Royston Tan has made more than 20 short films, including Mother, Sons and Hock Hiap Leong, which have screened and won awards at numerous international film festivals.
His short film, 15, which won a Special Achievement Award at the 2002 Singapore International Film Festival, was made into his first feature film. 15 has brought him international acclaim for its graphic portrayal of local gangster life.
His second feature film, 4:30, was selected to be the closing film at the 2006 Singapore International Film Festival. 4:30 is a Japan-Singapore collaboration that was shot at an estimated budget of $400,000 on 35mm film with funding and support from NHK Japan, the Singapore Film Commission and Zhao Wei Films.
The film was released theatrically in Singapore to critical acclaim. 4:30 was also warmly received at the international film festival circuit. Besides being invited to screen at numerous festivals, the film won the Grand Prize for Best Film at the 8th International Film Festival Bratislava 2006, and the NETPAC award at the Hawaii International Film Festival 2006.
Gary Goh is a frequent collaborator on Royston’s works. His first project with Royston began in 2001, when he produced Royston’s short film 15.
In 2003, Gary was the production manager of 15: The Movie, the feature film which won the NETPAC-FIPRESCI award at the 2003 Singapore International Film Festival.
In 2006, he was the producer and assistant director of Royston Tan’s second feature film 4:30.
Over the years, Gary has also produced a number of Royston’s other short films.
He is currently a producer at Zhao Wei Films, helmed by the Singapore’s most renowned director Eric Khoo, producing television commercials, films and other media content.
Q: How much does the film 4:30 cost?
Gary: All in all about $400,000. And that is a very tight budget.
Q: And the money comes from?
Gary: It’s a three-way. We have Zhao Wei Films, Singapore Film Commission and NHK-Japan.
Royston: So what we did to contain the budget was to be very, very careful. A lot of rehearsals, our average ratio was 1:2. For the little boy, he’s very good, so it was 1:1. And that helped us save a lot of film because you can see that everything is done in one take. If one of them makes a mistake, we have to throw the whole can away and re-shoot. And the challenging part was where you saw the Korean man vomiting, mentally he was calculating like at 2 minutes and 24 seconds sharp, he has to puke so that we fully utilise the entire can of film. That scene alone took 5 hours.
Gary: And he had to puke eight times.
Royston: The timing and the puking wasn’t right.
Q: What did you base 4:30 on? Like a personal experience or a story you wanted to tell, or just another film that you make?
Royston: (laughs) I think for everything that I do, there’s a personal aspect of me. For all of us, as a kid we always look out for a superman or a superhero or somebody to look after us or even model after. And that’s… I think it derived from loneliness and also because I’ve seen this boy on television since he was a little kid and there was something about him and I wanted to tailor a film for him. So his input into the character helped me craft up a story.
Q: So a lot of yourself is in the film?
Royston: In fact there is a lot of how I feel but because it is through his eyes I feel he intensifies the whole experience even more. When he first read the script he said he knew how to do this role and he knew exactly how it feels.
Q: Can I ask about 15?
Royston: 15 I think was actually a new point for me because it’s not really my story but it was inspired by a group of ah-bengs I hang out with because I was teaching them drama. And that sort of changed a lot of things because they, well I penetrated into their world of sparks and canto-pop and just a wonderful experience I had never experienced before, not even in Johor Bahru. I wanted to document their stuff but with 15, I took something that wasn’t mine but personified it so that it was like my own story. That was a changing point for me.
Q: Can I follow up on 15 since we’re talking about it. I read a script of 15 because I was in the funding committee and I noticed that in the original script one of them was supposed to be a male prostitute serving female clients. In the film however, there was a scene that showed the boy in the shower but the client was a male. Why did you decide to make that change?
Royston: Well again it was based on some research and when we were reaching the point of filming, I started to hear some more news. Because it brings such a film even closer to date and there are a lot of “accidental” news which they leaked out to me which they are pretty comfortable to share. So I decided, “Okay, I’ll give it another spin.” And I wanted to contrast a lack of fatherly love and that sort of intimacy which they’re chasing. Makes the film even more twisted and complicated and in a way simple because they’re just seeking attention.
Q: I see that in your films you always have fish tanks. I was wondering if it means anything.
Royston: I’ve always wanted to work in a fish tank. (laughs) I think it’s a subconscious thing. I never realised it. I might need a psychiatrist for help. I mean just last night I met a group of friends who have never seen my films. They’re another group of ah-bengs but they’re grown up and they were asking me “How come all your films have plasters? There’s always a plaster in your films.” I didn’t realise it until someone told me.
Q: What other problems have you faced besides actors and conserving film?
Royston: I think the question can be answered in two levels. I think Gary can offer a perspective on the production side.
Gary: For the production aspect we can say $400,000 and you guys can say it’s a lot.
Royston: No they say it’s very little.
Gary: Oh, I thought I heard some of you say it’s a lot. Yeah, it was very little to play with. Language is also a problem, because Royston touched on Li Yuan, the boy and the Korean, Kim Young-Jun. He is actually a comedian in his hometown of Seoul. When we put this character for him to play, it was a challenge but he wanted to take it up. Royston was taking care of Li Yuan while I had to take care of Young-Jun. And he’d speak like spatters of English and overall it was a very big language barrier. A lot of times Royston would tell me in English or Mandarin, “This is what I want, blah blah blah.” When I explain it to the Korean actor, I would literally have to act it out for him to see and then he will follow. Other than that it’s your usual production or logistic problems. There’s no production that will go 100% smoothly.
Royston: There were also problems with the location. The house that you see is actually a house which is occupied by Bangladeshi workers and there was a huge mess and we sort of dressed it up. Before the production, the most complicating thing was to get funding. That was very tough because for a script like this, it’s destined not to make money. I was very lucky to be chosen by Pusan International Film Festival and NHK-Japan when they first saw the film and read the script they said “Okay. It’s a bit crazy. But we want to work with crazy people.” That’s where they came in and said we want to work with you. With that it sparked an interest in Singapore and we started working. In terms of working with the talents, we also tried to make it like a strategy game whereby in the film they are never close but when they’re not filming they cannot talk also. They’re not allowed to interact with one another. We wanted the tension. There was one time whereby they couldn’t take it anymore and they decided to make it a joke and started talking and then the footage didn’t turn out well and we decided to cancel the whole shoot. It affected them a little bit and they started to take this kind of torture very seriously. It was all building up to the finale where there was the awkwardness and the longing to be together. We wanted to create that fusion.
Q: It has a strange style of editing.
Royston: I think this whole film is told from the perspective of a little boy’s memory. And sometimes it’s like a movie, it’s editable. You edit the people you don’t want to see. The facts are true, but you distort it and that is what I wanted to do. Many times a film can be entertaining but it can also be thought-provoking. Like the relationship being like a father and son, that is one interpretation. It started off that way in the construction of the script and when it was finished we deconstructed the script again to make the audiences decide for themselves what relationship they are actually in. It was a great experience even in the film festivals there were people trying to find out what it was.
Gary: Different people were like guessing the little mysteries which we’re not sure you can pick up.
Royston: There’s one question that the whole world cannot answer. If you can answer that question I’ll give you a million dollars. Something is wrong with the date, something is missing. You can watch it another time.
Q: It’s the school holidays?
Royston: Yes, that’s one. But there’s another one. It’s a difficult question anyway. You might not be able to answer. I don’t have the one million dollars but anyway. So he wrote his diary on the 15th, 16th, 17th and 19th of Dec. Why is 18th of Dec missing? You have a month to get back to me. These are the little things we wanted the audience to rediscover.
Gary: And the DVD is out so you can buy it. (laughs)
Q: Some of my students have bought the DVD. One question they asked me was, “It looks like a gay film”. Is it one?
Royston: Well I think that it is when you think it is. Whether or not it is a gay film, I think it is a story about human relationships; the need to be intimate with one another. I think that is what I wanted to say. What I think is that it is very subjective because it’s coming out from the perspective of the kid. If it was an 18-year old teenager, the inclination would be clearer. But in this it is a little bit more grey and we wanted the audiences to fill in the missing gap.
Q: I notice in the credits, you list yourself in the story credit. But on the screenplay credit, you list a collaborator. So can you talk about how collaboration works when you feel like the story is yours and you are also the director of the film, what role does a writing collaborator play?
Royston: This one is a little bit complicated. What happened is that I’m not very good with writing. And usually my scripts are…
Gary: Three pages.
Royston: (laughs) Yeah, for 4:30 it was three pages long. So what I need is to get somebody else to make it into a 90 pages so that the investor can see it and I don’t have to follow it. I think to be fair to the person, Leong, I mean he helped me voice out my thoughts clearer because my script will always be “Boy goes to room”, “Boy sleeps”, “Boy goes to school”, “Boy comes back from home”. And it really doesn’t make sense.
Q: Did anything from your film come from your collaborator?
Royston: Mostly it was in mind already. That was just an assurance for the investors that it was not going to be just three minutes long.
Gary: Just to add to that point, it is very important for commercial purposes to have a proper screenplay written out because that is the first thing that an investor would want to look at. No matter how brilliant a director, they would still have to look through and get a good feel of the film.
Royston: When NHK wanted to invest in the film, they translated the 90-page script into Japanese and analysed it scene-by-scene and told me how they felt and that really helped me because even when I send e-mails, they are four sentences long, I’m not a very good correspondent.
Q: What about storyboarding?
Royston: (laughs) I do very detailed storyboarding which only I can understand.
Gary: I was the Assistant Director on set and I’ve seen his storyboards. They’re very detailed. (laughs) A man will be like two strokes, a girl will be a triangle.
Royston: It’s a good thing because while they were waiting for the shots to be set up, they would play “Charades”.
Gary: Yeah we would ask each other, “What’s this?”
Royston: The figures that I draw sometimes look like dogs and they would ask me why I had not informed them that they would need a dog on set. The boy was sleeping you see, and it looked like a puppy. But to answer your question, I’m quite a control-freak so to an extent I think I’m quite disciplined. I understood the constraints of the budget and what I did was to storyboard everything very carefully and on top of that I always have that 30% leeway whereby I allow things to happen in a natural way. But I always feel that when I want to do a film and it turns out to be a totally different product, that to me, could be a failure on my side.
Q: Do you have a fetish for numbers? Do your titles mean anything?
Royston: I really dig numbers that’s for sure. But I got F9s throughout secondary school for mathematics. As much as you might hate something, you’ll still have an interest towards it. And that made me want to explore the psychological aspect of numbers. And that’s how I got started. It started first as a coincidence. 15 because of the age and I wanted to associate gang names which were always in numbers. And 4:30 is a time thing. And the new film which is a clever play of numbers. It’s the name of the two actresses we are going to have. Again it’s sub-conscious.
Gary: Just to fill you in on a little trade secret. Normally all these film festivals, wherever you go they have these catalogues. Those films with numbers always come first. So the first page that you flip to… Ahh I mean that’s a plus point.
Royston: So now you know you can call your film 1 or 7. (laughs)
Q: Why the specific time 4:30?
Royston: On different psychological aspects according to my research, 4:30 is a time where the boy reacts and literally comes alive in the film. But according to medical surveys, 4:30 is the most difficult time for insomniacs around the world. That is also the time where most people commit suicide. To be more precise, it’s 4:29.something. Physically, it’s a very good number to establish his whereabouts. Metaphorically, his sense of loss.
Q: How did you manage to elicit such acting from a boy who’s so young and at that performance level?
Royston: I slapped him everyday. (laughs) Actually the little boy tortured me more than I tortured him. I think the level of trust between a director and an actor is very important. Before I started writing the script, I met up with him already. That was when he was ten years old. I told him that I had a script for him and that I would like to get to know him more. “Tell me your story, what makes you happy, who are the teachers you hate the most, if you hate your teacher what are the things that you would do?” Things like that. It helps me understand my actors.
Q: Is it right to say that essentially he is playing himself?
Royston: Yeah, I would say that. The challenge is how you can be playing yourself and yet not be honest. The challenge was to be very honest about himself and come out naked in front of the audience. That took a lot of trust. In fact, many months and years of establishing a relationship. The last scene which you saw, of him crying, that was the most difficult one to do, he broke his own record and it took 8 or 9 takes. On a 35mm, entire cans were gone because he literally did not want to act well as that was the last scene and after that take, the movie would be finished and that would be it. When I found out his reasons, it was a very moving experience. He finally decided and reconciled with the fact that this shot would be the end, the entire crew was very moved. The tears that came out from him were derived from a very painful experience. I can’t express it. I try not to see the scene every time. But the funny thing is every time my actors will run away from home. He just ran away from home 2 weeks ago. We’ve decided to work with older people for consequent films. Above 21.
Q: You have many lingering shots. Does it affect the actors’ performances if you rehearsed it over and over again for these long moments?
Royston: Normally for these shots we do not have rehearsals. Gary would give them rough descriptions and let them prepare themselves and we will just roll. For me, sometimes the first take is the best. And especially the two actors are trained. They have to unlearn many things which are spoiled by television. We are trying to eliminate those overly dramatic reactions.
Gary: Many times I think, we used the first take, although we have a second take.
Royston: Our second takes are normally for safety. The first takes are the best. It’s not perfect but genuine.
Q: I believe you said that all things are on screen for a reason. That in 4:30 there are many symbolisms. Can you probably explain why the use of orange juice and the dolly shot where we see the Korean man looking out the window and then we realise that the boy is also looking at him?
Gary: I think for us to explain the symbolism would be spoiling it for you.
Royston: Everything was placed in there to trigger a reaction. It was to move the audience in three different directions. I’m trying to be as careful as I can to not spoil your interpretation of the movie. As you can see, from the beginning of the film till the end, I’ve tried very hard to place the audience in the shoes of the boy so you would view it as “What would you do if you were in the boy’s situation?” When it was shown in Berlin, the audiences were saying that I had given them one of the toughest things to do because I was forcing them to re-look into their own lives through the eyes of the boy. That satisfied me because it was exactly what I wanted to achieve. A lot of punk rockers came to the screening in Berlin, expecting a sequel of 15. But they had a heart attack. (laughs)
Gary: Such an extreme difference.
Q: There is a scene in both 15 and 4:30 that reminds us of 12 Storeys and Mee Pok Man respectively. In 15, the part where there is this girl who jumps and the boys look at her, it repeats the scene in 12 Storeys where the female character sees the man jump. In 4:30, the last scene has the boy blackening the windows like the last scene of Mee Pok Man where Jon Ng covers the windows with bed sheets.
Royston: Definitely not. I hate Eric Khoo. (laughs) To tell you the truth I have not seen Mee Pok Man. I failed to be able to pass off as a 21-year old when I was 17 to get into a screening of Mee Pok Man. It’s traumatising to be stopped by the usher even when you have on a drawn-on moustache. Eric told me we have a synergy and share a certain kind of sensibility that’s why he was drawn to all my short films because of the themes that we were always trying to explore. The jumping from the building is the ultimate way of portraying suicide that is uniquely Singaporean. Just last year, someone jumped down from my block. During my youth, I had many peers who jumped. That is in my experience, something we see everyday. Out of ten suicides a day, the papers just cover one.
Q: Do you guys have a festival strategy for the film?
Gary: Our films are quite lucky in a sense. Even before our films are done, we get enquiries from various festivals. Royston’s first film premiered in Venice so once it starts travelling the film festival circuit, a lot of these festival programmers will be on the lookout for subsequent projects. It helps that every year you go to film markets and you meet these film programmers and they ask about any new projects and you really get bookings from various festivals. And it helps when a distributor from overseas, a world sales agent has decided to pre-sale your films. They have automatic connections to all the film festivals. They already have planned which festival should première your film. 4:30, the company picked Berlin and Cannes because of the sensibility of the film. Berlin, there is the appreciation for these types of art house films. Whereas for Venice they like films with a good sense of colour, pace, so even for festivals there are different sensibilities.
Q: Where have your films been shown commercially?
Gary: Locally, 15 and 4:30 are under Shaw. Overseas, 15 has been shown in UK, US, Australia and Canada. 4:30 has gone to as far as Israel, Norway, Korea (TV), France and UK.
Royston: For the DVDs, we suspect that all the buyers are Singaporean. (laughs) The distributor was quite surprised that 15 had gone into its third reprint already. So right now the cover for 15 is a brand new one that we have never seen before. So whoever who bought 15 on the Net, thank you.
Gary: Through Amazon.com it would get through. Others sources it wouldn’t. We went to Shanghai last year. And they did a pirated version of 15 with their own CD layout and booklet. (laughs) It’s quite impressive that people in China would know of this film.
Royston: Actually their stuff is quite good. (laughs) They have a special 4-page booklet which I don’t know where they found from. They did their own work.
Q: As an artist, what do you think of piracy?
Royston: Well it very complicating for me.
Gary: There are two ways of looking at it.
Royston: There are two ways. Especially for a place like Singapore, without piracy, I wouldn’t be able to watch those art house films with censorship and a lot of stuff. Honestly, I’m not rich enough to buy these art house films or go to film festivals. So the best thing would be to go to JB and buy. If our censorship is more lax, which it is now, we’ll be exposed to more films and that would help us a lot. For example it is so difficult to get Kieslowski’s films in Singapore. Or look for more obscure Icelandic filmmakers. When I first saw Y Tu Mama Tambien, I was very surprised when I saw the film. They cut one of the most important scenes away which actually changed the whole meaning of the film. It was the threesome and I didn’t know. I thought they suddenly just got bored of one another. I am an unofficial supporter of pirated films.
Q: Speaking of censorship, did you have any problems with the censors for 4:30?
Royston: Not so much, in fact I think the Board of Censors were quite happy. They weren’t expecting such a gentle film.
Q: I’m surprised they did not cut the portion of the snipping of the pubic hair.
Royston: Trust me, we had our fair share of the issue, we just don’t want to bring it up anymore. They let it go a little bit.
Gary: That’s why it’s M18 instead of a PG.
Royston: They were very kind to me on this film.
Q: What are your plans? Are you thinking of making a commercial film?
Royston: Should we tell them of our new project?
Gary: Yeah, sure. Why not?
Royston: To tell you the truth, I’m shooting my new film in March. It’s going to be a getai musical. So this time we’re going to try elevate something different. We’re using all the classic Hokkien songs and giving it a fresh new spin on it. Again, it’s a total departure from 4:30 and 15. I wanted to surprise the audiences. I think I’m a chameleonic director and I always want to give my audiences something new. It’s an all-female cast except for one male.
Gary: But he cannot talk.
Royston: So it’s female-powered and the tables are turned this time.
Q: So what number this time?
Gary: (laughs) It’s called 881.
Royston: We’re playing with this number because the main characters are called the “Papaya Sisters”. 881 – Pa-pa-ya, Ba ba yao (Mandarin). It’s a story of the “Papaya Sisters”. They wanted not to be superstars but superstars in the getai environment.
Q: I realised that when the National Museum was opening you did something for them. Do you have like a love-hate relationship with the government now or are you back in their good graces so now you’re the “Bad boy of cinema” outside of Singapore?
Gary: Somehow I think the media played it up.
Royston: I’m trying to blame the media but the government body is made up of different bodies. There are some bodies which are more biased against me, there are some which really love me and there are some which can’t wait to get rid of me and some which spend a lot of money to get ISD to investigate into my entire life. I’m glad there’s this sort of friction actually, it helps. I really ask myself what I want to do before acting on anything. I think some of my best works are done in the most painful period of my life. 4:30 came from that kind of isolation when I first encountered a lot of issues. I even had to leave the country for a short while. Actually it’s quite a nice experience. I am running a fever now but seeing the audience here, the turn-out, I feel very happy.
Q: Which directors influenced you the most? I can see a little of Tsai Ming-Liang and Wong Kar-Wai. Are there any particular movies which inspired you?
Royston: I think Wong Kar-Wai played a very big role. When I was in a polytechnic, he was like a God whom film students would worship. That set the foundation for me. The director I really like is actually Ed Wood which is so different from what I have done.
Gary: But there’s a similar spirit.
Royston: Determination, I guess. That helped me a lot to know that he had a limited budget and yet he’s been labelled as one of the world’s most prominent directors and yet he’s still making films and that really drove me to continue making films.
Q: How long did it take you to film the movie?
Royston: The production took 15 days. The actors were kept in separate rooms. Even when they’re eating they’re kept apart. We even created a human barrier so they wouldn’t have the chance to interact with one another. It was a little bit of a psychological torture for them.
Q: How did NHK come in on this?
Royston: Japan has the NHK fund whereby they will go all over the world looking for projects to finance. What they did was to go to all the major film festivals. I presume that everyone here is a film student right? No engineers? (laughs) So what you do is write a script, like Rotterdam has the Hubert Bals, Pusan has the PPP, Hong Kong has the HAF where all the major film investors will come and evaluate your projects. Every festival would take about 20 projects and from that, they will pick one. The best way is to secure an overseas funding which would help create a local interest because they’re more assured. 4:30 was a tough fight. It was against two other directors and then they narrowed it down to a Malaysian director, I can’t remember his name. In the end they went with 4:30 which we were very happy about.
Q: Royston, you get a lot of media coverage. How do you feel about the writers who do write about you who are in a way, using you over the cause of anti-censorship?
Royston: I think only as you get older, you start to realise it. All that censorship issue was too much for me then, when I was only 24. I was really lost to the point that I asked the reporter to tell me what to say. Now I’m really careful. I try to be truthful and a little bit more tactful especially recently there was a surprise attack from Australia. They claimed they interviewed me, but it didn’t happen at all. They wrote an entire article on anti-censorship and sent it to MDA, stating that I had things I didn’t actually say and that created a big issue. In moments like these, it taught me to be very careful. I think now, being a grown-up, I’ve learnt to protect myself. What they’re very good in is to lift phrases from entire segments like “I hate censorship” and that’s it.
Q: In your films, there is a great sense of realism. Did the boy really take the cough syrup and in 15, were they taking real drugs and did they really cut themselves?
Royston: No, the cough syrup was actually prune juice. We thought that he was too young to really take the real thing. For 15, what happened was that they were each given a handicam to film whatever they wanted. At first they gave me footages of themselves, they wanted to impress and shock me. But after 2 months of doing the same thing, they got tired and that was where they got real to themselves and that was the moment we were waiting for. We saw them cutting themselves for maybe one and a half minutes but they do this everyday. What wasn’t revealed to the audience was the new trend of cutting their abdomens. In the past when I used to cut my wrists, people could see it. It’s like a pity vote. But now, if I were to cut my abdomen, there’s a greater thrill because it’s all fats and the blood will just flow profusely. For the swallowing of the condom with drugs, it was substituted with sweets. It actually happened to one of the boys but we swapped the boys to protect his identity. We could get help to get real drugs but we didn’t want to because we were worried about safety issues. In the actual swallowing, the condom actually burst. This is something I had to be really careful about. I know it’s in my social responsibility so I actually finished the whole thing myself to demonstrate that it was okay before he did it. When you saw the boy do it in 15, it was done solely on the observation of me doing it. He copied me, the tears, the swallowing. He immersed himself entirely in the role. As a director, I need to be responsible. I would not get my actors to do something I would not do. It didn’t take much to get him to do it because I just demonstrated it in front of him.
Q: Why did you feel you had to prolong that shot for so long? It seemed like exploitation to me.
Royston: I think progression is very important to me. It was needed to show that kind of pain that they had to go through. I think everything is exploitation. Be it a love story, a charity programme, you’re manipulating the audience’s sympathy. In everything you do, there’s exploitation. What is your objective of exploitation? Is it a positive objective? It’s something I always ask myself. To do 15 was painful. It doesn’t feel good to see the actors cutting or piercing themselves. 5 scenes were deleted from the film. I thought that would be too much.
Q: I’m really glad that you showed what you did but I felt it was a lack of discipline to keep it at that long.
Royston: Perhaps it was the intensity that I wanted to make you feel. If I shortened it by half, it would have been a more pleasurable experience for you but I wanted the audience to feel “super” uneasy with it. The fact that for $200 to smuggle the drugs, the kind of pain you have to go through, that is something which is prevalent in the youth culture now. That kind of risk you go through for a few hundred dollars was something I wanted to show, the sort of process they go through. I mean it’s an instant death sentence to be caught.
Q: As a director, what kind of homework do you do in terms of visualising your scenes to create what we eventually see on screen?
Royston: For me, I have a very different way of working. If I’m doing a film about classical music, I would go to Zouk to look for inspiration. I need stimulants basically, things that are completely opposite to stimulate me to think in a different way. For 4:30, I basically went to clubs to look for that sense of peace and quickly start writing what I feel. When you go to clubs there’s this unified loneliness coming together, that made me take the lateral way of thinking and plot the graph down into a simple story.
Q: There’s a lot of networking you have to do in terms of meeting influential people to get money for your films, or marketed and distributed. So how much of that do you do or do you leave it to Gary or Eric?
Royston: I think Gary has a more approachable face. People see me and they get frightened so…
Gary: We sort of split the work load. For festivals and film markets, I would go. But those aren’t the fun ones. Royston goes to the fun ones.
Royston: I’m mostly there to interact with the audience, for the Q & A. After that you get drunk in the party, I’m quite famous for that.
Gary: With regards to your question, it’s also a build up of his track record. It’s not overnight that he got all the funds. If you’ve watched Royston’s shorts, he’s done many short films. I think 22. And now these films we send it for festivals, so it didn’t come as an overnight success. Even 15 was made from a short film. Also his stories, the kind of things that it taps into, and his visual style, Eric from Zhao Wei Films picked it up and wanted to develop 15. After 15, he had something to show to investors that he had short films and a feature film and it helps that it won awards as well.
Royston: I always like to suggest to aspiring filmmakers, don’t make your first feature immediately after you graduate. It would be very tough to get funding and also, you can never make your first feature film again. Gain more experience first with shorts and gain more credibility. I’m not saying that you should use it as a marketing tool, but it is a marketing tool and it can be very helpful.
Gary: It helps to train you as a director.
Royston: Had I not had my short films I think I would have a harder time getting funding. Before doing 15, the first thing the investors wanted to know was how many short films has he done.
Gary: It helps to provide a visual reference, style.
Moderator: Any last words you would like to say before we end this conversation?
Gary: I would like to thank all of you for coming. I hope you liked the film and that you will support our next film. If you didn’t understand the film, buy the DVD (laughs). And not many people know this but Zhao Wei Films has an open dialogue with new filmmakers. We receive scripts all the time and I spend a lot of time reading through each of them. If we see anything good, we’d like to help the filmmakers. So if you have any scripts, do send it to us, we’ll read it and if we’re interested in it, maybe we could help you out.
Royston: It’s very wonderful to see such a great turnout. As I’ve said before, 4:30 is a very personal film for me and it’s nice to see all of you here experiencing the journey with me. It makes the world a less lonely place, you know, I made this film for the kid in all of us. And I dedicate it to the kid in all of us. Before making the film I told Eric that if I cannot complete the film within the allotted time I would quit filmmaking because it’s so personal. By the way I have a blog, but it isn’t written by me. I don’t know this person but he goes by the alias, the Bodyguard. Do comment on it, it’s roystone-tan.blogspot.com. Thank you everyone.
Transcript by Athalia Ho Mei Xi and Lim Lung Chieh. Both missing in action.