Filmmaker Jack Neo shares his motivation and experience working with the Chinese Service Short Film ministry.
City Harvest Church member Jack Neo, a homegrown director with a flair for making uplifting films such as I Not Stupid and the Ah Boys To Men quadilogy, is now using his talents for the glory of God.
In 2017, the City Harvest’s Chinese Service started its short film ministry and Jack played a major role in training the volunteers. Last year, he produced and directed the ministry’s first short film that’s made to industry standards, called The Promise (八点钟的约定）. After screening it at an evangelistic service in November last year, Jack and the ministry team looked forward to screening it to a larger audience this year, but all plans went south when COVID-19 hit and the world went into lockdown.
However, the screening will still be happening: the Chinese Service will be screening the short film again on Nov 28, 8 pm on YouTube, where it can reach a larger audience. The premiere will be followed by an interview with Ann Chong, whose life story inspired the film, and a sharing from Pastor Bobby Chaw, the pastor of the Chinese Service and CHC’s executive pastor.
In anticipation of the YouTube event, the Chinese Service prepared a series of interviews with the directors, cast, and crew to share what went on behind the making of this short film, including this interview with Jack himself.
USING HIS TALENT FOR THE GLORY OF GOD
“I feel that I have a talent, and if I can use that to tell others about Jesus, to let them experience His mercy and grace, I think that is something that is very meaningful,” said Jack, in Mandarin, at the start of his interview.
Even though The Promise is a gospel film, it doesn’t stray far from what Jack Neo films are traditionally known for: it is funny, heartening and tugs at the heart strings.
“If you look back at some of my films, the themes are usually heartwarming and positive,” he said. “In the past, some of my Christian friends came to me saying that all my films are actually gospel films, I just didn’t mention Jesus back then.”
“I realized it’s true,” he added. “I think since I started (making films), God has been guiding me towards this sort of film. When I was working on those scripts (in the past), I didn’t think much about it, I just thought that I should make films that bring some positive energy. I think God has a plan for me from the beginning to make films that warms the hearts of audiences—something they can relate to.”
WORKING WITH AN AMATEUR CAST & CREW
Jack worked with a cast and crew made up of mostly volunteers with little or no experience. He feels that every person is capable but as individuals, it is sometimes hard to achieve something big.
“But if we put these individuals together and form a team, it’s easier to get the job done,” he explained. “All along, I have known that there are many capable people in the church. I know that if we gather all these people, with the help of some professionals from the industry to guide them along, it would not be difficult to get things moving.”
The filmmaker admitted that the challenge of this project was to accept that people make mistakes. “But it’s okay—they make mistakes because they don’t know how to do it the first time around. But they’ll learn and they’ll know how to do it the next time around. It’s a learning process,” he said encouragingly.
Working with actors that have limited experience, Jack has to personally guide and show them how to portray certain emotions. “I think some of them are already doing quite well, they just need more practice, and on our part as professionals, we need to give them more guidance.”
Jack has high hopes for the ministry. “People might not know what we are doing, but as long as we focus on making quality films with good content, they will be attracted to our films,” he said.
“I believe in teaching the ministry members to fish instead of giving them a fish, so that even when I’m not around, the team can continue to produce films,” said Jack. “Moreover, this initial team can bring in more people and train them to do more. After all, we are all serving the Lord.”
REVEALING THE FAITHFULNESS OF GOD
There is one scene that touched Jack’s heart—it is when the female protagonist realizes that God has always been there for her. “That is always the message I want to bring across,” he said. “Many times, we tell God that He is not there when we need Him, but in actual fact, God has never left us. When you look back, you’ll see that He has always been there.”
The message in The Promise is simple: Jesus is always there, don’t disregard Him. And those who love you are always around; don’t take them for granted.
“Don’t think that God is not there for you,” encourages Jack. “He is always there—it’s just how you connect with Him. Similarly, our earthly parents are always there for us. Sometimes we think that they are irritating but one day when they’re gone, we will realize that certain things that they did were really for our own good.”
Catch The Promise on YouTube at 8 pm, Nov 28. Check out https://www.chc.org.sg/thepromise2020/ for more information.