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Passenger of Time: An Interview with Erving Tan

Tell us about yourself. What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

Hello! I am Erving Tan, the director, and filmmaker behind the film "Passenger of Time.” I am a growing and aspiring filmmaker pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts at Nanyang Technological University. What inspired me to be a filmmaker is the ability to tell untold stories through visual expression that can influence mass audiences.

Talk about your last work. What are some of the challenges you faced during production?

“Passenger of time” is a film about the vulnerability of human being riding along in the vessel of time. The ideation stage is challenging because, to talk about time, I have to research the attribute of time. I started looking back at my life experiences, and through the soul-searching process, I found a series of common elements between each event. Stringing the details and understanding of time, I discovered that “Time” could never be manipulated. The only way is to flow together with it.

I have an obsession with long bus rides. Often during my free time, I would find the longest bus ride and sit through the entire bus journey from end to end. I always love to take the double-decker bus because of its cozy atmosphere. Furthermore, I find the experiences of looking out the window and seeing the scenery therapeutic. While I gaze out the window, I always ponder on the thought of life. Therefore I decided to use a bus as a visual representation for this film.

What makes you want to tell stories? In other words, what are the themes/issues you wish to incorporate into your work?

I always find storytelling a powerful medium because of its ability to influence individuals, from feature films to microfilms. Every filmmaker has a statement that they want to convey. Through cinema, a filmmaker can be expressive towards the audience’s feelings and make an impact on society.

The theme that I always incorporate into my films is the concept of mortality. I find it interesting to explore mortality because life and death are inevitable in our existence, yet we are always in denial when end is approaching. Hence, exploring the concept of mortality will add a surreal layer to my storytelling,

"Passenger of Time" depicts skepticism about life. Life took the upper hand, and we are all its puppet riding along with the flow of time. Channeling that thought process, I started writing “Life” in the third person point of view. The context of the poem in the film has sarcasm in its meaning. I am mocking life and time and how they often manipulate us with struggles and obstacles.

Please tell us about your vision and method of approaching a new project.

Whenever I have an idea for a new project, I will try to lay out the plot and my objective in the story. From character development to its journey, I treat storytelling like peeling an onion. Like cinema, every layer will get deeper and create a slow-burn sensation.

My approach to a new project is to play detective with the characters. Finding clues and discovering their agenda and backstories will allow the story to blossom. Just like there is a saying, “If there is no backstory, there will be no forward story.”

Who are your filmmaking influencers? What are the films that were influential for you?

my biggest filmmaking influencer is a renowned Taiwanese director “Chung Mong Hong” I love his film language because he consistently reveals the values and slice of life of how a dysfunctional family functions. Every shot he chose will display a different detail for the character in the story. He also lensed his movies, which is very inspiring for me because he shows that it is possible to direct and lensed a film at the same time.

The film that was influential to me is a film directed by Chung Mong Hong called “A Sun” (2018). This film depicts a dysfunctional family reckoning with their son’s arrest and the consequences that follow after. It is so influential to me because the director allows the audience to catch a glimpse into the life of how broken family functions in a bustling city. The film’s core is the conflict between the son and the family. I discovered new details every time I watched it.

Director Erving Tan

How do you think the industry is changing? How has COVID affected independent filmmaking/creation?

I feel that the essence of storytelling will remain intact. However, the industry is changing rapidly, and the accessibility of instant content causes audiences to have a shorter attention span. As a result, it is getting challenging to engage them.

The pandemic has evolved the landscape of cinema. The world’s isolation has enabled streaming services and social media to rise. Even though the closure of cinema has taken a toll on the movie industry, the demand for good storytelling is still a hook that draws people’s attention. Therefore as independent or commercial creators, we must not lose the purpose and passion of wanting to engage society with storytelling. I believe that a good story can still change individuals despite the impact of the pandemic.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists? What are some of the things they must follow/avoid?

My advice to aspiring artists is never to lose your passion for achieving your vision. The pace of the industry is changing rapidly. Even though it is not an easy industry to survive in, it is up to our will to adapt to new trends. Hardship will always have its way around, but perseverance will prevail. Embrace the principle of “Cannot also must can.” This principle kept me motivated and constantly evolving in the industry.

Do you think films/stories can bring about a change in the world?

Storytelling has been around for centuries. The power of imagery to tell stories is influential and, at the same time, inspiring. Providing individuals a platform to escape and immerse into another reality using visual storytelling is why cinema is still revolutionizing globally despite its ever-changing landscape.

What do you think people like to watch these days? Has the pandemic changed people's taste?

I think people these days are more into shorter and easy-to-digest content like tik-tok or short films. The reason is the rise of smartphones and instant access to unlimited content. At the start of the pandemic, a shockwave impacted the industry where cinema was closed, and the only way to consume media was through the web and streaming.

Streaming services like Netflix and Disney+ are platforms that change how content reaches the audience. Streaming services streamline the process of cinema by removing the releasing platform of physical attendance in the theatre into the comfort of our homes. However, despite the massive shift in media consumption, I believe the streaming revolution is doing more benefits than harm because people are more exposed to a vast global catalog of content.

Please tell us about your upcoming projects.

I am working on a short film project regarding the concept that a drifted daughter must persuade her ailing father for forgiveness, or she could lose him forever. The idea of how one person wants to settle their grievances before passing on sparks my interest. Being able to explore another side of mortality fits my theme and film expression. Currently, I am still at the story plotting stage. Soon I will start to write my first draft of the script, and I will put this idea on screen when the time allows.

Erving Tan


Contact: +65 96935137


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