Spotlight: Singaporean Filmmaker Wee Li Lin on ‘A Merdeka Story: The Factory Girl’

 

Wee Li Lin needs no introduction, especially within the Singaporean filmmaking community. If you’re lucky enough, you might have seen her films screened at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, Short Shorts in Tokyo, or the Cairo Film Festival. That’s barely scraping the surface. With us, Li Lin talks about the making of one of her latest shorts, ‘A Merdeka Story: The Factory Girl’.

1. How was the creative concept for The Factory Girl conceived?
Jean Tay was the mastermind behind all four films. We focused on telling the story of young women who worked in factories in the 70s. They were an essential part of the industrial workforce as part of the tribute to the Merdeka Generation. From that, we developed the tale of a high-achieving 16-year-old student (Bee Hwa) who came from a low-income family who had to quit school to work in a factory when hard times hit.

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2. How did you prepare for the shoot? What kind of research was needed to replicate the lives that the Merdeka Generation went through?
We looked at archive photos, and I also recalled stories from female relatives who had to go out to work (some as young as 14) when hard times hit. There seemed to be preferential treatment of sons over daughters when push came to shove. Most times, the girls had to sacrifice their education to work.

3. How do you evoke genuine emotions within your actors (i.e.: the scene where the mother is about to break into tears when her husband tells their daughter she won’t be studying anymore)?
We spent a few days before the shoot talking about the characters and rehearsing. I find these times to be the most valuable in ensuring the success of the performance. Each actor developed a backstory to their character and their characters’ relationships with each other. This built deeper interactions between them.

While Amy (the mother) did not know anyone who had gone through what the mother went through, she thought of what it would be like to send her real daughter off to work and have her sacrifice her education. She definitely felt the pain of it.

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4. What do you find are the biggest differences between writing for a film in Chinese and in English? Are there specific nuances you take into consideration?
I am more comfortable with English but have done many projects in Mandarin. It really depends a lot on the actors to make the lines their own and give it that depth and authenticity. The final draft of the script is always written by the actors, and it’s much better that way.

5. We loved the tiny details like Bee Hwa’s ‘Monitor’ badge and the bowl of porridge on the table (that we took to indicate the struggle they were facing). How do you plan out the incorporation of these details as to not miss out on the little things?
Thank you! The monitor badge was in the script and something Jean and I discussed would be a nice parallel to getting her supervisor pin later on. Other things like the flowers at the beginning like the porridge, the “Little Women” book along with its quotes were formed after the recce and blocking. It’s important to pay attention to the visual thematic and how it adds to the world of the character.

6. What were your biggest challenges while shooting and how were they overcome?
The timeline was tight, so that was a bit of a challenge, but with a good team and committed actors, everyone rose to the occasion. Getting the right location, props, makeup and wardrobe to make sure the world felt authentic was also effort. But again with an excellent team, we made it happen.

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7. Words of advice for budding storytellers?
Have the courage to tell the story that feels right and true for you. Don’t shy away from your voice. Be more analytical when watching the films you like and try to find out why they work for you, read books and articles about screenwriting and keep practising!

8. Tell us more about your upcoming projects!
I just did a corporate project for Changi Airport and am pursuing a personal short film in June.

Watch Li Lin’s short film here!

This post is made in partnership with Gov.sg. Learn more about the Merdeka Generation Package at https://merdekageneration.sg.

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