Kelvin Tong and the real horrors of filmmaking

Inside the psyche of Kelvin Tong, a Singaporean filmmaker who is set to debut a locally-made horror film in Hollywood next year

Text & Photos: Joanna Goh
Video: Teng Siew Eng

Singaporean filmmaker Kelvin Tong

Things are heating up in Singapore’s filmmaking industry of late, with the influx of Hollywood and Asian productions set or based on this little red dot and the number of global or Asian movie premieres held here for the past few months.

It represents an exciting phase – especially for local filmmakers – and marks the start of something new, agreed Kelvin Tong, during his interview with xinmsn at the press conference for his upcoming horror film, The Faith of Anna Waters, yesterday.

The local auteur, who has helmed a diverse range of projects, from horror and thriller to nostalgia films, like The Maid, Kidnapper and It’s A Great Great World, is buzzed with excitement for his biggest movie production to date. Its modest budget of US$5 million (S$6.25m), although may seem paltry when compared to films in the big boys league such as Guardians of the Galaxy (US$170m), is considered very generous in the context of local films. On top of its American investors, we were told that the film has also received additional funding from the Media Development Authority of Singapore.

Set and filmed entirely in Singapore, The Faith of Anna Waters, which is produced by Boku Films, also boasts of an international cast, starring Hollywood faces like Mad Men actress Elizabeth Rice, Band of Brothers and Gossip Girl actor Matthew Settle, local actors Adrian Pang and Jaymee Ong, and Australian artistes Colin Borgonon and Adina Herz.

Lead actor Matthew, who is excited to catch some Formula One action in Singapore – if time permits, said this opportunity to work with Kelvin was like “kismet”. “It’s gonna be a rigourous shoot and we’re gonna have to dig deep into ourselves to make it work. I have a lot of faith in Kelvin and his vision.”

The Faith of Anna Waters' lead actors Matthew Settle and Elizabeth Rice

The story follows the main character, an American crime journalist (Elizabeth), who while investigating her sister’s mysterious death in Singapore, has a few encounters with the supernatural. While little was divulged of the movie’s plot, here’s what we learned so far from its tightlipped cast: there’d be a little exorcism done in the film (Adrian plays a priest – an item off his bucket list, he says) and there’d be a “visual of evil” seen in the movie - going by the prosthetic work done in pre-production phase.

While the problems encountered in this film aren’t “unique” by filmmaking standards, Kelvin admits that it is everything times 10 – because it’s a “much bigger” film and cast and thus equates to a much bigger headache. And he had spent 1.5 years in total labouring over his biggest headache (or horror) of them all – coming up with the script and approaching the done-to-death horror trope with fresh perspectives.

How does he, an experienced filmmaker, overcome falling into the cliché trap?

Kelvin replied, matter-of-factly, “The truthful answer is you just sit in front of your computer, write a lot of rubbish, be very hard on yourself and NOT congratulate yourself when you’ve written 10 pages of horror segments. When you read it again tomorrow morning, you’d say it’s rubbish, and you do it again, repeat, repeat, repeat, and 1.5 years later, you might have a proper screenplay.”

Sure sounds like what Kelvin went through with The Faith.

Read on as Kelvin shares his take on the ideal horror film and explains why a horror movie set is the “un-scariest place” on earth.

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