Home  /  Everything Else: Interview  /  [InC-terview] Utter 2017 animation filmmaker, Jerrold Chong!

[InC-terview] Utter 2017 animation filmmaker, Jerrold Chong!

By Say Peng  /  29 Sep 2017 (Friday)

Jerrold Chong is an animation filmmaker. He graduated with a BFA in Animation at California Institute of the Arts. His films have screened at numerous international film festivals, including the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF), Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival in Bristol, Animatricks Animation Festival in Helsinski, Short Shorts Film Festival in Tokyo and Bucheon International Animation Festival in Korea. In 2015, his short film Nascent was awarded the Best Animation Award at Singapore Short Film Awards. He also participated in the SGIFF Southeast Asian Film Lab in 2016 with the project Ten Dollars.

InCinemas speaks with animation filmmaker Jerrold Chong about his short animation adaptation of S. Rajaratnam’s short story What Has To Be for the Singapore Writers Festival film initiative Utter 2017: SingLit Unearthed.
InCinemas: Why did you choose to adapt this particular story?
Jerrold: As I read through the short stories by S. Rajaratnam, I was struck by the way he express es deep, complex so cio -political themes through very simple (and at times, fantastical) narratives and unembellished yet evocative language. His stories, particularly " What Has To Be " , can often be read as allegories, and I find that best suited for the abstract, surrealistic possibilities of animation. Even though the story is only  5 pages long, the language of the dialogue between the two characters are sharp , indelible and it left me deep in thought long after I closed the book. The ending of the story is especially haunting and it triggered thoughts and reflections far wider and deeper than the diegesis of the story. Throughout the making of the film, I constantly reminded myself of the emotions and thoughts I had after reading the short story, and sought to convey these feelings onto the screen.

InCinemas: What were some of the challenges you faced in adapting the story?
Jerrold: The biggest challenge was creating  characters that felt honest, truthful and grounded in reality, to allow the audience to empathize with the characters ' humanity despite the abstract , unfamiliar animat ed visual style. One of my philosophies as an animator / filmmaker is to create character s (however imaginary) to be as grounded in  reality and humanity as we do, and the key to that was their voices. The moment w e cast S ivakumar and Rebekah, we knew their voices w ould be crucial  as the viewer's entry point into the characters psychology. They had great chemistry and their voices lent a depth to the characters far beyond the ability of the drawn image. We also brought them in for a live blocking session, where we approached the scenes  akin to a theatre play or a live-action film, and  experimented with the script through their body language , movement and an openness to improvisation . We took tons of video footage during this session , and it  became a immense goldmine later in the animation process, as it allows us the animators to convey a greater subtlety of facial expressions and body language.

InCinemas: What do you think is unique about animation as compared to live action film when it comes to adaptation?
Jerrold: I think animation offers a large degree of freedom to the filmmaker and the audience alike . As an audience watching a n animated film for the first time, they arrive to the world as a tabula rasa, open to all the infinite possibilities of the worlds the filmmaker can transport them to. They are not tied to any assumptions or expectations of reality. Thus, viewers can approach a film with less judgement and preconceived notions of what reality is and means, as compared to a live-action film. This provides the filmmaker with greater artistic freedom in defining the "rules of the world". For example, one aspect we thought deeply about was  how to approach the race of the characters and the "Singaporean-ness" of the story .   Within the  medium of animation, our notions of race and religion are no longer limited to how the actor/actress looks physically. The space of the narrative is no longer limited to real locales of Singapore (ie. the cliched HDB apartments, etc). In our film, we made the voice (both figuratively and literally) the central identity of the characters, and allowed  the complexities of the ir memories and experiences to come more than through sound than image.

​InCinemas: What is your favourite film adaption and why?
Jerrold: My favourite film adaption is Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980). When reflecting upon the process of adaption during the making of "What Has To Be", my mind often turns to his films and the choices he makes as a director in his films. He built an inspiring filmmaking career through film adaptations, yet all of his films are distinctively his vision. His films often call for numerous re-watchings and that attests to the complexity and depth of his filmmaking language. The narrative of The Shining, as with many of his other films, can be interpreted through multiple layers and offers the viewer the opportunity to come up with his/her own interpretation of the film. For me, therein lies the magical power of cinema, when a film is allowed to blossom and grow within the subjectivity of the viewers' minds.

​InCinemas: Do you have further plans to adapt other Singapore literary stories?
​Jerrold: I do not have any current plans to adapt other Singapore stories. But I am excited to do so given the opportunity! Both the Singapore literary and film scene is very young yet vibrant and it would be amazing for filmmakers like myself to be able to collaborate together with local writers to write and construct stories that can live on the page and on the screen harmoniously, similar to the creative collaboration between Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke during the making of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Screening Dates:

Friday 29 September, 7.30pm @ Golden Village, Suntec City
*Post-screening dialogue with K Rajagopal, Lee Thean-jeen, Henry & Harry Zhuang and Jerrold Chong

Saturday 30 September, 7.30pm @ Golden Village, Suntec City
*Post-screening dialogue with K Rajagopal, Henry & Harry Zhuang and Jerrold Chong

Saturday 4 November, 730pm @ National Gallery Singapore (Auditorium)
*Post-screening dialogue with JM Sali, Lee Thean-jeen, K Rajagopal, Richard Angus Whitehead, David Lee                 
Moderator: Li Lin Wee
You say

Get Showtimes