Behind The Scenes of a Student Short Film #2: Character Acting

It seems like people are generally interested in my last blog post, which was Strange Realisations in Creative Writing & BTS of a Student Short Film. Hence I’m going to write a Part 2 on the second part of the blog post.

In my past two blog posts about my student film from my last semester at Kaplan, I covered my love-hate relationship with it as well as lessons and knowledge gleaned from the first-hand, virgin experience of film-making. It can be said that the past 2 posts are from the perspective of my scriptwriter and executive producer roles, so for this one, I’m going to cover tidbits from my role as unwitting main lead.

  1. The filming schedule is CRAZY.


On that particular day, the entire crew was over at the first set location at about 9am. The first hour was spent on setting up alone, and despite the above description only about 3 scenes were shot during the morning. After our day shoot, the entire crew took a taxi to our campus grounds for our lesson for our other module, which was for our Research Paper where we had to craft out our own theses and mould our research objectives, compile our own research, etc etc. After this, we took another taxi to the second set location where we shot from about 7-8pm to 11pm+.

The next day we had filming as well which took up another whole day; 8hrs for a scene in itself, which started at about 12pm, to give mercy to the entire crew. And me as well, since I practically doubled up as crew and cast..

There was a lot of sound sleeping on the couches in the set locations.


2. Some props are HORCRUXES

In Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, Harry and his friends take turns wearing the necklace which contained a part of Lord Voldemort’s soul. Long wear resultantly manifested in foul tempers a la Ronny Weasly.

I didn’t wear anything that had actual soul contained in it during film production but it didn’t negate the fact that I kind of had a similar experience, despite the prop being my own belonging.

The female lead character, Violet is a freshly widowed young woman, and her recently deceased spouse she has a strained relationship with. She also wears a ring on her fourth finger for most of the film. Me, not knowing anything about marriage first-hand as a woman (because its not in God’s plan for my life at least yet) I did everything I could to allow myself to have a taste of what her life would have been like, if she were real and not a person from a story universe I’m technically God of.

Method Acting

For me, that meant listing actual married people on my Facebook as “Following: See first” so that I could look better at those married people’s lives. I also turned one of the rings I normally wear as accessories the other way around and wore it on my fourth finger instead, to try to get into Violet’s head space.

horcrux ring
Married/widowed, for film’ sake. Its surreal.  

It was at this point I realised how mentally draining playing her was, because of the situation and head space she was in. I actually felt grey and moody the second day I wore it, and a lot lighter and fresher after I took the ring off. Maybe me being the scriptwriter as well had the advantage of me knowing my own character thoroughly well and that was what affected me. However I would still say I truly felt different with the ring on my fourth finger and twisted the other way around, v.s when it was not.

After shooting a marital quarrel scene, I cried at 3am to Linkin Park’s Leave Out All The Rest for a good 20mins or so, because I realised how heartwrenching the characters’ reality was.

It was that effective in affecting my psyche that on the only day we did not shoot, my director friend advised me to take the ring off and leave it at home along with my onscreen persona. This is a mental health situation, people. On that same day, I dressed like my former teenage self (read: grey hoodie-wearing punk rock kid) to get away as far from my onscreen persona as possible. It’s my form of acting detox.

That experience did teach me an invaluable lesson that if your character is sad or depressed or in a dark place, method acting may not be a good thing to do.

3. Your co-stars are really your co-stars are your co-stars.

Some likes to watch romance as a form of carthasis or escapism, to lose themselves in a character’s love life when one’s own life is mundanely boring. Some like to gush over onscreen couples, as evident by K-Drama fandoms.

It might be fun to watch romance on a screen, but renacting it for viewing pleasure is an onerous task. I’m not a fan of romance when it comes to TV or film (despite ironically writing a bittersweet love story somehow), but I’m guessing the appeal of romance comes from the emotional nuances and feelings at play. This is the opposite of what romance acting is.

“Okay, when you kiss, hold it for three seconds. Mabel, when he does, tilt your face up. Okay, let’s try this once.” -Director

I now see ‘shipping’ as a compliment to the actors’ acting and onscreen compatibility. Ultimately, that is great for the film, and nothing else more.

Let’s just add that the hand-grab compartment of the final scene in my student film took 6-7 takes. I don’t remember the rest because it was too stressful.

Some people on the Internet wonder how actors portray lovers for three seasons in a TV series and somehow don’t get romantically attached. Well, now you may just understand a little about why.

When romantic leads get together offscreen, the tabloids or newspapers would highlight them acting alongside each other, as if that had been the push factor for them coupling offscreen. Having now acted alongside another person as part of a onscreen couple myself, I’d say if anything happens offscreen there had to be offscreen developments in the first place. Onscreen romance is a total mood-killer. On the actors’ part.

The director’s role in a romance film may also extend to playing both roles to show the actors what he/she wants them to do. It may be a recipe for epic hilarity in some cases, or priceless BTS footage that is more valuable than the film itself. Sadly my crew didn’t think about recording BTS footage. Neither did we have the extra hands on set to do so. Would’ve been priceless if we did.

4. Film IS constructed reality

If filmmakers don’t want you to see a certain aspect of a multi-faceted real-life something, you won’t see it. We have total control of what you see.

For example, marital relationships. We can portray it in a solely romantic light by having romantically dressed up sets and the onscreen spouses doing romantic stuff day in and day out. Or we could go the opposite end of the spectrum and portray it as a warm, loving, companionship without the sexual aspect if we think it’s going to be distracting to our main story- never mind that in reality, marital relationships may fall in variants somewhere along the sliding spectrum.


5. I can’t watch productions with portraying couples without laughing now.

I laugh now whenever my mom’s watching a Diva Universal or Lifetime movie and the the film closes up to some couple photos on a dresser. I laugh because that’s what me and my crew did too for our student film.

Same goes for any romantic scenes resembling that already acted out in the student film itself. An epic way to change your entire worldview. Make a film.

6. I have stellar admiration for people who take triple or quadraple roles in productions now

It’s nerve-wrecking as it is. Personally in my first film production experience, there was a lot to live up to, as a scriptwriter, executive producer and main lead.

1) There is this concern about being able to pull off the role, even if the character is far removed from who I really am offscreen. I do not want to kill my script by not pulling it off.

2) It’s not just about me but my entire team who depended on the final result for our grades and eventual graduation.

3) Even when I talk about the film production now, 3 months later, I still need to specify if I’m talking about things from my role as an exec producer, scriptwriter or actor. I think and feel different things as per each role, yet all these different feelings and thoughts are contained in me, a singular person. It’s very overwhelming to deal with. 

This is why I can still blog from the heart about it now, it took me 3 months to process and come to terms with everything I was happy and angry about.

As such, my admiration immediately went to Michelle Chong when the credits rolled at the begging of her film, Lulu, which my mother technically dragged me along to. In the credits, she was the main actor, executive producer, director, writer, director of music among some more others.

I was mindblown.

Closing Thoughts

Would I act again? I won’t mind for the fun of it, which is equally questionable as my current existential ‘scriptwrting for fun’. After I acted in my student film, which seriously wrenched my heart inside out due to my own writerly sadistic-ness, I had to detox and work on something a lot lighter.

I ended up writing another script and wrote a part with myself in mind that I would enjoy acting in. It’s currently in bare-bones form and yet to be fleshed out in full. Intended to be insane, crazy action flick kind of script, despite me not watching action films a lot.

But then again, I did write a bittersweet love story while not watching romance or being a fan of it, so its definitely not an impossible task. By the way I’m writing now, I guess is shows to prove my role as scriptwriter and actor are inexplicably linked. 

I would love to act in tough girl roles in future, complex characters and the like. My resting bitch face would be great for that I guess. Simple stories aren’t really my thing. 




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