SXSW: South by Southwest Film / Music / Interactive Conference

Last week during Spring Break, I went to SxSW conference in Austin, TX with Ricardo and Albert.

Keep Austin Weird

Austin is a nice, clean and small but definitely bigger than Pittsburgh. The weather reminds me of California, just right. Food reminds me of California too, tex-mex rocks! It is certainly the live music capital of the world, especially along 6th street, where all the pubs and bars are. There’s also random people busking on the street and weird people walking around. Saw a LGBT parade on Congress one of the days. There are also many trishaws  and bicycle rickshaws, with the cyclists dressed up like superman, wonderwoman, scooby-doo and the like. There is no subway network, only a small tiny 2-carriage commuter train. The streets are surprisingly clean with many trashcans around. Congress Ave is also very picturesque with the Capitol building at the end of the road.

Interactive Documentary

I attended many film workshops regarding interactive documentary storytelling over the first few days. It seems like a new trend nowadays. They inspired me to create an interactive documentary of my own in the future, perhaps in a Singapore context. It seems like a good fit for me too, since I can combine both my web design and filmmaking skills together. One of the workshops also talk about the intersection of user experience design and filmmaking, which is pretty interesting. I also went to a workshop which talked about DSLR and tools for filmmaking.

There was a party hosted by the Pittsburgh Technology Council and ETC was part of hosting it. So we were involved in a tiny booth helping to promote ETC. The music was really loud but we managed to showcase some ETC projects, including World of Goo as well as parts of our Project Xenon video. We managed to impress some people and also help to give out some swag.

We watched many films, such as

  • Evil Dead (remake): a gory, scary remake of Evil Dead (1981)
  • And Who Taught You To Drive?: a nice funny documentary about driving lessons in Japan, Germany and India
  • Hours: about Hurricane Katrina
  • Animated Shorts
  • Improv
  • Downloaded: about Napster
  • Cirque du Soleil #EVOKE13
  • Much Ado About Nothing: a remake of the Shakespeare classic
  • TPB AFK: The Pirate Bay Away From Keyboard
  • Documentary Shorts 1: After, Recollections, The Village
  • Reality Show: a movie about making reality shows, shot in a documentary style
  • V/H/S/2: a nice stitching of many horror/zombie-related shorts
  • We Cause Scenes: a documentary about ImprovEverywhere
Music and the Singapore connection
Over on the music side, I managed to catch LeCrae live in a collegemixshow. Everyone else is a non-Christian hardcore rap/hip-hop artist, except for LeCrae. He was really talking about God in between his rap songs. Pretty amazing. Managed to take a picture with him too. I also found out that there was a Singaporean band The Sam Willows performing, so I decided to pop by and check them out. Pretty cool and funky band with nice timbre-style music, and they’re all just slightly younger than me. Amazing people. Nice to see our local talent being exposed to the US market.
Over at the Trade Show, I realised that IDA has a booth and they brought some Singapore startups to showcase too. I managed to talk with one of the IDA persons and found out that they actually have an international office at Redwood Shores! So close to where I was last semester and I didn’t know! Pretty cool.
Twitter and Swag
Twitter is a wonderful thing in such conferences. I was searching “Singaporean SXSW” to see if anyone tweet about Singapore stuff, and managed to link up with someone from sge, an entrepreneurs group and invited him to the ETC party, and found out that he was working in Blk 71 as well. What a small world. Twitter is also a good thing to search for free stuff. There’s a channel called SouthByFreeNoms with all the free food and drinks posted. On the first day, we were talking with some random guy in the line, and he said we shouldn’t be spending any money or more than $20 on food a day. It is true. There’s always free breakfast, sandwich and drinks somewhere! And of course, free swag. There’s so many places giving out free t-shirts that you actually don’t have to bring shirts to the conference. And free pens, beer, tacos, beer, stickers, etc. Breakfast tacos are the best. One of the best swag was from the Oreo booth, after taking a photo and guessing where the photo behind you was taken, you get oreos, plus a small portable charger, plus a $25 voucher somewhere. I’ve got a voucher at a fruit juice place called Juiceland while my friend got his for Waterloo Records. Cool local places.

Everything is bigger in Texas

That’s what they say. The roads and freeways are definitely bigger in Texas. Bigger than the ones in California! It seems like a uniquely Texas thing to have a “frontage road” beside every freeway! And it is certainly a car country. In Houston, there 6 normal lanes plus 2 carpool lanes plus 3 lanes on the frontage road. Crazy! Speed limits are higher too, from 75mph on freeways (instead of 65) to 40mph on normal roads (instead of 35). And another strange thing is that the traffic lights here are mostly horizontal instead of vertical. Another interesting Texas phenomenon is the Texas U-turn.


I went to visit Austin Stone Community on Sunday evening. It was held in a high school gym. The Texas music genes is pretty strong, everyone looks like Crowder. Haha. On Wednesday, I decided to drive 3 hours to Houston, TX to attend Lakewood Church’s midweek service. I also managed to convince Albert to come along and we had a nice chat during the drive. We had Church’s Chicken for lunch (which is called Texas’ Chicken in Singapore), and it is more peppery than Popeye’s and KFC. We drove to Houston’s “Chinatown” and found a huge area of strip malls filled with all kinds of Chinese stuff. We had Malaysian food at Banana Leaf (which is not related to the one in Milpitas), and spotted some Singaporean goods at the Chinese supermarket like Yeo’s and Owl’s. After dinner, we drove to Lakewood Church. It is HUGE, after all, it was a basketball stadium. It was pretty empty since it was a midweek service. We managed to get good seats in the middle. Worship was good, no Israel Houghton though. Joel Osteen came for a while to say hi, and then his sister Lisa Osteen preached about writing down our visions. All in all, a pretty surreal experience, as usual.

On the way back, we drove around Houston downtown before driving back. Downtown is like many other downtowns I guess, quiet at night. Houston is a large city, 4th largest in the states, and sprawling, like many others. It seems to have many suburban cores too.

Getting Around

We took bus most of the time, even though our motel was on the freeway. Fortunately there’s a bus a short walk away to downtown. At night, we have to take the last bus or take the night owl bus and walk. But the music crowd was crazy. Once they came, it was like the geeks meet the hippies, and 6th St became super crowded with many people partying. On the last night, we almost couldn’t get back – all the taxis were full and the buses were full too. Zipcar saved the day! Managed to find one in Downtown to drive back and then we could drive it back downtown the next day.


It was a good week. Feel very inspired now. And I’d miss Austin’s weather. Back to cold Pittsburgh where spring does not exist.

Rag to Riches Documentary Launched


What is Rag & Flag?

Rag & Flag was started in 1959 in National University of Singapore (NUS) as a way raise funds for a charitable cause. Selling flags refers to the tin cans NUS students used to solicit donations from the public. ‘Rag’ refers to the parade of dance performances and floats, built out of recycled materials, to drum up publicity and support, and to thank the public for their donations. At present, this tradition has evolved into an annual staple on the NUS calendar during Freshmen Orientation Week, with hundreds of students and tens of thousands of dollars consistently being involved in a colourful day long affair.


Intrigued by how Rag & Flag elicits reactions that range from extreme passion to simple indifference and even utter distaste, a group of NUS students set out to discover the origins of this NUS tradition. But dwelling deeper into the present-day microcosm of Rag & Flag, the controversy behind this annual event becomes apparent. From vicious inter-hall and inter-faculty rivalry to escalating costs afflicting all parties, interviews with key participants paint a stark picture of a tradition gone astray and evolving out of proportions.

Digging through dusty archives and interviewing participants who ranged from the ordinary Ragger to key leaders, and even an alumni member who oversaw the event’s birth, this documentary is a journey to rediscover the genesis and original purpose of Rag & Flag; uncover its present-day allure, controversies and dilemmas; and to examine its future.

Rag to Riches Sneak Preview

Last Tuesday, I organised a sneak preview screening for Rag to Riches, a documentary on NUS Rag and Flag. We invited people that we know on Facebook 1.5 weeks in advance, and 80 people responded to come. In the end, about 50 people came, which is pretty good! Mr. Donald Wyatt kindly graced the occasion too, and I hope the documentary did justice to his legacy. I knew about half the people who came, while the rest are from various faculties, and two groups from Sheares and Eusoff Hall.

I decided not to have a Q&A session, although I commented that we have no agenda, and asked people to send us feedback by SMS or facebook. Not many people sent the SMS, so I’ve to message them on facebook.

After the screening, feedback from Mr. Donald, someone from Sheares and various people that the documentary is pretty good, but is also pretty balanced and neutral, with the good and the bad. To the raggers, it presents information which most people know but do not say openly. To the non-raggers and some raggers, it is an eye-opener, and very informative, and questions the purpose of the event, and make them think about it. Pretty good feedback, and we’ll see how it goes from here.

It feels good to finally finish the documentary and screen it to an audience. I wish to edit it further based on the feedback.

Awkward Moments

[This is a fairly morbid post for this time]

Yesterday, I attended the funeral of a cousin. Even though I was not very close with her, it is definitely still saddening. Worse, all the memories kept flooding back, just as if it only happened yesterday. The wake, the possession, the mandai, the people, the horrible scenes, the tear-wrenching place. I could even remember what an elderly relative said 3 years ago as she strolled past one last time, and then comparing with what she said now. The irony is that the people who passed on are much younger than she.

The only consoling thing was the people and pastors of Faith AG did a pretty good job. However, I feel sad for the family and the two brothers. I was in their shoes and I know exactly how it is like. The only thing is I am not very close to them, and hence I could not offer much words of comfort. I can only be there as an extended family member. It is so awkward when one catches up with the extended family only at such occasions.

It is also very awkward when two sisters of the extended family asked me some usual questions like where am I studying now etc. That’s fine, the only thing is I forgot who they are. Well, I only meet them once a year during Chinese New Year, or even less, depends.

One day I should make a film about awkward moments such as these.

I hate the devil. Why do such awkward moments arise out of pain, suffering and tears? I hate when the scenes reoccur in my mind. I can’t control myself but cry. And I hate the last part when the casket goes into the furnace. Capture that on film, it is an epic sad moment.

Life is transient. The body is temporal. Relationships are to be treasured. Heaven is eternal.

Thank you Jesus for conquering the grave.


Sandcastle is an interesting debut feature by Boo Junfeng. Actually I would name the film Sandcity (Chinese Literal Translation, a pun on Lion City) while my friend said Dragonflies would be a more apt title. In any case the movie gives a small taste of Singapore culture in the 2000s from the point of view of a 18-year-old kid, En.
There are a number of different possible motifs in the film. The movie starts off with a montage of almost patriotic footage of nation building in the 50s and 60s, with a nostalgic version of ‘Home’ being sang in Chinese. As En discovers about his deceased father’s past, he digs out an under-represented missing part of Singapore’s history. The uncompleted jigsaw puzzle of the grandparents has a missing piece which relates to this. En finds out that his dad was in the student union, which actively proteste against the English-isation of the Chinese schools. Such activities were often branded by the Govt as pro-communist. Most people thought that he had been “brainwashed”, while his grandfather thinks that the brain is not possible to washed. The only thing that the people have was a sense of determination and strong beliefs, striving to build or find the ‘Utopia’ under the sea.
Juxtapose to modern Singapore, as images of celebrating National Day flash, and as En prepares to go to the army for National Service. “Training to be soldiers, fight for our land. Have you ever wondered, why must we serve?” Because just like our forefathers, we are striving to keep the Utopia (or still finding it depending on your point of view). Is it a patriotic film? Not necessarily. It is not exactly just a political thing, but it is about a group of people with common beliefs, building a common identity.
Such a notion is very vulnerable, like a sandcastle, which be easily washed by the waves and storms of the seasons. Just like life, it is gone in the twinkling of an eye. It is the belief in our hearts that keeps us going.
Will you have such strong determination and courage to do what you believe in against all odds?
Is This Home?

Anecdotes from Jack Neo

Jack Neo came for a talk in NUS for Dr. Brown’s Digital Media Production module, and here are some quotes:

  • Write about what happened to your own life – Script is king
  • Film industry is about cheating/convincing people, you can make 4 policemen look like 100 policemen
  • Money No Enough had a lot of background noise from the old 35mm camera. And there was also a lot of noise from nearby construction sites when filming. However, a film critic from the West said the film’s sound is an authentic showcase of Singapore’s state of development with all the construction noise (unintentionally) placed in the background
  • MDA should have a computer graphics (CG) fund to fund productions to make more use of CG so that our industry can grow to a newer level. Because many directors do not have the capaibility to try and experiment, and hence we will never get to grow in that area.
  • Drama training is important for scriptwriters and directors to know how actors act and portray themselves

I asked a question on how local audience don’t like Singapore films…how do you reconcile the fact that you are producing for an audience who don’t watch their own films? He replied that it is hard to please everybody. But don’t give up, if you have a good script, there will definitely be an audience who watch your film(s). Jack Neo has proved that with his films’ box office takings despite the many critics around.

Dragonboating, Fests, Film

Two sundays ago (wow time flies), we went for a dragonboating trip with some SoC people. It started to pour as we walked from Kallang MRT to the sea sports club, and I prayed for no rain! We hid under the bridge for a while. Praise God! The rain subsided and we managed to reach the jetty.

It was very interesting, and it was not as difficult as I thought. The teamwork and sense of achievement is quite great and fun, and it was pretty cool to see the Flyer and the Singapore skyline from the sea, with the waves whoshing as your boat rocks left and right. Splashing water seems to be the norm, as everyone purposely went close to another’s boat (we had 3 boats of about 8-10 people each) and started splashing water at one another. Heck, the instructor even thought us how to splash water effectively using our oar!

Our instructor was darn good, one stroke of his oar is > 8 of us combined together. When he starts rowing, can really feel the boat going much much faster. haha. px and ed kept playing with water behind me, as they had to bail water out whenever people splashed water at us. After many strokes, your back will feel a bit strained, but somehow after the whole thing, I didn’t feel any strain in my arm or back at all. wonderful, can’t wait to try again next time if there’s chance, as we didn’t manage to get to Marina Barrage due to limited time.


On a side note, ST-Volkswagen lucky draw is hard to win, yet there are so many participants! Went down with JG on that day. And bus 985 actually allows me to reach home from Bukit Batok/Timah faster than from NUS. Amazing.


Last week was a week of fests. TimbreFest @ UCC was quite interesting, especially with this female rocker singer Shirley and the Unexpected. Free Tiger beer, which is the one of the lousier ones which I dislike. Over at NUSSU JamFest, it seemed pretty successful. After all, who doesn’t mind not 1, not 2 but 4 free drinks? The Japanese Asahi beer is pretty good, it is ‘super dry’, hence it doesn’t give you a gassy/bloated feeling after drinking. And it was the first time I tried Singapore Sling, in its cute red bottle which some said was alcoholic Rose Syrup lol. I would say it tastes like 7up/Sprite that kind. The Japanese Sake is a bit too thick to be drank by itself though. And the drinks ran out at about 11pm already. I left early due to Film School and due to the Butter Factory music being not very fantastic. The setup was pretty good, with the Goodfellas and Jack and Rai and a few other bands performing. There were chairs and tables to sit and chill, as well as stages for people to dance on. The funny thing was, I heard the stage collapsed at the end of the event! Darn funny, caused a dent in the MPSH apparently. The lights were good, although I wonder what are the rafia strings deco for. I would say it is one of the better NUSSU event that they ever organised.

Jazz Band concert was very very good, I would say much better than both fests! lol. They sing well and play well and the music is pretty soothing. The rap song experimental piece was quite interesting, and I liked some of the dance moves and choreography. Maybe next time I should join a band. Haha!


Film School on Saturday was a miracle. Praise God for everything went well although everything was in a rush. Moving from CFA to COM1 is not a good idea, especially when we got so much equipment with us! Luckily we took a cap instead of pushing the trolley in the hot sun. There was a minor accident while we were carrying the trolley as my hand slipped. Luckily no equipment was damaged. Also, the programme was pushed back due to people coming late etc. and also Danny’s voice was losing his voice. Fortunately there was a microphone in the seminar room. We managed to finish everything on time and rush back to UCC for the jazz concert.

Pray that all goes well at EMCC tomorrow!

Freshmen Orientation Week, Choices Production , Start of Sophomore Year

After finishing NM2208 during special term, I would rate it as my favourite module so far. No exams, all graded based on assignments which were mini design projects…I wish more NUS modules could be like this! Less emphasis on examinations = less mugging and memorizing = more out of the box thinking.

FOW was good, although of course FOC was better. My group, darth vader had quite enthu group of guys but a few not so enthu girls. We had a great time at West Coast Park, and the amazing feat was that 200 over people bidding for their modules in the midst of our games at McDonalds. All thanks to Wireless@SG. Our group actually managed to win the most enthusiastic group, although I think in terms of cheering we are actually quite quiet. But they said we had good attendance and we participated in most games actively…that’s why. It was quite funny because some of the girls couldn’t even remember everyone’s names on the 2nd day and I had to keep testing them. Haha.

Food for thought: About thousand over litres of water and thousands of plastic bags were used in the name of fun. Is it worth it? Is it a wastage? Probably. Water can be sourced easily through the water cycle, although in water-scarce Singapore we are taught to save water. Plastic bags harm the environment when they are buried or burnt. Maybe someone can invent a more environmental friendly way of playing with water bombs and perhaps save the hundreds of similar camps which play water games. And earn some money.

I think the best part was when Guo Ting suggested we should go NTU for our flag day. As the saying goes, the most dangerous place is the safest place. True enough, as there were nobody else in yellow ‘competing’ for our business. Some of the people who saw the nussu on our shirts remarked: “wah NUS dare to come here collect money ah” “you have come to the wrong place” etc. Nevertheless there were still many people who donated. The most fun part was when we did two freeze flashmobs in front of their McDonalds. We stood in the shape of a heart, held our cans in front, and froze for 5mins and took a video. It certainly caught attention as many people thought it was innovative and donated money. The next one we did was not as successful, as we stood spread out and pointed at someone standing in the middle. All in all, I think flashmobs are darn fun and we should do more of them.

Our flashmob video was submitted along with another entry to represent SoC. There was an online voting and SDE was spamming it. After clarifying there are no rules, being computing students, we set up tens of laptops to spam the voting automatically using iMacro on firefox. Haha it was quite funny. In the end our votes were 6000+ against 3000+. But alas, the votes were removed from the judging criteria and SDE won the prize in the end.

Rag day was impressive. Amazingly, SoC won the least cost float, which is probably the first time we won something I think. And being least cost is certainly keeping the spirit of rag, unlike some other group which spent $x0,000 amount of money and even outsourcedk the pneumatic systems to some company.

Amidst the orientation, I had to rush off for Choices for 3 nights at ian’s and yoga’s house. It was very tiring as the camera rig was very heavy and it seems as if I have done hundreds of push-ups as my arms hurt. It was a good experience working with the actors, and my first time working on set with extensive lens and lights. It is very challenging to pull focus, and much more when most of our scenes were night scenes. Besides Yoga’s house had limited space to maneuver around. ian’s condo was very nice. We also went to Jurong Point to film, in which they were nice enough to grant us permission. The security guards were watchin us and people were staring at us as if we were from mediacorp.

After all the rarrar, school starts. I’m quite looking forward to this semester as finally I’m studying more of what I like to study except for one – math. May God’s favour be upon this semester!

Busy Holidays: Special Term, CTF, VGL, Castello

My friend says my blog is getting rusty. Well haven’t updated for almost a month. So busy that I’ve to type this on the train haha, thanks to my iPhone which has now been upgraded to 3.0. Finally can forward SMS and copy and paste! However I faced some glitches while upgrading and steve jobs said “npehea” to me (some Russian language).

Last few weeks has been a wham boom bang busy time (lol). My first special term results are out, and as with all other math related subjects, I’ve got a B. However I was quite disappointed with myself as I got more than 30 mins to solve the last question and I couldn’t. Shows that my left brain isn’t working as well. My lecturer Stephane Bressan gave an interesting quotable statement: “Math is not the problem. It is like a doctor who helps you solve your problem. You don’t blame math for your problems just like how you don’t blame the doctor for your sickness. When we are faced with problems, we just have to apply the rules of Math.”. Well think I can’t apply those rules that well.

Currently my brain has switched frequency to my right brain, and I’ve been doing designs on my tablet for NM2208 Principles of Visual Communication until my butt hurts lol. Check out my design blog. I think I prefer such “right-brain” modules and the best part is there are no exams at all – everything is from weekly assignments. Which is fantastic cos means I don’t have to mug like siao. Uni life should be like this! Sometimes I think I should have studied art instead. But it’s okay I should make the best out of my opportunities now, such as scrambling to apply fo student exchange. It is noteworthy that my faculty office actually forgot my application. Luckily I decided to email them one fine day. Now praying that my module mappings can work.

In other events, there was Celebrating The Family, a four-session screening event by nuSTUDIOS of CASHLESS and In Your Own Words.. I was the moderator for 2 of the Q&A sessions. Actually I didn’t do anything much, since most of the talking was by Derek and Melinda. Nevertheless it was still a fun time especially the last night when the actor came and there was much chatter with his company colleagues. Some of my friends and Whit came too. Someone asked me when’s my turn to make one and have a screening…well maybe next time soon….

I also went to CommunicAsia/BroadcastAsia. LG and Samsung had huge booths facing each other, and the former was giving out cubes to promote their cube interface. Frankly, their icons are an iPhone rip-off, and the cube thing is just a marketing gimmick. Samsung’s Jet was a bit overhyped, but the i8910 HD running on Symbian seemed pretty good as it can record HD video at 1280×720.

Video Games Live was awesome. I especially liked Sonic, my favourite console game, as well as Super Mario. Martin Leung performed the medley blindfolded on stage, as well as the catchy Russian folk song for Tetris. You can watch a video on YouTube, his hands move super fast! (*kowtow*) There was also a cosplay competition in which someone dressed up as a Patapon along with a weapon, but couldn’t see his face, won. (At that time I do not even know what is Patapon!)

DSC08496I also went to the closing event of Singapore Arts Festival: Crackers, a fireworks performance at yishun with jr and the rest. The introduction was a bit long and draggy but the fireworks was cool as they were exploding in-your-face and all around you in a circular fashion. There were also windmill and flying around kinds. Pretty cool. The ushers were quite cute too, as they wore yellow helmets and gave a safety briefing a la airline style.

Soon after was SoC Camp Castello which is the main highlight of the holidays. Somehow due to my friends preference for us to be in the same group, I was made the main OGL of Sir Kay Knights (SK9) with Steve as assistant OGL. It was a daunting task, especially when you have a weird group name and others said it’s gay. Haha. We went to buy cloth from spotlight and cut into bandannas, inspired by VJC’s. We then drew patapon-inspired K-figures on them, each with different weapons. Haha. My group turned out to be surprisingly awesome (as compared to other camps in which other groups always seemed to be better than mine). We had excellent freshies and OGLs who worked great in a team and in games and we managed to win 2nd in the ultimate race (with some people calling me and tailing behind the best group in most of the activities. Moreover, we even had the best male freshman in our group and we won tge best skit thanks to our creativity of merging LOTR, Batman, Patapon and L4D together. Everyone had a great laugh especially the gamers in the audience. Overall, I am very satisfied with my group and I hope my freshies are as satisfied with us for providing good welfare (such as buying ice cream and jelly pudding =p). I hope I did a good job as an OGL. Kudos to everyone!

With so many assignments to do, I am left with not much free time for myself. Combined with all the nuSTUDIOs activities and various meet ups I reckon my holidays will be over soon.

Feed The World, One For One

Imagine technology can Feed The World, One For One, without going through various layers of money handling. Technology will allow money donations to be made directly to the people who are hungry and poor. Each person can feed another halfway across the world with no strings attached. One meal for one meal, one for one.

This short film was an entry for the Microsoft Imagine Cup 2009 Short Film Competition by nuSTUDIOS Film Productions (a member of NUS Centre For the Arts)