Creating a quality film production, especially in a tight-knit industry like ours, is never easy. Yet, the all-female team behind period romance drama My Love Sinema, premiering 8 September, pulls it off with determination, finesse and a whole lot of gut.
“We flipped the whole of Ipoh upside down”
The movie is five years in the making and sees Ai Leng directing her first feature film, with Flora (Scout Pictures) in the role of producer. Helmed by Executive Producer Irene Ang (see 5 career advice from her here), the go-getting filmmakers overcame a myriad of hurdles in creating My Love Sinema, because they wanted the movie to be as authentic to Singapore in the 50s as possible.
Flora says, “One major obstacle we faced was to find the right location that could fit the 50s to 70s setting. In the end, after many road trips scouting up north, we found our olden day Singapore in Ipoh, Malaysia”.
“We [basically] flipped the whole of Ipoh upside down to look for the 50s’ ‘cinema’, which was an abandoned furniture warehouse,” Ai Leng adds.
Another obstacle the two learnt to overcome was learning how to thrive in a male-dominated working environment. We asked them to share their strategies:
1. You have to be strong.
“As a director, you are like a general leading an army. There is no turning back or backing out even when you feel physically or emotionally weak. It doesn’t mean that as a woman means it’s “more ok” to back out than as a man,” Ai Leng says. Flora wisely adds, “It is useful to learn to ignore crude sexist jokes that guys make in front of girls. Don’t even let them get to you!”
2. You must work with a vision.
Ai Leng spent three years researching for the movie, and even made mood boards for each department so they would know exactly the kind of visuals she wanted. “I wanted authenticity and we traveled through all the different villages in the outskirts of Ipoh just to find it”, she says.
3. Find balance with your male counterparts.
Ai Leng shares, “women and men can complement each other very well when working together. When working on My Love Sinema, I bounced off so many great ideas with Michal, the Director of Photography, (DOP). Our male and female perspectives actually nicely balanced and complemented each other”.
4. Build respect with your peers.
“Respect has to be earned,” Flora advises, “[It’s not there] just because someone has spent a few years at film school or has had a head start in the industry. Once lost, it is very difficult to earn back so don’t lose it.”
5. Adopt a positive attitude.
“Even if you feel discriminated against, be confident of your strengths and move on,” says Ai Leng. “There are always things that women can do better than men, like writing [beautiful] scenes that can make the audience cry…”
6. Persevere, especially when the going gets tough.
When the team uncovered two rusted film projectors from the 1940s, Ai Leng says it was “like discovering ancient treasure”. Their art department took pains to restore the projectors, but couldn’t get them to work. “The spare parts were, of course, extinct,” Ai Leng sighs, “and [the art team] was on the verge of giving up, but I challenged them, saying we are not going to shoot a machine that’s doesn’t work.” At the eleventh hour, the night before the shoot, they finally managed to work one of the ancient projectors!
Flora advises, “You are as good as your next film so don’t throw in the towel over a film that is badly made. Hold your head high and move on”. These are indeed wise words for life in general, no matter what industry you work in.
Catch My Love Sinema in cinemas from September 8. Watch the trailer here.
About the movie
Starring Tosh Zhang , Cheryl Wee and Jeff Wang, My Love Sinema is a period romance set in 1950s Singapore, telling the story of a Kheong (Tosh), a starry-eyed 20-year-old film projectionist who meets Wei (Cheryl), a young Chinese teacher under unlikely circumstances. As their affection towards each other grows, they face various obstacles preventing them from being together. A riveting story of courage and hope, this nostalgic film chronicles life’s triumphs and disappointments, inspiring audiences to stay true to their passions.