Spotlight: How This Filmmaker Transitioned From Mockumentary To Documentary

 

kenneth chan voices

Filmmaker Kenneth Chan found his passion for films at a very young age. He and his brother would indulge in movies during the VCD era and his love for films and storytelling turned into something he couldn’t discount. He would indulge himself in everything from blockbusters to independent and art films.

Naturally, he pursued the filmmaking craft and went to school at NTU’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information. While he was there, he also met a friend that he would go on to start a production company with. Kenneth credits the film school for equipping him with knowledge about film theory and the craft of designing a film – which brought him to where he is today.

To date, Kenneth has six short films on Viddsee.com. He started off with a mockumentary that was absolutely hilarious and a crowd favourite, “Lights, Camera, Act-“. The other five films are the result of a collaboration between Kenneth and Viddsee – which gave birth to the In Between: Voices documentary series.

The series explores the concept of spaces in Singapore, following five individuals and how they interpret and utilize the spaces around them.

singapore space

We caught up with Kenneth to talk about filmmaking journey, his creative process in shooting the documentary series, and his own relationship with space.

Hi Kenneth! Congratulations on the launch of In Between: Voices on Viddsee.com.

Is this your first attempt at making a series? It’s quite a different element altogether from your super-hilarious mockumentary, “Lights, Camera, Act-”

Yes, this is my first attempt at making a series. It is actually quite hilarious if I think about the transition – from doing narrative works for school projects to a mockumentary, and then actually doing a documentary series.

Take us through your thought process – how did you narrow down on the concept of exploring spaces in your docu-series?

With spaces, it is one of those things which we think of as a physical element. When we were in the process of developing In Between (the series) together with Viddsee, we wanted to explore the meaning of spaces and how we affect spaces and vice versa.

It is the experience of space which we wanted to explore. Personally, when it came to the idea of space, we were influenced by The Poetics of Space by Bachelard – which discussed how we experience spaces phenomenologically. To look at what spaces mean to us and society through the eyes of the people who are featured.

What is it about space that excites you?

The malleability of it, I suppose. A particular space might mean one thing to someone and another to someone else despite it being the same space.

Which is your favourite episode from the series?

The first episode of the series, Into the Void, would be the one which spoke to me.

into the void voices

It is this episode that changed the way I perceive the void deck. We started off with the impression that the void deck is, quite literally, its’ namesake, void where nothing much happens.

So it is quite an eye-opener to discover that Izzat actually built the foundations of his leather crafting in it. I do not think that it is quite a common occurrence, and it does speak volumes to the potential of such a common space available to everyone. Yeah, it would be really lovely to breathe more life into the void deck.

Which episode was the most challenging to direct?

The second episode of the series, A Natural Appeal, the one on forest bathing.

natural appeal voices

It was quite challenging to capture the experience of forest bathing due to how much it all depends on experiencing it by yourself. We decided to convey what forest bathing is by trying to bring the experience of it visually, by highlighting elements of nature which one might tend to neglect – to reflect the mindfulness of the practice.

Why these five people and these five stories?

It was through the act of collaboration, to be frank. Youmin, from A Natural Appeal, was discovered by Bingyu, my producer, who has a vested interest in wildlife; Izzat was discovered by another one of our partners, Rachelle.

We were looking for people who took an ordinary space and made it extraordinary. Then it was talking to them, learning more about them and also how feasible it would be to portray them. As much as there is an ideal vision of who we would like to feature, we do have to take logistical issues into considerations and whether we are able to do justice to their stories in a visual medium.

What did you learn from shooting these five-episode series?

Flexibility and willingness to have your initial opinions be changed. While finding out about the different kinds of spaces, I did definitely have my own bias. A prominent example would be the void deck, as I did have the impression that void decks were more or less dead with a story centered upon the idea of community spirit dying.

However, while filming with Izzat and seeing how the people in his neighbourhood recognized him changed my perspective on a space I did think was dying, and also resulted in me tweaking the story to reflect that.

zakka voices

Tell us about a space that is very significant to you and why.

The internet would be a space that is very significant to me. Digital spaces, I guess.

Cliche as it may be, it does open oneself out to the world and having that wealth of knowledge available to you. In line with this series, I guess, one could say that the internet is filled with voices and it is pretty cool that with In Between, I am also contributing to this phenomenon.

For a more conventional answer, it would definitely be my room. It is the place where I actually practice what I learn from the internet. From learning how to operate the camera to learning about Hi-Fi.

Recently, I have been quite obsessed with plants, so you do see a lot of plants in this series haha. But yeah, even films, I watched in the privacy of my room. It is a space that reflects me as a person, much like how Herman’s (from episode 4) space personifies him.

What was it like working with the Viddsee production team? (better say nice things lol)

It was cool. Tiring but cool! [laughs]

I do appreciate how they kept pushing for better. Also, they were really helpful, introducing us to Herman, as we were having difficulties with finding a profile for the episode. But yes, they did share with us some articles related to what we were doing to give us more ideas and inspirations; which were very helpful seeing that we were already quite hectic in pre-production.

coliving voices

What’s next for you? What will you be working on?

As a team, we are currently looking forward to developing our own content. It is something we are quite excited about; we are still developing it so we can’t really share more about it right now. Aside from that, definitely doing some corporate and commercial stuff to pay the bills too. Realities, haha!

Any advice for budding filmmakers?

Hmmm… Not sure if I’m qualified to give any, since I’m still struggling myself. But yeah, learn new things, get new experiences, and try to enjoy life.

As much as I think films are an important medium, it’s not exactly an end all be all – there’s so much more out there to experience too. Personally, films are a way for me to experience more things and to learn more things. Didn’t even know there was such a thing as forest bathing or even Zakka before doing In Between!

Watch ‘In Between: Voices’ here.

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