Creativity in Isolation – An Interview With Filmmaker and Multidisciplinary Art Practitioner Grace Song
When Sinema.SG spoke with Ng Swee San earlier in March, she had commissioned two video productions surrounding dengue fever awareness under the Creatives Commissioning Creatives initiative. The initiative aims to have freelancers come together to create projects for each other.
She has gone on to raise an additional $1400 from donors to commission a second project, based on the theme of “Inspiration in Isolation, Togetherness Apart”, selecting four creatives across various disciplines. These four creatives under the Stay Home residency are puppeteer Carina Hales, theatre performer Victoria Chen, illustrator Lai Wei Min, and writer and filmmaker Grace Song.
Each was tasked with creating one solo piece of one to two minutes, and a similar semi-collaborative piece responding to the works of the three other creatives. They were also asked to share reflections on the creative and collaborative process behind their works on their Facebook accounts.
All of their works are now available online:
Carina Hales: Mr E. Bunny’s Indoor Easter Egg Hunt & Mr E. Bunny on the other side of Easter
Victoria Chen: Meimei Makes Music! & b0red in the h0use
Lai Wei Min: Dawn《黎明》 & Shadow Work
Grace Song: Bat Soup & Dirty Laundry
With Bat Soup, Grace Song presents a quirky and inventive take on the call to stay at home. Meanwhile, her follow-up Dirty Laundry incorporated elements from the three other creatives while integrating a brief yet intimate snapshot of her life during the “circuit breaker” month.
We spoke with the emerging filmmaker and multidisciplinary art practitioner to find out more about her, her two short films, and her hopes for the post-pandemic world.
Tell us about yourself and your works so far.
I’m a filmmaker and a multidisciplinary art practitioner. Before Bat Soup and Dirty Laundry, I directed a music video called ‘Momento’ by a Singaporean band, Islandeer. I have made other stuff that is a mix of video art, photography and personal shorts. I’m a media freelancer working mostly as a director/writer/art director/video editor, but I also have a hand in other roles as well to have a general understanding of the production process. Currently, I’m focusing more on scriptwriting and directing, hopefully working towards making a short film later this year.
How did you find out about Swee San’s Creatives Commissioning Creatives initiative?
I saw her post on the SG COVID-19 Creative/Cultural Professionals & Freelancers Support Group on Facebook. Since I didn’t have anything else to do (as jobs were either in the works, postponed or cancelled), I thought I’d try it out. Swee San’s amazing.
How did you feel after finding out that you were selected for the commission?
Pleasantly surprised as I didn’t think much about my submission write up (there were a lot of people in the group). Also, I’ve embraced rejection as part of life and it was nice to get accepted.
What’s the inspiration behind the visual style of both shorts?
Not so long ago, I finished reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which really helped push the idea of Bat Soup. Before the book, I had already wanted to shoot a narrative involving vampires as I loved Murnau’s Nosferatu and Dreyer’s Vampyr for their expressionistic way of depicting a heightened reality. Other influences would be The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Ordet and Bergman’s movies for a bunch of different reasons. Before the residency, I had an idea of filming a bat soup commercial as a satire about the virus, however, that didn’t take off but the name “Bat Soup” stuck and I used it for this film.
Besides having a storyboard, Alexander (my DP) and I were mainly trying to figure out how to tell a story in the most organic way with no budget and in two days. We were coming up with shots as we went along and tried to stick as close to the storyboard. I chose black and white for practical reasons as I didn’t want to fuss over art direction and colour. It was meant to be expressionistic—focusing on lines, light and shadow, and composition. We planned it before the circuit breaker started (7 April) where we shot the outdoor scenes with Malcolm (cool guy blood sacrifice) and me first.
I didn’t have a lot of time to shoot Dirty Laundry. The residency predicated on us creating works in a short amount of time which I thought worked and produced very interesting results. I had four days to think, write, shoot and edit Dirty Laundry and thought that an experimental loose narrative documentary would be the most practical way to shoot it.
I shot the film with a fly-on-the-wall approach and edited it as how you would make a collage. I had also watched Kirsten Johnson’s Cameraperson which is an autobiographical documentary made up of moments from B-rolls she had shot. Its quotidian focus on her own life behind the camera inspired and encouraged me to make more personal stories too.
Were there any challenges creating these two shorts?
I guess the main challenge, like any production big or small, is always about personal and artistic expression (technicalities apart), warring with myself, and being consistent. I’m still figuring out my own voice, maybe finding out certain patterns only after the film is done.
The challenge for me is always, “Did I make something I would watch and was it worth my time and everybody else’s?” and “Was it true to the essence of what I hoped for, and if what I hoped for was truthful? What could I have done better or what should I do moving forward to achieve that?”. I was quite pleased with how natural the process was while making Bat Soup and Dirty Laundry.
Tell us about why you made Dirty Laundry as a response to the other three works
I was thinking of how I would incorporate the other three works – Victoria, Carina and Wei Min’s – as inspiration and took what struck me the most about their work. Victoria had a nice ‘mockumentary’ approach by documenting what she did in a day in a humorous way, Carina had this fantastic dance break segment in-between her finger-puppet Easter video, and Wei Min drew a surrealistic portrait of herself doing yoga. Very cool.
Tell us about the challenges in being a creative during these times
It would be challenging to pull off more ambitious projects – but then again if you were really creative and resourceful, it could happen. We are forced to work with the limitations of [our] own home as a location where possible narratives could take place.
I think self-isolation has helped (forced) me to be creative, like that one episode in [television show] Spongebob Squarepants where he crawled into a cardboard box and went through all sorts of adventures using only his imagination. Other than that, I guess, we media freelancers are a little broke now. Support and good friends really go a long way.
What have you been up to during the circuit breaker month?
I’ve been reading a lot and watching (and re-watching) movies, keeping myself busy with some pre-production work and personal projects. I’ve also gotten into the habit of watching the news constantly for updates on the virus and catching up with friends over social media (which I’ve been out of touch with). Current earworm: “The Circle Game” – Joni Mitchell.
If you were in a position to do so and it could be anything under the sun, would you want to commission a work too? And what would it be about?
That’ll be really cool. I would like to commission works based on dreams (or nightmares), the strange ones and the reoccurring ones. I think it would be a really evocative experience to see the subconscious being externalized into the medium of film.
What are your future plans in the post-COVID 19 world?
In a post-COVID 19 world, I would continue to make films—hopefully having more opportunities to make long-form narratives and travelling more. I also can’t wait to work on more projects, collaborate with other talented artists and make new friends.
In addition to the four creatives, Swee San has also commissioned writer and theatre performer Clara Ventus Putri, and dancer Jocelyn Chng to do short solo pieces. Following the project, she is now working with Carousell on an online art auction for the MADEinSG community with support from the SG Brand Office.
– Creatives Commissioning Creatives – A Trailblazing New Initiative to Encourage a Kinder Ecosystem Amongst Freelancers
– A Little Faith Goes a Long Way – An Interview With the Inciting Incident’s Inaugural Winner, Chung Ming See