Conceptualised and produced by GREYXGRAY, Our Defining Moments is a short film that looks back at our shared Singaporean experiences. From receiving disappointing PSLE results to learning how to make floatation devices out of pyjama pants, it’s amazing how much of our childhoods are similar. We chat with GREYXGRAY team member, Amanda Tan, to find out more about the story and inspiration behind the film.
Stephanie Pee (SP): Hello Amanda! Why don’t you tell us a little about GREYXGRAY.
Amanda Tan (AT): GREYXGRAY is a collective of like-minded filmmakers and artists, mainly, Amanda Tan, Nicole Midori Woodford and Hanafi Mohd. It was born out of today’s radically shifting landscape of filmmakers and designers. We manipulate new trends and technologies of the film and design medium to create effective and sophisticated visual narratives—shaping the sublime out of the ordinary.
SP: Your short film, Our Defining Moments follows a boy, Andy, as he grows up, through different phases of life. How did you develop the narrative for the film? What was the driving force or overall theme behind the video?
AT: When presented with the idea of developing a narrative, we thought about how as Singaporeans, we share quite unique childhood experiences. We wanted to showcase each defining moment in a more personal and intimate way. This was when we came up with the idea of shooting the film from a first person perspective.
SP: How much of the film is based on your own experiences? How did those experiences inform the narrative of the film?
AT: We wanted to try to encapsulate almost every significant shared Singaporean memory. We wanted to create the highs and lows we all experienced as kids on this little red dot. We tried to draw as much as possible from personal experiences, so that the scenes remained true to life, but we also gathered many stories and anecdotes from friends and family in order to get a good measure of the common significant memories of Singaporeans.
I definitely related to the scene involving the PSLE results. Having not been a stellar student, it’s strange how as a 12 year old, your life culminates on how well you did on a single certificate. I also drew from my own experiences for the scene where Andy gets his first kiss—the nervous shifting of eyes, the adolescent innocence of it all.
Nicole insisted on having the swimming lesson scene where pyjamas were used as a flotation device as she felt it was a very significant memory for her. At first we were all a little apprehensive—filming an underwater scene with a camera mounted on our child actor was going to be challenging. But we pulled it off and the result is a scene that was visually quite stunning and quintessentially Singaporean.
As female writers, we had to tap into other people’s experiences when it came to this subject matter but we felt it necessary as NS is a rite of passage for so many Singaporean men. Making our protagonist the one who was lagging behind was a conscious creative choice. We wanted to make him the common man, the one who survives the mini trials in his life, the underdog that you would root for.
SP: The video showcases a spectrum of experiences—from playground games to first love to the NS—why did you select these particular experiences to showcase?
AT: We selected moments that we felt either were stepping stones in the lives of Singaporeans or moments that when you usually talk about, people go, “Oh ya! I remember doing that too!”. Memories like playing marbles or inflating pyjamas in a pool or reminiscing about times when we only had pagers. It’s a time that is special for all of us but exists now only in the collection of yesteryear’s memories.
SP: Why did you choose to shoot the film in first person? What kind of difficulties did you face in doing so and how did you prepare the actors for this?
AT: We wanted the viewer to live through the protagonist and in some ways to embody the protagonist, almost as if reliving his or her own memories. We wanted to evoke a strong sense of nostalgia and to feel as though you were looking into the kaleidoscope of your own past.
We were faced with the challenge of what camera systems would be appropriate for the project. We needed cameras that were lightweight yet still maintained a level of cinematic quality. On top of that, we had to research and build some of our own helmet-based camera rigs specific for our shooting process. We had to use a lighter camera system for young Andy, especially for the swimming and bicycle scenes. For the adult scenes, our director of photography acted Andy out, using the helmet rig shown below.
SP: How difficult was it to find locations that matched the period in which the film was set?
AT: Being a period piece, we were quite adamant about finding locations and sets that felt authentic to the time era we were looking at. For Andy’s childhood home, we were very lucky to be able to use Nicole’s grandmother’s home which already had a lot of the set pieces we needed, like the old furniture, ‘80s style telephone and the antique sewing machine. Little touches like these are what really makes a period piece look authentic. Our art director, Wyna Low, was fantastic at picking out items that added to the whole atmosphere, placing childhood snacks (that she had to recreate as they don’t exist anymore!) around and even using her own vintage family portraits.
We selected moments that we felt either were stepping stones in the lives of Singaporeans or moments that when you usually talk about, people go, “Oh ya! I remember doing that too!”… It’s a time that holds special for all of us but exists now only in the collection of yesteryear’s memories.
As for the playground, we contacted Justin Zhuang, a local writer and designer, who documented old playgrounds for the Singapore Memory Project to give us suggestions on where to look for lost playgrounds in Singapore. After location scouting for two days, we found the Dove Playground at Dakota Crescent. Sadly, a lot of these old sandpit playgrounds are slowly disappearing, so we definitely wanted to capture them before they totally vanish.
We put a great deal of effort into finding the right places and clothes for each era. We talked to friends, family and asked them about places and objects that evoked that sense of nostalgia. Through these conversations, we discovered Beng Hiang Restaurant, which has been in business since 1978, its fixtures and decor were perfect for our wedding and Chinese New Year scenes. We tried to recreate the exact wardrobe of the various periods with items like an old pager, the old school Casio watch and those blue and white rubber slippers, attention to detail was very crucial as many scenes were filmed in one single continuous shot.
SP: Why do you think that it is important to document the personal memories of Singaporeans?
AT: Singaporeans as a people, often struggle with finding a sense of identity. Our nation is young and susceptible to external cultural influences. On top of that, as a small country, we’ve also lost many of our historic landmarks due to the need to maximise our limited space. We tend to lose our connections to our past in this constantly changing landscape.
We believe that it is the little things that remind us that we are glued together. Nowhere else will you find kids who bond over ‘country eraser wrestling’ or pyjama swimming lessons. In the end, we go through innately Singaporean rites of passage, from O’ Levels to NS, to bidding for HDB flats! We have to remember and document these memories to remind us of our own unique heritage beneath that global culture that permeates the world today. There’s a sense of camaraderie and knowing, it’s subtle but it’s there.
SP: What do you hope the reaction to your film will be?
AT: Our goal is to have people transported back to their childhood and to evoke an intrinsically Singaporean sense of nostalgia and memory. There are certain films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, that give viewers that intense sense of déjà vu. We’d like for our viewers to get that ‘blast from the past’ rush of emotion, and feel transported back to their childhood.
To see more of GREYXGRAY, head to their website at www.greyxgray.com/
You can view Our Defining Moments at the Singapore Memory Portal here. What do you remember about your childhood? Did you play marbles and swim with pyjamas, too? Share your memories and thoughts with us over at the Singapore Memory Portal, or leave us a comment below or on our FaceBook page!
Singapore Memory Project