Alene Tan

Production Assistant

"The kind of films I like and the kinds that I would like to make are films that deal with life."

ALENE WAS THE first person I roomed with in Melbourne. Her passion for film was evident soon after living in such close proximity. She's crazy for coffee too, but that's another story. I stole a precious afternoon during her final year as a film student and asked her to share her joys and pains of producing her own film...over coffee of course! - Alyssa

What were you doing before film?

I did communications at RMIT so it was a big jump and the learning curve has been really steep. Honours year is about coming in and making a film that you want to make, and no one tells you how hard it is! I came in wanting to focus more on producing, because I did assisting producing when I was in Singapore before, so I thought that would be a path I would want to explore more.

This year’s had its fair bit of challenges, and lots of ups and downs…but it’s been a really good lesson. You figure out like how you want to do things, and how you never want to do certain things ever that way again! You learn how not to do things by making mistakes—a lot of mistakes—and I guess being in uni is the best place to make mistakes and fail. You have a lot of support as well from students and lecturers.

I would never want to write, direct and produce all at once for a project ever again! It’s just too hard—because writing itself, it’s one set of skills, and then there’s directing and producing…It’s like putting on three different hats.

Were you stressed out?

Of course! Stressed is an understatement (laughs). There are crazy talented people who do everything by themselves, but the thing about filmmaking that I love is that it’s such a collaborative effort. You need creative input from the Director of Photography (DOP), even from the editor.

Because of some issues, I’ve ended up having to edit my own film and I’m finding it really hard because since I’ve written, directed and shot the film. It’s hard to detach yourself and find objectivity because you’re so close to the project.

Her film ‘Mid-Air’

The idea came from a really strange place. When I first started scripting, I thought a lot about my interest in old people. I have this fascination with them; they have all these years of life experience and so many stories they can tell, and lessons you can learn from them. So that sparked an initial draft of my script.

It started out as a story of this old man who was trying to reconnect with his son, and his son was going to get married. One thing led to another and I ended up with this story about a father and son who lost the woman in their lives, the wife and mother. They are at a place where the son wants to move on, but the dad wants to linger in the past. One day, they tune into the same radio show and they get affected by what the radio DJ is talking about—love and relationships. Not necessarily pertaining to family or couple-type love, but just love in general. It’s quite packed for a short film.

The film was mainly shot on Super 8, and it has a home-quality style and it’s really nostalgic, so it adds to the vibe of the film.

 We had coffee at  Market Lane Coffee  in Prahran - the BEST.

We had coffee at Market Lane Coffee in Prahran - the BEST.

What kind of films inspire you?

The kind of films I like and the kinds that I would like to make are films that deal with life. UP, Toy Story 3 and Marley & Me are the 3 films I absolutely love and always make me cry. They tug at my heart strings because they deal so much with life and it’s very real. It’s all about relationship and its ties, so I like contemporary films that deal with that. I also really like fantasy and film noir, and anything Steven Spielberg. Jurassic Park combined fantasy and blockbuster and is everything Hollywood stood for—it made me believe that I was battling dinosaurs!

Her love for writing and her childhood

The film that I made this year is like my ‘debut’, in terms of directing, producing, screenplay— my first real project. In terms of style, I am still discovering how I make things. I do a lot of creative writing like poetry and I think that’s a good thing, to always be doing something creative.

I do love anything to do with childhood, animation or fantasy, but not really the sci-fi stuff. A lot of it has to do when I was young; I had a really good childhood. All those moments you take for granted are what define us now. I believe the saying, “Who you are is shaped by the people you meet and the books you read.” The people I’ve met in my life have shaped me to who I am today and I remember just reading heaps growing up. I read a lot of fantasy, fairy tales and short stories, which might be one of the influences that has led me to write poetry and loving short films.

People who’ve have helped and influenced her in life and creative work

My parents are amazing and so supportive and I can never thank them enough. It didn’t matter when everyone was going to college and I was studying a technical diploma in mass communication. They’ve always supported me. They’ve always believed in me more than I’ve believed in myself and have the impression that I’m the best, like “Oh my daughter’s the best writer!” and stuff like that. It’s almost naïve but I appreciate it so much.

A lecturer who really impacted me is Desmond Kon, who taught me book publishing in Ngee Ann Polytechnic. It was in the final year of studies and he just changed my whole perception of English, language, writing, book publishing…everything. He changed the way I saw the creative process as well. He made us do weekly writing exercises so we found out more about ourselves and writing doing those. Writing is so complex. People think poems are just words on a piece of paper, but there’s so much history that goes behind every word, the punctuation…writing is so beautiful, it’s amazing.

Getting friends to help out

Just through this process of editing my film, I’ve been trying to get as many friends as possible to watch and critique my film. It’s been good to hear feedback from all kinds of people. Some of going to hate or love it, they may or may not get it, but that’s the cool thing about the creative field, not just film or writing but everything. You leave it to anyone and everyone to interpret your work. It’s kind of awesome because you never know what kind of reactions you’re going to get. When someone doesn’t ‘get’ my film, it helps me as an artist to better define my work, or figure how I can better say something to tell my story better.

Passion with or without money

All the trials I’ve been through this year has help me as a person and there are things I could have done better, but I’m glad I’m learning now rather than making mistakes later and have no one tell me. Someone asked me, “If money wasn’t an issue, would you be doing what you’re doing now?” That really made me think. I guess it’s kind of how I’ve been living this year, in terms of making this film. I’ve been so incredibly blessed to have my parents being so supportive financially towards my film. I feel like I don’t deserve it. Since money wasn’t the major issue, to me this year in regards to making this film was about the story I wanted to tell, and how I was going to tell it. It really forced me to think about style and story telling. As a director, the onus is really on you to tell it visually.

Whether or not I have the money to do film, I would still do it. It is painful that there are so many people willing to volunteer on projects in the film industry. Logically speaking, I shouldn’t have to be working without being paid, but that’s the case in the industry at the moment and everyone has to start at the bottom. There are just too many advertised jobs for projects that are without pay, or very low pay. It’s painful and I hate it, but that’s how it is.

I would say that I don’t want to be a director, but just because this project isn’t going according to plan at the moment, I’m not going to rule that out. I’m in the film industry not because I want to be a director—that’s not my main aim. I just love the whole process; being on set, pre-production, organizing things and seeing it happening, even if it’s not my project. Everyone plays a part in a project.

Do things scared

A couple of months can change so many things, it’s crazy. One thing I’ve learned is to keep doing things, and do it scared. We’re so afraid to step out, take chances and risks, and do something we like. At the end of the day, do you want to be fulfilled with your life? I want to live life with no regrets even if it costs me something. I would rather go to bed at the end of the day and say, “Oh that didn’t turn out so good” than think, “If only I tried that!” Just do things or make things, even if you have no experience and think you’re going to look stupid or ask that stupid question—just do it. It’s your life, no one is going to live it for you, and you sure shouldn’t live it from a person’s point of view.

This interview was originally published in WOOP ZINE #2 in early 2013. Alene is now a Production Assistant at Lucasfilm Singapore - woohoo!

A couple of Alene's favourite movies:


Marley & Me

Toy Story 3