Jeremy Ho (CS’15) started filming after sunset when working on “While You Were Sleeping” (2021). He planned the shoot dates based on the moon phases to ensure there was sufficient natural lighting, for places like MacRitchie reservoir and Lim Chu Kang cemetery.
PHOTO: MA XIAO YU
A university exchange trip to China in 2014 was where it all began for Jeremy Ho’s (CS’15) journey as a filmmaker. In his time abroad, he was tasked to film an informative programme for a school project within nine days. It marked his first time shooting a documentary.
“That was the first time we collaborated and I thought it was really fruitful. From there I sort of knew that this was someone interested in the same things as me.”
JEREMY HO (CS’15)
“It was then I realised I enjoyed the idea of creating work I could call my own,” said Ho, who specialised in broadcast at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information.
After graduating, Ho, 31, would go on to direct “While You Were Sleeping” (2021), a 17-minute documentary featuring a series of photographs shot in deserted parts of Singapore between 2002 and 2004.
The 17-minute documentary, which traces the history of deserted places in Singapore, was nominated in the 2021 National Youth Film Awards under the Open Youth Documentary section.
Shot entirely at night, the documentary is an adaptation of architectural photographer Darren Soh’s books of the same title. The 45-year-old co-produced and narrated the film.
Finding Common Ground
A chance meeting with Soh at an artist's talk in 2016 led to the creation of “While You Were Sleeping”. Two years after graduating, Ho was invited to speak about his multimedia project “Between Two Homes” (2017) which featured elderly rental flat residents who had to move from Dakota Crescent due to redevelopment plans.
Ho recalled how they hit it off instantly and decided to explore future projects about Singapore’s history together.
In 2018, the duo worked on a film titled “Before It All Goes”; a story about foreign architects involved in Singapore’s soon-to-be-demolished independence era buildings.
“That was the first time we collaborated and I thought it was really fruitful. From there, I sort of knew that this was someone interested in the same things as me,” Ho said.
Retracing Soh’s Story
For “While You Were Sleeping” (2021)—their second project together—Soh approached Ho again to collaborate on it.
“Darren noticed over the years the loss of spaces in Singapore and always wanted to make a video about it (at night). But it was tough (back then) due to technological restrictions,” Ho said.
By the time the duo met, photo-imaging technology had progressed far enough to achieve what Soh desired. For example, camera ISO had been improved to enable high-quality footage at night.
“While You Were Sleeping” (2021) depicted Soh walking around deserted places in Singapore at night, such as Lim Chu Kang cemetery, and explaining how the areas have changed since 2003.
Soh was a natural in front of the camera for “While You Were Sleeping” (2021), said Ho, and took the initiative to be the host for the project.
Ho was delighted by the opportunity to take on a more artistic approach that differed from his usual style.
Walking Down Memory Lane
Even though Soh featured in the film, he insisted that the locations be the stars of the story.
“At first I thought we should anchor the documentary on Darren’s journey, but he told me he didn’t want to have a biography of his life, but rather a story on these places,” Ho said.
MacRitchie Reservoir was one such place. The location, Ho said, has been a constant in Soh’s photography journey.
“It’s really a project where you have to decide that the time you put in is above and beyond what you would usually do for the same amount of money when working on a commercial job.”
JEREMY HO (CS’15)
“There is an arc to (the specific locations we chose). Every place we went to we discussed what we could talk about,” he added.
The duo also sought an element of relevance in the film by shooting recent landscape developments that Singaporeans could relate to, such as the Dover Forest. It was Soh’s first time photographing the area.
“We shot at a lot more places than the five that made the cut, because we didn’t want to repeat the scenes of (Soh) going out to shoot. It was all very different landscapes highlighting Singapore’s development in these spaces,” Ho said.
Ho decided to conclude the film with a scene at Punggol, an area that has gone through multiple layers of development over the past two decades. There were places which did not exist during Soh’s photo-taking exploits in 2003.
“Ending with Punggol was symbolic in the sense (that) it’s been there as Darren’s subject for a long time. You can really see the difference between then and now,” Ho said.
Venturing into the Unknown
Working on “While You Were Sleeping” was never straightforward for Ho. A grant from the National Arts Council helped get the idea off the ground, but Ho said it barely covered production costs at a standard rate.
“It’s really a project where you have to decide that the time you put in is above and beyond what you would usually do for the same amount of money when working on a commercial job,” Ho said.
In 2018, after two years as the co-founder of Run and Gun Media, Ho said he wanted to focus on the creative side of documentary-making rather than going through the motions of running a business.
He now works as a self-directed documentary producer, a “natural default” in his words, after spending some time in the corporate world.
Ho offered a piece of advice for fellow self-employed creatives. “As a freelancer, you have to decide when you pay the bills, and when you sort of stick out a bit more time to do the stuff that you really feel is important,” he said.