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Auteur Of Numbers

Award-winning director Royston Tan creates films that often focus on the marginalised and quirky. NSMan has a tete-a-tete with him.

By Edmund Wee      1 July 2019
Tan’s 36 Ways to Say Good Morning is a short film that captures the daily sights and sounds of heartland Singapore in the morning.

Which award has given you the greatest satisfaction, and why?

The Silver Screen award for Sons in the 2000 Singapore International Film Festival. It is the award with the highest accolade in Singapore – and through short films, there were more opportunities to other film festivals, which led to feature films.

Share with us one of the most interesting experiences you have had at a film festival.

When I was in Poland, I had the honour of having coffee with Oscar nominated director David Lynch [known for Wild at Heart and Twin Peaks], and we had a little chat in the minus-10 degree weather.

What is the most interesting experience you have had when making a film?

The most interesting experience came from making 881. It was a project driven by anger. I’d read an article about how there are two types of filmmakers: one who makes films for the audience, and one who makes films for himself – and that both Eric Khoo and I fall under the category of the latter. Hence, I decided to make a film for the audience. I went to Melbourne to write the script, locking myself in a room, pushing myself to complete five scenes per day, otherwise I wouldn’t give myself dinner.

You seem to be quite busy lately with commissioned projects that relate to the Singapore community – for example, last year’s 36 Ways to Say Good Morning and the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) inclusive campaign music video. How did they come about?

These opportunities came through personal short films, and when these projects get shown, different organisations will approach us for collaboration. I took up these collaborations and campaigns because I truly believed in the messages that they wanted to spread. The stronger focus on “social” themes stems from wanting to use film as a medium to spread positive influence in our community.


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