Previous silver medalist of Viddsee Juree 2018 and holding an ‘Award of Distinction’ from Canada Shorts Film Festival, Kaizer Thng is back with another short film. ‘How to Bury a Dead Cat’ is a story about four children who get together to bury a dead cat they found in a shoebox.
Adventure ensues as they run around town finding things for the burial of the cat. They soon realise that they all have different methods of praying and burying the cat. He talks to us about shooting with children and the message of his film.
Race and religion through innocent lenses
The concept of the film was to represent race and religion through the eyes of children, a concept of importance within Singapore’s cultural landscape. The original message was that racism is learned and isn’t something we are born with.
Eventually, other perspectives were included along the way. By the time the film was shot and edited, more viewpoints were included.
“Certainly, audiences of various ages will walk away with different interpretations of the film and that’s not for me to decide.”
The film would not be the same if acted by adults
We asked if his intention behind using children to carry out the film’s message was deliberate.
“Yes, it was. I am certain that if another director helmed this project, he/she would have arrived at the same decision.”
Thng says he had given thought to the possibility of using adults instead of children, but it wouldn’t work. This is due to the association between children and innocence, and how it is an unbiased, neutral and fair playing field with them.
“The use of child actors due to the story (and not just for cosmetic reasons) ended up giving the film a beautiful resolution.”
Working with child actors needs patience and lots of guidance
Thng takes a more instructional approach working with children as compared to adults. In his experiences, working with them requires more explaining and patience.
“Get to know them and talk to them. Reply to them as they have many questions on how things function on and off set. By guiding them every step of the way, you would have gained their trust.”
Thng believes finally, it is good casting that will dictate the time spent directing the children. “I look for responsiveness and reactivity to the information presented to them during the casting phase.”
Every shoot comes with its own set of challenges
How to Bury A Dead Cat was shot mostly outdoors under the hot sun with the risk of rain. It was also shot in more than 5 locations with a full cast of ten members within 3 days. On top of that, Thng had to manage shooting with four children and worry about their chemistry with each other playing out on screen.
However, he managed to overcome these challenges with ample communication and pre-production planning.
“When we get on set, there isn’t much thinking to be done. We just have to get the shots we planned for. I thank my producer, Rosie Lee as she was very very supportive in making this short film as well.”
Although presented as a challenge, shooting in many locations was also the most fun part for Thng. “There was a sense of adventure and it refreshes the mind and morale.”
He illustrates his entire storyboard for ease of production
“It gets the images from my head immediately out on paper for the crew to understand,
cutting down the time it takes for me to explain myself.”
Thng believes it helps encourage further discussions on colours, angles, types of lenses and editing patterns. “Your producer and art director will also be happy as they have a fail-safe paper to help them plan ahead of the shoot.”