From First Film to Second, Singapore Directors Try to Make the Leap

The Singapore government’s support for the film industry has helped a lot of people to make their first feature. Moving on to a sophomore performance is a trickier proposition.

Some of Singapore’s most recent first feature debutants, K. Rajagopal (“A Yellow Bird”), Wong Chen-Hsi (“Innocents”) and Jacen Tan (“Zombiepura”), assembled Saturday for a seminar at the Singapore International Film Festival.

After their first feature efforts, all three of them have had a hiatus, but are now developing new projects.
“I didn’t have my second script right away. […] There’s lot of pressure after your first feature. You need to be disciplined to say I’m not ready, I need space, I need time, when people ask you about your second script,” said Wong, who won Shanghai film festival’s Best New Director award with her first feature “Innocents” (2012).

Rajagopal, whose “Yellow Bird” premiered in Cannes’ Critics’ Week in 2016, agreed. “I think making films shouldn’t be an exercise, or something you have to do. Most of my films are very personal. I find it very hard to just start thinking of a film. It has to happen to me. Something triggers, then I can think ‘oh I want to tell this story; I want to share it.’ Until then I don’t think I would even dare say that I have a second film,” he said.

Tan took the opposite approach.

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“Whenever you go, you should have your next project ready to be pitched,” said the director of army-set zombie comedy “Zombiepura” (2018). “If someone asks you about your next project after your first film, that’s the moment you get the most chance. You need to have your ideas ready regardless of which stage you are; whether they can be features is a different story,” he continued.
They, however, all agreed that when initiating a film, it should be about what the director believes and done the way they would not regret.

“Your first film is the one that defines you as a filmmaker. It would be great to find the idea you want to stick to, and the one you don’t regret. You have to like the idea and have authorship,” said Tan.  “For me it’s not about getting a gigantic release but more about my personal voice. You have to stick to your guns. [There is a scene in “Innocents”] where the character is walking in the forest. People asked me if I can cut it in half. I refused, and I don’t regret. […] When looking back after years, you should still be able to stand for your decision,” Wong said.

Seven years after her first film attempt, Wong is currently working on her second feature, a film adaptation of Singaporean novel “City of Blessings” by Simon Tay.

“I was afraid that the author might hate me after watching the film. But Simon let me adapt it as I wish, and said he would consider my work as a response to his book. It is a huge privilege to be given that freedom,” said Wong. One of the beneficiaries of Thailand’s Southeast Asian film fund Purin Pictures’ 2018 grant program, “Blessings” is the story of a retired elderly man fighting to save his home in a country that has grown too quickly and expensively for him.

Rajagopal said that he has only recently started to plan his next feature. “ [My ideas] happen to be with images. Recently I had a very surreal dream. I put down a few images that I saw, and I hope it takes me to my second film.”

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