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INTERVIEW WITH VAL, THE LEAD ACTRESS
What is your dream?
My dream is to be a critically acclaimed, internationally known, (Cannes and Oscars) award-winning movie actress – to be so good in story-telling that when people watch me; they not only see me, they recognize parts of themselves. I and my acting become mirrors for the audience to reflect on. I want my acting, my craft to touch hearts and inspire lives all over the world.
What does LISTEN mean to you then?
LISTEN is my acknowlegement of my dream. On this journey, I’ve been asked many times, “You are on a journey to inspire dreams. So is this journey your dream then? What’s your dream?”
I never had it in me to admit that my dream is to wake up in the morning, go onto a set and become a role, a story-teller, an actress. For me, being Asian, being a Singaporean woman with a small stature etc. etc. and many other limiting beliefs had shut me up from sharing my innermost desire of sharing my craft as an actress.
I want to be known. I want to be seen. I want to be heard. How many people have the guts to say that aloud?
I took a leap of faith and did.
I want to be known.
I want to be seen.
I want to be heard.
And then perhaps you, too
Get to know yourself a little more
Get to see youself a little more
Get to be heard, by yourself…
Just that little more
Just by LISTENing
What is the meaning of the song “Beginning”?
Many times on this journey, people asked us, “What is the most difficult part of this journey?” To me, it is to take that first step to decide to come on this journey. The most difficult part of any journey, is to begin.
Yet a journey of a thousand miles, begins with the first step.
“Beginning” is about that.
It talks about shutting up all limitations inherited from our histories, shutting up all worries about the unknown future; and just listening to what’s within our hearts. And let that bring us forth from our first steps, to the next steps, to a determined sprint, to a huge leap, and finally soar…towards our dreams.
What have you learn from filming LISTEN?
I have learnt to give nothing less than my very best
This film was conceived, believed, and then achieved from nothing
No budget, no crew, no musicians, no editor, nothing
None of the “nothing” that we had prevented us from giving it our all, from staying true to our intentions, from LISTENing to our hearts
I gave LISTEN my best shot. Nothing less.
And in turn, LISTEN taught me
That I too, deserve nothing less
I deserve to be the best that I can be
And I deserve to go live my dream
Anything else that you would like to share?
If there’s one thing I hope the audience would do after watching LISTEN; it would be to give themselves a quiet moment:
And just for that moment…
A zero-budget-zero-expenditure short film
LISTEN is a “zero budget short film”.
In the past, I would NEVER call my short film a zero budget film. To me, a zero budget film meant a very lousy film trying to find an excuse for its lousiness.
LISTEN is a “zero expenditure short film”.
In the past, I would NEVER shoot a zero expenditure film. To me, quality is pegged to money. The more money you spend on the film, the higher the quality of the film; because it would mean that you have the best crew, the best actors, the best musicians, the best of everything needed to pull a film together. To me, a zero expenditure film meant a film so bad that nobody bothered to raise funds, or put money into it.
So you can imagine the dilemma I was in when the idea for LISTEN came and I found myself without a single cent to spare for it. It was one story that really spoke to me and because that, I could not get it out of my head. And more importantly, I could not get it out of my heart.
I had 2 choices.
One: ignore it. I can always produce it one day when I have that million dollars.
Two: just do it. I am 33 years old this year. Before this journey, I had a full time job; no, I had a successful career. Yet the day I had a million dollars in my account never happened. And now, on this journey, I seriously don’t know when that million-dollar-day would arrive.
My heart whispered, “just do it”.
I do have a camera, the camera does have a microphone, and guess what ? I know how to use it. Equipment? Checked.
Val is one of the best actress I know. It’s her story we’re talking about. Who else better to portray the story? Cast? Checked.
We were on Molokai in Hawaii. It is one of the most beautiful islands in the world. There is no better location than where I am. Background, setting, location? Checked.
So really, what else do I need?
I was scared. Scared to death that I would not be able to do a “great job”. I did not want the film to be criticized because I had no money to hire a professional Director of Photography nor a professional sound person nor a professional editor.
Most of all, I did not want the message of the film to be compromised by “not-good-enough” visual and sound and other professional and technical qualities.
For 2 weeks, I struggled with this ”not-good-enough” ego self. I used “No Money” as an excuse not to shoot the film. And for those 2 weeks, the story haunted me. For those 2 weeks, the message that badly needed to be shared haunted me. For those 2 weeks, the voice that whispered, “just do it” haunted me.
And for each and every moment of those 2 weeks, I had to run away from the lie that I had told myself – “I am not shooting this because we have no money“.
It was at this time that Val and I decided to take a silent retreat on Molokai – to stop talking and fast for 5 days. In that 5 days of silence, all I heard was LISTEN.
I began searching deep within, to find a voice, to find a force, to find something that will see me through this entire journey of writing, producing, filming, editing, even packaging, marketing and distributing this short film on my own. On. My. Own. I needed a strong enough reason for me to keep going and not quit half way.
After 5 days of conjuring up countless reasons not to do the film, I could not run away from one thing. That one strong enough reason for me to realise the film – “I want to”. That want, that desire alone, had a voice louder than any of the excuses.
Today, 1 year after the journey of LISTEN began in Hawaii; with 8 months of editing, re-editing and more editing in at least 20 different houses and countless Starbucks across Mexico, and now, Guatemala; I am now proud to announce that LISTEN is a zero-budget-zero-expenditure short film.
There are tons of people out there who have a dream to make a film. And most of us do not, because we are waiting for a “budget”, because we needed a million dollar cheque.
LISTEN helped me break through my limiting belief system that a film can only be produced with a million dollar budget. I have realised, and I have shown, that what gets a story told, is not an excuse of “No Money”. What gets a story told, is quite simply, a heart with a desire to do so.
LISTEN has also shown me that a good story has nothing to do with the amount of money you spent on it. On this journey, I have re-learnt and re-defined what a good story is:
Be Touched. Be Inspired. Be Heard.
A good story to me, is one that has a message to share. A good story shares a message that empowers the audience. A good story is like a mirror that shows the audience parts of themselves through its message.
What is the message I want to share with LISTEN?
“When you truly listen,
What do you hear?”
To LISTEN to our hearts’ true desires.
To confront our own excuses.
And to see that all that we truly need, to fulfill that desire, to realise that dream, is to acknowledge that
“I want to”.
Hey Siang Hui & Val, I really enjoy watching the film.. It’s awesome… Well scripted and inspired by the theme of the story. Val is a natural, talented & has unique personality traits which relates very well to the character indeed. Congrats to both of you..we are proud of you for having such courage to fulfill your dream.
– Vincent Tee, Veteran Actor, Singapore
LISTEN to what really matters, not what other people are telling you, but your own voice. Only then will you truly find strength and determination to continue what seem to be impossible to others.
– Veracia Yong, Aspiring Actress, Singapore
Thank you for sharing ‘LISTEN’. You are right – many have stopped listening to the inner voice or being connected to their 5 senses. Instead, have become a ‘head on a stick’ – completely disconnected from Self & being in separation from others. Rather than embracing unity consciousness. So, thank you both – for Being Grace’s Earth Angels & awakening humanity – 1 step at a time/1 cycle at a time 😉 & 1 country at a time……. 1 short film at a time.
– Sukhwinder Kaur, Healer, Australia
It is definitely a DIVINE reminder to me that no matter how far you go, the negative energy will always follow; thats why we should always remind ourselves of WHO WE ARE, and WHAT WE WANT IN OUR LIFE. Because success is like a tree bloomed with beautiful flowers; yet if we don’t maintain it, it will eventually die off. We need to remind ourselves everyday to LISTEN, not to others but ourselves (because we ALWAYS forget to do that or we always think we are doing that yet not being truthful to ourselves).
– Lawrence Koh, Performer, Movie Actor, Singapore
There is a story(-teller) in everyone…
|TAY SIANG HUI – Director. Producer. Writer. Director of Photography. Editor.
For 10 years of my life, I was directing and producing TV programs. I was award winning – telling stories of people through a documentary was my forte. I’ve always had the luxury of a crew, an editor, sound-engineers and even an executive producer to look through my work.
LISTEN is my first short film, multi-tasking as the Director, Producer, Scriptwriter, Camera person, Editor and Illustrator.
How did it happen?
In August 2010, our journey brought us onto the sacred island of Molokai in Hawaii. On the island, we took a vow of silence for a week to journey within ourselves. It was in that week of silence that the idea for our short film, “LISTEN” was “heard”.
|VAL TAN XIN HUI – Lead Actress, “Chermaine”
Val’s dream is to be an actress and she was a professional actress. Along the way of growing up, she decided to “play it safe” and chose a promising job that guaranteed a pay check at the end of each month. At the end of our silent retreat in Molokai, we had a bonfire to throw away our limiting beliefs.
I asked Val, “If you could be anyone you want to be, who will you be?”
When I asked for her permission to share it, she pondered long and hard and eventually nodded her head. Val playing Chermaine is like Val playing her own life. No more reservations, no more playing it safe. By sharing her story, by confronting her own insecurities and deepest fears, Val is also declaring to herself and the world, “I am an actress.”
Other than Tay and Val, LISTEN was made up of a team of cast and crew that had never act in front of a camera nor had the experience of working on a production set. For the period of time we prepared for and filmed LISTEN, I saw how everyone started to fit into their roles and transform into storytellers – each with a unique way of telling their stories:
|JAMES VUKOSAV – Actor, “MasterIHearU”
Before we met James at Hui Ho’olana, a retreat center on Molokai, he was climbing coconut trees and chopping coconuts on the island of Maui. We asked him why; he shrugged and said, “I am doing the things I like. I want to tell others that it is ok to do the things you like, it is ok to be yourself.”
When LISTEN was written, the role of MasterIHearU was dedicated to James because he believed in being himself. And that is one of the key messages LISTEN shares.
My only instruction to James was, “I need you to promise me that you would not shave your beard till the shoot is over.”
|ARTICE SWINGLE – Actress, “MTV Director” and JOHN WORDIN – Actor, “MTV Soundman”
We call them Aunty Artice and Uncle John. Aunty Artice is also known as The Green Goddess on the island of Molokai. She is a dedicated raw food vegan chef. Uncle John is an inventor. The energy saving light bulb that everyone uses is patented under his name. Uncle John and Aunty Artice took us in for 2 months during our stay on Molokai, sharing their bed and meals with us.
It took me 3 days to approach Aunty Artice and Uncle John for the role of the Director and the Soundman in the film because: Firstly, they are old enough to be my grandparents, i.e. they have experienced so much more in life than I have. Why would a pair of 72 year-old elders take instructions and directions from a 33 year-old? Secondly, although they are both well-recognized in their crafts of being a chef and an inventor, they have never acted nor been on a production set before. Would they be able to take the 12 hours shoot everyday for 3 full days? Would they grumble if we have to re-do a scene 5 times, 10 times or maybe even 15 times?
One morning after breakfast, a wave of courage came and the question tumbled out of my mouth, “Uncle and Aunty, would you both like to have some fun? I am going to shoot a short film next week for 3 days and I have 2 roles for you. Would you like to join us?”
I held my breath as their eyes lit up like children. “Of course!” They said in unison. “Whenever there is fun, count us in!”
Aunty Artice – The Ever-Ready Director on and off set:
Uncle John – The Bestest Crew on and off screen:
|THERESE TICE – Musician, performed the tune for theme song “Beginning”
Therese is an artist, painter and carpenter. When we first arrived in Molokai, we crashed at the house Therese was house-sitting in. One night, she took her guitar and harmonica and sang us a new song that she wrote. That night, the reminisce of the beautiful melody cuddled us to sleep and the last thought that lingered was, “What a talent…”
One month later, Val was singing “Beginning” to Therese as we invited her to perform the tune for the song.
I could only imagine how hard it was to try and play the tune of a song written in Chinese which she could not understand a single word of. After an hour of extremely serious strumming and tuning her guitar, trying to get the tone and pitch of Val’s voice and figuring out where the chorus of the song is, Therese gave up.
She became herself. And she said, “Let’s play a chinggae version, just for fun.” This mindless fun became the tune for LISTEN‘s theme song “Beginning”.
I realized that LISTEN is no longer just a story told through a short film.
It is also a story about how Val is allowing herself to be seen and heard again on the big screen.
It is also a story about how James spread his message of, “It is ok to be yourself”.
It is also a story about how Therese let herself be outrageously creative.
It is also a story about how Uncle John and Aunty Artice applied their guidance and love for us in real life into the film, to Chermaine.
It is also a story about how I began to LISTEN to the different stories everyone is really telling.
LISTEN allowed all of us
to become our own storytellers
to tell our stories through our own ways
through our own know-hows
LISTEN is no longer my short film, but one which we have all come together to create.
Be a part of LISTEN, help spread the word
Because “There is a story(-teller) in everyone.”
When was the last time we stopped and truly listened? Listened within… for something we truly want, something that makes us truly happy.
Chermaine was born with a gift to listen. From birth, Chermaine could hear the rhythms of life – she could understand the singing of the birds, the howling of the wind and the language of the animals. At the age of 5, Chermaine strongly believed that she could make anyone happy just by singing… singing the songs from her heart.
When Chermaine turned 22 years old, her dream came true and she became a singer. She was given an opportunity to record a song for the world to hear. But on the big day of filming her first MTV, Chermaine brutally discovered that she could no longer hear her own voice. She could no longer hear the rhythms of life. Worst, she no longer remembers why she is living her dream. She could no longer hear the song in her heart.
LISTEN is a journey that Chermaine embarked on to listen to a voice deep within herself and to remember: Why she loved singing in the first place. It is a journey about staying true to our dreams.
LISTEN was a gift to us from Molokai and we would like to share it with all who are willing to take one step to listen deeper within themselves – to listen to that one thing that truly makes us happy.