myself I think the most rewarding part of acting in Kiki would be being able to challenge myself from an acting standpoint. Looking back, I do feel that there are many areas which I still can improve on, but I think I managed to capture Jay adequately, so I’m quite pleased with that.

K: The most rewarding part would be working with everyone involved in Kiki. I was looking forward to going on set every single day and it was such a joy to work with everyone!

J: Seeing the project come to life and knowing that I played a part in making it happen.

Jannassa and Brian on set

M: It’s definitely the people I got to work with. Everyone was passionate about the projects and had the intention to do the best for it. So it was great energy to be around. 

How was it like embodying your respective characters on screen?

B: It was definitely a challenge to play someone so different from yourself, both physically and mentally, but for an actor that’s a lot of fun.

I tried my best to design the physical quirks and tics of Jay, whether it was Jay playing with his hands, pulling at his bag straps, or his facial tics and darting glances, to communicate his discomfort with the sensory world around him, and how he uses these quirks as coping mechanisms. I hope nothing stood out as excessive or unintentionally funny!

Brian on the last day of shoot
[In terms of reception] So far it has been largely positive. One of the most encouraging comments came on Instagram from a mother who has two sons, one who has Asperger’s, and she affirmed the performance as being quite authentic.

K: It was a challenge but I enjoyed every single part of playing [Kiki]. I felt that it allowed me to push my boundaries as an actress. And after each scene [where my emotions have to fluctuate in a blink of an eye] is done, it almost feels like a release of a lot of pent up emotions or anger.

Also, I loved our cast of Kiki! I think our chemistry with each other is great and the support that we give each other while doing the tougher, more emotional scenes was really heartwarming. Especially working with Brian, he would surprise me with the way he handled some of the scenes and I think it was great to bounce off each other’s energy.

What was your favourite scene to act in?

B: Favourite scene would either have to be the one where Jay comes in the café as a bad boy trying to win over Kiki because it was hilarious to have to play an awkward guy trying to be cool, or I would have to go in the opposite direction and choose a dramatic scene; the one where Jay has a long argument with Kiki where she threatens to leave him, because I had a lot of fun bouncing off Kimberly trying to find the scene.

K: There were so many! But I think I really enjoyed playing the darker parts of Kiki, when she goes a little crazy, because I love a good challenge. I also really enjoyed the last scene with Brian/Jay. It was heart wrenching while we were filming it but when I watched, it was beautiful and you can see how much both of the characters have grown since the start. 

Munah at Cafe Reverie

M: One of my favourites has got to be the scene between me and Crispian in the massage parlour because that was just crazy fun to play. Crispian is also an incredible actor so it was easy to have chemistry with him.

Another one is the last scene between Cat and Kiki. There was so much pure love in that scene between the two characters, and I think that scene was so beautifully written too.

Shooting Jay in his home

Joanna Ng (Director); Hazel Leong (Co-writer); Ryan Leau (Assistant Director); Ken Minehan (Director of Photography); Anthea Ng (Propsmaster) 

Joanna, could you tell us what inspired the series and why it’s something you felt compelled to make?

Joanna (J): Being in control and manipulating life is something that intrigues me. I guess there is a tiny part in many of us that wants to play the puppeteer of our lives, but it is important to know that that’s not our role to play. And what is the most straightforward way to tell a message like that? By having a character who literally creates something purely from imagination, and manipulating it to his liking.

Why did you choose to use animation in the series?

J: Lots of people with Asperger’s come up with images in their head as a form of coping mechanism to calm them down or concentrate. They keep them centered in a way, especially when the sensory world around them is becoming too chaotic for them. This imagination can be very literal sometimes, which is exactly how our animation is. And to Aspies, they might even seem a little more real than reality, so it’s important to explore that to understand their world better.

How do you think having a character with Asperger’s (and OCD) affected the story?

Hazel (H): I think it adds another layer of sensitivity of how to approach the story and the events that happen within the story itself. Jay’s condition sort of motivates his present actions or behaviour because of the stigma and past events that arose from having Asperger’s. 

J: The entire story is all about a human’s struggle for dominance over fate, with the need to control everything, even with factors that are out of our control. This is further fuelled by the fact that our protagonist Jay has Asperger’s; people with autism tend to find the need to keep their lives in extreme control and rigidity —  how things are placed, their daily routines, and in this case, how love is supposed to turn out. 

Having a character with Aspergers definitely helped to reinforce the theme and message that I was trying to portray; so in a way he did not affect the story per se, but blends in perfectly.

How was it like working on Kiki?

Ryan (R): I got to work with a bunch of really capable crew. Joanna and Ken were also easy to work with, so I’m really thankful for the experience.

As compared to a corporate or short film, there are so many more considerations to think about during pre-production. There was a lot more cast and locations involved, and also a lot more scenes to do, so it was quite eye-opening for me. 

Filming a hospital scene

Ken (K): Most of my experiences as a Director of Photography (DOP) is from working on short-form projects like commercials and corporate videos. When working with brands on commercials projects, we will often spend 10-12 hours a day on a 30-60sec video to perfecting the composition, lighting, art of each and every shot but in long-form narratives, we often don’t have the luxury of money and time of the commercial world. Kiki was no exception.   

So how do we tell a 8 x 30min story with less budget, less time? I think the answer for me was to shift my paradigm and stop thinking like a short form/commercial  DOP. And rather than fighting what we don’t have, embrace what we do have. It was certainly a challenge, but once I accepted this, everything got easier.

How was the first day of shoot like?

H: It was hopeful, things were coming together and it was surreal to see Kiki coming to life, literally, on the monitor. 

J: It was pretty nerve-wracking, at least for me, as the crew tried to figure each other out in terms of their personalities and working patterns. And some of the casts were meeting each other for the first time. The first few days are all about finding the right balance and communication with each other. We all started off as strangers, but we all became overly-attached buddies at the end of the shoot.

Joanna at the director’s monitor

What was the most memorable moment of the production process?

H: As a co-writer, it would be the week where Jo and I were on a crazy high, due to the stress of handing up the scripts despite the tight deadline, and we were like having a ‘tango’ on Celtx. Up till today, I cannot believe we did not have a single screaming match despite the stress.

J: Writing the script was definitely my favourite part of the whole process as imagination comes into such a big play and I get to create worlds and lives that doesn’t exist in reality. 

During shoot, my favourite moment would be filming the finale farewell scene. It was sunny outside and I was hiding under a giant black cloth by myself looking at the performance up-close through a small monitor and noise-cancelling earphones. At that moment it felt like a very intimate moment just between me and the cast.

I guess I can’t pick just one memorable moment — I enjoyed the whole process thoroughly.

Anthea (A): I’m kind of like Sammy in terms of character (so #teamsammy!). Our colour palettes are also pretty in sync that a lot of her outfits were actually mine (in real life) so I was really excited when we were coming up with Sammy’s house! A lot of the props were hand made specially for the space like the macrame curtains and the dream catchers.

The kitchen scene was really something I was looking forward to but we had a hiccup when the baker could not deliver the cake. It ended up as a blessing in disguise because we made our own galaxy cake and I guess through that process, we got to be in Sammy’s shoes. It wasn’t the perfect cake but that cake had a lot of heart put into it. I think that’s my favourite scene because Sammy was doing something that she liked and that was when I felt like she was living… and not just living for Jay. 

Handmade macrame curtains for Sammy’s house

What was the most challenging thing you encountered on shoot?

H: One of our supporting cast, Kaishen, injured himself quite badly and we had already shot him for one of the earlier episodes. And at this point, it was hard to write out the character without it affecting the main protagonist. But amazingly, he still turned up on set because that was how dedicated he was. I was really moved and grateful to him. 

J: We were stopped by neighbours not once, but thrice, on different occasions. But I guess it happens every now and then during shoots anyway. The final time was the most devastating for me as it was such a crucial scene and we only had a couple more shots to film to complete the scene. But no matter how much we pleaded with the neighbours, they just stood their ground and insisted on us leaving. I think that was the most upsetting day of filming for me.

R: I think it was scheduling the cast and location. Hazel helped me out a lot on this, as some of the cast had other commitments. It was pretty stressful at times because we had to pray hard that they were available on the given day.

A: The flashback scenes at Jay’s old bedroom in his parents’ house would be one of the contenders for the most challenging space. We had to build a bunk bed within a really short amount of time and there was no other way around it as we couldn’t be in the space earlier nor start shoot later.

I am so thankful for all the extra help we had that morning. We managed to build the bed really quickly and eventually ended up having a lot of fun dressing the space. I really enjoyed being in that room watching the scenes come to life whilst making new memories. 

K: As DOP, it was the exterior night shoots. Usually for night exteriors, we have to create moon ambience or mimic street light or bring up exposures on backgrounds etc., all of which takes time, extra crew, and money — which we don’t have. 

One of the solutions was to use the Panasonic Eva 1 as the main camera for Kiki, for its low light capabilities. It also has a dual native ISO of 800 and 2500. We shot our day scenes on ISO 800 and almost all the night scenes on ISO 1600. We even shot some night scenes natural. 

Shooting Cafe Reverie

Any last words?

H: Working on Kiki was an adventure filled with fond memories.

R: From this, I have learnt to be more confident in dealing with bigger cast and crew. It’s a very good and unforgettable experience for me. I made some really good friends along the way too. 

A: We had a lot of fun together because the Kiki crew was just like a big family. Being on set always made me feel warm and fuzzy, and I always went home feeling blessed despite the craziness. I miss the days at Jay’s home and Cafe Reverie where we spent most of our days at. My favourite memory would be really the art van because it was like our little home and housed all our different personalities and emotions together.

somehow both a dreamer and a realist at once; more articulate in the written word
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