When Film Imitates Life
Royston Tan may be the more familiar name in the local film-making scene, but Terence Koh also hasÂ similar film-making dreams. Having wanted to be a filmmaker all his life, he took some time off work just to realise his ambitions. Today the founder of Delicious Films is finally on the verge of producing his first movie, “25 To Life”.
Delicious Films started in August 2005 when Terence decided to pursue his dream of writing, producing and directing his own film. “Delicious refers to the entertainment quality I want to achieve – juicy and full of the good stuff!”
“I wanted to make movies about things which bother all of us in Singapore. The thing about Singapore movies is that most of us are so afraid to talk about the things which really bother us. The fact is, if you don’t talk about your life, what truth are you bringing to the public? You can’t make up stories which nobody can connect to.”
Not that Terence is out to pursue controversial material.
“I wanted to make movies which reflect our struggles, such as the lack of freedom, our high cost of living, as well as peer, family and social pressures.”
“It just so happens that these concerns are things Big Brother don’t want us to hear, since Singapore has to be a happy society. Frankly, we’re not.”
Which is why Terence names Jack Neo as an inspiration.
“His success told us that Singaporeans do want to hear the truth and if you can put issues which matter to you on the screen, Singaporeans will watch your movies.”
His desire to do something of his own started even earlier, when he was in his final year in the National University of Singapore. He submitted a short play to Action Theatre’s First 42 Theatre Festival. “Of course, I quickly found out that writers don’t go too far in Singapore.”
“It’s my long-held wish to be a movie-maker. I’d always thought I’d make a film by age 27 like Steven Spielberg, but I kept putting off making a film because I thought the idea was just too big.”
It was when he was about to turn 30 that he had a change of heart. “At that time I was already married. My wife Jan and I were contemplating having kids. I could see myself getting stuck in a deadend job and regretting not making some more of my life.”
“I’m the sort of person who always look back – so I know if I don’t do this, it’ll be eating at me for the rest of my life.” So he quit his full-time job in a local major telecommunications company and took the plunge. He had saved up two years worth of bonuses so that he could continue to feed himself, pay off his mortgage and give his parents their monthly allowance.
“I never told my parents or my relatives. I had been jobless before and everyone in my clan made me feel like a leper. So it was a secret project. It’s really a less messy way than dealing with the judgement,” Terence remembered. Only some of his colleagues and friends knew. His bosses actually offered him 4 months of no pay leave, but he turned down their offer as he didn’t think 4 months was enough to complete the project.
Terence says it was the best thing he ever did.
“For the first time in my life, I felt like I was giving one hundred percent of myself to my work, to something I really loved. I finally felt that I’ve found something I was good at and I was really pursuing my dream after all these years of dreaming.”
“Dreams are priceless. If you don’t have dreams, life becomes a little sadder and colder.”
“I finally found myself. It was a good feeling.”
His film, “25 To Life”, was the toughest thing he ever did as he never had any formal training. Terence had only taken two classes on film in college, and assisted his brother – who runs his own video production house – as a grip and soundman. He voraciously read books books on film and taught himself video editing.
“It was gruelling, scary and sometimes you get completely filled with doubt. I’d never made a film in my life before. The process of planning for it and being responsible for everything on the set is something no one ele can ever prepare you for.”
It took Terence 3 months to write the script, followed by 2 months of pre-production – getting the gear together, hiring the cameraman, auditioning actors etc. Production took over a month. And, according to Terence, he’s now stuck in post production hell as he needs to fix sound and colour grading issues.
Shot from the film “25 To Life”
And the costs are still running, as he still needs to redub two lines of dialogue and get the sound equalised before the film is finally completed. “I started with $20,000. Today it’s all gone and I had to take up a job to feed myself.”
“Everything comes at a price. Actors need to stay alive in order to keep living their dreams – just like me. You can always make more money. But can you buy back the time that passed you by, the time that you could’ve used to pursue your dreams?”
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Movies had always been a big part of Terence’s life. “My dad loved movies, so he’d take us to a movie every week. I was watching old movies on TV even before I went to school.”
I went to my first movie alone at Primary 4!
Terence’s belief really took off with Robert Rodriguez’s “El Mariachi” and Kevin Smith’s “Clerks”. “Rodriguez made Marachi for $7000, which he raised by being a guinea pig for a drug company. Kevin Smith bankrolled his movie on his credit card.”
“Rodriquez wrote a book about making his film and he gave a lot of pointers to film lovers who wanted to do the same. He said don’t be afraid to call yourself a film director. If you can watch a film, you are a film director.”
“That really gave me belief.”
“Kevin Smith also said that writing good dialogue is a good way of increasing the production value of a film. I’ve taken what both of their lessons and applied it on my film. Both showed me the way to make an indie film with limited resources.”
Terence thinks that one of the things that is keeping him from commercial success is his lack of contacts. “Well, you’d go further if you know the right people, and I sure as hell don’t.” But at the end of the day, the budding filmmaker believes that in the end, everything comes down to you. “If you’re not going to do something, nobody else will do it for you. So don’t expect anyone to do it for you, because that’ll never happen. Always depend on yourself.”
His main regret? “Not doing this sooner! Imagine what I could’ve done without the mortgage on my head! Also, I feel that if I could’ve had more time, maybe I could’ve written a better script and so on…”
To Terence, not losing his mind while shooting the film was an achievement. Now that he’s done it, he feels relieved. “Even if I croak tomorrow choking on some chicken bone, I can have it written on my tombstone that I have made a film and I’m a filmmaker.
And the next step for Delicious Films? “It might finally be time to start writing a new script and doing this all over again!” Terence grinned. As Steve Jobs once said, ‘Stay foolish, stay hungry.’
Terence’s film “25 To Life” is scheduled for completion in end 2007. You can reach Terence at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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