Two Directors, One Episode: Amanda Tan And Jonathan Yong On Settling Their Creative Differences

 

What’s it like having two directors on one episode? Not disastrous, as directors Amanda Tan and Jonathan Yong discovered.

Amanda Tan and Jonathan Yong met and worked together for the first time in Viddsee’s brand new original series – Way Back When. They directed the intense and heavily emotional Episode 4: The End of the World.

The two met and immediately hit it off – thanks to their shared love for classic Jackie Chan films. Over the filming process, the two learned how to work together towards their shared vision of making the episode a success.

amanda tan and jonathan yong

We caught up with the two filmmakers to learn more about their creative process in directing the film and working with filmmaker Sabrina Poon as a showrunner-cum-mentor.

Way Back When follows the story of Lucas, who has a hopeless crush on his best friend, Charlotte. This project was helmed Sabrina Poon, a prolific filmmaker who shared and co-directed the series idea three other Singaporean directors.

Congratulations on the launch of Way Back When on Viddsee! Tell us a bit about yourselves and how you two got into filmmaking.

Amanda: Growing up, I was an only child. So I turned to the television to keep me occupied. If I wasn’t watching films, I would either be playing tennis or listening to my vinyl. My dad was also an avid consumer of films. He introduced me to some of his favourite films, especially Jackie Chan movies. This was also how Jon and I hit it off – we both love Jackie Chan films!

Soon enough, I developed a love for storytelling and found my way to filmmaking. My uncle and aunt are also part of a producing and directing team based in Taiwan. They keep me inspired every day.

Jonathan: I spent my childhood living in Hong Kong. I was exposed to many different types of classic Hong Kong films and developed an interest in filmmaking. Whilst growing up, that interest died out in pursuit of a “successful career”. So I did not pursue filmmaking until much later.

While I was a freelance swimming instructor, I acted in a friend’s short film project for Lasalle. That experience made me realise that it was not too late to pursue filmmaking. I took a leap of faith, applied for the film course in Lasalle – and that was the start of my filmmaking journey.

How was it like working with each other for Way Back When?

Lucas crying in Way Back When

A: It was a blessing that I got to meet and work with Jon – thanks, Spoon! We immediately hit it off. Conceptualising the episode became easy because I had someone to discuss with instead of doing it all by myself. We also have mutual respect for each other and it made this experience so much more enjoyable and memorable for me.

J: It was Sabrina who introduced Amanda to me and we got along right from the start! I think Sabrina paired us together because she was able to see the potential of both of us. As a pair, we put ourselves in Lucas’s and Charlotte’s shoes to generate ideas and play off each other – and that’s how we created the character motivations for Way Back When.

What’s it like having two directors on a single episode? Did you guys bicker a lot?

A: We didn’t bicker that much. When we did bicker, it was always about elevating the story and little things like tweaking some art, blocking or camera position. We told ourselves that whatever we say to each other is not personal, but only to make the episode better.

We made sure to settle our creative differences during the scripting process so that we didn’t carry it to set and affect the mood there.

J: To be honest, I don’t think Amanda and I argued at any moment during pre-production or shooting. It’s always about bringing new ideas to the table and always hearing each other out before making a decision. When we had contrasting creative decisions about a particular scene, we worked around our creative differences without many troubles.

How did you inject your own style into directing the episode while also maintaining Sabrina’s vision of the story?

A: Our episode is the most different one. So we had room to take this episode down a different route. This episode is a major turning point for our characters, especially Lucas. We wanted to convey this episode through visuals instead of dialogue. We wanted this episode to have a feeling of isolation. We wanted to make the audience feel like outsiders – as if they were intruding on a private matter.

J: We created this distance between the audience and the characters on purpose. We wanted the audience to feel the emotional distance and restlessness that Lucas felt throughout this episode. Sabrina entrusted us with the major responsibility of being in charge of a pivotal point in the episode.

How was it like working with Sabrina as the showrunner for the series?

way back when directors

A: It was great! She trusted us and gave us the creative freedom to enjoy this process. She also inspires confidence, no challenge is too big for her. We worked on a super tight schedule and worried that we won’t be able to finish shooting in time. But Spoon knew that we’d be able to complete what we set out to do. She assured us that we’d be okay – and that makes her a great showrunner and mentor.

J: Yes, Sabrina made us all believe that no matter what challenges lied ahead of us, we’ll be able to get over it and learn from that experience. She was always there in case any of the directors needed her advice or guidance.

What was your biggest learning from directing Way Back When?

A: I’ve learnt that communication is key. It is vital that we communicate our vision to the crew so they’ll be able to help us achieve our vision to the best of our abilities. We also learnt the importance of shooting handles and how not shooting enough handles may become an issue in post-production. But this was also a huge learning curve for Jon and I. We learned how to work around this and found new ways to bring across the same message despite this shortcoming.

J: Communication was one of the biggest takeaways for me as well. It’s important to be able to communicate your vision not only to the talents but to the crew as well so that everyone is on the same page before we start anything.

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