It’s been challenging trying to write this post because for some reason my brain shuts down every time I start to type.
And now it’s been almost an hour since I continued to type this next line.
And after going through twelve Youtube videos about dogs that were adopted and finding a new home, I’m barely able to start writing.
I preface what I’m about to write by saying that I recognize film as a product but independent film-making generally has always banked on the the goodwill of tons of people, therefore often times the process cannot be divorced from the final outcome of the film.
Film in itself is a different industry (or a community in a smaller country like Singapore) compared to others because the work itself requires a degree of emotional investment from all departments. It is difficult to say that some departments are purely technical because we all start off reading a script and that already elicts an emotional response out of the crew (even if it’s boredom or confusion).
So when it comes to the production of the film, it often times comes down to managing logistics against human emotions and these two things always comes at odds against one another. A example where budget is low therefore you can only afford to hire so much for grips and attempt to get an untrained intern as another pair of hands and therefore the key grip has to overwork/teach at the same time or there isn’t enough extras for a scene and due to budget limitations a production assistant is tasked to ask friends/relatives to turn up for a couple of hours with food and transportation covered but no pay. Such things are a daily occurrence that soon become normalized and taken as a part of film making in general.
The examples I’ve just mentioned are arguably exploitative to a degree but are mild comparing to experiences I’ve been through or even people whom I know have gone through. Yet at the same time all these would be worth it somehow if the film was released and the team felt included in the successes of that project. I personally have crewed on three low budget feature films; two of which has never seen the light of day and one of them has had a single day release at REX cinemas in Singapore. There are crews that have given literally their health to these projects to come out of it having strong PTSD toward film-making.
This is the part I really wish to focus upon; PTSD in film-making. Often times difficult experiences can be carried as a badge of honour and people will gather once in awhile to share war stories from film sets. However there are people I know that write off film-making as unsustainable or “make all these films liao then?” kind of attitude and gradually change their line of work or choose a more stable part of the film-making chain (if there ever is one). I’ve seen people emotionally broken because of what they’ve given to a project only not to be respected or reciprocated in any manner. What the creators of projects need to be aware of is that often times people don’t bounce back from such experiences. Communication, accountability, respect are key values that are frequently pushed to the side in pursuit of this larger dream and I can assure you that this dream-making machine is always hungry.
As I’m writing this I recall those three projects and the fatigue of those experiences to only remind myself that these “war stories”, as exciting as they are, do not create constructive conversation around our film-making environment. Coming out of film school the attrition rate is often high and people who stay in the narrative film-making realm need begin to ask themselves what ecosystem are they creating? Is the product you’re creating really worth the sacrifices of the hopefulness and naïveté of a new bunch of dreamers or maybe something to be reconsidered and re-evaluated?