City Harvest’s Chinese Service put together a short film titled The Promise, directed by Jack Neo and Ivan Ho, for an evangelistic service. We speak to the director about the unique challenges of this production.
When her husband passes away suddenly, his relatives chase Li Ling and her autistic child out of their home. Li Ling finds herself alone with her child, against the world.
This is the plot for “The Promise” (八点钟的约定), a production by City Harvest Chinese Service’s short film ministry. The film, directed by Jack Neo and Ivan Ho, captures the powerful redemptive work of God in a light-hearted yet moving way.
Now a single parent, Li Ling has to find a place to stay, earn a living, and care for son. She met a cranky landlady who threatens to throw them out every time Li Ling’s son, Xiao Jun acts out. At work, Li Ling has to deal with a bad manager who is rude and likes to unload his responsibilities to her. One day, he blames Li Ling for a mistake he has made and threatens to fire her.
When Li Ling reached the end of the rope, her son reminded her not to give up hope on God. When she held on to that Word, things began to change for the better.
The short film was screened at Chinese Service on Nov 17, drawing 1,078 members of the church and their friends. The hall was full to the point that many of the younger churchgoers had to sit on the floor. The heartwarming film brought laughter and tears to the elderly and the youths alike.
Following the screening, Pastor Bobby Chaw shared a short but powerful message about the saving grace of Jesus, and at the end of the service, 44 people gave their hearts to Jesus.
THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY
The Chinese Service formed the short film ministry in 2017 but this was the first time the ministry had produced a film that was close to industry standards.
“We are very thankful because Jack introduced us to his friends in the industry, and they provided us with equipment and professional lighting and video crew. One of them also sponsored $8,000 towards our production fees,” said Allen Yu, co-producer of The Promise.
“The volunteers learned a lot from being involved in doing production in a real setting. While the film was created on a small scale, the workflow reflects how professional films are done,” he said, adding, “We didn’t realize how tough it would be until we started filming.”
Because the team had no experience, there were many things they needed to learn. Even something that looks easy–like using the clapper slate–requires professional knowledge. Allen himself was not a professional but had to learn on the job as he planned the workflow and manpower.
“Because the film was shot in 4K, I had to learn a new editing software to do the post-production,” Allen shared. “It was all very stressful, but it was a good experience. In the future, I’ll know how things are done.”
Jack directed the film with Ivan Ho, who also co-directed movies like Ah Boys To Men 3 and Take 2. He shares his thoughts on this production with City News.
“Jack often told me to serve God and my wife is a member of City Harvest Church so I took on the project,” he says. “Whenever a project comes to me, I’ll always do my best with it. Usually, production works are paid jobs but this special project has a significant meaning, so it meant more than a job to me.”
Ivan explains that most of the work was done by the ministry members and they worked on a very tight deadline: he directed two full days, while Jack did the other three days. Those two days of shooting were very packed and they often had to shoot at one location and rush to the next after that scene. They met with many challenges.
“As a director, I’m used to giving instructions to professionals who know exactly what to,” Ivan says, explaining that working with non-professional volunteers was a new challenge for him. “I found that I had to do a lot more guiding and I was not used to that.”
The short timeframe was another challenge he faced. He was quite worried that he would not be able to finish shooting all the scenes. The workload of filming more than 10 scenes per day was four times more than his usual two to three scenes daily for other films.
Apart from these challenges, there were also funny moments during production. “The busy schedule caused all of us to be in a mad rush. Sometimes we needed to skip scenes and film scenes out of sequence. The crew would look lost,” he recalls with a smile.
“I did not have much time to explain to them at that time. The actors had to follow my instructions and deliver lines from different scenes,” he elaborates. “But I believe that when they watched the film, they would understand why the filming had to be done in this unusual manner.”
Ivan also expresses that his utmost admiration for the volunteers, “They were willing to learn, and to sacrifice their time without being paid. Through their sacrifice, I understood what serving the Lord means. I am extremely touched by their faithful serving.”
“My wife constantly reminds me to serve the Lord. It’s good that I am listening to her and we got to serve together in this production,” he adds with a smile.