So, I’m going to be brutal today and unglam the glam.
Not that I’m saying my films are very glam, but some people do have that idea, occasionally.
I’m taking you behind the scenes of a short film called Beatnik Sweetheart, which chronicles the dysfunctional relationship between three friends in an uncaring world.
The wardrobe, makeup and art people went all out to make us look impossibly good and I think they did a great job.
But beyond the painted faces and pretty sets, a multitude of unglam hiccups plagued the production on Day 1.
The first scene took place at the abandoned police headquarters at Eu Tong Sen Street.
The location also just happened to be home to an army of invisible bloodthirsty mosquitoes. You won’t even know of their existence until itchy welts mysteriously appear on your skin, just minutes after you arrive on the scene.
I started scratching subconsciously.
“Why my arm so itchy?” I mused aloud.
The art director suddenly yelled, “No, no, no! Don’t scratch!”
He stared in alarm at the mounting redness on my arm. Then he leapt away and came back ferociously wielding a spray can.
Liberally doused in a thick layer of insect repellent, I tried to ignore the itch while the makeup artist gunked up my face.
Then it was up to the rooftop.
We had to walk up five very long flights of steps, followed by this long, intimidating ladder.
The landing was cramped and scary, with that gaping hole in the middle.
But what a beautiful rooftop it was outside. I mean the view was beautiful.
The crew spent some time setting up the lights and cameras and mic-ing the actors. And then we were ready to roll.
That was when it started to rain.
You can’t really see from the picture, but the director was standing in the open, getting rained on, while we took shelter in the crammed little landing area.
I’ll bet you saw that camwhoring photo coming, savvy blog reader.
When the rain finally let up, about half an hour later, we had to sit on a picnic mat for blocking and rehearsal purposes as we waited for the ground to dry up a little for the take.
In the film, we’re all cool youngsters and cool youngsters don’t use picnic mats.
What we had were beer and cigarettes.
I was stressed because I had practised smoking (minimally) only three days before this shoot and still felt awkward holding a cigarette.
But I managed to smoke without coughing while the tape was rolling, so I think that counted for something. Nobody complained about my smoking skills.
The only complaint I received was from the camera assistant, who decided to speak out after seeing me throw out five half-smoked cigarettes with each take.
“Can you don’t throw away?” he said, eyeing the dumped cigarettes heart-brokenly. “Just pass to one of us to finish it.”
“But it’s got my lipstick all over it,” I said. “And it’s Virginia Slim VERY LIGHT.”
“A cigarette is still a cigarette,” said he.
Couldn’t argue with that.
A beer, though, is sometimes not a beer.
My poor Corona was topped up with chrysanthemum tea after each take, until it became more tea than beer.
An hour later, I started feeling severe gastric pains.
I realised belatedly that I should have taken breakfast. Beer and tea are a recipe for disaster for my weak stomach.
I went to the producer and made an apologetic request. “Sorry, can you please get someone to grab my gastric pills from downstairs?”
“Shit.” she said.
She went down herself. And I felt really bad because that meant five long flights of stairs and one long rickety ladder, times two.
We finished the scene a few hours later and ate packet lunches right here, sitting on the ledges:
My gastric pains went away.
Next location was Changi Airport for one very short scene.
It went relatively smoothly, except that the airport was too empty at the time for the director’s liking.
“It wasn’t this empty when I last came to recce!” he proclaimed.
But it eventually filled up, somewhat, and we got our shot after endless takes.
Here’s me taking a photo of the DOP framing me for the shot.
I love doing that.
Close-up of the picture feed from the video camera:.
By the time this very short scene was done, it was almost 5 pm. We had only completed two scenes (since 7:30 am). We had two more scenes scheduled to go.
But then the director said, “It’s a wrap!”
“Huh?” we all went.
It turned out that we couldn’t do the next two scenes because:
- The owner of the first location (a pub) had overslept and told us to postpone our shoot to the next day.
- The owner of the second location (a boutique) changed her mind and decided not to let us to shoot there.
So, I was about to change out of my costume when the director suddenly made a new announcement.
“Hey, let’s shoot the tunnel scene tonight, instead.”
The tunnel in question is the new expressway tunnel next to Fort Canning Park.
The plan now was to go back to our “base” (the DOP’s apartment) to rehearse our hot lesbian action scene (yes), have dinner there, wait till about 9 pm when there will be fewer cars on the road, then travel to the tunnel.
My gastric pains came back.
Worse, I was getting the worst backache I’ve ever experienced.
I could hardly sit still in the car as we travelled back to the apartment. My front and back were both killing me.
I had run out of antacids and had to wait till we reached the apartment. From there, I walked out myself to the nearest supermarket to get more antacids.
Our costumes for the tunnel scene:
I didn’t realise that I was wearing the wrong shoes for this photo until I got home and saw the photo.
I was supposed to be wearing black pumps for this outfit but because they hurt my feet, I went around in my canvas shoes outside of takes.
Another picture with the wrong shoes:
Our rehearsal at the apartment took longer than planned, so by the time we left the apartment, it was almost 10 pm.
On the sidewalk opposite the tunnel, waiting for the crew to arrive:
With our co-actor:
Our actor was a little weird. We made him sit on the ground to pose for photos with us, but he didn’t like it very much, mumbling something about the ground being dirty or having ants or something.
He sat down just enough to snap one photo and then sprang up again, visibly distraught.
We made faces at him and then continued camwhoring.
Shortly after, the crew arrived and it was off to the tunnel.
It was quite exciting in there. Kind of scary, kind of grungy, kind of crazy.
We took 10 minutes to plan and prepare the shot, then we went for a take.
Right after the first take (which turned out to be no good), we heard sirens.
Along came an LTA marshall, beckoning us to go to him at the opening of the tunnel.
Our spirits dampened, we trudged wearily back to where we started.
Had our particulars taken down, had a bit of a lecture about trespassing, and then we were let off with a warning that we might all be receiving fines in the mail in two weeks.
It had been a long day. 15 hours, to be precise. Six hours overrun.
Inexplicably, though, I enjoyed the shoot, enjoyed the cast and crew and looked forward to the next day.
To be continued.