Singapore film-maker gets Hollywood funding
It's a leap of faith that Hollywood investors have taken - and for that, Kelvin Tong is truly grateful.
The local film-maker has secured Hollywood funding for his new film The Faith Of Anna Waters.
He also has two Hollywood actors, Elizabeth Rice and Matthew Settle, to star in the English-language horror film.
While the 41-year-old would not disclose how much of his US$5 million (S$6.25 million) film came from Hollywood, it was enough to make him the first Singapore film-maker to have his own Hollywood-financed movie.
The budget was also his biggest for a movie to date. His last movie, It's A Great Great World, in 2011 cost of about $2 million.
But Tong was quick to downplay the Hollywood connection.
"I'll be very honest with you, I'll only consider it a Hollywood film if it opens in North America - big."
US and international sales of The Faith Of Anna Waters will be handled by Los Angeles-based Highland Film Group.
"Faith will have a US theatrical release as all other Hollywood movies," Tong said.
"But the producers will decide how wide a release it will have after seeing the finished product."
He added: "Their marketing strategy will depend on how good my film will be. So it's my job to make it as good as I can."
The celebrated writer-director was speaking to The New Paper at The Ritz-Carlton yesterday where he introduced his two leads.
The Faith Of Anna Waters revolves around a Chicago-based reporter Jamie Waters (Rice) who arrives in Singapore to investigate the sudden death of her sister Anna.
Settle plays Anna's ex-husband Sam, who help Jamie to solve the mystery.
Local veteran actor Adrian Pang, Singapore-based Australian-Chinese actress-host Jaymee Ong and Australian actors Colin Borgona and Adina Herz round up the main cast.
The movie is also supported by the Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) under its Production Assistance Grant, where Tong will get back 40 per cent of every production dollar spent in Singapore.
Tong admitted that getting the funds was a long and challenging process, and he felt like giving up many times.
"We've been working on this for more than a year, from script stage to talking to investors and getting the producers.
"They're unfamiliar with us so it takes a really good script and a lot of meetings to persuade people that maybe these people from Singapore can really pull it off.
"It was so tempting to just make it a local production with a $1 million-budget. But I'm glad we held it out."
Tong said he understood the hesitation.
"Who am I? They didn't know me, they didn't know Boku Films (Tong's production company), they didn't know Singapore."
He added that the US producers came on board because they were impressed by his script and later in him after watching his earlier movies such as The Maid (2005), Rule #1 (2008), and It's A Great Great World (2011).
Tong is also grateful that he could have Rice and Settle's involvement, though he added that the actors are not receiving any pay cuts.
"Yes, they're expensive as they are drawing a Hollywood standard pay cheque," said Tong, refusing to say how much he is paying them.
"These are actors in demand. Why should they take a pay cut, fly 20-something hours, and put up with our Singapore heat?
"They don't get their own trailers while filming," he added, laughing.
The movie will be shot entirely in Singapore, and Tong is avoiding local icons such as the Merlion and Orchard Road throughout his six-week shoot.
He said: "I'm making a horror film. I'm not making a Singapore Tourism Board film.
"There are ways to show sides of Singapore that fits a horror film. Our buildings look very high-tech and I'm hoping to capture all that essence of Singapore."
Post-production will also be done in Singapore.
Tong hopes he can help raise the profile of Singapore's film industry.
"We're not even at Hong Kong's level. We can only get better when we make films. The more we shoot, the more we learn, and the better we get.
"It's really an on-the-job training."
Citing the seminal horror classic The Exorcist as his absolute favourite horror film, Tong aspires to be like James Wan, the Malaysian-Australian film-maker who found fame through Hollywood horror flicks such as Saw (2004), Insidious (2010), and The Conjuring (2013).
"I'm a slightly different film-maker than Anthony Chen. I make commercial films," said Tong. He was referring to Chen'sarthouse family drama Ilo Ilo, which won accolades around the world last year.
"I have complete respect for what Anthony does. Royston (Tan) is the only local director who can combine both artsy and commercial films very well.
"I like my films to be watched by a wider audience, that's why I make horror and comedies."
Reed out, Rice in
NEW LEAD: US actress Elizabeth Rice (top) plays the lead role in Kelvin Tong's new horror The Faith Of Anna Waters. Nikki Reed (above) had to pass on the role due to other commitments.
Kelvin Tong's maiden Hollywood film The Faith Of Anna Waters was to star Nikki Reed of Twilight fame.
But the Hollywood actress-singer is out of the picture.
A clash in scheduling was the reason, said Tong.
Reed, 26, is best known for her work in The Twilight Saga movies, where she played vampire Rosalie Hale.
"Nikki has a Nashville concert that she can't get out of," Tong, 41, said.
"By the time we confirmed all our cast, we found out some of them can't do within Nikki's schedule."
So the local director was faced with a huge dilemma - to sacrifice a supporting cast of US actor Matthew Settle, Australians Colin Borgonon and Adina Herz that he really wanted to work with for Reed or vice versa.
In the end, Tong gave up Reed and US actress Elizabeth Rice stepped in to take her place.
"We met Elizabeth at the same time as Nikki, so she's no replacement," Tong clarified.
Rice, 28, had a recurring role in US television series Mad Men.
"Honestly, I'm still at the stage where actors choose me," said Tong.
"I don't get to choose actors."
He added: "I'm hoping that the quality of my scripts will attract them, then maybe when I meet them and their agents, it'll be easier to pitch to them my films.
"Getting them to come to Singapore to film is a really hard sell."
Said Rice: "Kelvin's story was intriguing and the character he wrote for me was someone I've never played before."
Despite still recovering from jet lag, the Los Angeles-based actress was eager to start work as she "is curious about Singapore".
- Joanne Soh
Other S'pore-Hollywood links
- 1979 film directed by Peter Bogdanovich and filmed in Singapore
LIM KAY TONG
- Appeared in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993), The Photograph (2007) and Brokedown Palace (1999).
LIM KAY SIU
- Appeared in Anna and the King (1999) among others.
- Appeared in the Brad Pitt and Robert Redford thriller Spy Game (2001)
- Starred alongside Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson in Shanghai Knights (2003)
- Appeared in The Dark Knight (2008), Contagion (2011) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
- Had a major role in the 2009 disaster movie 2012
- A 2015 action film that was partially shot in Singapore