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Taking on Hokkien TV drama Eat Already?
HOMEGROWN director Royston Tan has new-found respect for his peers in television after working on his first small screen drama Eat Already?.
"It's real hard work because the timeline is very short; you need to think on your feet as a lot of the filming is done outdoors so you are looking for locations all the time," he chuckles.
"It really makes me respect all of them including the actors who tell me they sometimes have to shoot as many as 15 scenes a day."
The series is a collaboration between the Ministry of Communications and Information and Mediacorp; and has been specially created for the silver generation to deal with issues that they might face.
Set against the backdrop of a coffee shop and centred on food, it also highlights various government schemes and programmes that benefit senior citizens.
The series stars an ensemble cast which includes veteran TV actresses Li Yinzhu and Aileen Tan; comedian Marcus Chin; and getai star Wang Lei.
Each episode will also feature celebrity cameos by household names such as Zoe Tay, Chen Li Ping, Pan Ling Ling and Kym Ng.
The title is a direct translation of the common Hokkien greeting jiak ba buay. Eat Already? is filmed entirely in the dialect that many senior citizens are used to.
But that proved to be a bit of a challenge for Tan; although the 39-year-old filmmaker is able to speak it, he still needed to brush up - by watching Chinese opera.
He was not the only one with a problem - some of the younger castsuch as Elvin Ng even had to take lessons because he couldn't speak the dialect.
Translating the script, which was written in Mandarin, on the fly was also another challenge some of the actors faced, but Tan says they had language coaches on the set to help out in that department.
But he adds that a strict Hokkien-only rule on set was also imposed and anyone caught breaking it would be fined. That was initially tough, but everybody adapted after a while and started to appreciate the beauty of the dialect.
For Tan, it was about rediscovering Hokkien which he no longer uses as much as before when he used it to converse with his grandmother while growing up.
"Getting back into it wasn't as simple as I thought it'd be, but I also started to realise the Hokkien we use in Singapore is unique because it has been infused with Malay words," the 39-year-old says.
He adds that even the title jiak ba buay has taken on different meanings here and people now use it informally as a greeting that is the equivalent of asking "how are you?".
But what he likes best about Hokkien is the way it brings everybody closer when they speak it. "Whenever I'm on location and I'm interacting with the older generation, I find that it breaks the ice when I speak it to them and we warm up to one another very quickly."
- Eat Already? premieres on Channel 8 on Sept 9 at 12pm