Tan Wei Ting, 27, Filmmaker
Wei Ting graduated from school only five years ago, but she already has an award under her belt—her directorial debut for CA$H, a film produced as part of the Temasek 20/20 project, won her a Best Direction award at the National Youth Film Awards 2018 (Open Youth Category). The film also picked up Best Sound and was nominated for four other categories.
And to think it was only nine years ago that Wei Ting shot her first film, as part of the admissions process to get into Nanyang Technological University’s School of Art, Design and Media. She started out doing theatre in secondary school, but found the allure of filmmaking as she attended the course. “I wanted to explore a separate medium that could help me enhance my skills when I did theatre. But I didn’t expect I would just continue doing film instead.”
Her admission into university is a story in itself. As part of the selection process, she had to submit a show reel. Having come from a junior college, she had nothing to show, so she decided to throw caution to the wind and make her own—using just her laptop. “I had no filmmaking experience. I didn’t have a camera so I actually shot it on my laptop’s webcam. I used iMovie and I just held it and shot it all with my laptop as a camera. I had no other medium and back then, camera phones were so bad,” she shares.
She also taught herself how to edit using Final Cut Pro through online tutorials and by trial and error. All in all, it took her a few weeks to produce the show reel that got her into university. And the rest is history.
She didn’t have the courage to be a director
She may be an award-winning director now, but all wasn’t a bed of roses for her. She was apprehensive about directing CA$H, but was encouraged by the directors she had worked with and her co-writer for CA$H, Zoea Tania Chen. “I think I have very little faith in myself. I think that’s the biggest reason I haven’t been directing—I’m actually very scared of the responsibility and of disappointing people. Of course, you’ll doubt yourself when everyone is looking at you to make every single call.”
She recalled her first day on the set as a director. “It was very scary. On the first day when I was on set, I don’t know why, I was just pacing around, holding my clipboard and freaking out.” She adds, “But once the cameras started rolling, I think it was very obvious that the whole team was with me and we had a synergy. Very quickly, the momentum set in.”
Although CA$H was her directorial debut, she’s had prior experience in filmmaking as a writer and editor. She reckons theatre and filmmaking are pretty similar. “Film is never a single authorship thing. Unfortunately, they always put the director in the limelight, which I don’t really appreciate. I feel it’s very much about teamwork.”
Apart from imparting her with the necessary skills, her theatre background contributed to the success of CA$H.
“All of the four aunties cast are theatre actors. They’re veterans who watched me grow up when I was bumping around the theatre as a backstage crew. They helped me out by trusting me and acting in my film, so that was pretty cool—to bring them together.”
She almost gave up filmmaking to be a barista
Wei Ting revealed there were moments when she almost gave up her filmmaking dreams because she felt she wasn’t good enough. “There was once I went to look for a barista job at Starbucks. I told [Zoea]: ‘This is it. I’m going to fill out this job application form. I think they’re hiring in Jurong.’ But she just laughed at me and said I would never do it, and she was right.”
Why a barista? “I work in cafes a lot—almost every other day. If I’m not in the editing suite, I’m at a cafe. I always love the smell of coffee and I watch them work every other day, so it feels like we’re colleagues,” she laughs.
She reckons she’s lucky because her parents have been supportive of her life choices since she was young. She may be travelling the world to attend festivals, but she admitted that her parents might not know what she actually does. “But they are increasingly starting to understand. When I edit, I always bring directors home—because I edit at home. I would be like, ‘Can you all lower the TV sound?’ And they’d be like, ‘What are you all doing inside?’ ‘We’re reviewing the film, lah.’” (Laughs)
While many filmmakers dream of going to Hollywood, Wei Ting is happy to remain in Singapore. “Hollywood is mainly American-driven so they’re not going to tell Singapore stories. They’re not going to tell the story of a hawker auntie. And I don’t think there are enough stories told in Singapore about Singapore—diverse stories. So I think that’s why I still make films.”
Watch Wei Ting’s short film, CA$H, below.
Photography: Brendan Zhang
Styling: Cheryl Chan
Hair and makeup: Zoel Tee
Styling Assistant: Melissa Lee