Boo Junfeng is a Singaporean filmmaker. His body of work begins to explain more about him than any single award could.
Trained in film schools across Singapore and Spain, his last stop at The Puttnam School of Film was recognized with the McNally Award for Excellence in the Arts, LASALLE’s highest academic honour. More importantly, his first feature film, Sandcastle was produced within a year of his graduation from the college and premiered at the world’s most prestigious film festival, also becoming the first local film to be featured in its International Critics’ Week section.
Film students need not build castles in the air or read this article for too long as the following transcripted interview with the celebrated alumni and practising artist concisely charts an instructive course of progression from chance to Cannes.
Chance | “Everything just kind of fell into place.”
After Tanjong Rhu (2009), there was interest from executive producers on my first feature film. The Singapore Film Commission’s New Feature Film Fund, newly introduced then, offered a good funding opportunity. Fortissimo Films would show interest and subsequently came on board as both producer and sales agent.
Story | “In my own work, I want to be able to question, if I can.”
The questions En has in Sandcastle are the kind of questions I had. I was inspired after watching Tan Pin Pin’s documentary, Invisible City (2007). There was a segment in there that talked about the Middle School Student protests of the ‘50s. I went to Chung Cheng High School in the ‘90s, and throughout my four years of studies there, I was only told the official account of what had happened during the protests. I was never told of the narrative from the students’ perspectives, from within the fence of the school. I felt short-changed, which prompted me to do some research. That led to some of the themes that Sandcastle explored.
Script | “There’s no one guidebook for it.”
There was a lot of trial and error, despite understanding the fundamentals. I had things I wanted to say. I had my own sensibilities. Putting all these ideas and themes into an original and coherent 90-minute narrative was – and still is – a real challenge.
Duration: 18 months (Story & Script)
Pre-Production | “The day before shoot – I realized this wasn’t going to be a film I could hide under my bed if it sucked. By that time, I felt like everyone was watching.”
Eighteen days of shoot seems to be an okay time for most Singaporean productions but for me, I still felt that it was very, very rushed. In order to prepare for that, I had to make sure that all the actors knew exactly what was going on, so there was a lot of workshopping and rehearsals that had to happen before the shoot.
Duration: 6 months
Production | “On shoot, it was clockwork.”
It was impossible for everything to rest on my shoulders. I was the director, writer, as well as a co-producer. I had to learn to let go and trust my collaborators to do what they do best. Many of them were good friends and people whom I trusted already anyway, so technically, it should have been easy. I guess it was the control-freak in me. Everything felt very precious. But I’m glad I managed to overcome that, and everything on shoot went smoothly.
Duration: 18 days, no overtime.
Post-Production | “It’s sort of like going back to the writing stage, but instead of ideas you pull out from your head, it’s footage you pull out from the edit bin.”
I was the editor on most of my short films – largely because I never had the budget to hire an editor, but also because it was more efficient to edit the films by myself. However, over the years, I learned to work with editors and appreciate their inputs. It’s great to be able to distance myself from the story. Now, if given an option, I would choose to work with an editor.
Duration: 3 months
Cannes | “It’s about the film, not about the filmmaker.”
Fortissimo sent it to Cannes and we got news of it being selected while we were still in post-production. The Critics’ Week is basically the selection in Cannes specifically for first and second films. They only select seven feature films a year, and it was a great platform for a film like Sandcastle. It went on to show at other big festivals like Toronto, Pusan and London. The best part about going to festivals and attending its screenings is being about to witness the film take a life of its own – how it resonates with audiences in ways I never thought it would. That, on its own, was a huge learning experience.
Duration: 7 months
Aspirations | “I would like my films to stay with people.”
More often than not, when I see a film, what affects me is not its style, but its story and the amount of depth it has. I relish in the aftertaste of films like that. Films that make me think. Films that haunt me for a few days. That is the kind of feeling is what I want to create. I would like my films to stay with people, and offer some introspection in their own lives. That, on its own, I think is very ambitious. But it’s what I aspire to do.
On a closing note, Junfeng summed up his view on what it takes to be able to make one’s first feature film as he has:
“You need to be self-aware, and know what you’re doing.”
Boo Junfeng’s second feature film is currently in development and will take him out of his comfort zone as he explores capital punishment in Singapore. His newest work, “Mirror”, a short film commissioned by Singapore Art Museum is currently being screened as part of the President’s Young Talents exhibition and runs through 15th September 2013.