And Suddenly Time Is Precious

By Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy

And suddenly time is precious.

At the moment we’re on a flight from London to Singapore. We had hoped to find time to sleep or perhaps time to catch up on the latest movies on the in-flight entertainment system. Slackers! But we can already see the films are the same ones as a few weeks ago so there’s no avoiding writing up this blog. Actually, it’s a good moment to pause for breath before we land tomorrow morning. This will be the trip that will see the film being shot. What started over 18 months ago is finally taking place. We’ve still over a week to go and in many ways a lot can take place in this time but already we have a fairly clear sense of what we hope to achieve over the three days we are on location at the market, in Tiong Bahru.

We’d like to use the time now to share that with you. If you have time, perhaps you could even comment. We’re hoping it will pique your interest to come along during one of the 3 days.

After our presentations last month it was clear that many people felt these themes were right. Also, the final choice of location (The Market) seems to have struck a positive chord too. it should also be pointed out that the themes also left a few concerned that the final ‘community film’ might be very heavy. The word ‘sad’ was even used.

Not sure where ‘sad’ comes from but ‘heavy’ we understand. In truth we would never shy away from the ‘heavy’ in cinema. Worse for us would be for the final film to be ‘light’. Heavy seems to best respond to the incredible people and stories we have come across. But on second thoughts, perhaps heavy doesn’t sound right either. Maybe too leaden. All our films, we hope, are both elegant and optimistic but do indeed have at their core an undeniable anxiety. A certain tension. We think it’s only right that after all the conversations and thoughtfulness shown to us from residents, that we try to make a film that reflects that seriousness accurately. People, rightly so, take themselves and their families and friends and their neighbourhood very seriously. They do not take them for granted. Nor, we feel, will this film.

You never know how a film will turn out. Does this sound strange? We have made many Civic Life films and no matter how much preparation we have done – and we have done a lot of preparatory work for the Tiong Bahru film – a film wants to become something else despite all the planning. This might sound like we have no control over the material we shoot and that it, rather, has a mind all of its own. Often we film something but don’t fully realise what it is until it has been put together in the editing suite. We don’t mean the big ideas but rather the subtle tones that come through that one never pre-empts. This partly explains the familiar gulf between scripts and the final films that are actually produced. Very different things and sometimes painfully so.

Of course, many filmmakers talk about this experience but in a Civic Life film it seems more pertinent. One only has to look at the previous films we have made to watch members of the community wave into the camera (despite being asked not to) to realise that the idea of control is an illusion. Through experience we have come to the position that we no longer want to control everything. We like these accidents. We enjoy these very human (deliberate?) mistakes. They are the very stuff of the Civic Life series. We firmly believe it’s what makes these films stand out and endure over time.

A question we always get asked is what will the film be about? It’s a fair question. Indeed its one we ask ourselves. We also ask ourselves HOW will the film be? How will it be structured? How will it feel? These questions are crucial to us. We can’t quite separate them from the question of content. Form and content inextricably linked. Can you really separate them?

Given the unique process that this film requires, a shooting script or even a treatment is never easy to pin down. Usually the treatment will only be available a few days before the film commences. As for the script often this comes AFTER the film. This sounds contradictory but we’re relaxed about asking the cast made up of the local community members to use their own words to express the ideas we think should be expressed in a particular scene. Scripts are, in this sense, superfluous. What we know for sure is that Civic Life: Tiong Bahru (the film) will narrate the relationship three very different people have to the estate, and that the film will be shot in a number of locations in and around the wet market and hawker centre, which is entirely appropriate, as it’s this edifice with its complementary spatial relationship to the estate and its emotional significance for a much wider constituency of Singaporeans which is so remarkable.

This triptych or trilogy of stories aims to bring a sense of ensemble to the film but also allows for a much richer and greater sense of diversity to more accurately reflect the nature of this unique estate. The three central characters will be an elderly woman, who is on the verge of leaving the estate to live with her son’s family, a young man, reflecting upon his future, and a teenage girl, who is moving back to the estate after a time of estrangement from her family.

It’s safe to say that this film is very much about place, belonging and family and how, despite the generational differences, people have similar concerns, anxieties and tensions in their lives.

This is merely an outline, ideas that have come to us through the weeks of discussions with the Tiong Bahru community.

These final stages will be fixed in the coming 9 days. Indeed if we’re being completely truthful they won’t be fixed until the editing process is completed.

We’re very curious indeed to see what this film wants to be.

We hope you can make it there over the three days so as to lend your influence over its direction.

Joe Lawlor, Christine Molloy, 15th June 2010

Filming of Civic Life: Tiong Bahru takes place on Friday 25th, Saturday 26th and Sunday 27th June, in and around the Tiong Bahru Heritage Estate.

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