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[InC-terview] National Youth Film Awards 2016 Winners: Jonathan Choo & Julie Heather Liew.

By Flora  /  02 Aug 2016 (Tuesday)
Photo Credit: NYFA 2016

20 awards were presented to 22 unique youth filmmakers from local Institutions of Higher Learning at the 2nd National Youth Film Awards (NYFA) 2016. The filmmaking competition celebrates the best emerging talent for technical film crafts in Singapore, and aims to establish and raise a national benchmark for excellence in film. 

A record number of 260 submissions were received this year, with the winners determined by NYFA’s 15-member jury comprising of distinguished industry heavyweights. The winning films received trophies, cash prizes of up to S$2,000 per award, and various industry-related prizes.

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) bagged the Best Overall School Award for the second consecutive year, with 13 wins including the Best Visual Effects, Best Editing, Best Production Design, Best Direction, and the DBS Best Picture awards. Other technical awards include Best Colour Grading, Best Editing in Documentary Film, and Bert Lighting House Best Lighting.

(Joanthan Choo & Shammini Gunasegaran, Best Director and Best Picture, for 'Han'. Photo Credit: NYFA 2016)

InCinemas spoke to winners Jonathan Choo who won the Best Direction Award for this film 'Han'; and Julie Heather Liew who bagged the Best Production Design for 'Sweet Bloom Of Night Time Flowers', on their filmmaking experiences and their dreams in the future.

Congratulations! What are your thoughts on winning the ‘Best Direction Award’ (Jonathan Choo) and the 'Best Production Design' (Julie Liew)?

Jonathan: I'm really honored to win this award, it truly is a huge encouragement for a filmmaker just starting out like me.

Julie: Thank you for your kind words! It was already a privilege to be nominated for 2 films in my first year participating in NYFA, and to have one of the films actually win the award, it's quite surreal. Everyone has been really kind and encouraging, and I'm really proud of the work my classmates and I put into both films. It feels like it all our hard work has paid off tremendously. 

Jonathan, you participated in the National Youth Film Awards (NYFA) for last year and this year. What made you join NYFA 2015 in the first place, and again in 2016?

Jonathan: For NYFA 2015, actually we didn't think much and just decided to join.  For this year, it is also pretty much the same. (*Laughs) But we do know that the NYFA is a great platform to get feedback from the industry.

(Julie Heather Liew, Best Production Design. Photo Credit: NYFA 2016)

What is your biggest takeaway from participating in this competition?

Julie: In my acceptance speech, I mentioned that the biggest mistake we can make as young filmmakers is viewing collaboration as competition, and I believe it completely. NYFA 2016 had so many truly great film submissions and filmmakers, it would be naive to think that there are only a few winners in this competition. It was truly heartening to meet and mingle with the other nominees and build our network of young filmmakers, and I'm excited to see us all enter the industry and make a difference in each of our specializations. 
Jonathan: To see the level of work all the schools are putting out and telling yourself there is always room for improvement. 

Tell us more about your inspiration behind the production design of HAN and SWEET BLOOM OF NIGHT TIME FLOWERS.

Julie: For HAN, I was really inspired by the emotional conflict between the characters, and the way the characters are in contrast to one another (like the Korean father vs. the Singaporean father, or the Elderly father vs. his Young Son) and visual elements like the space, sets, props and wardrobe help reflect this sense of balance (or imbalance), depending on where the characters are on their journey to self-discovery and reconciliation. Aesthetically, we tried to emulate the balance/imbalance of Edward Hopper paintings, or more traditional Korean Films. 
For SWEET BLOOM OF NIGHT TIME FLOWERS, I was inspired by the world that the Director Rifyal wanted to create to reflect the supernatural elements and unique characters of the film. We were inspired by filmmakers like Guillermo Del Toro and TIm Burton. Their extensive work with Special Effects and Sci-fi/Fantasy genres were amazing references for creating a world that could seem separate from the one we already inhabit, but completely believable for the audience. 

And Jonathan, what was your inspiration behind HAN?

Jonathan: Han stands for unresolved grief in Korean and it's an inexplicable state of sadness that the people go through in Korea, mainly because of the tough history they've gone through. this state of mind really fascinated me and I been to Korea a couple of times, I felt like I could relate to this idea of Han and wanted to make a film about it.

How was it like on set directing your dad (Zhu Houren), knowing that he is a veteran actor. Was it pressurising​ and did you give you any advice?

Jonathan: Not at all, it was like daily life, just that we transpose it onto a film set now. His advice to me was: 'To always direct scenes looking at a big picture'.

What were the challenges making your short film?

Jonathan: Financing was a tough hurdle because making a short film itself is costly, making a film overseas is even crazy especially you are a student, we had to work on jobs and crowdfund to finance the film. Also, the writing of the film was a tough challenge, it took some time to really calibrate the characters and what I wanted to convey artistically as a whole.

Julie: Understandably, the demands for the Sweet Bloom production design were quite extensive. We had to create a fantasy world in which the characters can truly belong, and sourcing for the right materials and props took great time and effort. Customizing our locations by building sets and renting furniture was also quite costly and time-consuming, but in the end, when everything came together in the final frame, the complete look of the film made it seem as though the sets were truly believable. The characters were truly at home in each set, and it elevated the story's narrative. 

(Production still from 'Sweet Bloom of Night Time Flowers'. Photo Credit: NYFA 2016)

Julie, production design is an important aspect of filmmaking, but is also often neglected and goes unappreciated. What attracts you to want to dabble in production design?

Julie: When I was a kid I really loved making my own toys and drawing my own comics, and I've always been a very hands-on person. I've also always loved films as well, and would spend hours studying the set designs of popular films and how certain practical effects were achieved before an over-reliance on computer graphics. Production Design is as much a part of the story as the actors or the dialogue, and I love that about it as an art-form. 

What are your plans after graduation. Are you hoping to go into a filmmaking industry after your graduate?

Julie: I've already started freelancing in the industry, mostly as an art assistant or props-master due to the commercial market, and plan on continuing to do so. But hopefully as I hone my craft I will get to try on different hats as an Art Director or Production Designer for larger projects, like feature films or theatre productions. I also love the collaborative spirit of filmmaking, and would also consider teaching production design in the future, if only to share my love for just making things for film. 
Jonathan: Definitely, just going to keep making films one step at a time.

(To check out the list of winners for NYFA 2016, visit www.scape.sg/nyfa)

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