The Good, the Bad and the Badass: the Star and Creatives of Star Wars: The Bad Batch Talk the New Animated Series

By Jedd Jong

There are nine main Star Wars theatrical films and three more theatrically released spinoff films, including 2008’s animated Clone Wars movie. However, fans know this barely scratches the surface. There is a galaxy of ancillary material that greatly enhances and enriches the Star Wars story, and sometimes, is essential to getting the bigger picture.

One of the key components of Star Wars has been the Clone Wars CGI animated series, which the afore-mentioned animated movie led into, ran from 2008 to 2014, and had an additional final season that aired in 2020. The series is set between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, and expounds on the titular conflict, fleshing out familiar characters like Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, while also introducing key players like Ahsoka Tano, Duchess Satine and of course the various Clones.

Streaming on Disney+, Star Wars: The Bad Batch picks up where The Clone Wars left off, focusing on a peculiar group of Clones who were introduced in the seventh and final season of that show. The leader Hunter, gadget whiz Tech, cyborg tactician Echo (once presumed dead and later rescued from his captors), demolitions specialist Wrecker and sniper Crosshair comprise Clone Force 99, nicknamed “the Bad Batch”. While there are small differences in the personalities and temperaments of the regular Clone Troopers, the Batchers (apart from Echo) have genetic defects that enhance certain traits desirable in a soldier, but also make them more individualistic and unpredictable. They are also more physically distinctive than the regular Clones.

At a virtual press conference moderated by Entertainment Tonight’s Ash Crossan, star Dee Bradley Baker, executive producer/head writer Jennifer Corbett and executive producer/supervising director Brad Rau spoke about the new series. Corbett and Rau both worked on the Star Wars animated series Rebels and Resistance. The series is created and executive produced by Dave Filoni, a stalwart of Star Wars animation who is now heavily involved with live-action series on Disney+ including The Mandalorian.

One of the draws for Star Wars fans is this series’ setting: the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Galactic Republic and the execution of Order 66, in which the Clone Troopers turned on and massacred the Jedi. “The question became: what happens after the war’s over? What happens to all these clones [when] all they know is being soldiers?” Corbett asked. She said the show examines “how [the Bad Batch] react to this new environment and the new way of doing things and the new way of following rules, which…isn’t their favourite thing to do.” The nascent Empire is seen through the eyes of the Bad Batch, but also civilians across the galaxy. “I found it kind of interesting to show planets and places that were happy that the war is over, and they don’t really understand the implications of what an Empire actually means,” Corbett continued.

The members of the Bad Batch may be different from the regular Clones, but until now, they have always operated as part of the Grand Army of the Republic. With the fall of the Republic and the rise of the Empire, they find themselves adrift. “None of them are really equipped to go out into the world,” Rau observed. “How do they eat? They don’t have a mess hall to go to. How do they get their gear fixed? How do they get fuel for their ship? These are all things we get into. It’s really interesting.”

Since 2008, Baker has voiced practically every Clone heard in Star Wars animated series and video games. If you watched even one cartoon series on Nickelodeon, the Disney Channel or Cartoon Network over the last 20-odd years, chances are you’ll have heard Baker’s work. Regarded as a living voice acting legend, his credits include Avatar: The Last Airbender, Spongebob Squarepants, Ben 10, Phineas and Ferb, Young Justice, Adventure Time, Steven Universe and Gravity Falls, among many others.

“Clone Force 99 is kind of another step beyond what I’ve been asked to do in the Clone Wars series,” Baker explained. “The tricky part for them is the differentiation between characters – although it has to be decisive and has to be clear, the Bad Batch are actually much further apart from each other which oddly makes it a little bit easier to jump from character to character to character,” Baker said, comparing the experience to “jumping from rock to rock on a stream.” “It’s…a really fascinating process as a voice actor to have these scenes where I’m just talking to myself, just switching from character to character to character as we go through the script, which is typically how we do it. We just go straight through it.”  

“It’s impressive to watch him do it in the room because when we first started, I thought he was going to do a character at a time [but] just watching him act out a scene with himself with all of these Clones, there’s no pause, he just goes right into it,” Corbett said, likely echoing the assumption of most viewers. “I was blown away, each time we do one of these recording sessions, I’m just amazed at Dee’s talent.”

The Bad Batch also introduces a new character, a young girl named Omega whom the Batchers somewhat reluctantly take under their wing. “It’s interesting in terms of the story and the writing to have this personal relationship with a younger character and to see how that changes and how they accommodate that,” Baker said. He compared it to an uncle-niece or father-child dynamic but added this is “not entirely” the case, “because Omega has her own interesting potential of power, maybe.”

The way the Batchers interact as members of a military unit is something that Corbett is familiar with, having served in the United States Navy. She applied this experience as a writer and producer on the long-running series NCIS. Corbett said she responded to the Bad Batch’s arc in the final season of The Clone Wars because she “Got the dynamic between this squad,” adding that she understood how servicepeople “Become like brothers and sisters very when you’re sent on missions together when you’re in close quarters, and the camaraderie and also the banter that comes with living with people so closely in high-stress situations.” A key element of the characters in the show is that they each bring different perspectives to the table. “I think that speaks to the military, no one comes from the same background; everybody has their different reasons for doing what they’re doing, and it is a family dynamic in real life,” Corbett elaborated.

Star Wars fans can look forward to appearances from characters from other shows, including Rebel leader Saw Gerrera, who appeared in Rebels, Rogue One and Jedi: Fallen Order, and Fennec Shand, who appeared in The Mandalorian, with Ming-Na Wen returning to voice the latter. This is in line with how each new Star Wars series, animated and live action alike, further connects the dots between characters and time frames.

Featuring characters who quickly became fan favourites and taking place in an intriguing and tumultuous period in the Star Wars timeline, The Bad Batch promises to make for riveting and rewarding viewing, perhaps setting the stage for much more Star Wars content to come.

The Bad Batch begins streaming on Disney+ on May 4 2021, with new episodes premiering each week.

SADDLE SONGS: Concrete Cowboy composer Kevin Matley talks the Idris Elba-starring Western

By Jedd Jong

Photo credit: Jeff Marsh

When one thinks of Westerns, open, dusty plains and the late 19th Century American frontier usually come to mind. Concrete Cowboy is a Western of a different stripe: as its title suggests, its setting is a contemporary urban environment.

Idris Elba stars as Harp, a cowboy who is part of the Fletcher Street Riding Club in a Northern Philadelphia town. Caleb McLaughlin, best known as Lucas on Stranger Things, plays Harp’s estranged son Cole. After he gets kicked out of school for fighting, Cole is sent to live with Harp, and the troubled young man is gradually inducted into the unique urban cowboy way of life.

CONCRETE COWBOY – (L-R) Idris Elba as Harp and Caleb McLaughlin as Cole. Cr. Aaron Ricketts / NETFLIX © 2021

Concrete Cowboy is based on the novel Ghetto Cowboy by Greg Neri and is directed by Philadelphia-based filmmaker Ricky Staub. Staub was inspired to research the Fletcher Street Riding Club, a nonprofit city horsemanship organisation, when he looked out his office window and saw a horse and buggy rolling down the street. The movie shines a light on the little-known subculture of modern-day Black cowboys scattered across America, and real-life members of the Fletcher Street Riding Club appear in the movie. The film also stars Jharrel Jerome, Lorraine Toussaint and Clifford “Method Man” Smith.

Elba is also a co-producer on the film, alongside Lee Daniels, creator of the TV series Empire and director of films including Precious, The Butler, and The United States vs Billie Holliday.

Photo credit: Amber Zbitnoff

The film’s soundtrack, which The Hollywood Reporter calls “a soulful score with subtle Western accents,” is composed by Kevin Matley, whose credits include the documentaries Kifaru and Mudbloods and the short films Still Here and The Cage. Matley’s work can be heard in commercials for brands including Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Coca Cola, Ferrari and Adidas.

Speaking exclusively to F***, Matley shared about capturing the sound of the Fletcher Street Riding Club, creating a Western score while avoiding the cliches associated with the genre, his childhood interest in film music, what it was like collaborating with director Staub, and what he’s working on next. 

F*** MAGAZINE: Hi, Kevin, thank you so much for speaking to us, please tell us about how you came to be involved in this film. 
 
KEVIN MATLEY: I came to work on the film because the director and I go way back, we’ve worked on a handful of projects together, [including] a short film that did fairly decent in the festival circuit. And he sent me the script and I loved the concept; I fell in love with the story. Ricky Staub is the director and he co-wrote it with Dan Walser, one of the producers of the film. 
 
How would you describe your working relationship with Ricky Staub and how different was it going from a short to a feature; as I understand, this is his first feature?
 
Yeah, it’s funny, it was actually just kind of like an extended version. I mean we really connected right off the bat, when we started working together. He has a very keen sense of what he likes and doesn’t like, and I have gotten to know over the years of working with him pretty quickly what he doesn’t like, which is really, really helpful. And so, my process is I would write these little vignettes and pieces and send it to him, and then we slowly kind of work back and forth until it was something that we both really liked. That was pretty much the whole trajectory of the score, [it] was just a lot of back and forth, a lot of conversation.

You’ve worked on several documentaries. What are the differences in composing for narrative features versus a documentary?
 
I’m not sure if I have too much of a difference in my approach. Obviously, each film has a different musical genre, a different sort of world or creating different tones and temperatures, but I think that my goal is always to enhance and express the sort of unspoken emotion of the characters and let their dialogue tell the viewer what they’re thinking, and I tell them what they’re feeling. And so, real or fake, fiction, nonfiction, comedy, action, drama I think my approach is always the same: how do I tell the story of the film through music?

Photo credit: Oguz Uygur

Growing up, what made you interested in becoming a film composer?
 
It’s funny, I got into it really before you could just Google and find out names of composers. I was pretty young, so I started arranging some music with my brother’s guitars when I was pretty young, and sort of fell in love with the idea of creating music that way. And then, I started to notice music in film around the same age. I would actually pay less attention to the narrative, and more attention to how the music was affecting the characters and how it was affecting me. And I just really love the idea of how music and narrative together could create something so powerful.
 
So you were already interacting with movies as a composer might.
 
Yeah, long before I knew how to write music [laughs].
 
One of the things that Concrete Cowboy is about is how it’s important as a young person to have a community around you; oftentimes a community made up of people who have similar hobbies and interests to you. Was that something that you had with other composers or musicians growing up?
 
That’s a really good question. Really nothing, I mean, composers are kind of a mixed bag of people. I have my little hobbies and interests and composers that I know are interested in many different things. I think for me personally, as a music writer and just kind of an obsessive personality, I have to have things that sort of distract me from that so I can step away. I really love playing golf, I love photography, I love American football. And so, I think all of us composers are kind of similar in that, where we have to have things that can take our mind off of making music, so I think that’s probably a good similarity between all of us. 

CONCRETE COWBOY – (L-R) Ivannah-Mercedes as Esha, Lorraine Toussaint as Nessi, Idris Elba as Harp, Caleb McLaughlin as Cole, Jamil “Mil” Prattis as Paris and Cliff “Method Man” Smith as Leroy. Cr: Jessica Kourkounis / Netflix © 2021

Concrete Cowboy is set in a very interesting subculture that not a lot of people know about. How did you sonically capture the world of the Fletcher Street Riding Club?  
 
Great question. I really wanted to have a score that not only spoke to the emotion of the characters and what they were feeling, but also one that created the same world that Ricky was creating aesthetically. Ricky’s style is very visceral and very surreal and also very gritty, and so I wanted music that matched that. I wanted kind of a lush ambient sound with organic human[ity], just raw emotion on top of it. And to me, I think that that is that world, there’s so much passion with those people and what they’re doing with helping kids to get off the streets. And it’s just an amazing, amazing culture. 

Photo credit: Jeff Marsh

When we think of a Western a particular sound and style of music comes to mind and Concrete Cowboy is not a conventional Western. How did you play with that expectation in the music that you composed for this film? 
 
Yeah, also a great question. We kind of went through a few different styles before we landed on what was actually working. What we didn’t want to have was a traditional Spaghetti Western sound – I kind of toyed with that a little bit and it ‘cheesifies’ things.  
 
You didn’t want it to get too pastiche.  
 
Yeah, we didn’t want it to be cliche or kind of kitschy so we ended up trying to focus more on these people as human beings, and just aesthetic and visuals, and create that world and not think about “What are we trying to force here with this being a cowboy world?”
 
I listened to the score and I love the melancholic dignity in the horns.

Oh, thank you!

You’re welcome. I feel like that reflects how the Fletcher Street Riders are like the last of their kind, there’s kind of a twilight, because their way of life is being threatened by gentrification. Could you tell us about how you arrived at that?

I love that you said that; that’s really, really cool. 
 
Thank you!
 
It’s funny, a lot of the [score is] kind of focused on solo instruments. I feel like there’s a vulnerability to that that I was really after. There’s just something about trumpet in particular that to me is just so soulful, it’s almost like a voice, and I really wanted something like that, that I could use throughout the film. 

CONCRETE COWBOY – (L-R) Idris Elba as Harp and Caleb McLaughlin as Cole Cr. Aaron Ricketts / NETFLIX © 2021

Concrete Cowboy is a film about a father-son relationship, and it’s also about the bonds that humans form with animals. How did you express these themes in the music?
 
I think I was focused mostly on the father-son relationship. I really wanted the melodies to have, like what you said, sort of a melancholy feel to them. Cole comes from essentially a broken family and I think that there’s a lot of vulnerability to him, he’s sort of drawn into these two worlds: a life of crime, and then this other life that is giving him hope. To me, I just wanted melodies and instrumentation that reflected that.
 
The movie had its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2020. Was the music recorded under lockdown conditions and if so how did you navigate that logistically?
 
It was actually all recorded before lockdown. It’s funny, we, we recorded the score in January of 2020, in Seattle, Washington, and I did a handful of more sessions and at that point, we had been hearing what was going on in China, then when we went down to Burbank to finish the post, the news was starting to break out and I think a handful of cases broke out in Washington around that time. When I flew home, the film was completely wrapped and that’s when everything sort of broke out. 

Photo credit: Oguz Uygur

Have you been working on other film projects during lockdown?
 
I haven’t been working on film projects, but I’ve just been focusing on a lot of family time, and then writing some personal records. 
 
What kinds of films do you hope to work on in the future, are there any specific genres or styles that you’d like to work in?
 
Well I will tell you one that I am going to work on it’s, it’s a documentary [called Between the Rains] about these two Kenyan tribes that have been at war for the last couple of decades, and it follows a young boy from one of the tribes, basically being raised as a warrior, and he’s just not a warrior, and it deals with global warming and the water runs out and they’re fighting over that. And it’s just a really powerful documentary and it’s with a buddy of mine, [producer] Andrew [Harrison Brown] who’s just shot it, and he and I worked together on a previous documentary called Kifaru. And so I love telling these stories. I love Kenyans; I got to meet some of the guys from the last film and I got to work with some Kenyan singers on the score and it’s a blast. I love documentaries, it’s a wonderful genre. 
 
It strikes me as something where there is perhaps more of an emphasis on authenticity or audiences might be more aware if something rings false to them, and then there’s extra work to do in research, in trying to make sure that you are being authentic in the sound you’re creating. 
 
Mm hmm, yeah, absolutely. 

CONCRETE COWBOY – (L-R) Caleb McLaughlin as Cole and Jharrel Jerome as Smush. Cr. Aaron Ricketts / NETFLIX © 2021

Finally, what do you hope audiences take away after watching Concrete Cowboy? 
 
If anything, people can see that these people are real people. It’s not just in Philadelphia, it’s around the country, and they’re doing good, and because of gentrification and a lot of different reasons, some of these tables are getting shut down, and it’s really sad. So if anybody is moved to take action and support or raise awareness, then I think that would be awesome. 

Concrete Cowboy begins streaming on Netflix April 2.

A Galaxy of Possibilities: Lucas Museum of Narrative Art Director of Archives Laela French talks Star Wars Identities

For F*** Magazine

F*** talks to the art historian and curator about bringing the blockbuster Star Wars exhibit to Singapore

From 30 January to 13 June 2021, Star Wars fans in Singapore can make the jump to hyperspace and into a galaxy far, far away at the Star Wars Identities exhibition at the ArtScience Museum. Originally slated to open in April 2020, the exhibition was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but has finally opened in Singapore

This exhibition contains over 200 artefacts, including costumes, props, concept art and models that were used in the production of the Star Wars Original Trilogy, the Prequel Trilogy, the Clone Wars animated series and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The exhibition debuted in Montreal in 2012 and after touring cities including Paris, London, Brussels, Sydney and Tokyo, the exhibition makes its 12th and final stop in Singapore, before the objects on display return to the Lucasfilm Archives. Highlights of the exhibition include screen-used costumes of characters like Darth Vader, C-3PO, Boba Fett, Princess Leia, Padmé Amidala and Chewbacca. The exhibition also contains original concept art created by artists including Ralph McQuarrie and Joe Johnston, as well as models of ships like the Millennium Falcon, the Mon Calamari Home One, The Slave One and the Devastator Star Destroyer.

Visitors will not only be able to see these elements from the Star Wars saga before them, but also embark on a journey themselves. Each visitor wears an RFID wristband, and via ten interactive stations, will craft their own unique character within the Star Wars universe, choosing their character’s species, home planet, personality traits and making decisions when faced with various scenarios. At the end of their journey, visitors will meet the character created via these choices. Through the lens of Star Wars characters, the exhibit examines how our origins, the influences on us and the choices we make shape our identities.

Laela French at the launch of Star Wars Identities in Munich

Lucas Museum of Narrative Art Director of Archives Laela French was part of the team that initially designed the exhibit in 2012 and has overseen its world tour. Speaking to F*** over video call from Los Angeles, French shared her insights as an art historian and museum creator, discussed what the exhibit has in store for die-hard fans and neophytes alike, and explained why Star Wars has maintained its resonance and hold on popular culture across decades.

(The following interview has been edited for clarity)

F*** Magazine: Hi Laela, thank you for talking to us! Please let our readers know what your work as the Director of Archives at the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art entails, and about your history with the Lucasfilm collection.   

LAELA FRENCH: I am the Director of Archives for the Lucasfilm archive collection, which is now under the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. What that really means is that I oversee and caretake all the props, models, costumes and concept art that were used in the making of Star Wars. Of course, the archive is more than just Star Wars. It includes Indiana Jones and any other film productions that George was involved with or was a producer for, such as Willow… 

Tucker, the Man and his Dreams?
 

Tucker, exactly, yes! So it’s a great collection, but of course it’s always all about Star Wars, and sometimes a little bit of Indiana Jones. It’s like a museum collection: we make sure that it’s stored correctly, we’re cataloguing it and caretaking it, we do research sometimes on the collection with partners or with Disney and Lucasfilm. And we mount and tour exhibitions, as Star Wars Identities is here in Singapore for you. And my background is in museums and collections care and exhibitions.  

Star Wars is a franchise that many people have different relationships with. How does this exhibit cater to fans of different ages who may have gotten into Star Wars at different points in their lives, or have varying degrees of intensity in being a fan of Star Wars? What are the levels at which different people can experience this exhibit? 

One of the things that I love so much about this collection, and I’ve been with it for so long, is that it is so meaningful to so many people around the world, it’s woven into our cultural and social fabric. We can communicate through Star Wars language and iconography. Doesn’t matter if you’re eight or 80, at this point, everyone knows about Star Wars at some level, even if they haven’t seen the movies.

We always mount our exhibitions with education and museum visitors in mind. With our Star Wars fans, we’re always wanting to put surprises in the exhibition for our super-nerd fans, because we know that they know so much already, so we always want to give them a little extra surprise. But we always think about the non-Star Wars fan who’s coming to an exhibition at the museum, so we want to make sure that even if you’re not a fan, this exhibit is still for you. It’s like if you were going to a Monet exhibition or a fine art exhibit, you didn’t know about the artist, but you’re going in to learn something. We also design our exhibitions so that different age groups can really explore and enjoy it. So I always say, kids ages eight to 80. But truthfully, I’ve seen four-year-olds go through this exhibit and they recognise the characters in Star Wars, they just see Yoda and they’re instantly engaged. So it’s a very generous exhibition for all kinds of people, all different ages, whether you’re a superfan or you haven’t even seen the films yet. 

How does this exhibit combine the experience of entering the world of Star Wars, through the “identity” component, with looking at the movies from a real-world behind-the-scenes perspective? 

What we’re looking at in this exhibition is the science of human identity and trying to answer the question, “What makes humans unique, what makes us each unique?” and we worked with a very deep and exciting group of scientists [in the fields of] psychology biology, genetics, across the gamut – anyone touching on human identity in some capacity we had on our committee, and we debated how to organise this using Star Wars. This exhibition is really built on the idea that we can tell the story of human identity through Star Wars.

We can break down personalities into five basic groups, and this is science, not fantasy stuff here, [it’s] psychotherapy. Those [types] are really well defined by Star Wars characters so we can find someone that’s very neurotic in C-3PO and see someone who’s brave and maybe a little reckless in Han Solo. The idea is that fans will recognise Star Wars characters, and we can talk about that what’s underneath that character and identifying who they are and what they represent.

And then you get to actually do your own Star Wars identity quest through the exhibition, creating your own Star Wars avatar. In that sense, you’re answering these different questions learning about the science of human identity in building your own Star Wars character. What I love is adults tend to answer the questions honestly and earnestly; they’re really serious about it. Kids are just like, “I’m all bad. I’m all good,” they’re just having Fantasyland, but they’re still learning while playing and that is just one of the best things about the exhibition. 

Concept art by Ralph McQuarrie

Filmmaking is a collaborative art form. We often talk about George Lucas’ original vision, but many artists and technicians over the decades have helped bring that vision to life. Which artists, whose work is displayed in this exhibit, would you single out for their contributions? 

Well, I have to start with Ralph McQuarrie. To me, there’s no Star Wars without George Lucas, and there’s no Star Wars without Ralph McQuarrie also. We have a heavy display in this exhibition, we have over 100 pieces of art and so much of it is Ralph McQuarrie’s paintings. His visual designs for the different planet scenes really created the look and feel of Star Wars from the get-go. So, I have to say he put the biggest mark on Star Wars feeling and looking like the way Star Wars does. He was behind the design of Darth Vader, he was behind the design of so many characters in the first go-around: Chewbacca, for example. Even Han Solo in his character design, he really put a touchstone all of that. After that, I would think that it’s Joe Johnston right behind him, creating a lot of ship designs and some of the other characters. So those two artists really created the visual look of Star Wars that we know and understand today. 

Schematic by Joe Johnston

Star Wars is a gateway in many ways; fans have discovered the different mythological, literary and film influences on Star Wars by starting there and going backwards. Do you hope that visiting this exhibit might be a gateway for kids to discover the artistic influences on Star Wars? 

I really hope so. And while this is really an exhibit on science and identity, we still are pulling right back into the hero’s journey and mythology. And so kids get really excited about that, and it leaves a little bit of a seed in them, then they’re going to go back and realise how much mythology influences all the stories that we’re telling, from the early days of Homer and The Odyssey and The Iliad. Then you go on over to the Norse mythology, like Ragnarok, those stories, and how there’s the same thread through all of them, the hero’s journey is really central to so much of our human experience. On the other side, they’re really excited by what they see in terms of design, that kind of artistry, the paintings, or the model-making or the costume design, which is exquisite, I mean truly, it’s just the best thing about Star Wars. I hope it inspires a whole new generation of artists and filmmakers and storytellers as well. 

I think there can still be a snobbishness about art, this divide between “high” and “low” art, which is why I love the approach of pop culture as a gateway into exploring different art forms. As someone who has worked in the worlds of fine art and of pop culture, how does something like Star Wars bridge those worlds? 

Well, I think that Star Wars not only bridges it but hopefully just obliterates the gap entirely. George Lucas is a filmmaker and a storyteller, and he’s also an art collector. Now he’s building a museum for visual storytelling and art collecting, so for him, it was never snobbery or elite art, it was always storytelling. I think what he’s doing through Star Wars, and through all the visual art is at the centre, it’s the story that you see in the artwork. If that painting tells a story, and it resonates for you, it counts, and there is no high art or low art. It’s what each visitor gets out of the painting in front of them. And you might get a whole masterpiece out of one story or painting and another person next to you goes “meh” and it doesn’t resonate for them and that doesn’t make it good or bad. It’s just that the story doesn’t work for that person, and they go and find a different painting that maybe tells a great story for them. So I think that’s for me what I hope Star Wars has contributed to high or low art and sort of changing the whole conversation and getting rid of the terms “high” and “low”. And just coming to the idea of “Do you enjoy this art?” If you don’t, it’s okay. We don’t all love every movie ever made, right? Every year, I go “I love that movie; didn’t love that movie.” It’s okay. 

Star Wars fans don’t even love every Star Wars movie ever made.  

Exactly, that’s right. We all have our favourite moments and our least favourite ones. It’s not “good” or “bad”. It’s just enjoy what you enjoy, and then you move on from there. 

You worked at the Autry Museum. Can you shed some light on the specific influences that the Western genre has on Star Wars, as can be seen from the objects on display at this exhibit? 

I mean, honestly, Star Wars is a space Western, right? And George Lucas, who’s the storyteller of Star Wars, he grew up a fan of cinema, he would go and watch all kinds of movies, and he’s a fan of the Western serials that were popular when he was growing up. And that idea is that you go to the theatre, and you’d watch the movie, and then it would leave you on a cliffhanger. And then you’d be waiting for the next week to go back and see what happened. He grew up on all of that kind of cinema.

And it’s not that he set out to make this a Western in space, per se, but he wanted to do this adventure and journey, and part of what his cinematic background was infused with was those Western stories. But there is something similar between the Western and the Kurosawa films from Japan. These other stories that are told, they all share a similar underlying adventure, where the lone wolf rolls into town and becomes the good guy. That’s what Han Solo is, and he’s your character in Star Wars that really pulls in the identity of the American West. And right down to his gunslinger holster and his Western shirt and everything, he really could be dropped into a Western film and fit right in. I love that. 

One of the things I love about Star Wars is that it’s the first successful pastiche franchise. It pulls from all of these varied influences that impacted George Lucas in one way or another, but synthesises them in an interesting way. It’s at once very familiar and very novel.  

I think a lot of people who hit that level of artistry and have that reach, like Star Wars has for 40+ years, is because it’s not just one single note. He didn’t just do one thing that made Star Wars amazing. He did many things that pulled together made it off the charts, kind of groundbreaking. The visual effects, right? That right there could have made a great movie, but then it wasn’t just these groundbreaking visual effects. It was the design in Star Wars that was also amazing, and completely fresh and new. And he didn’t just say, “Oh, that’s a good enough design. Let’s go on,” he kept pushing and pushing his artists until he was like, “Yes, that’s what I want.” He had this visual aesthetic that was very, very strong. And then it was based on mythology and the hero’s journey, which is a timeless story that resonates for any generation, so it wasn’t just a movie that worked great in the 70s but that doesn’t resonate anymore, it still resonates even today. Those are just some of the few things that he did that amalgamated together to make Star Wars just become what you call a classic, right? It’s something that transcends time and lives on and is enjoyed through many generations. 

I imagine the Lucasfilm archives must be like the warehouse at the end of Raiders. What is it like in that building, and was there any item in the archives that really surprised you?  

You know, it doesn’t quite look like the end of Raiders. But we used to have a warehouse for the while we were making Episodes, I, II and III [of] Star Wars that totally looked like the end of Raiders and it made us laugh, so in a way, yes, we have that. We have several storage locations. So the main collection’s at Skywalker Ranch, and I think what’s really surprised me is how much material archivally almost from the first memo to the final film shot, how much material it takes to make a film – how much artwork and artistry, and how many artists, from sculptors to painters to costume designers and costume makers, how many different artisans it took to make Star Wars [into] Star Wars today, and how many new inventions that were pushed into Star Wars to make Star Wars what it is that we see today. That’s reflected in the artwork in the collection. So when I see the collection together, and I’m like, “There’s that guy who made that and then there’s the lady that designed and built that,” and it just keeps going and there’s hundreds and hundreds of people. And a lot of film is like that. It’s not just Star Wars, but I think Star Wars beautifully represents the many artists that it takes to tell a beautiful cinematic story. 

One of the things I love about film is that you’re watching a two-hour-long movie, but you’re not seeing the amount of work that goes into it and the iterative process on the way there. That’s for you to discover later. There will be visitors who will look at the concept art of a garden gnome named “Minch” and be surprised that that’s how Yoda began.  

Absolutely, and we have the garden gnome artwork. I think that will be one of the things that will surprise people that come to the exhibition, and even if they’re not Star Wars fans, is seeing the visual journey from first sketch to final character design because really, we’re talking about identity. So part of the exhibition is exploring the identity of all the characters in Star Wars – not everyone, but the primary ones. So you get to study Jabba, from his first sketch and all the different little maquettes. And I love the one where he looks like Fu Manchu with his big moustache, all the way to what he finally looked like in the end. And of course, Yoda is a great one for that. But so is Chewbacca, how Chewbacca came to be who he is as a character. It’s the idea of design and not stopping too soon and keep pushing and pushing and pushing. I think that’s a great visual lesson for so many students today, whether they’re art students, or writers or storytellers or even scientists, that sometimes it takes a lot of effort and layers and layers of repetition till you get to the right answer, whether it’s you’re solving a scientific problem, or whether you’re solving an artistic design problem. 

Concept art by Ralph McQuarrie

The making of Star Wars is so storied that the mythology is not just within that fictional universe, but the real-life behind-the-scenes process has become mythologised in a way, too.  

It’s true. And because there’s such a worldwide fan base, sometimes that mythology gets put into dogma [laughs]. So we always have a little challenge here and there, when we would put something on display, and then fans would get upset because it kind of challenged their understanding of the Star Wars universe that they had come to adopt into their world. So we’re always a little cognisant of that. We always want it to be celebratory, and celebrate the fans and celebrate especially the uber-fans who have been with Star Wars since they were kids, and they’re bringing it to their kids and their grandkids. But at the same time, not every single thing is known about every single aspect of how Star Wars got made.

You know, there’s still some mysteries out there that we’re still being asked, and I don’t know the answer to that. When we’re doing research for different productions, I’m like, “I don’t know the answer to that.” So there’s still mysteries out there. And honestly, I kind of love that. I love that it’s an archive that’s so deep and rich, we have production notes, and binders of production designer notes, that in 100 years, in 200 years, they will have film curatorial historians coming through and still writing new things about Star Wars, even though it’s been 100 years, because not everything is known. So to me, that’s exciting. 

As you mentioned, there are fans who can be very fixed in the way they look at Star Wars, and in what Star Wars means to them. What is the best mindset to have, stepping into Star Wars Identities? 

Honestly, I think the best way to come into any exhibition but Star Wars Identities, especially, is if you’re coming in as a fan, to go back to why you’re a fan. What did that moment feel like? Tap back into that eight-year-old kid, if that’s what it was, and remember that and play, come in and just have fun, because it’s really what exhibitions are for. It’s supposed to inspire and bring joy, and, and be open. In that sense, you’re now opening to the experience ahead of you. The only time I’ve had challenges is when when a visitor will come in with a preconceived notion and expectation, and that that’s where they may find disappointment. But when we turn the tables around and invite them to remember what it is that they love about Star Wars, then that all opens right back up. And honestly, I’ve never really had to do that but more than one or two times. Everyone tends to go right back to why they love Star Wars, especially in the room with all the objects. 

For the non-Star Wars fan coming to Star Wars identities, I think that they’ll be pleasantly surprised to be learning about human identity through the characters of Star Wars, even if they don’t know the films, in a way they’re going to come out knowing a little bit about who those characters are. And what we have found in touring this exhibition is that it’s the non-Star Wars fans who go “Oh my god, I kind of didn’t want to see this movie, or I missed my moment, I got turned off on it for whatever reason, or it’s not my kind of movie, I’m not at all going, ‘Oh my god, I gotta go watch this movie!'” And then we get these letters that go “I had no idea. I just loved the films, but I didn’t watch them until after I went through the exhibition.” So I would say just come and have a good time.

Creating your own Star Wars identity through the exhibition was one of the [most fun] things I’ve ever done. Let me tell the story: when we were mounting this exhibit, it was 2012. I started my job with this collection not as a Star Wars fan. Not everyone believes that, but it’s true. I’m a museum nerd, I’m more of a museum caretaker. Not to say I don’t love the films, but I didn’t come in as like the uber-fan; I’m more of an art historian. So when I when we were doing the exhibit, I helped curate it and design it, and when we were installing it in Montreal for the first venue, we finally got to test the identity quest. And I did it and I was giggling like a five-year-old, going “Oh my god, that was so much fun. I’m gonna go do it again.” I did it 17 times. I just went and had a blast. And I realised, “Oh my god, we did it.” All of our partners, everyone who worked on this exhibit, we totally had a home run because I was having a blast. And I’m like the most jaded [person], too close to the project, too critical of all the details. And I was just like, “Forget it, I’m gonna go do it again,” and I had so much fun. When I got to share it with my kids and my family. They were the same way. They were like, “This is the best thing we’ve ever done!” And again, they put up with me being with the collection. So I think just come and have a good time, then enjoy it. It’s so much fun. It’s such a fun, fun exhibit. It’s really my favourite thing we’ve ever done. 

This exhibit was originally going to launch in Singapore in April 2020, and then Circuit Breaker happened, and it’s been in storage for nine months. Walking through the exhibit was surreal, because we’re all wearing masks, and there’s safe distancing and more frequent disinfection, but it’s a real, largely uncompromised museum experience. What do you think the future holds for museum spaces, post-COVID-19?  

I’m more hopeful. And I love that you guys call it “Circuit Breaker”; I had never heard that before. At least we don’t use. We don’t use that term in America, that’s neat, I like that. I think because it’s just a circuit break, that will get restored. I don’t think we’re going to be stuck in this particular style. I do think things will have changed forever forward from COVID-19. I do feel like that ability to work from home for so many corporations around the world and the flexibility; it’s creating a lot of silver linings. It’s been obviously a challenging time for all of the world, but I think there will be some benefits coming from it. For exhibitions, I feel like we will restore back to how we were before. I don’t see us always stuck in paranoid land of a pandemic. Pandemics do end. Historically, throughout time, they all come to an end, they all come to an end in a two-to-three-year window. I do feel like when it comes to an end, we’re going to have a slow transition back to normalcy. We’re all gonna be a little bit like, “Oh, is it really, really, really over?” but I think we will get there. And then we’ll be back to our crowded galleries and having human experiences the way we used to be with a big, huge sigh of relief. So, I have faith in that and I’m so grateful for all the effort that the Singapore ArtScience museum have brought to this to make this work during COVID. It was Herculean, really for all the teams, but we did it and we’re really thrilled that in Singapore, you guys can have a semi-normal moment going to the exhibition and that’s really a great way to end this exhibit. 

Finally, as an art historian, what do you imagine someone with your job, 200 years in the future, would say about Star Wars 

Well, because we’re going to have this amazing Star Wars archive, as part of the Lucas Museum of narrative art in Los Angeles. The 200-year future with my job, living in Los Angeles caretaking this collection, what are they going to say about Star Wars? They’re going to say that it was one of the most seminal, groundbreaking, moments in cinematic history, like Shakespeare to Elizabethan England. The after-effects will be much better seen and understood in 200 years than we are in the only 40-year window. But if I’m looking at it as a trajectory, with a rocket trail, I see it only continuing and growing and especially now in the hands of Disney, as a global franchise, and with theme parks and Star Wars Land, like I don’t see it slowing down and I don’t see it coming to a full stop. I always see it as woven into our social fabric and vernacular and vocabulary. I just see that 200 years from now they’re going to be really looking at all of the effects of what George Lucas created with his Skywalker story. And in a positive light, I just feel like it’s gonna be really meaningful just like what Shakespeare did. I’m not saying Star Wars is equal to Shakespeare for the literary snobs in the world, I’m just saying the impact will be same felt. They’re already holding classes at universities on Star Wars. So I just see that going more in in the cinema I think cinema has always been looked at as lowbrow. We talked about highbrow-lowbrow, right? I think cinema is going to be seen as a new way of telling stories in high fashion, whatever that really means. Maybe we’ll lose that terminology altogether. 

Visit https://www.marinabaysands.com/museum/exhibitions/star-wars-identities.html for tickets and more details

Till Death: the star and creators of She’s a Terrorist and I Love Her talk the dark comedy series

For F*** Magazine

Munah Bhagarib, Caitanya Tan, Noah Yap and Haresh Tilani in She’s a Terrorist and I Love Her

With its wanton swearing, sexual situations, sometimes-graphic violence and yes, depictions of terrorism, She’s a Terrorist and I Love Her doesn’t sound like a typical Singapore-made comedy series. That’s exactly why its makers are hoping it will shake things up.

The series is the first Singaporean show to be picked up by the streaming service Hooq. She’s a Terrorist and I Love Her was the winner of the second annual Hooq Filmmakers Guild and because it is hosted on the platform, it is not bound by the typical constraints that govern Singaporean TV series. The premium video-on-demand service is a joint venture between Sony Pictures, Warner Brothers and Singtel and is available in Asian countries including Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and India.

She’s a Terrorist and I Love Her revolves around extremists Zeta (Munah Bhagarib) and Lang (Caitanya Tan) who aim to blow up key landmarks in Singapore. They are members of the anti-capitalist Children of the Harvest terror network, led by the fanatical Kong (Benjamin Kheng). To infiltrate Singaporean society, Zeta and Lang enter sham marriages with sex shop technician Hayden (Noah Yap) and recently-divorced Jo (Haresh Tilani) respectively, both heavily indebted to a brutal loan shark. Under the guise of marrying these Singaporean men, Zeta and Lang will be able to carry out their deadly mission – but what happens when the terrorists and the men they’ve essentially taken hostage start to develop real feelings for each other?

She’s a Terrorist and I Love Her is the brainchild of Terence Chia and Haresh Tilani, who are behind the YouTube comedy channel Ministry of Funny. The first three episodes of the eight-episode series are available to watch for free on Hooq and MeWatch (formerly Toggle).

Terence Chia, Jordan Nalpon and Haresh Tilani on the set of She’s a Terrorist and I Love Her

In this in-depth, no-holds-barred interview conducted at Ministry of Funny’s office, F*** speaks to Terence, Haresh and their producer Jordan Nalpon about everything that went into making the series. They discuss how they hope the series will pave the way for Singapore-made content going forward, their experience working with Hooq, the genesis and development of the concept, the demanding production schedule, the social issues addressed in the series and what the dynamic between the cast was like – plus the vital matter of Noah Yap putting dildos in his mouth.

F***: I’m interested in stuff that comes out of Singapore, especially English-language stuff and stuff that has a genre bent, that’s a little bit towards action, sci-fi or horror. I’ve always felt like in Singapore, there exists a spectrum where the stuff that plays to the heartland uncles and aunties is on one end, and the stuff that goes to Cannes is on the other end, and there’s nothing in the middle. That’s frustrated me to no end. I feel like this a step towards filling that void?

HARESH TILANI: We’ve used that analogy quite a lot.

TERENCE CHIA: You’ve described the entire Singapore industry in one sentence.

HARESH: And what we’re trying to do, and hopefully did with this show.

I started out wanting to write things and make things and gave up on that after a while. I feel like everybody faces that – how did you overcome that hump, how did you get from “Cannot” to “Can”?

HARESH: A lot of trying. We started off on YouTube – the beauty of YouTube is that if you make stuff that people like, you can grow. It doesn’t matter whether you went to film school. That is a value that you see in Youtubers, but when I talk to people who come from the traditional path, it’s not as apparent. It’s almost like the internet trains you. It also teaches you that you can have a s***-ass video, but the next video might go viral. During that pitching process, we got rejected a f***-ton of times by people we were pitching to. We need to maintain our own voice, our own brand and not compromise that, and someone will say yes.

TERENCE: Comedy itself, we’ve been chipping away at it for eight years, starting from short-form, small YouTube videos, trying all kinds of different formats because social media changes every day, then finally getting to apply everything we learnt to a long-form show. In our minds, comedy was the ultimate destination we wanted to get to, to make people laugh. Whatever format it is, we will do what it takes to get there, and this was the biggest challenge so far.

HARESH: I think one thing that helps is reading biographies or stories of people that I admire or respect a lot. Anyone in the creative or media industry who has done anything that is worth mentioning, they had their own long-ass path to get there.

What was the genesis of She’s a Terrorist and I Love Her, and how did the pieces of the concept snap into place?

TERENCE: Through our YouTube [channel] and everything, we’ve been involved in recent years in some counterterrorism, making videos that are PSAs about [terrorism] – telling people to be alert about their surroundings but also to understand where terrorism originates from. Oftentimes, it originates from people who are very disgruntled with society. A lot of times, they’re left on the fringes. A concept like this is really examining people on the fringes and how they slowly fall on the wrong side of the tracks.

I’ve also seen in my own family and friends people trying to marry foreigners. The whole process is intricate and at certain points, almost comedic. Some of the things they’re made to do – they get a lot of mistrust not only from the state but from other family members or friends of the bride or groom, depending on which side is the foreigner. When you hear about the struggles that these people go through to get married to a Singaporean and you think about some guys who get into sham marriages for a few hundred dollars, you think “What could possibly push a man to sell his singlehood to get into all this trouble?” That was the seed of it.

HARESH: My background is I’m Indian, so I’ve seen a lot of my cousins get forced into arranged marriages, even cousins who are only a few years older than me. In some ways, [the scenario in the show] is a forced marriage, a loveless marriage and [perhaps] love can develop somehow.

One thing that’s tricky about tackling the subject matter in a comedy was the tone. In the writing and shooting process, did you find yourselves second-guessing how funny or serious a given moment might be? Were there points when you went “nope, too much” or “too little, we can push this more”?

TERENCE: I’ll speak for the writing process – we were very cognisant to run it as collaboratively as possible and try to not just pay lip service by having a two week-long writers’ room, which is a rarity as far as I know. TV shows in Singapore, it’s usually one-two writers max. We had a team of writers and Jordan was in the writers’ room as well. We really hammered out the A-Z of the story, Episode 1-Episode 8, including any jokes that came out in the process. We had index cards over the whole wall. We also made sure our writers’ room was fairly diverse in terms of race and gender, so we had a pretty broad swathe of who finds what funny. In that sense, keeping the tone was, from the very start, ingrained in us.

HARESH: We knew we didn’t want to do a show that had three laughs a page, which is the sitcom standard. We did face some resistance at some point talking to some people, but we were clear that we wanted it to go very dark at some points, but also have moments of laughter. There are shows that do [jokes per minute] very well, I think Brooklyn Nine-Nine is the best example of that – it’s super-funny, it always ends on a nice note. We used a few shows for reference: there’s Barry, which I think is the best reference. Some parts, you can have him strangling somebody to death, and other parts are just laugh-out-loud funny. Even in our writers’ room, there were a few jokes that ruffled some feathers, but if it’s just one out of six, chances are we’ll go with it.

We were very cognisant of the fact that this show involves terrorism, so we didn’t want to open ourselves to unnecessary backlash. We wanted to flip stereotypes: typically the stereotype of a terrorist is a bearded dark-skinned man. We initially wanted an all-female cult, but then we thought there was a lot more to talk about with the power dynamics between male and female, so we made it a point to make them all light-skinned, we never tied them to a religion or ethnicity or culture, we made them anti-capitalists. We were thinking, if a terrorist wanted to attack Singapore, why would they? We’re still more secular than other countries. One thing Singapore is known for is capitalism.

TERENCE: On the production side, we were very collaborative with the actors with improvising lines, even though there was a script there. We knew the general tone of what we were looking for, but a bit more intelligent comedy, a bit darker. We tried to make it like that through the whole production. Once you get into production, you don’t have time to workshop stuff at all.

HARESH: One thing that helps is that we had an online editor to do an initial cut, but the final offline edit was handled by Terence and I, so we knew the tone we were looking for. You can do a lot to shape the tone in editing.

It sounds like Hooq gave you a lot of control.

TERENCE: Working with them was a joyful experience. They even came in and sat in on our writers’ room for a while to give us ideas. They told us to really push the limits in terms of vulgarity, sex, violence and anything.

HARESH: In fact, at certain points they pushed us to certain places we didn’t think of going. We got a lot of notes from them, they were pushing us, but it was always motivated by telling a good story, which is not what I’ve heard other people talk about when they work with Singapore networks. Other networks are a bit more constrained by censorship, where the notes they give you really harm the story, but you have to work within those constraints.

JORDAN NALPON: During the development stage, there was a lot of self-censorship going on, because would say “oh, you can’t do this in Singapore, the show needs to travel.” A lot of time for us, it was “no, we have to push this.”

TERENCE: It was very refreshing working with Hooq and hearing from them “just push it in whatever direction you want.”

The series speaks to a lot of anxieties that Singaporeans, especially millennial Singaporeans, face. The series addresses elitism and the veneer of meritocracy, workplace sexual harassment and racism. Was this something that you set out to do, or did that kind of organically grow out of the story?

TERENCE: I think just looking at our YouTube videos, a lot of them [already] deal with these themes and these topics. I don’t wake up and say “I’m going to fight racism today”, we’re not social justice warriors, but these themes run through our day-to-day thinking and some of it comes through in our writing as well.

HARESH: Some of it also grew organically. When we talked about the Michelle (Tiffy G) character in the office, we knew we wanted to have a workplace to talk about bureaucracy, then when we decided the character would be female, we said “if it’s a female in a corporate workplace, sexual harassment [might happen]”. We had certain high-level things: the main question the series wanted to ask was “are you willing to sacrifice your life for what you believe in?” Once you distil it, it can be sacrificing your career for what you believe in.

When you introduce the character of Jo’s daughter, that becomes a factor, that raises the stakes.

HARESH: The way this happened was we made the pilot first, so when we got [picked up] to series, we wanted to expand the world, and that’s when we brought in Kong and the daughter, just to give a bit more depth to [the world].

I’ll preface this question by saying that comedy is subjective. One thing that a lot of content creators fear is that their work will be deemed “cringey”. Leaving aside that that’s not the right way to put it – it should be “cringe-inducing” or “cringe-worthy” – how do content creators mitigate a fear of making stuff that’s cringe-inducing, and how do you avoid comedy that could be cringe-inducing?

JORDAN: I would say confidence plays a part in the whole thing, like I mentioned just now about self-censorship. I think ‘cringeyness’ is when you see people holding back in their performances and it gets to that awkward position. We got the freedom – it was “guys, go full on, ch**b**, k**i*a, just whack.” When you say things in full confidence, you don’t give a s*** about whether it’ll be cringe-worthy, that’s how it becomes not cringe-worthy.

TERENCE: That’s the thing about comedy – if you don’t go all the way with confidence, then it becomes flaccid, it becomes lame, it becomes cringe-inducing. If you go all the way and people don’t find it funny, just move on. If you run with the joke it won’t fail.

HARESH: What you’re saying is from the perspective of an actor performing it, but even in the editing process, we try to make it as rigorous as possible such that there’ll be one person editing it for that episode, but everyone gives as honest feedback as possible – even down the second: “this one goes two beats too long”. We have that internal kind of check, but I would say that I showed it to a few of my friends and I was so anxious through the whole thing, asking them “do they find this funny?” “Do they find that funny?” And I don’t think it will ever go away, which is why I finally understand why directors and filmmakers say they don’t watch their stuff, because I don’t think there will come a time when we can say “that was definitely funny”.

What was the dynamic like between the four leads, Haresh, Munah, Caitanya and Noah, on the set? Who is most different in real life from their characters in the series – in other words, who has to do the most acting?

HARESH: I would say because it was an intense shoot, quite a lot was demanded of every character. On set, the professionalism was all there, but then the off-set personas needed a bit more time to gel. At the end of the day, everyone was on the same page and wanted to do something kick-ass. I would say we got along very well. The nice thing I felt as an actor was that there was a lot of room to feed off each other. It helped that we were both the writers and directors, as opposed to other sets where the writers are not on the same. We knew that if certain lines change or if they something that is not per script but doesn’t affect the story, we can run with it. I would say between the actors and supporting actors, everyone enjoyed the possibility of not having to filter what they say.

TERENCE: Building on from that, they had a very good dynamic, so even for a first-time director like myself, a lot of times I left them to their own devices to work the lines out, then I made sure the tone of the show was maintained – nothing too slapstick, nothing too raw. These guys are all very talented; they really shocked me at certain points where I was struggling to give them directions. If we do a watch-through, I can tell you which parts were improvised. Who would you say is the most different from their characters?

HARESH: Cait and Munah. In the show, their characters are serious and are the fiercest, but when the camera cuts, they’ll run off to a corner to sing. Cait and Munah, in person they’re very friendly, very energetic, very outgoing, but in character they’re like “no, for the mission, we must do this.”

TERENCE: I would say Haresh is the most different from Jo. Jo is someone who doesn’t plan and doesn’t think ahead, but by virtue of being the showrunner as well, [Haresh] was always thinking ahead of where his and the other characters were. On set, we’d be having discussions as showrunners, then the next second he has to jump into “Jo the joker” mode, so kudos to him.

HARESH: Would you say Noah is almost himself?

TERENCE: I think he’s very different.

HARESH: It’s good that we’re having this debate that all are so different, because I was going to say Noah. Noah in real life is like “eh, f*** lah!”

JORDAN: I thought Cait and Munah would be the most different.

HARESH: I guess everyone is different, which is a good thing.

As I was watching the episodes, I thought “there are so many night shoots!” What was the schedule like?

TERENCE: (Laughs) It was insane!

JORDAN: We had 30 days of shooting, because we had a lot of night shoots. We shot in a lot of complex locations – we shot in an actual sex shop, we shot in an actual HDB [flat] and there were a lot of night shoots there as well, we shot at the Merlion, Sentosa…we had 12 hours of 30 days, a lot of overnights. A lot of kudos to the team for powering through. We shot overnight then the call time would be 6 pm the next day. There was a lot of juggling the main talents’ schedules, we had to juggle the location schedules – it was a nightmare, but somehow, we pulled it off.

HARESH: We heard that the benchmark of the number of pages you [shoot] a day in Singapore is six-seven, and in Hollywood it’s one-two – we were pushing 10-11.

JORDAN: 10-12

HARESH: If you think about when we started writing this show to when it launched, it was a super short period. We started writing in June, then in February, the whole show was out. We didn’t have as much time to plan as we would have liked and also, we wanted the story to be as big as possible but there are constraints. We decided the story first and had to fit it into 30 days, which was intense.

HARESH: That’s where it also helped that Terence and I were showrunners, because on set, if we needed to cut a scene, we would immediately know the impact of the scene on a future episode, as opposed to being on set where the writer is not even there.

What do you think Singaporeans who want to pursue a career in filmmaking or in the arts can do to combat the very understandable disillusionment that they might face?

HARESH: One thing is to understand that it’s going to be a long-ass process. Now with social media, the notion is that you can get famous in a short time. Even when I started, I thought “within one year, I can gauge what this going to be,” but it’s a long f***ing process. If you’re not willing to think long-term, it will be hard.

TERENCE: Patience is underrated in this industry. Social media gives people this expectation of overnight success, but for us, through YouTube, when we wanted to do long-form stuff, people would say “What qualifications do you have to shoot something longer-term or write or direct?” We just had to slowly build up our war chest over time. When the time comes and all the cards are in place, you just activate everyone. By then, you have built up enough networks, enough cred, to get people to want to work with you. Even thought it might be your first time doing something so big, which is what happened to us, we said “one day we want to work on something big together”. Like the AD (Assistant Director) for example – he started off as a PA on one of our one-day shoots somewhere in town.

HARESH: And now he’s one of the finalists for this year’s Hooq Filmmakers Guild, he’s writing and directing.

TERENCE: We’re not taking credit for his hard work, but [you build] working relationships and then you learn to trust each other, later when the bigger projects come along, suddenly you realise “hey, I have this team of people.” Everybody wants to see you succeed.

HARESH: To build on that, doing it in a group, not just on a project-by-project basis, helps a lot. If I were doing this alone, I’d be f***ed. Having Terence and Jordan to work with helps a lot, because if you feel like s***, then other people can prop you up. It’s the same advice given to start-up founders: if you do a business yourself, it’s going to be f***ing shag (fatiguing), you need people to support you. Two other things I try to do are think of ways to perk yourself up. I actually have a list of videos that I watch or articles that I read whenever I feel like s***.

You have a self-care playlist.

HARESH: Yeah, I do. Just listening to people that I respect and hearing their stories, it does help. Also, what I tell everyone who feels a sense of jadedness is just go to Hollywood for a week, find some way to go to Hollywood. I’m not saying move there, but just go there, because it’s a breath of fresh air and suddenly things seem possible again. The last thing is to know that for every person you find who questions you and who is jaded, there’s also somebody who wants to create something epic, that helps a lot. We’re not young, but we’re still doing this. On set, we had a lot of people who had not done a long-form [project] of this intensity before, but we valued this hunger and attitude over experience.

How did you put the crew together?

TERENCE: A big part of our job is selling, and to assemble the crew at the very start, we had to sell them the idea, the possibilities of the script. When the art director Matt came on board, we were totally not expecting someone of his experience and calibre to agree so quickly to a project like that. He read the script, he said it feels like it’s exciting and something he wants to do, and on the spot, he said “I’ll do it”. It was like a shock to us – when you have a script that can really sell the idea well, that’s when people jump on it.

JORDAN: The people who are on board are very keen on the idea that this is a project where we can just go to the extremes, we’ve got a lot of creative freedom, we can do a lot of stuff that doesn’t normally appear in other local productions.

TERENCE: Like what ah?

JORDAN: We have the sex shop, bare ass, dildo in the mouth…

Whose bare ass?

JORDAN: You carry on watching.

HARESH: One of the older guys in the production.

TERENCE: There’s a sex scene.

There is a sex scene.

TERENCE: Male orgasm.

HARESH: Normally a sex scene is the male gaze, but we flip it and focus on the male.

TERENCE: There is a very big sex scene that will make people who thought Last Madame was the s*** blush.

JORDAN: When we tell this to everyone on our team and tell them that this is what the project will be like, they say “we want in”.

That’s attractive to people because when things have felt stagnant for so long, and not for lack of talent or lack of creativity but because of the structure that’s in place, something that breaks the structure is attractive to people.

HARESH: I think it also helps that we had a pilot and it beat out hundreds of entries from around Asia, so it was like this is something that’s been validated.

So, what’s next, what do you have cooking?

HARESH: We have a slate of long-form ideas in various stages of development. Some are just at the logline stage, and some have a full treatment. That’s where this show has opened doors to check with a lot of people about the possibility about these projects. Also, reviving our Facebook and YouTube presences.

TERENCE: Back to what you said about being in between the heartland-aimed movies and the prestige festival movies, with this one we feel like we’ve made our mark in Singapore in trying to do something in the middle.

And to travel, as well.

TERENCE: Making something regional is our next target, something the region as a whole can hang their hat on, like Shutter, which for Southeast Asia was very big thing, something for Southeast Asians to say “this is from our region”. It can be in English and not make people cringe.

HARESH: Like what you said, in Singapore there’s definitely talent: for crew, for cast, for everything. It’s just finding a story that is not just applicable to Singapore, but global.

A lot of people will start off with ambitions and ideas, and after a certain point decide that there isn’t a point to it anymore, so I think it’s showing that there still is a point, and things are able to break through that and say “hey, this works”.

JORDAN: I agree with Terence on the whole thing of being between Jack Neo and Eric Khoo, because we need to cater to the masses, the common audience. I grew up in film school on all these foreign films. I went to National Service and talked to my friends over that who have no film background, and I asked them what they thought the best film was. They thought the best film was Transformers 2, they considered that the best film. It dawned on me that it’s them that we need to cater [to], it’s for people who want to come home, sit down, turn on the TV and watch something. I don’t think we need to do super arthouse – I don’t think people want to come home and destress by watching super arthouse stuff.

You want to destress by watching Noah Yap fixing a vibrator.

JORDAN: I think we need to head to that direction, like Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

It’s not that there’s no artistic merit to Brooklyn Nine-Nine. A lot of people love it and it’s still good.

HARESH: It’s a great show.

Haresh and Terence, both of you met at UPenn in Wharton. What you’ve done is basically every Asian parent’s nightmare – you’ve left the business world for the world of the arts, but it has of course worked out very well for you. What has that journey been like?

TERENCE: It’s not worked out that well [laughs]. We’re still working on it. There’s never a point where you actually feel like you’ve “made it”, whether it’s the first viral video or the first time you get paid to do something you love. Obviously over the years, I’ve developed a much thicker skin. You go to meet family and they look at you like you could have been the pride of the family and now, look at you, you’re vermin. Over time, especially the cousins and the people in our generation, they’re much more open to people pursuing their passions. You learn to celebrate the small victories, which is how you stay sane. I feel very proud of how far we’ve all come. Each of us has our own individual stories of the challenges before we got to this point. The whole series is something we’re proud of.

HARESH: I was working for an airline. I have an older brother and it’s the same thing, my family would say “it would be nice if you could stay in the corporate world,” but there’s also something that I think is worth sacrificing that stuff for this. The reason why we’re so open in saying “we haven’t made it yet” is I don’t want to portray it such that people think we’ve made it.

What helped me cope with being down is knowing that everyone you respect went through s*** times. If we were to say “we’ve made it,” it’s not fair to people who might read this and say “f***, they made it from zero to this in five years”. It’s always going to be a struggle. Even if you listen to people in Hollywood, some actors I respect, they say the anxiety never leaves you. You can be in a movie, then the next six months, you get nothing. That’s the nature of the industry. Over the years, you learn to deal with it.

JORDAN: For me, it’s the definition of “making it”. I’ve had this conversation with others as well, “making it” is an ongoing battle for your whole life. If you say you’ve “made it,” you stop pursuing this career. It’s a matter of “you’ve done this, what is next?” We did a TV series, so what is next for us? If you say you’ve made it, then you’re done, you do something else, but I’ll say we’ve never made it and we carry on the fight.

All eight episodes of She’s a Terrorist and I Love Her can be viewed here. The first three episodes are available for free.

Wira the Champions: Interview with Wira director Adrian Teh and stars Hairul Azreen and Yayan Ruhian

For F*** Magazine

WIRA THE CHAMPIONS

The stars and director of Wira talk making the Malaysian action movie

By Jedd Jong

From left: Yayan Ruhian, Adrian Teh and Hairul Azreen

One of the biggest films to come out of Malaysia in recent years is PASKAL: The Movie, an action film about an elite Malaysian Navy strike team who take on a gang of Somali pirates on the high seas. Director Adrian Teh, who has directed comedies like The Wedding Diary and its sequel and King of Mahjong, is now synonymous with the action film genre. He has followed up Paskal with Wira, which means “Hero” in Malay.

Hairul Azreen in Wira

Wira tells the story of Hassan (Hairul Azreen), a young commando who retires early to return to the village where he grew up after learning that his father Munas (Dato Hilal Azman) and his sister Zain (Fify Azmi) are in danger. Zain has followed in her brother’s footsteps to become an MMA fighter, taking on increasingly dangerous fights. The fights are organised by local kingpin Raja (Dain Iskandar Said), who under the guise of being a legitimate businessman and developer, keeps the residents of the village firmly under his thumb as he runs a massive drug and gambling operation. Hassan gets back into the ring and faces off against Raja’s goons, including his mysterious and formidable chief of security Ifrit (Yayan Ruhian).

Hairul Azreen in Wira

Hairul Azreen, who in addition to being an actor is a martial artist and a former stuntman, starred in Paskal and is also known for his performances in Police Evo 2 and Operasi X.

Yayan Ruhian in Wira

Yayan Ruhian, an Indonesian silat instructor, has become an action star after starring in Merantau, The Raid and The Raid 2. Yayan can also be seen in Hollywood films like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Beyond Skyline and John Wick: Chapter 3. In addition to playing Ifrit, he serves as the action choreographer on Wira.

Adrian Teh on the set of Wira

Director Teh and actors Hairul and Yayan were in Singapore to promote Wira and spoke to F*** at the Grand Park City Hall hotel. Teh spoke to us in English, with Hairul and Yayan speaking in some English and in translated Malay and Indonesian, with Teh and an interpreter assisting. They discussed how Wira marks a milestone for Malaysian action movies, revealed a particularly painful injury Hairul sustained making the movie, the process of designing the action sequences and working with Dain Iskandar Said, himself a renowned director.

F*** MAGAZINE: Adrian, this is your follow-up to Paskal. What made you want to make Wira?

ADRIAN TEH: I’ve always wanted to do this kind of action film, which is [realistic] fighting scenes. In Malaysia, before Wira, I think the level of action choreography has been the same. The level has been stagnant for a while – when people want to do action films in Malaysia, it always will be “like that, like that, like that”. I wanted to do Wira because I wanted to have a breakthrough in the level of choreography and fighting scenes in a local action film. I’ve wanted to do that for a while. The success of Paskal proved to my investors that there is a market for action films Malaysia. After Paskal, they are more convinced to give me the budget for Wira.

Bus set

Adrian, there is one shot in this movie I really love – during the fight on the bus, the camera leaves the window, goes outside the bus, then comes back in the back window, all in one move. How did you film this sequence?

ADRIAN TEH: This is the reason why I hoped to have a breakthrough in terms of Malaysian action films. This is one of the shots I achieved in Wira. The whole bus fight scene took a lot time to plan, to prep and to think how it can be achieved. It combines two sets of filming: one is on [location], plus a studio shoot. We spent a lot of time studying how to get the best out of that scene, and how we can combine the studio scene with the [on-location] scene. Not only that shot, there are a few shots in the movie where we really thought of it and really gave a lot of hard work and preparation to it. The most important element to it is the fighting, is the choreography, the details to each fighting scene. I’m kind of happy with the end product.

Bus fight on location

Hairul, which fight scenes did you find the most challenging?

HAIRUL AZREEN: For me, it’s the one shot, one take – I needed to jump from the second level to the ground floor. I tore three [ligaments] in my ankle. We continued the next day. That was very hard for me, but we did it.

Fall from second storey

ADRIAN TEH: To compare the shot you mentioned just now and that shot, that one is actually technically even more challenging for us to shoot.

Ismi Melinda and Yayan Ruhian on the set of Wira

Abang Yayan, we have seen how Hollywood is influenced by the action cinema of Asia, be it Hong Kong movies, Thai movies and Indonesian movies. From your experience Hollywood, what do you feel the stuntmen there learned from you, and was there anything you learned from them?

YAYAN RUHIAN: I have made movies in Indonesia, in Hollywood and now in Malaysia. They are practically all the same, but the same feeling that I had filming The Raid and in Hollywood is what I felt filming Wira. I believe this movie will be a milestone for Malaysian film like we’ve never seen before, and this might be the next big action film. This is at an international level, like The Raid and like John Wick. The Raid and Wira show that filmmakers in Southeast Asia can create something as good as Hollywood.

Fify Azmi and Hairul Azreen in Wira

The movie is also about family. How did you come up with the story for Wira?

ADRIAN TEH: I started out by wanting to work on an action film like that, then I started looking for a story. Paskal is about a group of Navy personnel who sacrifice their lives and their time with their family to serve their country, that’s the big theme of Paskal. As a creative person, I tried to do something completely [different] with Wira. This time around, it’s about a commando who decides to retire early to go back to his kampung and rescue his family. In Paskal we talked about country and in Wira we talk about family.

Hairul, one of the important elements of the movie is the bond between Hassan and Zain, the audience must believe that they can fight back-to-back as a unit. what was it like working with Fify Azmi, and how did you develop the brother-sister bond between the two of you as actors?

HAIRUL AZREEN: Fify is a newcomer, first time acting. I needed to be comfortable with her on set and in training. The bonding that I tried to develop with Fify had to take place off the set so we could both feel comfortable when we act. We had to train together for three months.

Adrian Teh and Hairul Azreen rehearsing a scene in Wira

Adrian and Hairul, what was the transition like from Paskal to Wira?

HAIRUL AZREEN: It’s different: with Paskal, [the focus was on] tactical armed combat. My characters Arman and Hassan are also different. Arman is a straightforward guy. Hassan must save his family, his sister, so I think they are very different.

ADRIAN TEH: It’s more taxing for him to be in Wira than Paskal, physically and in terms of screentime. In Paskal, we had a team, an ensemble. For Wira, it really depends on him. For me, working on Paskal and working on Wira [presented] two different sets of challenges, but I enjoyed working with Hairul again.

Yayan and Ruhian in Wira

Abang Yayan and Hairul, the whole movie is building up the fight between the both of you, which takes place simultaneously with the fight between Fify Azmi and Ismi Melinda. Did you feel the pressure because there would be so much anticipation to see this scene?

YAYAN RUHIAN: No, because we enjoyed doing the fighting. We prepared for a long time.

ADRIAN TEH: I think because of the bootcamp, because of the training, they enjoyed the sequence. It’s not like they are not familiar with [it] and had to force themselves to memorise it; they can do it with their eyes closed. They’re very familiar, very comfortable with the action.

Yayan Ruhian and Hairul Azreen filming the fight scene in Wira

HAIRUL AZREEN: Acting with Abang Yayan is awesome because I feel like I’ve touched Hollywood. It’s such a thrill. Abang Yayan is a legend, but he is so humble and down-to-earth. For a legend like that to sit next to me and hang out with me is incredible.

It can get so intense on a film set, so it’s important to have a good temperament.

ADRIAN TEH: That’s very important, I agree. Abang Yayan has a very good temperament. He is very firm, but very tolerant of others.

Dain Iskandar Said in Wira

Adrian, Dain Iskandar Said is a director himself. What was it like working with him, and did he offer any advice or did he say to you “you are the director, I am the actor, you tell me what you want in this movie”?

ADRIAN TEH: This is the question I get the most frequently from the media. He is a legend[ary] director in Malaysia, everybody knows his work. You’d be surprised, he’s actually a very good actor. He’s very professional on set, he will never try to overstep his role. He will give me different options in his performance for me to choose [from]. When we wanted to cast him, he did not believe me. He said “come on, you just want me to make a cameo, right?” I said “no, I want you to be the main villain of the movie.” He was like “Are you sure?” and I said “I’m very sure”. He insisted that I ask him three times before he accepted the offer. I had already wanted him, I was dead sure I would cast him in the role, but he asked me to audition him three times. Only then, he said “Okay, now I can act.”

Adrian Teh on the set of Wira

What did you learn making Paskal that you brought to Wira?

ADRIAN TEH: I think I am more thorough with Wira. I paid more attention to detail with Wira. Technically and the time I had with my actors. In Wira, I had a relatively smaller group of actors than in Paskal, so I get to work with my actors in Wira better. Riding on the back of Paskal, there definitely was pressure, so I spent more time on Wira.

Yayan Ruhian and Hairul Azreen in Wira

Abang Yayan, there’s something so mesmerising about watching you fight, the way you do silat. I think there is a difference between what looks on camera and what would actually be effective in a real fight, and the way you fight has the best of both worlds: it looks so cinematic, but also looks like it would really hurt somebody. How do you attain that balance in your fighting?

YAYAN RUHIAN: It’s different, because in front of the camera, it’s not just the killing technique, but the beauty technique, that’s the difference. To kill someone, I think it’s very easy. Beauty fighting is very important in front of the camera. In front of the camera, we need to make the fighting look like real fighting.

Adrian, that’s something you were aiming for right, something that felt authentic?

ADRIAN TEH: Yes. That’s the level of choreography and the level of action we are trying to present to the audience.

Adrian Teh and Yayan Ruhian on the set of Wira

Adrian, there are many ways that filmmakers plan out and prepare fight scenes, including storyboards, animatics and stunt-viz, filming the stunt performers in the gym performing a version of the fight that is shot and edited to be a template for the actual scene in the movie. How were the fight scenes in Wira designed and planned?

ADRIAN TEH: We had seven fight scenes in Wira, three major ones and four relatively smaller ones. That was the first thing I discussed with Abang Yayan when he first got to KL. I put different elements in every fight scene so audiences wouldn’t get bored. There are five fight scenes for Hassan. I discussed it with Abang Yayan, the different intentions Hassan had in each fight scene.

So there’s a character arc for Hassan in the fight scenes.

Hairul Azreen and Fify Azmi in Wira

ADRIAN TEH: Yes – not just a character arc, but in each fighting scene, I have different points to sell. Abang Yayan is very good at that, he knows how to tell a story in a fighting scene, using the design, choreographed movement to tell you the arc of the fighting: who’s winning, who’s losing, and who turned the tide. He’s very good at that.

Hairul Azreen in Wira

Hairul, one of the things I love about your character is that even though he is a fighter and he can beat people up, he is innately decent. I love the part when he is reluctant to punch his friend Boon in the face and Boon is asking him to do it. How do you balance those sides of the character, the decent side and the violent side?

HAIRUL AZREEN: I watched two movies for reference: Ip Man and John Wick. After [a dramatic incident in the film], I’m John Wick. Before that, I’m Ip Man. It’s that simple.

ADRIAN TEH: He’s both Donnie Yen and Keanu Reeves.

Wira opens in Singapore on 21 November 2019 

The Biggest Draw: Disney Animation Research Library’s Mary Walsh talks Disney: Magic of Animation exhibit

For F*** Magazine 

F*** talks to Mary Walsh, managing director at the Disney Animation Research Library, at the launch of the Disney: Magic of Animation exhibition in Singapore.

By Jedd Jong

Disney fans, or ‘Disnerds’ as they like to be known, are in for a treat: more than 500 pieces of artwork used in creating the studio’s short and feature animated films are going on display for the first time in Singapore. The Disney: Magic of Animation exhibition opens at the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands Singapore and runs from 26 October 2019 to 29 March 2020.

The exhibition offers visitors a peek behind the curtain at the House of Mouse, highlighting the talented artists and technicians who work in various departments on the studio’s animated films and walking visitors through the process of creating these films. The pieces of art on display include original concept sketches, background paintings, sculptures and models which were created in the making of Disney’s animated films.

The highlights of the exhibition include sketches of Mickey Mouse from 1928’s Steamboat Willie, the first animated short film synced to sound, early designs of Snow White, sculptures of Belle and the Beast from Beauty and the Beast and a model of Sugar Rush from Wreck-It Ralph made from biscuits and candy.

The exhibition also includes artwork from the upcoming Frozen 2, marking the first time that art from a yet-to-be-released Disney film has been exhibited.

The exhibit also includes interactive activities, including a station where visitors can get a taste of what it’s like to be a Foley artist, attempting to match sound effects created using props to a scene from Mulan. A zone of the exhibit is decorated to resemble the Nordic autumnal forest seen in Frozen 2, allowing fans to take photos against a backdrop that brings the film to life.

Disney keeps meticulous records of the artwork created in the process of making its films. The Disney Animation Research Library (ARL) is where the physical art pieces are kept, and the works displayed at this exhibition are drawn from the library’s vast collection, which stretches back to the very beginnings of Disney.

At the media preview of the Disney: Magic of Animation exhibition, F*** spoke to Mary Walsh, the managing director of the Disney ARL, about what it’s like for artists who work at Disney and what fans can look forward to when they visit this exhibition.

F*** MAGAZINE: Great to get to talk to you! Could you tell our readers what you do at Disney?

MARY WALSH: I’m the managing director of the Animation Research Library. The Animation Research Library is the repository for all the original animation artwork that was used to produce our animated short and feature-length films, both from the very beginning, so we’ve got artwork from the early 1920s, all the way up to the present day. We have over 65 million pieces of art in our physical collection. We’re not public facing, but we’re open to anybody in the Walt Disney Company who needs access to that artwork for either creative inspiration, theme parks, new product development, whatever it happens to be. Theme parks, Broadway shows, everything, so it’s really great. Because we aren’t open to the public, we have this huge collection of such beautiful and I would argue really important artwork from an animation point of view, what can we do to share that with the world? We established this exhibition program, and this exhibit is one of the fruits of that labour. We can take this artwork, curate it in a story that we want to share with the world, and then bring it into museums like ArtScience.

What is your personal Holy Grail piece? If you were Nicolas Cage, what would you steal?

That’s funny, Nicolas Cage, I get the reference! I’m going to be honest with you: I don’t have a single favourite piece of art because I’m surrounded by all this beautiful art! I have two kids: it’s like asking which of my two boys is my favourite. Some days I like one boy better than the other because of his behaviour. For me, there is so much beautiful art and it is really the development of the artistry and the craftsmanship from the very beginning to what we’re doing today, and the constant inspiration that the art in our collection provides for our artists. One thing that we really value is we have all this artwork and it’s a fabulous artistic creative legacy that we have, but we don’t look back on it and say “wow, that was great! We’re done.” We’re never done. [The artists] are using that to inspire themselves, to inspire themselves, to educate themselves, so they can create at least that level and hopefully go above it.

Rapunzel by Claire Keane

At this exhibit, there’s a Tangled piece by Claire Keane, who is the daughter of animator Glen Keane. It’s so beautiful that there is that familial legacy. Disney is all about legacy – what do you think represents that idea the best?

The biggest part for the legacy point of view for me is the fact that we can look back at the art that was created. Claire is the perfect example of that: her father is obviously a brilliant animator and draughtsman and a huge component of the artistic output the studio has, ever since he joined in the 1970s. He’s been hugely important in the development and continuing expansion of our creativity and our artistry. Claire’s doing that on her own – she’s following in the footsteps of her father, but all the other great artists who came before him and are coming after her as well too.

Ariel by Glen Keane

For me, that legacy really ties into the idea of mentorship, because all of the senior artists mentor younger artists coming in. Glen Keane worked with Frank (Thomas) and Ollie (Johnston) – he knew them, he could go to them, they were his mentors. He continues to mentor people through his career at Disney. I think that’s really important – the artists joining the studio understand Disney animation because of its impact in the animation industry, culturally and from an artistic point of view. They come in with that expectation and I argue responsibility to create to that minimum level and exceed it. The way you do that in a collaborative artform is to support each other artistically – the mistakes that you made and how you corrected those mistakes. It’s all about sharing that information. I think that’s a true testament to that legacy because it started with Walt and we’re still doing it today.

There is a saying that is attributed to Walt Disney, “everyone has 10 000 bad drawings in them and you have to get them out of the way”.

I don’t know if he actually said that, but the concept I think is actually true. There’s another way that we describe in animation: “pencil mileage”. You have to draw and draw and draw or create on the computer – you can call it “pixel mileage” or whatever you want because it’s based on the tool. It’s an iterative process. When you create something, you’re never perfect the first time out, almost nobody is, but you have to look at a piece and say “how can I make it better? How is that piece going to support the story? How is that piece going to fit in this world? So it’s a very iterative process. You get 10 000 bad drawings before you get one [good one] – that concept I think is very true. It’s all about going out there and being willing to have a bad drawing in order to get to a great drawing.

I think that personally, it’s easy to feel discouraged when I see someone who’s really good at what they do and feel like I cannot measure up to that, so it’s important to know that nobody starts out there. How do you feel this exhibition inspires future artists?

That’s one of the things that I love about this exhibition program. What I hope is that there are artists coming through, maybe young artists, who are like “I never thought about a career in animation.” It’s a viable artform and you can have a really great profession if you’re committed to your craft, if you’re disciplined about it and you’re passionate about it. Hopefully this can show a path to a burgeoning artist who wants to go in that direction and that there are people who came before you and that you can do this too.

I attended the Singapore press conference for Moana in 2016. Producer Osnat Shurer and the voice of Moana Auli’i Cravalho came, as well as Disney artists Roger Lee and Griselda Sastrawinata. There was a sense of hometown pride, “one of our own made it”. What are some stories about the experiences that people from around the world bring to Disney?

I’m glad you brought that up because I think it’s that diversity of thought and experience. We tell global stories. The filmmakers’ intent is to be able to touch the emotional human core no matter where you are in the world, and one way to do that is to surround yourself with a diversity of styles, of thought and of experiences. That is something that we hold very dear and that we’re committed to doing.

A five-year-old will take something different away after visiting this exhibit than a 12-year-old will, than a 16-year-old will, than a 30-year-old will. How will this exhibit speak to those different age groups differently?

That’s a great question because if you step back a little bit, the intent of all the films we make is that it’s for everybody. We don’t target just little kids or just adults. Walt was the one who set the stage, he said “I make films for entire families, not just children or just adults.” With that in mind, when a young person comes in and maybe it’s a child and they’re going to be enraptured and go “oh my god, I get to stand next to Mickey and Minnie and go on this boat and take a photo,” or “I get to see these sketches, what may be very loose drawings, and go ‘maybe I can do that’” and as you get older you can understand and appreciate the artistic integrity of some of the drawings and the sketches and the storytelling.

I also think it ties back to the emotions you have when you see the film for the first time and what age you were. In my case, I’ve watched films now with my children that I watched as a kid. I now look at the film very differently, through their eyes. That is any good art, whether it’s moving images, or a beautiful painting, or a piece of music: if it stands the test of time, it’s going to resonate with you as a human being regardless of how old you are, but your life experiences are really going to inform how you’re viewing or enjoying that piece of art at that moment.

I was in the Little Mermaid gallery and was overhearing the other journalists who were surprised to see the early concept design of Ursula, when she looked more like a lionfish. What are some concept pieces that surprised you?

It was really funny, when I first got exposed to some of the early concept pieces for the character of Snow White, she was blonde, she had braids, she had red hair, so they explored all kinds of different styles. When you think about it, they were developing that film in the mid-late 1930s, so those artists were also reflecting on the societal norms and the fashions of the day and what the concept of feminine beauty was at the time. They were contemporary artists in their timeframe looking out on the world, reflecting on that and bringing it into their designs.

In an early concept, it’s all about creating all kinds of different designs and then really focusing down and narrowing down to what that final design is going to be. Without that iterative process, they wouldn’t have gotten to the final design of Snow White was without all those other concepts. If you don’t give the time for experimentation, sometimes you won’t get the best work. I think the timeframe for that iterative process is really important.

As someone who has spent your career educating people about Disney animation, what are your feelings about the recent live-action remakes? They do bring it to a new audience, but there’s also the school of thought that it’s derivative. Where do you stand on that?

For me, it’s really about the storytellers. If that storyteller and filmmaker thinks they can deliver a different take on it, why not allow them that ability to do it? If it introduces that story to a whole new generation who may not have seen the animated film who may then go back and appreciate it, it can be a gateway, and the gateway goes both ways. From my point of view, if the storyteller is committed to the story they want to tell and the visual realisation of that story is different from the original one, why not give it a go and see what that’s like?

Visit https://www.marinabaysands.com/museum/disney-magic-of-animation.html for tickets and more details.

Action, Lights, Camera: Interview with stunt coordinator/performer Ingrid Kleinig

ACTION, LIGHTS, CAMERA: INTERVIEW WITH STUNT PERFORMER/COORDINATOR INGRID KLEINIG

By Jedd Jong

Getting set on fire, crashing motorcycles into vans, dangling from the side of a skyscraper, driving a big rig across the Namibian desert, duelling with Vin Diesel and shooting arrows into oncoming orcs – it’s all in a day’s work for stunt performer/coordinator Ingrid Kleinig.

Kleinig grew up in Australia in a family of professional stunt drivers. Her career kicked off in a dramatic way, when she performed suspended in mid-air 42 metres above the arena at the opening ceremony of the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. Kleinig was a member of the physical theatre troupe Legs on the Wall, performing acrobatics on the side of tall buildings.

In Australia, Kleinig worked on TV shows including Rescue Ops and Cops LAC, before going on to work in Hollywood. She has been a stunt double for Evangeline Lilly in the Hobbit films and Ant-Man and the Wasp, Margot Robbie’s stunt double in The Legend of Tarzan and Suicide Squad and Brie Larson’s stunt double in Kong: Skull Island and Captain Marvel.

Kleinig was one of only two female stunt drivers on Mad Max: Fury Road, she was part of the team that won a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture. Kleinig’s other credits include The Last Witch Hunter, Ghost in the Shell, Justice League and Spider-Man: Far From Home.

Ingrid Kleinig Alain Moussi Margot Robbie

Ingrid Kleinig, Alain Moussi and Margot Robbie on the set of Suicide Squad

Kleinig was in Singapore as one of the invited guests at the Disney Storytelling Plus bootcamp, joining people working behind the scenes in the entertainment industry to share her experiences with young aspiring filmmakers. I had brought action figures of Harley Quinn, the Wasp and Captain Marvel along to the interview – noticing the Harley Quinn figure, Kleinig chuckled and said “this brings back memories”.

In this interview, she told me about the role that stunt coordinators and performers have in storytelling, why she doesn’t like to use the term ‘accident’, and a competition between her and Margot Robbie that made producers very nervous.

Photo credit: Alina Gozin’a

JEDD: Looking through your filmography, it’s so impressive. In the Hollywood Reporter video about women in stunts, you said that you would rather be a stunt performer than an actress because you get to do all the fun stuff. 

INGRID KLEINIG: Absolutely.

What ranks as among the most fun of all the stuff you’ve done, give us the greatest hits!

KLEINIG: The greatest hits – I rode a motorcycle and crashed head-on into a van that was on fire, then flew through the flames and landed on the road on the other side.

No biggie.

KLEINIG: No biggie. I’ve crashed a Lamborghini into a lake and gone head-first through the windshield. I’ve made out with Jared Leto, in a sense [laughs] – on camera, that was as Harley Quinn. I’ve done so many great things, it’s hard to narrow it down.

In your bio, it says you have a background in physical theatre. I looked it up, and that involved literally hanging off the side of skyscrapers. 

KLEINIG: Indeed! You did your research. I spent about ten years working with a company called Legs on the Wall, and we did the festival circuits around the world doing acrobatics on the side of skyscrapers.

Ingrid Kleinig on the set of Mad Max: Fury Road

Recently, we’ve seen several second unit directors and stunt coordinators become directors, the most prominent examples probably being Chad Stahelski and David Leitch of 87eleven. What are the unique insights that someone with a background in stunts can bring to the table as filmmakers and storytellers? 

KLEINIG: A lot of directors of action films don’t necessarily have experience shooting action, so coming from that background obviously Chad and Dave now with the John Wick films and everything that they’re doing, Hobbs & Shaw, they’re very much action-based films. It centres around the physicality and stunts and so what they can do is enhance that side of it. There are so many other people coming to the table with the acting side of things and have got their bases covered.

Ingrid Kleinig, stunt coordinator/fight choreographer Richard Norton and Margot Robbie on the set of Suicide Squad

From our point of view, what we do when we’re doing pre-production for a film is stunt pre-viz, which is basically creating a film. We’ll get a script and everything is scripted except for this scene which might be a five-minute fight scene. All it says is – I quote – “they fight”. Or “the biggest finale fight ever of a film” and again I’m quoting, it says “an all-or-nothing battle ensues.” That’s it. We have to fill in the blanks and come on board three months before the actors come on board, before we start shooting, and we play around with ideas and come up with concepts. Go to the director, give us their notes, it’s a back-and-forth. We’re brainstorming and creating and filming from the ground up. That leads directly into second unit direction and of course direction.

Leading on from that, what is something a director says or does that gives you confidence in them and lets you know that they understand how to work with a stunt team? 

KLEINIG: Good question! I think the best thing that a director can do is show faith in their stunt coordinator and their stunt team. You can see it very early on. I particular enjoy working with a director that knows what they want. They’ll come into a room, you show them a scene that you’ve worked [on] thus far, and it’s immediate. “Yes, no. Yes, no. Yes, no.” The “no’s” are generally because of their own story points that they have in their head that haven’t been communicated yet or hasn’t been [worked] out with the rest of the cast and crew. Not stylistically, but more in terms of character arcs and plots and that kind of thing. “She can’t do this here because the scene after this is such and such”. Someone who has all that information in their head and who can see the overall picture, it’s a real privilege to see that at work.

They have all the pieces on the board, moving them around, and it hasn’t all been fitted together yet. 

KLEINIG: Yeah, absolutely. They’ve got the overall picture. We’ve got the script and the pre-viz and what have you, but we are concentrating so explicitly on the action scenes that often we can lose sight of what’s come before and after…

The connective tissue.

KLEINIG: The connective tissue, absolutely. That’s where…working with a director that can be like Rain Man and keep all the balls in the air is a privilege.

Evangeline Lilly and Ingrid Kleinig on the set of Ant-Man and the Wasp

While every safety precaution is taken, stunts are inherently dangerous and sometimes tragic accidents happen. Olivia Jackson was very badly injured doing Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Joe Watts is in a coma after an accident on the set of Fast & Furious 9, and Joi “SJ” Harris died on the set of Deadpool 2. How do such incidents affect the stunt community, and what is it like trying to maintain standards of safety and prevent accidents from happening?

KLEINIG: First of all, I don’t believe in the word ‘accident’. There is no such thing as an accident. There is always human error at play in those instances, so there has been a mistake somewhere along the way. In every one of those instances, obviously hindsight is a wonderful thing, but you can see the point or the moment where something could’ve been done to prevent what happened. Unfortunately, that’s hindsight speaking, and beforehand there were checks and balances that weren’t put in place or an extra step wasn’t put in place.

A lot of the time, I think it’s because it’s not necessarily a difficult stunt. It’s often not the most difficult stunts when people are getting injured. Because it’s not seen as a difficult stunt, perhaps not all the safety measures are put in place.

Perhaps it’s a complacency? That’s too strong a word. 

KLEINIG: It is…I think because as a community we do amazing, crazy things all the time, so you can get a little casual with it, especially when you’ve been doing it for a very long time. The global stunt community is very small. We all know each other or there’s one degree of separation so any of these things hit us all very hard. All we can do is learn from them and maintain diligence, and just be aware that every day, not to become casual about it. Maintain the checks, have multiple eyes, multiple heads and multiple hands on every single set-up.

Left: Ingrid Kleinig. Right: Margot Robbie

Andy Horwitz, a producer on Suicide Squad, said of Margot Robbie “Her double is always on set, most of the time [she] just stands there and watches. She keeps thinking she’s going to have to go in.” I understand that a lot of times producers say things like that to hype the movie up, and I don’t want to take anything away from Margot Robbie, but I wanted to know, how did you feel hearing that? 

KLEINIG: [Laughs] You know what, Margot Robbie absolutely earned everything that everybody always says about her. She’s one of the most physically talented performers I’ve ever worked with. She’s unbelievable. She trained as a classical dancer very strongly growing up, which means that especially when it comes to fight choreography, we can do anything we want with her. She’s Australian and we tend to be very outdoorsy, very capable with those kinds of things and very competitive. She and I had this great sort of constructive competitiveness that brings out the best in each other.

There’s actually an anecdote where we were doing breath-hold training for Suicide Squad. I would get to four minutes and she would get to four-and-a-half, she went to five and I got to five-ten, and she got to five-and-a-half. We kept trying to up each other and trying to up each other, and the producers were like “Stop. You have gone above and beyond, no one needs to overdo this, we don’t need anything more. We don’t need five minutes. We only need one minute. Stop.” It’s great and it brings out the best in each other for the film and the character when we’re working so hard.

Ingrid Kleinig on the set of Suicide Squad

Everyone has days when they don’t particularly feel like going to work. Broadway actress Amber Gray calls it the ‘I Don’t Wannas’. What happens when you get a case of the I Don’t Wannas, how do you get yourself through the day? 

KLEINIG: Caffeine! [Laughs] There are days when I wake up and I just go “ugh, I don’t want to go to school today!” but I think it comes down to the fact that I love my job. The hardest part of my job is the pre-production, because sometimes it feels like you’re going round and round in circles. You do a fight scene, you perfect it, you film it, it’s edited and put together, everything’s there, it feels like a complete work of art, you hand it over and it comes back in pieces. You have to do that over and over again. I think for Ant-Man and the Wasp, we did 30 pre-vizes for the restaurant fight scene. It just kept coming back. We sent it out there into the world thinking it’s a work of art. Each time it comes back in pieces, we rebuild it and it just gets better and better. While it’s exhausting, you have to look back and go “we’re doing this because it’s going to get better.”

Watch Ingrid Kleinig’s stunt reel here:

Sir Mix-A-Lot: Interview with Oscar-winning sound mixer Andy Nelson

By Jedd Jong

Filmmakers strive to create an immersive experience, to give viewers a chance to step into carefully crafted realities that they can get lost in. Whether it’s an alien world, a distant period in history or a dizzying musical fantasy-scape, sound is an element that is often overlooked in creating this immersion. Every film crew includes sound recordists, designers, mixers, composers and editors who ensure that the audience hears exactly what they should.

Andy Nelson is a re-recording mixer with over four decades of experience under his belt. Growing up in London, Nelson’s career in the industry began at age 16, when he was a projectionist at a local cinema. He then moved into sound mixing for TV and movies, working on films like Schindler’s List, The Thin Red Line, X-Men, Moulin Rouge!, Star Trek (2009), Les Misérables and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Nelson has garnered a staggering 21 Oscar nominations, and won for Saving Private Ryan and Les Misérables. At the 88th Academy Awards, Nelson was nominated for two separate films in the same year, Bridge of Spies and The Force Awakens. He has mixed for directors including Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Stanley Kubrick, J.J. Abrams and Terence Malick.

Nelson was in Singapore as one of the invited guests of the Disney Storytelling+ Bootcamp, joining others who have worked behind-the-scenes in film and television to share their expertise with a new generation of filmmakers and storytellers. Nelson spoke about an emotional moment he experienced working on Schindler’s List, how different musicals require varying approaches to sound mixing, the differences between John Williams and Hans Zimmer’s methods of film scoring and his work on Spielberg’s upcoming West Side Story.

JEDD: You have an illustrious list of credits. To the average moviegoer, they think of “sound” as just one element, but there are so many categories within that. There’s music, Foley, sound design, re-recording, sound mixing, ADR. Can you break it down for us and take us through what your job entails?

ANDY NELSON: I normally work with a partner. I handled all the music and the dialogue myself, and the other mixer handles the sound effects, but between us, we have to craft the tracks. I usually start with the dialogue and I try and make sure everything is perfectly clear and clean and the best it can be from the performance point of view, then I usually craft the music into that. When the composer’s written all the score, you assume you’re going to need all the music that’s been written, then we put the sound effects into that.

Then, once all the components are in, a little bit like a recipe, then we start to blend it and mix it together and pick our moments through each scene. Is this a strong sound effects moment? Is this a strong music moment? Should there be any sound at all? Silence is pretty powerful as well. We work in tandem, obviously with the director all the time, to design the track the way he or she wants it to be.

From left: Ron Judkins, Andy Nelson, Steven Spielberg, Bradley Cooper, Mark Ulano and Gary Rydstrom at the 2019 Cinema Audio Society Awards

Many elements of filmmaking require a balance of creativity and technical mastery. How do you achieve that balance with regards to sound mixing? 

NELSON: The way I approach it is I have to know what I’m doing from a technical standpoint, but I never want to let that get in the way of telling the story. Sometimes you just do something that maybe technically isn’t the right thing to do, but if it works, it works. One of the things you have to do as the mixer when you create the final soundtrack is you have to create a trust between you and the director, because they’re putting their baby into your hands, essentially. One of the things I’ve never wanted to do is let the technology get in the way, or make them feel that I would say “no, we can’t do that because…” I treat it much more as a creative process for that reason.

Avatar

Over the years, you’ve worked with directors including Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, JJ Abrams, Terence Malick and Stanley Kubrick. How much are directors typically involved in the process of sound design, mixing and re-recording?

NELSON: Oh, heavily, very heavily. Somebody like Jim Cameron on Avatar, he would allow us to do our pass and get us into shape, but then when he came in and sat down and wanted to start, then we would roll our sleeves up and get to work. He would be very pinpoint precision, laser-sharp about what should happen at this moment, how that sound should be at that moment. With Steven, I’ve done 18 films with Steven so we have shorthand between us that’s pretty good nowadays. I get a first pass at the entire movie and then he’ll come and sit with me and we’ll work through it together.

Schindler’s List

As a fanboy, I have to ask, do you have any memorable Steven Spielberg stories? 

NELSON: Gosh. I’ll tell you a story about when I was working on a scene on Schindler’s List, a very complicated scene we were doing. I played it to him and I finished playing and I put the lights up. He was sitting right next to me. He had tears rolling down his face and he said “I don’t know what I would do to change this, so let’s move on.” It was a very important moment for me because it told me so much about him as a director. It wasn’t that I had done an incredible sound mix or anything, it was just that the scene was working and as a director, that’s all he wants, for the scene to work the way he imagines. For me, that’s a master storyteller at work. As a director, he could’ve said “let’s go through it again ten more times or 50 more times,” but he was so precise in what he wanted and it achieved what he wanted on an emotional level. I’ll never forget it. It was only my second film with him. I’m going to be doing West Side Story with him next year; that will be my 19th film. I hope it continues.

Steve Pederson, Steven Spielberg, Michael Kahn, Andy Nelson and Scott Millan, on the mixing stage for Schindler’s List

I think it was Marco Beltrami who said “befriend the sound mixer so music gets placed louder in the mix than sound effects.” What is it like determining what gets priority in the mix; who decides that? 

NELSON: We all kind of chip in, really. I’m handling the music physically myself, I happen to love music, it’s one of the reasons I got into it in the first place, was falling in love with what music does to visuals, it just took me to places in my mind and it still does today. I’m a defender of music, but I feel that music is overused in movies nowadays. I think that sometimes there’s too much score – I’m the first to put my hand up and suggest “Do we need it here? Is it coming in at the right point emotionally? Does it connect with the story correctly?” I’m definitely always trying to advocate to make the music work, but I’d be the first to say if it’s not working, we shouldn’t be using it.

Leading on from that, I wanted to talk specifically about musicals. You worked on Moulin Rouge!, Les Misérables, La La Land and you’re going to be working on West Side Story. Each of those movies is quite different from the others, even though they’re all musicals. What was the approach to the sound of Moulin Rouge!, Les Misérables and La La Land

Moulin Rouge!

NELSON: They were all completely different. First of all, Moulin Rouge!, you’re dealing with Baz Luhrmann. Baz Luhrmann is the most incredible creative director you could imagine. He spins with ideas constantly. His films are so richly layered that it took us weeks just to dig through and find all the little moments that worked in the way he wanted to tell that story. It was an incredibly complicated soundtrack to mix.

Les Misérables

Jump forward to Les Misérables, that was a completely revolutionary film in the sense that they recorded everything live. That took a tremendous amount of organisation. Tom Hooper started talking to me months before they started shooting about the approach and how we’d have to paint microphones out digitally and how the set had to be much quieter than normal because you had to protect the vocal. All we were relying on was the best vocal we could get.

La La Land

La La Land was a mixture of the two, oddly enough. There were some live moments in La La Land, particularly the Audition piece at the end, which was all live, little bits of the duet on the hill were live. There were also big playback moments – you can’t really do live recording if there’s a lot of instance, for instance. With Les Misérables there was no dancing, so it could be live. La La Land was a little bit of both, and I thought it worked really well for that reason.

West Side Story (2020)

With West Side Story, there has been an earlier film adaptation of that musical. How much will your approach to the sound be influenced by that? 

NELSON: I think Steven wants a different sort of style and a different take. It’s obviously the classic music with Leonard Bernstein’s score, it’s exactly the same songs, but he’s going to approach it in a different sort of style altogether. I can’t really speak to it because they’re right in the middle of shooting, I haven’t really seen anything of it yet. There may be some live recording; we’ll see.

Gary Rydstrom, Gary Summers, presenter Anjelica Huston, Andy Nelson and Ronald Judkins at the Oscars in 1999

There are hundreds, sometimes thousands of people who work on a given movie. To a certain extent, your contributions to a film might be considered less “visible” than say that of an actor or a director, but you are doing crucial work and you have been recognized for it. What are your thoughts on the concept of recognition within the industry, and what do you feel gives you validation and satisfaction in your work? 

NELSON: Look, anything that you get an accolade for is always a real treat; I don’t take it for granted in the slightest. I think what I’ve always tried to do is value the relationship I’ve created over the years with directors and composers, because I’m very close with people like John Williams and Hans Zimmer, I’ve worked on many, many different films with them all. Those relationships to me are the most satisfying thing. If a film happens to get some accolades on top of that, then we all celebrate, but the work is the most important thing. The sense of accomplishment when we seem to pull something off, that’s the satisfaction for me, not the awards.

Andy Nelson and John Williams at the 2014 CAS Awards

Speaking of composers like John Williams and Hans Zimmer, what is the process of working with them like, and what are some of the differences that you’ve seen between the way different composers work? How do you accommodate that in your mixing? 

NELSON: Well, if you take John Williams, John Williams has a very classic style of writing and he is much more about the performance of the orchestra and tends to want the orchestra to play together, because that’s where he feels the cohesion happen between the players.

Does he still mostly conduct himself? 

NELSON: He does whenever possible, yes, absolutely – and the orchestra loves it, you can tell.

It’s a thrill.

NELSON: It’s a thrill. With somebody like Hans, he’ll approach it differently where he’ll record the strings, then record the brass, then we blend them together afterwards. There’s good and bad in both of those [approaches]. The good part is I have more control, but the bad part is they’re not playing as cohesively as if they were all playing in one go, so you win some and you lose some. It’s just different approaches. With someone like Hans of course, he wants to layer in his synthetic sounds with it, the Hans Zimmer sound, which is often string samples that go with the real strings, whereas someone like John would rely more on the real strings only.

Was there a particular film (or films) that you watched as a kid that make you first sit up and take notice of that film’s use of sound? 

NELSON: Funnily enough, the first film I was ever taken to as a kid was West Side Story.

Full circle!

NELSON: Very much full circle. I can’t say I sat up and took notice of it at the time, but I think I was aware of it more and more. When I started working at a cinema at the age of 16, the first film I learned to throw on the projector was actually Midnight Cowboy, and I remember thinking how great the sound was in that, how great John Barry’s score was. I became very aware, and I started collecting soundtrack albums at that age just to take home and listen to because I just fell in love with cinema music, without even knowing I’d be handling any of it to come, because at that point I didn’t know what my career was going to be like at all. Easy Rider was playing at the same time as Midnight Cowboy; another fantastic soundtrack.

What a moment that was!

NELSON: It was a great moment. The James Bond movies, you know. Music in film has always transported me, as a kid right up to today. When the lights go down and the music plays, I’m in another land. I’m in heaven. [Chuckles]

With Jerry Goldsmith, I’ve never seen a single episode of Star Trek Voyager, I heard the Voyager theme and started crying. He has that power.

L.A. Confidential

NELSON: Jerry is great. I worked with him once on L.A. Confidential, which was a terrific film Curtis Hanson made. I loved Jerry, yeah, never got to work on any of the big shows with him before he passed away, sadly, but what a talent.

What are some of the most cherished memories in your professional life that you find yourself revisiting? 

NELSON: I honestly can’t tell you that there’s one; I tend to categorise them in different ways. To this day, the smile on my face when I first ran The Force Awakens with J.J., just because I felt he’d gone back to…tapped into the real magic of what Star Wars was, I’ll never forget that moment. I had a smile on my face through the whole time we worked on that movie. Can’t wait to see the new one.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Did you work on the new one?

NELSON: I haven’t started it yet, but I am going to do the new one. Probably in about a week’s time I’ll be starting.

Exciting!

NELSON: Yeah, I’m looking forward to it.

The Thin Red Line

Avatar was obviously fantastic, very challenging for me. A lot of Steven’s films, just because he’s such a master filmmaker, obviously. Terry Malick, Thin Red Line, another good one. I could go on and on. They’re like favourite kids, what’s your favourite child? You can’t say. [Chuckles]

Finally, you have won and been nominated for many awards and have attended awards shows including the Oscars and the BAFTAs. Do you have an awards show story you’d like to tell?

NELSON: I mean, getting up on stage and having to accept the award for Les Mis, I’d never wanted to stand up on that stage and speak because I was terrified at the thought of that. We’d made an agreement that if win [the BAFTA], one person would speak in London, and if we were lucky enough to go to the Oscars, I would speak for that. I said “we’ll never be there”.

Simon Hayes, Mark Paterson and Andy Nelson at the Oscars in 2013

You thought you were safe.

NELSON: I agreed to it and I wasn’t safe. I had to stand up. That was in itself extraordinarily terrifying because there’s nothing quite like that moment. Then we celebrated a lot afterwards, so that’s good [chuckles].

Clockwork Fantasy: Cirque du Soleil’s KURIOS – Cabinet of Curiosities press call

Clockwork Fantasy: KURIOS press call

inSing peeks into the Cabinet of Curiosities at Cirque du Soleil’s KURIOS

By Jedd Jong

Beneath the grey-and-white grand chapiteau (big top) situated on Bayfront Avenue lies a world of wonders that comes alive during each performance of KURIOS – Cabinet of Curiosities. KURIOS is the 35th show produced by Quebecois entertainment company Cirque du Soleil, the world’s largest theatrical producer.

Cirque du Soleil has become known for its contemporary circus productions that put a spin on traditional circus acts by combining them with storytelling, elaborate costumes and sets, theming and special effects.

Photo credit: © Martin Girard shootstudio.ca

KURIOS takes inspiration from the steampunk genre of science fiction and is set during the turn of the century in an alternate past. The show is about a character known as the Seeker, who opens a portal to a dimension called the Valley of the Possible Impossibles. This is where the most outlandish and imaginative ideas reside. The otherworldly characters upend the way the Seeker sees the world, inspiring him with their incredible abilities.

inSing was at the press call ahead of the show’s opening for a limited engagement in Singapore. Since its debut in 2014, KURIOS has toured North America, and Japan, where the company spent one-and-a-half years before taking the show to Singapore. After its month-long engagement here, KURIOS will move on to Australia.

Writer-director Michel Laprise. Photo credit: Jedd Jong

KURIOS is written and directed by Michel Laprise, who set out to create something unlike any other Cirque show before. “We wanted to do something different, but true to the core of the values of Cirque du Soleil, what we love,” Laprise told the press. Laprise joined Cirque du Soleil in 2000, spending five years as a talent scout before being appointed Special Events Designer. He collaborated with Madonna on her Super Bowl XLVI Halftime show, before going on to direct the pop diva’s MDNA tour.

In devising the show, Laprise and his team drew up a list of what previous Cirque shows had done out of necessity and out of convenience. “We kept what we do out of necessity, but everything else, we challenged ourselves to transform it,” he declared. KURIOS has a lower stage than the company’s other touring shows, meaning the performers are closer to eye level with the audience, creating more of a connection between them.

Photo credit: © Martin Girard shootstudio.ca

Speaking about the climate that led to the creation of KURIOS, Laprise said “We were in a very bizarre mood in 2012-2013, people were sad. I thought ‘why are we sad? We live in abundance!’ People were talking as if we were living in hell.” Laprise decided to create a show that would make audiences feel good and realise how lucky they are. “After the audience leaves the big top, they will think ‘wow, everything is possible’,” Laprise mused.

Head of Wardrobe: Julie Desimone. Photo credit: Jedd Jong

To create the enchanted Cabinet of Curiosities which comes alive in KURIOS, more than a hundred costumes and 426 props are used in the show. The costumes are designed by Philippe Guillotel, and it falls to Head of Wardrobe Julie Desimone to, in her own words, “maintain the integrity of the costumes as if every night is opening night.”

Mathieu Hubener as Mr Microcosmos. Photo credit: Jedd Jong

“You want to keep it beautiful, you want to keep it creative, and it also has to really be safe and it has to be comfortable,” Desimone stated. Her favourite costume in KURIOS is that of Mr Microcosmos, a fastidious figure who represents technological progress. “It’s a challenge for my department because it’s not just a costume, it’s not just a jacket and a tie, it is a prop. It is a very large, foam, fiberglass, roughly 30-pound (13.6 kg) prop,” she said of Mr Microcosmos’ outfit. It took a team of propmakers approximately 250 hours to build Mr Microcosmos’ belly, which opens up to reveal several surprises.

The amount of moving parts in the show keeps Desimone very busy. “We do a lot of maintenance every day. We have a full team of people that just do maintenance for hours. By the time the show comes, what we’re putting on stage has been looked at and gone through many, many hands,” she said.

Photo credit: Jedd Jong

While there are unique challenges to being the Head of Wardrobe at a show like KURIOS, Desimone described it as “the best job in the world.” She called the cast “incredible,” adding “When you think about what they do on a daily basis, you have to have that energy, you have to have a little bit of youth, and have to be ready to roll with the punches.” Desimone said of her cohorts, “we all have a common thread, we’re all really adaptable, we like to change, and we like to explore. We’re all very adventurous.”

Photo credit: Jedd Jong

One of the acts we watched during the press call was the Aerial Bicycle act performed by French acrobat Anne Weissbecker. The typical aerial hoop used in acrobatic performances is replaced by a bicycle, which Weissbecker rides onstage. The bicycle then takes to the air, with Weissbecker hanging beneath it.

Anne Weissbecker and Mathieu Hubener. Photo credit: Jedd Jong

When asked what the hardest part of the act is, Weissbecker replied that it’s “To make it look easy”. She pointed out that she must maintain the right speed and the perfect amount of tension on the rope so the take off is smooth and she doesn’t swing too far out from the ring. “You have to make people dream, so you have to hide what is difficult,” Weissbecker said, voicing a sentiment that many of her fellow performers probably share.

Photo credit: Jedd Jong

Weissbecker began studying circus arts at the age of ten, eventually overcoming her biggest fear. “I didn’t like trapeze because I was afraid of heights. It was not high, it was probably about one metre, but I felt it was so high. I get used to it, with training, you can push yourself and really have fun doing what you love,” she enthused.

Photo credit: Jedd Jong

The other act we saw was the Banquine, a tumbling act performed by 13 acrobats. The act was previously featured in Cirque’s Quidam and is something Laprise specifically wanted as part of KURIOS.

Ekaterina Evdokimova and Kirill Tyurganov. Photo credit: Jedd Jong

Kirill Tyurganov, who was a member of the Russian Sports Acrobatics Team before joining Cirque du Soleil, is one of the Banquine performers. “For me, this act is about breaking limits and going [beyond] the edges,” Tyurganov said. “We don’t have any additional equipment, we don’t have any props on stage, it’s all about skills and reactions.”

Tyurganov said his background as a professional athlete prepared him for the world of Cirque, but there was still a lot to learn. “When you come to Montreal, to international headquarters of Cirque du Soleil, you really dive deep into the atmosphere of creation, of something crazy and sometimes it’s mad,” he recalled.

Photo credit: Jedd Jong

Tyurganov has taken his wife and two young children with him on the road, describing it as an extended vacation for them. He was full of praise for Singapore, declaring “As soon as I arrived, it was like ‘oh my god, the future is coming’.” He expressed an admiration for “the mixture of cultures, food, people,” calling it “wonderful”. Tyurganov described his visit to Gardens by the Bay as “like living in Avatar”.

KURIOS features a score by French film composer Raphaël Beau, which is performed live every night. The band is led by Marc Sohier, who plays the bass guitar and double bass. “The role of the music is to support the image, the action, with the right intensity, the right volume,” Sohier said.

Marc Sohier and Eirini Tornesaki. Photo credit: Jedd Jong

The star of the band is Greek vocalist Eirini Tornesaki, who portrays the Street Singer. She described the show’s sound as “electro-swing”, and said she appreciates being part of “a big group of people working all together for the same goal, to deliver one show.” Tornesaki continued, “Sometimes when I step back and look at that, I feel very privileged to be part of such a beautiful group that puts so much energy and effort and professionalism to make this show happen.”

Rachel Lancaster, who has a background as a dance artist, choreographer and director, is the show’s resident artistic director. She voiced her hope that the show serves as more than mere escapism, saying “more than just the two-and-a-half hours that you spend watching the show or the journey emotionally that you’re taken on, it should also be with you for days or months or years.”

Some of the cast and creatives of KURIOS. Photo credit: Jedd Jong

Lancaster gave praise to the team of people from many disciplines who work on the show, saying she finds fulfilment in “the small things we achieve every day.” “My job is to facilitate and help to make them happen, and when they reach their goals, I’m incredibly proud, but it’s all of their hard work,” she said of the many artists and technicians who help make KURIOS happen.

Photo credit: Jedd Jong

Focusing on the theatrical presentation aspect of KURIOS, Lancaster said “That’s the beauty of theatricality, how to create something that touches the audience and takes them on this journey out of nothing sometimes.” She remarked that “the best theatrical moments are usually the simplest,” stating “You can throw all the bells and whistles and light and magic at things, but if on a basic theatrical level it doesn’t work, you can masquerade, but if you really want to touch people, it’s got to be real.”

KURIOS is turning fantasy into reality from July 5 to August 4 2019 at the Big Top at Bayfront Avenue. Tickets start from $95 (excluding $4 booking fee) and can be bought here: https://www.sistic.com.sg/events/kurios0819

 

Home is calling: Invisible Stories set visit

For inSing

HOME IS CALLING: INVISIBLE STORIES SET VISIT

inSing meets the director and actors of HBO Asia’s new original series on location 

By Jedd Jong

Photo credit: Jedd Jong

HBO Asia has begun principal photography for its latest original series Invisible Stories, which is being shot on location in Singapore. The six-episode half-hour drama series revolves around the lives of everyday people living in the fictional housing estate of Sungei Merah.

The series is created by Singaporean writer-director Ler Jiyuan, who worked with a team of local writers to realise Invisible Stories. Ler has directed episodes of local TV series and TV films including Zero Calling, Code of Law and Gone Case, and recently wrote and directed episodes of Grisse for HBO Asia.

Invisible Stories is produced by Singapore-based company Birdmandog as part of HBO Asia’s partnership with Singapore’s Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA).

Showrunner and director Ler Jiyuan. Photo credit: HBO Asia

“80% of Singaporeans live in HDB flats. I myself grew up in an HDB flat in the 90s, a three-room flat back when there were still gangsters,” Ler told the press during a break on the set. “My father was a taxi driver. Invisible Stories is the universe I came out from as a child,” he revealed, adding “I feel that it will be interesting for international audiences to see this side of Singapore, the non-crazy rich side.”

The stories being told in the series include that of a taxi driver who moonlights as a spiritual medium by night, and a banker who is a family man but lives a secret double life by night. The series features a regional cast comprising actors from Singapore, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan and Thailand.

Photo credit: Jedd Jong

inSing was on set at a coffeeshop or ‘kopitiam’ in Chong Pang, a quintessentially Singapore location. This is the partial setting for the first episode, starring Yeo Yann Yann. Malaysian actress Yeo has starred in notable Singaporean films including 881, Singapore Dreaming and Ilo Ilo. In Invisible Stories, Yeo plays Lian, a single mother working at the drinks stall in a coffee shop to support her autistic teenage son.

Ler wrote the role of Lian with Yeo in mind. She was initially hesitant to take on the role, for fear of it being too emotionally taxing, but later accepted. “The first thing I felt is that it would be very heavy for me. As a mother, I am also struggling with my child and my work,” Yeo confessed. “I’m juggling between taking care of my child and my work, I was trying to avoid something that was so heavy for myself. I was scared, because once you’re in it, you have to dig [into] the pain. Of course, there’s joy, but the pain is so much deeper.”

Photo credit: Jedd Jong

Yeo said she was inspired by an interview she watched in which actress Meryl Streep said she felt a responsibility to take on roles that would give voice to the voiceless. Yeo said of participating in a project that will represent Singapore on a global stage, “I’m proud of it, and I’m proud of giving voices to the unheard.”

Photo credit: HBO Asia

Yeo was sporting bruises, including bite-marks, that she assured us were mostly makeup. Yeo had shot a scene the previous day in which Lian’s son Brian had a meltdown. “A meltdown for an autistic child is when they don’t feel right. You take something away from them, they have a meltdown,” Yeo explained. The cast worked closely with a special education teacher to ensure that the life of an autistic person and their caregiver were portrayed sensitively and accurately. “Many things that we perform were approved by the advisor. The advisor was very happy that we didn’t over-exaggerate it or under-represent it,” Yeo said.

Director Ler Jiyuan. Photo credit: Jedd Jong

The issue of caring for an autistic child hits close to home for director Ler, who has two cousins with non-verbal autism. “I put myself in the shoes of a caretaker, Ler said, adding that “for them, it’s a really hardcore commitment. It’s emotionally draining, financially draining, especially for those of the lower rungs of society.” He emphasised that “the story is a very painful one, but one I still feel is necessary for us to see.”

Devin Pan on the set of Invisible Stories. Photo credit: HBO Asia

Taiwanese actor Devin Pan plays Brian, Lian’s son. Speaking in Mandarin, Pan called the meltdown scene the “most challenging scene” he has ever filmed. “You need to be very physically and mentally strong to make it through scenes like that,” he said.

Yeo Yann Yann and Devin Pan. Photo credit: HBO Asia

Yeo and Pan worked during rehearsals to form the mother-son bond their characters must share, and it carried over into the interviews with Pan holding Yeo’s hand when he felt nervous about being surrounded by the media. Speaking about working with Yeo, Pan said “I think this is the most fortunate thing that’s happened to me since I’ve left Taiwan to take on this job.” Both Yeo and Pan have a theatre background and he commented that they have similar personalities, saying “We’re both relatively carefree and easy-going but we focus on the performance, so we find it easy to play off each other when we’re acting.”

The series was born out of a desire to tell the stories of people whom we pass by on the street everyday in Singapore and wouldn’t necessarily give a second glance. “Every coffeeshop has a drinks stall aunty, but you never really think about who she is,” Ler explained. “That’s what I’m trying to do, to tell a story about people like that whom you’d walk by and never really notice; in regular dramas they’d just be extras,” he remarked.

Photo credit: HBO Asia

Yeo gained a new appreciation for what it’s like to work at a drinks stall in a coffeeshop. “Even just staying there for five minutes is not an easy thing, it’s very hot inside, it’s really not easy,” she said.

Yeo also took her seven-year-old daughter onto the HDB flat set the previous night. “She saw us struggling, melting down, fighting,” Yeo said. “I asked her ‘are you afraid of it?’ and she said ‘no, it’s fake!’” Yeo said her daughter does have some interest in acting, but that her dream job is an art teacher.

Ler Jiyuan, Yeo Yann Yann and Devin Pan on the set of Invisible Stories. Photo credit: Jedd Jong

Invisible Stories is set to premiere later this year on HBO Asia’s on-air, online and on-demand platforms.