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From Idealization to Actualization: An Award-winning Short INCOGNITO

Updated: Aug 31, 2021

Where did the inspiration for INCOGNITO come from?

My inspiration for INCOGNITO may stem from my raw exploration into the world undertaken since my childhood. Even now, I still find myself recollecting the days when I sat on the cracked floor in a cramped and congested apartment with worn-out furniture where I relished period dramas on a bulky tv. There, standing in front of a solar system map, I ruminated about the wondrous universe. My early life was heavily infused with non-fiction books that chronicled the world’s strangest unsolved mysteries. One of the most thrilling missions to accomplish every night before I snuggled into the anti-mosquito tent was to dive into the book world filled with unusual sightings and supernatural terms. That was my first time learning the term ‘time traveling.’

During my stint in college in Los Angeles, my enthusiasm for movies and tv programs inspired by true events held up, especially for weird histories and paranormal activities such as those depicted in the movie Interstellar. Representations of true events, such as the tv series Chernobyl and Mindhunter, later sparked my profound interest in writing my own version corresponding to my initial preoccupation with mystery themes.

I started by digging into dozens of strange events at first, but none of them sat right with me until I came across a YouTube video about a self-proclaimed time traveler who was locked up in an asylum in the 90s after being diagnosed with a chronic mental disorder when, in fact, she had been telling the truth. That video immediately aroused my burning curiosity and got me hooked. Though the original concept of the screenplay is quite straightforward, I added a string of twists and turns to enrich the storyline that forms the prototype of this movie.

How did you get involved in the project?

Previously, I had interacted or collaborated with many creative team members on other projects. So, the film brought us back together when this opportunity arose. We built team chemistry early on because I could efficiently convey my vision to collaborators already familiar with my work style, who were able to understand my thought processes without long-winded demonstrations and excessive expatiation.

I tend to be fast paced on set while holding onto high standards of picture quality, talent performances and blocking, and art elements, all seamlessly supportive of what a camera captures within the frame. For that reason, I expected everyone to be fully prepared on the day of the shoot and to know exactly what we would be filming at any point of the day. This required an enormous amount of work in pre-production and during tech scouts. In filmmaking, the last thing we want is something untoward. But when delays occur, we have to adapt to the actual circumstances and become resilient to challenges.

How did you prepare for your role?

I conducted a considerable volume of research before mapping out my thoughts on the script. I dug into law enforcement jargon, mental institution, protocols, and social customs, mores, and lifestyles of the 50s and 90s to construct vivid scenes that match those periods. I also referenced a myriad of classic movies in hopes of taking cues from the distinctive camera techniques that were used by reputable auteurs. But most importantly, I gathered reams of feedback from my team and my mentors.

During the entire project, I always asked myself if this film would be convincing enough for the audience. Can we push beyond the limitation of filmmaking techniques? Does the dialogue fit the scene? Can the camera movement be improved to better service the characters’ emotions and the story? I always remind myself of a mantra from a former Disney CEO Bob Iger, whom I admire inordinately, when I am making a film: the relentless pursuit of perfection.

There are a few things that I found most gratifying and collaborative during the pre-production of INCOGNITO: simulating actors’ blockings and camera movement in a 3D animation software; running through the shot list with the cinematographer and drafting storyboards; and hosting a table read and rehearsals with actors. Once we reached the second phase of the pre-production, we started to conduct location scouts and tech scouts with all the creative heads, after which I revised the shot list in alignment with the actual shooting environment. We jumped through hoops and went through rough patches just as most productions inevitably encounter.

What was the filmmaking process like?

I aim to create riveting camera angles and movements that require flawless timing, hitting marks, and collaborations from every person on set. I remember the toughest shot was the opening scene in which a three-minute-long shot was to be filmed for an entire day. We spent roughly a month trying to find a solution to some technical impossibilities. Unlike animation where you can move the camera wherever you intend it to go without a cut, shot design in live action requires tremendous planning and collective deliberation for the shooting environment. And oftentimes some camera movements are just too ambitious to be implemented with in-camera tricks and on-set sleight of hand. In addition, utilization of heavy VFX was not in our consideration because of a limited budget, so it was not unusual for me to be advised to cut out the long shot. Eventually, we were able to figure something out after a prolonged amount of time for brainstorming.

The car crash scene, on the other hand, could have been executed better had we solved the logistic issue from the get-go. Due to an oversight, 80% of the car crash scene was filmed on an ad hoc basis. Much of the extemporaneous work was devoted to actualization of vehicle maneuvering, as there was a change in plan on the day of the shooting. And I am very grateful that my team stood by my side and worked this out together. Overall, it was a blast to work with everyone on this project, and I truly gained incredible experience from grappling with unforeseen impediments and setbacks.

Why should people see INCOGNITO?

I am quite contented with the story arc and foreshadowing we paved along the way, and the twist leading up to the ending that demystifies the enigma. Of all the audiences and friends who have watched the film, there isn’t anyone who has correctly predicted the ending So I am really delighted to say that the twist worked out at the end and that the revelation from a side character promises to be a fulfilling viewing experience. In a nutshell, I think the film is packed with enough suspenseful elements and emotional heft to appease most audiences’ appetites. That is the objective our writing team set up for ourselves from the outset.

What do you hope audiences take away from the film?

As filmmakers, we always want to strike a chord with the audience, hoping that viewers can take away something from the film. And the beautiful part of movie franchises and television programs is that they never get old. These days, I am still watching some of the classic movies inspired by true events like Bonnie and Clyde. Rear Window, and Witness for the Prosecution still hold me in suspense after many viewings. As for me, I intend to not only create something cinematic for the audience to watch but also paint a revealing picture of a strange event about time traveling as well as tapping into some socially relevant issues that people have faced in the past.



INSTAGRAM: @jackysongla


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