Soaring through the Paper Roof

Aspiring filmmaker Jeth Heng just scored his second win at the National Youth Film Awards.

Lim Joo Hwee

Published: 30 August 2017, 12:33 AM

While most of his peers were still focused on getting through the ‘A’ levels, Jeth Heng started shooting his first short film on the morning before his final paper.

Titled An Interesting Prom, Jeth shot the entire film with five other friends on a zero budget. That film, which was uploaded online, received about 3,000 views within a month.

Five years after that amateur attempt, the 25-year-old is now a recipient of the Best Camerawork award at the recent National Youth Film Awards (NYFA). His winning submission, Paper Roof, is a 10-minute film that deals with children’s perspectives towards their parents’ divorce.

Jeth was part of a team of 20 for Han, which won Best Picture at NYFA last year. This year’s win, however, is his first solo win at NYFA.

For the modest filmmaker, his first solo win at NYFA this year was the greatest reassurance and affirmation of his work. PHOTO CREDIT: NYFA

Unknown to most, Jeth, who once considered becoming a chef instead, spent countless of sleepless nights honing his craft, brooding over harsh criticisms he received from industry experts.

“I didn’t get a lot of constructive criticisms on the works that happened to be online. They range from ‘That shot looks weird’ to ‘It looks like crap’. They were just remarks, but it affected me more than it should,” recalled Jeth, who heard these comments from his friends.

At his lowest point, he stopped returning to set for almost half a year.

“I started questioning myself if I was cut out for this when I saw my own work. I wasn’t very satisfied with it, and I didn’t know what was wrong or how to correct it,” said Jeth, who realised that he was not learning anything despite going for many shoots.

Jeth took on around 15 back-to-back projects within a period of four months in his second year at ADM. He recalled going to Perth for one shoot, returning for a three-day overnight shoot before flying over to Korea almost immediately to shoot Han, which won Best Picture at NYFA last year.

He looks up to Eastern and Western filmmakers, such as Mark Lee Pin Bing, Roger Deakins and Hoyte Van Hoytema. PHOTO CREDIT: JETH HENG

The culmination of fatigue, criticisms, and self-doubt took a toll on him when he realised that he needed a break after finishing his last final year project shoot.

Strangely enough however, that episode taught him the most. He found himself watching more films in his free time, particularly classics.

“I saw more stuff and I understood what was possible with the medium. I felt like I started learning again,” explained Jeth, who also recently won Overall Best Film in the student category of ciNE65 IV Awards in July.

The final-year digital filmmaking undergraduate added: “I realised that filmmaking is something that excites me. It is something that I need in my life to feel like I’m living. It’s only when it’s no longer part of my life that I learnt that I need it in my life.”

Besides filmmaking, the self-proclaimed tech geek also has an interest in food.

“I like figuring out different flavours and components that work together in a dish, but I find the actual act of cooking therapeutic, as it takes my mind off work,”said Jeth, who worked briefly at a professional kitchen during his junior college days.

“As for my best dish, my friends tell me my roast chicken is pretty good,” Jeth laughed. PHOTO CREDIT: JETH’S INSTAGRAM PAGE

His teacher from Innova Junior College, who used to be a producer, also advised him against pursuing filmmaking.

“He advised me against it because of the long hours, and it’s something that is not super easy to get into, although it is increasingly easier,” said Jeth.

His mother questioned his decision. Besides his mother and his older brother, Jeth was the only one in the family who did not enter the finance industry.

Jeth himself was also plagued by self-doubt. As the greatest critic of his own work, Jeth abandoned many of his projects halfway.

“When my friends and I put [the scenes] together, I realised that it was trash, we could not watch it. I remember I was very disappointed because there was a film that I was inspired by, and I tried to do something like that and I failed,” recalled Jeth, on the first project that he dropped.

But he picked himself up and worked hard to produce a portfolio of 12 short films during his first year of national service. That portfolio earned him a place at Nanyang Technological University’s School of Art, Design and Media.

Jeth and his team of 20 spent three nights at Labrador Park working on their short film, Paper Roof. PHOTO CREDIT: JETH HENG

So, how was shooting Paper Roof like?

“It was extremely challenging as it was mostly shot at night, where everyone’s energy levels tend to dwindle down a lot quicker and the elements were often not in our favour. It would rain when we didn’t want it to, and production halted a couple of times,” recalled Jeth.

The film was about two sisters on a getaway, who were trying to find out what each other thought about their parents’ separation.

“We kept the sisters at different sides of the frame, until the moment the elder sister realises that her sister will choose her over anyone else,” explained Jeth, who wanted to show that the sisters were on the same side after all.

“[Winning the award] shows that I am doing something right. It’s like a gentle nod of affirmation from these experienced people,” said Jeth, who is inspired by Singaporean filmmaker K Rajagopa’s approach in telling authentic and unseen stories inspired by real life events.

Will we be expecting more short films from Jeth in the near future?

“I hope to be able to shoot features with compelling stories, that will affect people watching,” said Jeth, who also has his eyes set on shooting commercials.

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