Photos: Romeo Tan
Romeo Tan has been a very busy person.
When we first saw the list of attendees for the Fresh Takes! press conference, the actor wasn’t in it, as we knew that he was in Taiwan working on the upcoming Taiwan-Singapore co-production drama All Is Well.
But ultimately, he asked the Taiwanese team to rearrange his filming schedule and grant him a 24-hour window to jet back to Singapore to attend the event.
“As one of the directors, I think it’s my responsibility to do everything that I can to attend, and I’m glad that they managed to make it work,” Romeo quipped, looking visibly exhausted.
He, along with fellow actors Bryan Wong, Shane Pow, Priscelia Chan, Joanne Peh and Ian Fang, embarked on their maiden directorial journey with Fresh Takes!. The Mediacorp initiative promotes new talent in the local entertainment industry - be it in acting, directing, or scriptwriting.
“I wanted to reject this opportunity, but I decided to give it a try after some thought,” Romeo admitted in an interview with Toggle.
“After all, if you wanted to do this in film school as a final year project, you’d have to fork out your own money, find your own location and handle all the logistics on your own. [With Fresh Takes!], I had the company helping me with location researchers, scriptwriters and so on, and my main task would be to direct the telemovie. That’s why I said yes and took up the challenge.”
Being the first on the list to start work came with its own pressure, as the 33-year-old mused, “When I first said yes, my mind was a blank. I didn’t know if I wanted to go with a horror story or a thriller.”
“In the end, I simplified things. There’s one thing that you can’t avoid in all stories: love. I went for the easy way out by going with puppy love.”
He continued, “I like stories with twists in the end, so I told myself that I’d write a love story with a twist, and that the entire story had to have an important message. And that is to live in the present and treasure who you have in your life. Fate is a tricky thing. Sometimes, once you miss your chance, you’ll never be able to go back to how things used to be even if you try your best.”
Romeo thought that it would be smooth-sailing after finalising his concept and storyline, only to realise it wasn’t so.
When we asked him about how the entire process was, he declared without skipping a beat, “I really enjoyed the production and the post-production phases, but I hated pre-production.”
He explained, “The main location I ended up using was my fourth choice, which was our office. If you asked me which scenes I’d want to shoot again, I’d say that every single one of the main scenes have to be redone.”
In short, it was a nightmare.
“I originally wanted to use The Promontory, but for some reason, it was a no. We then wanted to move over to a location near the Singapore Flyer, but because of the Chingay parade, that didn’t work out either,” he sighed.
“We also thought of going to HortPark, but the location would be way above budget so I couldn’t use it either. I was left with the field on the Mediacorp campus. It’s not terrible, but it’s a totally different feel from what it would have been if we were filming at my first, second or third choices,” he concluded.
Romeo also had problems finding a sponsor for the drone that he needed for the film, and was unable to find a big house that he could film in.
“Mei Xin’s character is supposed to be from a wealthy family, so I needed her to have a nice house and a sports car. I ended up owing a lot of favours to people after this film,” he chuckled. “I said to my former client, ‘Your house in Sentosa Cove is very beautiful, and your Ferrari is very nice too! I’m doing a short film for the first time, I need a big house and I think your place is very suitable.’ They immediately agreed, which made me very happy.”
However, his happiness was short-lived.
Filming at Sentosa Cove is no walk in the park, as you need to adhere strictly to the time limit stated on the permit. Romeo ended up overrunning and the last scene, which was shot after the sun set, didn’t look good in post-production.
So, he did what any director in his situation would have done: call the client (again) and tell them he needed to go back again to shoot for another day.
Cue another big, cumbersome ‘however’.
“We didn’t have another permit, so we had to wait outside the gates for an hour-and-a-half, and by the time they cleared us, the sun was about to set today so we had to rush every take,” Romeo said, as we wondered if his long list of sufferings was coming to an end yet.
“In the end, we managed to save the entire scene because we were very clear about what we needed to do, and I’m happy with the end result.”
Given the roller-coaster of unfortunate incidents, we asked him if he would ever direct again.
“For now, I don’t think I’m up to Stephen Fung’s level where I can be the director, scriptwriter and lead actor in the same project, but maybe one day I will be,” he said with a short laugh. “I don’t mind taking up directing again, but I definitely want my next project to be a horror story.”
“I love watching horror films, and after you’ve watched so many good and bad horror films, you’ll have some idea of how to induce goosebumps,” he said.
One thing that he let on he’s learned from Thai and Japanese horror films is how they make use of things that you use in your daily lives to create the real spook factor.
He concluded with a slight smile, “You don’t need something especially menacing to scare people. In fact, I think it’s even scarier when you take everyday items, like an elevator or a mobile phone and make it something that you can and should be afraid of.”
We can’t wait, Romeo.
Fresh Takes! airs every Friday, 9pm on Channel U.
Catch Romeo Tan’s short film ‘The Droner’, March 22, 9pm on Channel U.
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