Student theatre production recast as an R21 interactive movie inspired by Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

  • Titled The Truth About Keeping Secrets, the R21 interactive film is based on an original story written by WKWSCI students and will have four different endings depending on the viewers’ choices
  • Plans to hold a stage play at the Esplanade in October were scrapped due to Covid-19

By Emma See Wenwei 
Photos courtesy of Paparazzi

Breaking with tradition, the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information (WKWSCI) annual theatre production — better known as Paparazzi — has shifted from the live stage to online screens for the first time, amid the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Streaming exclusively on their website on Dec 18 and 19, The Truth About Keeping Secrets is a roughly hour-long interactive film that allows viewers to make decisions that will affect the outcome of the story.

The film will have four different endings depending on the viewers’ choices, inspired by other interactive films like Netflix’s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, directors Brandon Chia and Ong Hui Ying told Soapbox.

Producer Nivani Elangovan (bottom) and directors Brandon Chia (left) and Ong Hui Ying (right) led a team of 49 cast and crew members, comprising students from WKWSCI. 

Put together by a cast and crew of 49 Communication Studies students, the film tells a coming-of-age story about three girls adjusting to daunting new lives in their first year of university, set in a college party.

The story is based on an original screenplay written by directors Brandon and Hui Ying, both second-year students. The pair said they wanted to tell a new story that focuses on themes close to university students, such as popularity pressures and being confronted with one’s values. 

The film also explores themes of sexuality — the reason for its R21 rating according to Infocomm Media Development Authority guidelines. 

Brandon, 23, said: “We knew that the age rating could alienate our audience, but we decided to stay true to ourselves instead of self-censoring and telling a story that we didn’t believe in.”

The film is funded by the National Youth Council, under the Young Change Makers grant.

The screenplay was rewritten to fit a film format and the cast and crew had to adjust to abrupt changes due to the pandemic.

From the stage to the screen 

Previous Paparazzi theatre productions would typically receive total audiences of some 700 students and members of the public.

But this year’s plans to hold a stage play at the Esplanade in October were scrapped when the Circuit Breaker was announced in March, disrupting rehearsals and casting doubt over whether the play could even see a physical audience. 

Brandon said the team initially felt hopeless when they realised that months of preparation for their live performance would go to waste. 

The team delayed production for two months while scrambling to convert the play into a film, as planning a stage production around the new Covid-19 safety measures posed logistical problems. Filming took place over three days in a house, where the college party in the plot is set. 

Paparazzi producer Nivani Elangovan, 22, said: “It’s easier to set different scenes on a stage. If you want multiple locations, you get props to set the stage accordingly.” 

“But in filming, we had to find an actual house to film in, and safe distancing measures were an extra concern,” added the second-year student.

Meanwhile, the directors reworked the majority of the script to fit the small screen, although the story remained relatively unchanged.

Brandon said: “When you’re writing a film script, you have to take into consideration how it is shot. A camera sees things differently from humans.”

The three leads of the film, played by Communication Studies students Tanisha Moghe (left), Jazmine Monaz (centre) and Nicolette Wee (right).

While a feature film was far from the initial plan, the team feels satisfied with their final product. Brandon said the interactive film elements made the story more impactful and relatable for the average viewer, compared to if the production had been a play targeting a niche audience.

The cast and crew also had to adapt quickly to the abrupt changes brought on by the pandemic. Actress Jazmine Monaz, 22, said the cast had to internalise the script quickly as they only saw their lines late into the production due to the delays.

“We had a lot of scenes to shoot and it’s not chronological. I had to switch between emotions quickly and it was a challenge to get into character,” said the second-year Communication Studies student, who plays Nadia, one of the film’s three lead characters. 

“It was amazing that we finished filming everything in that limited amount of time.”

Tickets for The Truth About Keeping Secrets are on sale for $5 each. Click here for more information about Paparazzi.

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Emma See Wenwei

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Emma See Wenwei

WRITER | A picnic enthusiast who spends her free time watching Asian dramas. Needs to drink tea to stay awake in school.
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