Making ‘A Sense of Home’: How filmmakers stuck in Singapore captured stories of Singaporeans in China, Oman and Switzerland

Producers Daniel Yun, Raymus Chang and writer-director Jerrold Chong share how they created A Sense of Home – six short films featuring individuals around the world – all without leaving Singapore.

By SGN | 1 Mar 2022

A Sense of Home was a creative challenge for filmmakers (from left) Daniel, Jerrold and Raymus.

In October 2019, the Singapore Global Network flew Daniel to Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles to give talks on iconic Singaporean movies he had produced, such as 881, Money No Enough, and Chicken Rice War. During these sessions, audience members pointed out that his film canon seemed to have a missing piece.

“They earnestly asked me to look into telling stories of Singaporeans overseas,” Daniel recalls, “and tap into that reservoir of intriguing and heartwarming tales.”

Inspired by their enthusiasm, Daniel returned to Singapore and set to work. He engaged the help of Raymus, his associate producer at Blue3Asia, to structure and conceptualise films that reflect Singaporeans’ global citizenry. Shooting would take place in various countries around the world…

And then the pandemic struck.

A Sense of Home was inspired by audience interactions Daniel had in the US in 2019.

The search for a director

“When the pandemic happened, costs of filming overseas skyrocketed, and we saw no way to execute the film within the budget,” Raymus explains. After some thought, he and Daniel came up with a novel idea: to replace what could not be filmed abroad with animation.

But finding a suitable director – someone who was equally adept at animation and live action – was an uphill task. Their search came down to one person: Jerrold of Finding Pictures, whose past works include “Piece of Meat”, a short film that premiered at the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight in 2019, and “The Road Ahead”, the 2021 National Day Parade music video featuring whimsical animation layered over live-action footage.

“The brief to Jerrold was very challenging. I am grateful for his insanity in taking it up!” Raymus laughs.

For Jerrold, the pandemic was in many ways a blessing in disguise. “It gave me the chance to be on board this project,” he says. “And because many Singaporeans had returned, we were able to work more closely and have them be a part of the shoot.”

Capturing a diverse Singaporean experience

Selecting the six stories was not a straightforward affair. Because the overseas Singaporean experience is a topic with so many layers and dimensions, the team wanted to capture a diversity of themes and perspectives – from romance to family, ambition to adventure.

During Zoom meetings with the chosen six, Jerrold was struck by the depth and candour of their stories and astonished by their rich archives of photos and videos, which offered a treasure trove of material to draw upon.

To condense the subjects’ vast experiences and emotions into eight-minute short films was both exciting and daunting. He hoped the films would be faithful tributes to their experiences and serve as time capsules – sprinkled with the magic of cinema – that they and their loved ones could revisit with fondness.

For “Love Across Borders”, Eve provided a meticulous collection of letters, postcards and photos.

To each their own style

Rather than stick to the same aesthetic throughout, Jerrold wanted distinctive art styles that suited the flavour of the stories and the personality of the protagonists. For instance, Lim Jia Ying’s evocative painterly illustrations were perfect for bringing to life the magnificent landscapes of Oman in “A Family Adventure” and imbuing Rudi’s family adventures with a poetic beauty.

“Animation offers a more imaginative way to express the moments in life where the emotions are more powerful than the external actions,” Jerrold notes.

Even the mood and tone of live-action scenes were crafted with care. In “Melody for the Soul”, Shabir’s mental struggles with homesickness were reflected in the dynamic and unstable camera movement, while the lighting of the gym conveyed a grittiness that signified the resilience Shabir was building up within himself.

Five surprising facts

Due to pandemic production rules, the team had to scout for interior spaces that weren’t lived in. Art director Javeus Toh and his team had to transform spaces, often from scratch, to look like an overseas hotel room (“Off the Beaten Path”) or a room from the past (the flashback in “A Delectable Connection”).
For “A Delectable Connection”, Donny had to ship madeleines from Switzerland (with many extras in case they got damaged) for filming with his mum in Singapore. They arrived safely, carefully arranged and sealed in an airtight bag. The crew even got to try his pastries on set!
Scheduling Zoom meetings and voiceover recordings across multiple time zones proved to be a challenge, especially with subjects that had day jobs.
“A New Home” included authentic details of Jenny’s life, like her favourite yong tau foo stall in Ang Mo Kio and her habit of tying a scarf around her neck. The team was amazed by her huge collection of patterns and colours!
Shabir injured his foot right before the “Melody for the Soul” shoot, but he bravely persevered through the pain during the gym and boxing sequences.

Films to be proud of

It is with great joy and relief that the creators present the finished films to the world. Pulling off the creatively and logistically complex production amid a pandemic was no mean feat, but receiving positive reactions from the participants was especially rewarding.

“It is an international production on many levels,” Daniel says. “The coordination is borderless, and the films reflect the aspirations and resilience of Singaporeans who traverse the globe.

“I’m glad to have fulfilled the requests of the Singaporeans I met two years ago. These are films we can be proud of, and I hope they bring viewers a true sense of home.”

Have you watched the films?

About the filmmakers

About Daniel

Daniel is the founder of Blue3Asia and a veteran media practitioner whose experience spans film, radio and television. As the former CEO of Raintree Pictures, he led the production of over 30 Singaporean and international films.

Connect with him here.

About Raymus

Raymus is an associate producer at Blue3Asia who graduated from LASALLE College of the Arts with a BA in Arts Management. His interest in arts and media began with management and research roles in the arts scene.

Connect with him here.

About Jerrold

Jerrold is an independent director/animator who graduated from the California Institute of the Arts. His short film “Piece of Meat” premiered at the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight 2019, and he co-directed Singapore’s National Day Parade 2021 music video “The Road Ahead”. He is also a co-founder of Finding Pictures.

Watch his other works here.

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