Pandemic shoots: Married actors Jo Tan and Edward Choy kiss for work

Actor Edward Choy (left) and actress Jo Tan. PHOTO: JO TAN/INSTAGRAM

SINGAPORE - Actress Jo Tan is kissing her husband Edward Choy a little more these days. And it is happening on camera.

Their home has also become a film set for commercials and skits for virtual corporate dinners, which they shoot together.

Under current pandemic rules, only persons from the same household are allowed to cross social distancing boundaries on film sets and theatre stages. As a result, Tan and Choy are called upon to perform jobs that others cannot.

Theyplay an on-screen couple in an upcoming Mediacorp series.

Tan, 37, tells The Straits Times: "I was approached to do the series and they wanted to know if my husband was available because hand-holding and kissing were involved."

While they count themselves fortunate to have an edge in hiring, they remain less busy than before because the film, television and live performance industries have been hard hit by the pandemic. Their spare time is now spent learning new skills, such as video editing so they can be more self-sufficient at producing content with limited resources.

Choy, 40, is a freelance actor and lecturer at the National University of Singapore.

Tan, who is also a singer, also appearedin videos for corporations and a commercial for Creative headphone - all shot in her home. Her husband did the filming and editing.

When she works outside, Tan has to follow safety measures laid out for film and theatre professionals.

At 7.30pmtomorrow (July 23), she will appear in a live-stream of a play that she wrote. Staged by T:>Works and directed by Jasmine Ng, King (R18, bit.ly/2OMkMmM) is a one-woman drama-comedy about an office worker coming to terms with a new identity. .

For the rehearsals and performance, Tan and the crew have to observe rules that include limits on the number of people on location (from 10 to 30, depending on the kind of production), whodo not have to wear a mask at the same time, 1m social distancing (2m if live singing is involved), split teams, the use of remote video or conferencing, and the cleaning and disinfection of equipment.

Singapore actor-director Jack Neo, 60, says the new procedures will impact film-making here.

"Limiting the headcount on set, safe distancing and ensuring all guidelines are adhered to will slow down the production process," he tellsST in an e-mail interview.

For instance, he notes that staff have to be hired to deal with onlookers crowding the margins of a film set.

He has taken up the role of chief executive of the newly formed production house Asia Momentum Media (AMM), a subsidiary of Hong Kong Asia Television (ATV) Holdings.

"Current AMM projects are not affected at the moment as we are focusing our efforts on our AMM app for online content and live streaming," says the maker of hit movies such as the four Ah Boys To Men military comedies (2012 to 2017). The app is expected to launch soon.

While he has not been making shows during the circuit breaker period, he has made an inspirational music video in which he sings about keeping safe (bit.ly/3jDdqQG) in this period, using a crew of three to four and maintaining safety protocols.

But when the cameras start rolling again, mental and logistical adjustments have to be made, he says.

Film-maker Jasmine Ng, who directs Jo Tan in the live-streamed performance of King, says film and video projects began drying up from February. Clients postponed, then cancelled commercials and corporate videos as more cases were reported.

Uncertainty gripped the film industry as infection rates went up - some crews can number more than 30.

When the circuit breaker started on April 7, the film and television industry was effectively shut down. "People were wondering, 'what happens next?'" Ng, 47, says.

In online townhalls attended by around 2,000 practitioners in the industry, they spoke of worries such as how well they could be protected from infection while remaining effective in their jobs.

Ng is the co-founder and president of the Singapore Association of Motion Picture Professionals, which works for the betterment of the industry and organisedthe townhalls.

Since then, working in consultation with the industry, the authorities have defined rules that allow crews to work while keeping safe.

For example, inphase two, which started on June 19, a household can have up to five visitors a day. This allows for small film crews to go tohomes to shoot.

"Production people always have to think on our feet, so we just have to get creative and adapt along with the changes," Ng says.

Film-maker Desmond Tan, head of production house atypical films, notes that the Covid-19 crisis has made professionals like him look deeper into remote working so that cast, crew and clients can safely collaborate.

The 45-year-old has invested in live-streaming technology so that those not on-site, such as clients, can view what his cameras are capturing.

It has been challenging though, he says. Clients, for example, have a limited picture of the goings-on, whichmakes it hard for them to understand the flow of the shoot.

"They have no peripheral vision, so they can't see what's about to happen. Someone has to walk them through the shot.".

As for crew members, if he is shooting in one room of an apartment, they will position themselves in other rooms or even in the lobby of the building, and watch the action on their phones or monitors. Everyone is linked by wireless communications.

He has heard of shoots with crews dispersed across several countries. The director was not even in the same country as the actors, he says.

Freelance film-maker Alvin Lee, 29, made the short film From Grace To Grit (bit.ly/2EaXq8l), whichfollows a Singapore Airlines stewardess adapting to hospital work following the downturn in the airline industry.

The short, one of four in the Stronger Together series commissioned by the Ministry Of Communications and Information, has chalked up more than 144,000 views.

There is a behind-the-scenes video (bit.ly/39fwfoc) explaining how the four films were made with safety protocols in place.

Lee conducted online auditions, but during the three-day shoot in May, he would often fall back on old habits, only to be reminded the world is now a different place.

"I like to move close to the actors to give direction, critiques or support, but my assistant director would tell me, 'hey, social distancing, please.'"

Join ST's Telegram channel here and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.