Spotlight: Singaporean Filmmaker Priscilla Ang on ‘A Merdeka Story: The Mother’

 

Priscilla Ang, coined as Channel News Asia’s Singapore’s Promising Young Director, is a name well known in filmmaking circles. She has directed various short films and commercials with big brands like OCBC, POSB, Mastercard and more. She’s also created a short film which won her the Best Short Film award at the Singapore Short Film Festival. Today, Priscilla gets candid about the making of her latest short film ‘A Merdeka Story: The Mother’ with us.

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How was the creative concept for The Mother conceived?
Each of the four scripts by Jean Tay focused on a different aspect of the contributions of the Merdeka Generation. My content focused on the home industry, a mother-daughter pair who exemplified the sacrifices made by the Merdeka Generation for their families.

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How did you prepare for the shoot? What kind of research was needed, especially because you were telling a story about a culture that you might not be particularly familiar with?
I spoke to a lot of people; strangers; family. This project has helped me build bonds with my family and distant relatives who are from that generation. Besides finding stories, I have learnt a lot about the relatives I never got a chance to speak much to. The film was also loosely based on my childhood experience buying curry puffs from a Malay household in my neighbourhood.

What were your biggest challenges while shooting and how were they overcome?
The biggest challenge was probably finding an authentic first generation house with the original window grilles and gate. We managed to find a Chinese house that suited our requirements. We had to redesign the place to reflect the Malay culture without busting our budget. The art designer, James Page, did a fabulous job on that.

Could you tell us about the challenges and technicalities of working with a baby on set?
We used a baby prop in most of the wide shots. The baby broke into tears whenever the talent carried him. When that happened, I had to cheat the shot by doing a tighter shot without exposing much of the baby.

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There are quite a few children in ‘The Mother’. What are the techniques you used to work effectively with child actors?
The key thing is to place their welfare first and production second. I ensure that child actors get their rest, even if that means delaying the shoot. From my experience, I find that this actually saves more time, as the children will give one good take instead of retaking multiple times if they are tired.
I recently wrote a blog post on my experiences with working with child actors, you can check it out here for more tips!

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We realise that a lot of your work brings the viewer into a space of nostalgia and melancholy through the treatment it’s given.
(i) Tell us more about why you gravitate towards this style
(ii) What are the techniques used to best achieve this feel?
Besides wardrobe and prop, the set location was crucial to creating the 80s look and feel. I focused a lot on the details, like window grille and even the toys the kids were playing with, to make the film as accurate as possible. This allows the viewers to immerse themselves in the film. The attention to little details keeps me excited because they are hard to source. Luckily, there weren’t a lot of outdoor scenes and wide shots. Most shots were very intimate to portray the relationship between the protagonists. In post-production, I added some noise for a cinematographic-period-feel and colour-graded the set to the mood and the feel of the era.

Words of advice for budding storytellers?
The story has to resonate with you. Go with your heart to tell a story. If the story does not linger within you for a period of time, it is usually not something worth telling.

Tell us more about your upcoming projects!
I am writing on my next short film; fingers crossed I can shoot it by this year! Also, I have been developing my feature script, which recently won the Open SEA Fund Award (SEAFIC). This is something new for me so I am excited to start work on it.

Watch Priscilla’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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