Bringing FilmMaking into the Classroom
13 September 2016
As a student, it is always nice to have someone who has walked the path to share their experiences and prepare you for the real world after graduation. That is exactly what Singapore-based director, writer and editor, Ms Nicole Midori Woodford, hopes to do. Since graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Hons) in Digital Filmmaking from Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Nicole has dedicated the past six years to working in the local film industry. In 2010, Nicole was selected to join the 6th Asian Film Academy at the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) where she won the Asian Film Academy Prize for Outstanding Performance. This year, Nicole made a return to BIFF with her short film, For We Are Strangers, under the Asian Short Film Category.
Nicole has directed and edited numerous commercials and short films since her foray into the filmmaking industry. And she’s taking all that into her classes. Nicole now lectures part-time, teaching film-editing at her alma mater, NTU’s School of Art, Design & Media.
MediaExchange caught up with Nicole to find out what fuels her passion and how her works have helped her in the classroom.
MediaExchange: What inspired you to turn to filmmaking and how has the journey been for you?
Nicole: I have always had a love for graphic novels and storytelling through visuals, since I was much younger. Back when I was in the pioneer batch of NTU’s School of Art, Design & Media, I never thought I'd become a director, but I soon realised that visualising shots and working with actors came very naturally to me. The more films and sets I worked on, the more confident I became and eventually I decided to focus on my strengths and go into directing and editing. I’ve never looked back since!
MediaExchange: Some people still have reservations about becoming a filmmaker in Singapore. What do you think about this?
Nicole: Unfortunately, I do agree with them. Most of my friends and family are generally supportive, but at the beginning, it wasn't something that some of them would recognise as a proper job. Some see filmmaking or directing as a 'hobby' but to me this is a profession that I take a lot of pride in. It's hard to explain the gruelling nature of the job unless they have tried it themselves, from the 18-hour shoots to the relentless drive one needs to survive in this industry. As with every career, filmmaking has its challenges but it also brings a sense of achievement that is unlike any other. Over the years, more and more local filmmakers have emerged and that’s very encouraging, so I do hope that Singaporeans open up more to the idea of it being a promising career to consider.
MediaExchange: Tell us a bit about your latest short film, For We Are Strangers, and the experience of having it part of the Busan International Film Festival 2015.
Nicole: For We Are Strangers is a film that allowed me to reconcile with a personal trauma I faced four years ago. It tells the story of Xuan, a prison counsellor, who was assigned to an inmate due for release after serving time for a minor felony and how her subsequent actions blur the line between victim and assailant, altering viewers’ perception of morality and retribution. I was really honoured that it got selected to compete in this year's BIFF Wide Angle Asian Short Film Competition. It was very inspiring to meet the other filmmakers and it was a very humbling experience too. The screenings were well-received and I’m very proud of my team for this accomplishment!
MediaExchange: What were some challenges you faced while producing the film?
Nicole: There were budget constraints, as with every independent film, but we managed to make it work with what we had. The funding assistance that we received from the Singapore Film Commissionhelped too.
We also faced some challenges with picking the right locations for the scenes. The most difficult location was the interior of a prison and we decided to 'create' our own prison through art direction of a pre-existing location. Shooting the climactic scene was also not easy because we had a limited window of time, and I ended up being a body double for my protagonist in one of the scenes!
MediaExchange: You’re also a part-time lecturer at NTU. How does your experience in filmmaking influence you as a teacher?
Nicole: Having production experience helps me to give the students a more realistic portrayal of the industry when I'm lecturing. I have also been able to offer my own insights on how to navigate tricky situations and I also empathise with my students' difficulties during film projects. I see them more as my juniors since I was from the pioneer batch of film graduates so I do try to look out for them as much as I can.
MediaExchange: What advice would you give to budding filmmakers and those considering to join the media industry?
Nicole: I would advise them to try making short films first and try working in different roles (not only directing) to get a deeper insight into the industry before taking the plunge. I have seen a lot of potential filmmakers decide midway that it was too tough for them. It can be a very unforgiving path to take but once you decide, commit entirely to it and it will be very fulfilling!
This article was originally published in MDA's newsletter