S’porean filmmaker, 27, created a short film while serving NS that made PM Lee take notice
He hopes to create more relatable content for Singaporeans.
Chong Yu Lun, a 27-year-old Singaporean, has a remarkable passion for creating films. Especially if it can connect to other Singaporeans.
He is barely 30, but has already achieved the following:
- In 2014, PM Lee shared his short-film Dao Sha Pia that was created during his Basic Military Training (BMT) days
- For the past seven years, he has been running his own film studio, Walk & Roll, co-founded with his then-girlfriend (now wife) Rachel Toh
- He has taken part in a vast number of film competitions, like local short-film competition ciNE65, and won on numerous occasions
- With a bunch of friends, he decided to start a YouTube channel, Butterworks. They now have amassed over 250,000 subscribers.
So, what spark of insanity prompted Chong to dive into the world of filmmaking and never look back?
Realising he could make an impact through films
Chong shared that it all started when he was in Art Club in secondary school. As part of a school programme, he went for a crash course on video production.
This exposure subsequently ignited his interest and passion for the craft, and with a team comprising other schoolmates, he represented his school in an ACS (Independent) 24-hour video competition.
They won. For two consecutive years.
Subsequently, his school asked him to create videos for special occasions, such as Teacher’s Day or Children’s Day, to be screened at assembly.
One occasion, in particular, was a turning point for him.
As his video was being screened, he observed his audience from the AV room upstairs, and remembered seeing them clap, laugh, and even tear up as they watched the video he made.
Chong experienced, first-hand, the impact he could have on others. And that was when he knew that he had found his purpose in filmmaking.
Love for competition, and taking part in (most!) iterations of ciNE65 since 2011
Since his first-ever film competition in secondary school, Chong quickly found himself hooked on the thrill he got from competing.
Fortunately for him, his wife also shares his love for creating short films and joining competitions together.
Chong’s full-time job is running a film production studio with his wife, where they create films as part of client projects. These film competitions, are hence, “something fun to do” outside of work.
One such film competition that has been a constant in their lives is ciNE65 – a competition that he and his wife have taken part in together from 2011 to 2017.
Unlike competitions that only dish out prizes for the top three films, ciNE65 was particularly special to him because of the various categories of prizes.
He explained that this not only provides hope for a budding filmmaker, but also allows for less-experienced filmmakers to identify their strengths and weaknesses in filmmaking.
“Maybe your storyline isn’t that great, but you’re super skilled in sound design or cinematography, you can still win something! It gives hope to aspiring filmmakers because when they win something, hopefully this encourages them to achieve more.”
“Rachel and I actually set a goal for ourselves to aim for different prizes every year,” he told us.
In 2013, they won Jury’s Choice (Open Category) Best Art Direction for their short film Saga Seed. And in 2017, they bagged the (Open Category) Best Cinematography Award for their short film Ang Ku Kueh.
“We even wanted to try for Best Direction, and got nominated a few times, but sadly we couldn’t get that!”
It is competitions like these that open his eyes to bigger and better things out there, Chong shared.
It is also a constant reminder to keep improving: “The ceiling is ourselves.”
Keeping the morale up despite crazy busy schedules
When Chong is not creating short films in his spare time, he dedicates a good portion of his day to his full-time role with Walk & Roll, the film studio that he co-founded.
During the interview with Mothership, Chong was actually right smack in the middle of a shoot with his film studio that was scheduled to last for 42 consecutive days.
He and his team had been surviving on three hours of sleep for days that lasted as long as from 7am to 1am.
And they were only on Day 27.
But the challenges that came with running his own company and being a filmmaker in Singapore never fazed him.
When asked about the lowest point in his career and if he considered giving up, he told us that things will never go smoothly all the time.
The way to get through the tough times was to always keep team morale high, he revealed.
“The toughest thing is actually not your weaknesses in terms of filmmaking, like scriptwriting, for instance. It all comes down to morale, of yourself and the team…. You have to keep the morale up, and don’t dwell on it too much. If not the negative vibe will spread.”
The toughest part of his job
After hearing about the obstacles he has faced during shoots, one may be surprised to learn that the hardest part of his job was not the sleep deprivation, physical exhaustion or stress from running the show.
“I can chiong all the way, I don’t mind one!”, he said.
Instead, it was watching his wife “suffer” through the process with him that “pained” him the most.
He cited how she would have to help carry heavy equipment and how he noticed her dozing off in the van, exhausted from working late nights.
“From a production point of view, it makes sense. But from the perspective of a husband, it can be quite painful to see her have to go through all that.”
Hopes to connect with relatable themes
Be it through joining competitions with his wife and friends, working on a client project, or creating content to be shared on his YouTube channel, Chong has an insatiable desire to keep doing what he loves.
“Video is a medium that can really impact people because it helps open a space for them to think about their lives,” he told us.
Chong shared his observations on how many Singaporeans tend to relate to Taiwanese movies, such as Apple Of My Eye or More Than Blue.
“I think locals are very stressed out! They want the emotional release that they cannot get from Hollywood blockbusters. There’s that self-reflection aspect because you relate to it and it makes you think about your own life.”
Drawing inspiration from themes such as friendship, kinship and interpersonal relationships, Chong hopes for his films to connect to the audience in a profound manner.
One popular video on his YouTube channel, for instance, is “I have a crush on my best friend (Part 1)”, which amassed 1.5 million views in less than a year.
Chong has a penchant for seeing the extraordinary in seemingly common or even insignificant situations in daily life, and turning it into content that can be enjoyed by Singaporeans:
“When I talk to people, sometimes they open up to me on some things. People may think (their lives are) pretty common, like the random events in their day. But by looking at these little, seemingly insignificant things, there are a lot of life lessons that can be brought out through film.”
So, what’s the next challenge for him?
“I actually hope to make a movie with Rachel before I’m 30. I’m 27 now, so I have three more years!” (Laughs)
Nurturing young talents in film industry
As a young filmmaker who has a passion for creating content, Chong is always on the lookout for other young filmmakers with potential.
He fully appreciates the importance of nurturing other like-minded individuals who have a love for filmmaking, but may not have had the right opportunities or guidance.
“We always have the choice of hiring very good videographers. But Rachel and I believe in people who are very passionate about filmmaking, but maybe lack the knowledge and experience in terms of how to go about it. The character is what we are looking for.”
Many of these aspiring filmmakers see ciNE65 as a platform for them to showcase their talents and pursue their filmmaking dreams.
This year’s ciNE65 Movie Makers Awards nominees have been announced and you can check it out on ciNE65’s website.
Vote for the Audience Choice Awards and stand a chance to win attractive prizes, such as a pair of tickets to Seoul and Bali, a staycation, buffet vouchers, shopping vouchers and more.
Top photo courtesy of Chong Yu Lun.
This sponsored article by ciNE65 has inspired us to watch more local short films.