Ten Minutes with Sun Koh, Filmmaker and Mentor of ciNE65

Sun Koh is a local filmmaker, ciNE65 mentor and has spent over a decade making films. Being a veteran in the scene, she discussed with us about her journey and what it takes to be a film maker.

Hello Sun! Tell us a little more about yourself and what got you started in Filmmaking?

I am an industry-trained and self-studied filmmaker. I was a Mass Communication student in Ngee Ann Polytechnic and there were many different modules we had to do. Amidst all the projects, I found myself immersed in Video Production the most. I thoroughly enjoyed the process and from there, I decided to move on to film. When I first started out, there weren’t many film schools to choose from hence I didn’t go through creative school. But I am thankful for not taking a big student loan for a film degree, but instead attended “The School of Life.” (laughs)

Was there a time that you recognized that filmmaking was not just a hobby for yourself, but that it would be your living?

There were several stories I wanted to tell and decided to learn the ropes on my own. I started from the bottom as most things weren’t as accessible as they are now. I would bury myself in countless filmmaking books to pick up screenwriting and watch VHS tapes and break the stories down to study it. During my free time, I freelanced for a few production houses, doing coffee runs and it was a good way to start. I got to see things on a larger scale and while working in a very well-oiled machine, I started learning and picking things up while observing. That was my “film school”. I didn’t have an ambition; it just evolved along the way.

You have created many great works, but out of them all, which is your favorite and why?

My favourite will always be my upcoming film. Once I am done with my current film, my discovery for it moves on. Since I don’t ever make the same film twice, my education is in the making and in the doing, and that excites me the most. The landscape of filmmaking changes quickly, so I never settle for the easiest projects but push on to the more challenging ones. I don’t do the safe bets nor the guaranteed and as I constantly evolve so my work will always evolve. Hence, the next one will always be different and my favorite.

When you feel creatively sapped, what do you do to stay inspired?

Creative blocks and dead ends happen to most of us because we hold on to our ideas. For me, I always give ideas space and depending on what it is, I let it go. However, there’s a fine line between quickly throwing ideas completely away and holding them too tightly and letting them engulf you. Be merciless in slaying your ideas and always ready to start afresh.

Do you feel that being a creative person requires that you give back or tell a particular story?

First of all, never take yourself too seriously and drop the illusions of grandeur that “I am so important”. But instead, take relationships and partnerships seriously. You can’t always please everyone, and it’s impossible to control their reactions. Let the people be the judge of your film.

What do audiences want and is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

No, because what the audience wants changes from time to time. Never ride on past successes, they’re not going to be permanent.

Why do you think there are so few women in the filmmaking industry?

When I first started out, it was strange, like I was in a big boys’ club. I don’t think of my gender much. I focus on making films that feed my curiosity and are engaging to audiences. That’s all I can do and so I ignore the rest. Obstacles are just part of it, so don’t focus on them and they wouldn’t be the focus, isn’t it? Push to make your craft bigger and let people’s judgement slide off your body.

Is there an overarching philosophy that guides your life?

You create difficulties for yourself by clinging on to the bad or good too tightly. So whenever something happens to me, doesn’t matter if it’s the good, bad or neutral, I always say – “Let that shit go, set it free, breathe and start again.” Don’t let your failures or successes become you. Experience it and let it go. Applicable to bowel movements as well! (laughs)

What is Cine65 and how are you involved?

Cine65 is an initiative by Nexus, MINDEF for budding local film makers to express their Singaporean identity through film. Last year, I was approached to mentor a guy called Richard Lee who submitted a beautiful story about neighbourly ties. My role was to advise and mostly instill good housekeeping habits in him.

Your desert island choices for-

Book: If you are saving me, then I would read a book about the desert I am stuck in. I am a tourist here so learning how to ride a camel would be great. If I am going to die, then I choose the book “Tannishō”. It is a late 13th century Pure Land Buddhist classic and Japanese fighter pilots chose to take along this book as their companion on their final flight.

Film: “The Color of Pomegranates” by Sergei Parajanov. It is 1969 Soviet film and it’s the most “film-film” I have ever seen. You can’t reproduce it in theatre nor in a song, it won’t be the same. It was sublime, very other-worldly, I was immersed in it. 

Music: Maybe something draft punk or songs by Pink Floyd.

Any person in history for conversation: Davich Lynch. I have always seen his interviews and he seems very friendly and fun.

Cast your votes for your favourite film, actor, and actress for ciNE65. Voting ends on 5 July – https://cine65.sg/cine_e65/