For our new ‘Director’s Cut’ film event, leading local director Eric Khoo picks three shorts to show along with his 1997 feature, 12 Storeys. Here, he tells Berwin Song how short films helped kickstart Singapore’s film scene
First published on 26 Mar 2012. Updated on 11 Apr 2012.
‘One of my earlier short films was a piece about a dog – it was told from the dog’s point of view. I submitted it to the first Short Film Competition in 1991, which was introduced by Philip Cheah as part of the Singapore International Film Festival that he steered for decades.
‘It was the first serious competition of its kind for Singapore. I remember for the first year, there were only 17 entries – and all 17 were finalists. It was really the start of something new and an incredible platform for aspiring filmmakers. If you talk about Singaporean directors, we all started back there – Jack Neo, Royston Tan, Boo Junfeng, myself – we all showed our short films there.
‘In 1994, I entered my short film “Pain”, which was eventually banned for its violence, but allowed to compete at the festival. I received the best director award and a newly introduced special achievement award, which had sponsorship from industry players such as Kodak and a few other companies. With that award, I asked if the sponsors if they would back me for a full-length film and they agreed – and that’s how I was able to make Mee Pok Man, my first feature. So I really have to thank Philip Cheah for creating the short-film competition – without it, I probably wouldn’t be making films today. It paved the way for so many filmmakers.
‘We have the same philosophy for Zhao Wei Films [started by Khoo, his sister Jacqueline and 12 Storeys co-writer James Toh in 1995]. I try to track most of our young filmmakers and watch all their short films. We’re always trying to nurture those that we believe in and we’re still doing that – we’ve produced 16 local films thus far.
‘In Singapore, short films are the most effective way of getting into the film industry. I always ask kids who aspire to be film directors if they’ve done short films – if they haven’t, they must! Now, nobody has any excuses – you don’t need to spend that much money anymore; these days, you can even shoot a film directly with your mobile phone and cut it on your laptop. With short films, it’s to break into the international film festival circuit – you can win prizes, and you get noticed. And you’ll know, the minute you submit to festivals, if people like it.’
‘Time Out presents... Director’s Cut’ is at Sinema on 20 Apr. Khoo will be present for a Q&A session and a showing of three short films, followed by a screening of his feature 12 Storeys.