Interview with Rich Ho

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By: Valerie Oliveiro

First Take April takes place at the Substation with 3 short films cued for screening. ArtZine talks to Rich Ho, director of Coffee: Black, who also happens to be the only one of out the three directors who will be in town for the screening.

It is human nature to search for answers. The intellect craves for reasoning behind our life experiences. However, answers do not come easily. Rich shares that he wanted to prove “the power of their subconscious instinct to make sense and give meaning to films by creating a film with all the aspects of anticipated revelation through its black and white presentation with a questionable amount of sweeping multi-camera shots, focus play, jump cuts and numerous red herrings, in a wild goose chase towards realisation.”

Coffee:Black was actually accidentally conceived during a Saturday studio meeting way back in 2004. After viewing many art-films, Rich was inspired by the messages the films held. The films “seemed to be saying something, or trying to say something. Perhaps it was not any good at all, and we just wanted it to have been good to justify our cinema ticket, or time that we had wasted.”

The film began as a personal experiment for Rich so it was not released for any public screening till in 2004. Coffee: Black’s screening at First Take April will be the premiere of the enhanced version, complete with a new music score and CG environment for the café and its surroundings.

What was his inspiration for the design of the café? The European-kind of cafés.

Imagine “large windows that overlook the street, a separate picket fenced area for the outside, where the smell of bacon and coffee permeates throughout the quirkily wall papered interiors that have an odd roman pillar sticking out of nowhere, and where the people drink their coffee, staring intensely into space as if there was something important to think about, or perhaps just acting cool by staring into something that isn’t there.”

Film’s total runtime… 6 minutes.
Scripting took… a day.
Building the set took… half a day.
Shooting took… two days.
Post-production took… one week.
Enhancements in 2008 took… one week.
Total cost… less than $20.

It may look simple, but it wasn’t. “The film called for numerous elaborate camera moves for each sequence that proved challenging. We had overhead shots that “flew” from above the café right down to the spoon in the cup, and sweeping shots across the tables to the corners of the café. It did not help that all these had to be done in the confines of the small studio set space. In the end, much time was spent in shifting and removing portions of the set to allow a certain angle to be setup, and then rebuilding and moving stuff again for the next shot.”

Future plans for Rich include creating a whole series of films in the same manner as Coffee: Black but in a much larger scale and budget.

At the end of the year, the First Take audience votes for the favourite film of the year. If Coffee: Black won…

“I would not believe it for a while, thank God for it, and worry about the kind of audience we have got out there,” replies Rich.

If you know your coffee, join the club as Rich shares that he’s a coffee addict too. “I get headaches if I can’t have my early morning brew. However, after being very much adventurous with various types of coffee, I still strangely prefer the Singaporean coffee shop’s condensed and evaporated milk ‘Kopi Gao.”
Fun Fact:

  • Way back in 2004, the character was supposed to like his coffee black. 5 years later, the actor’s wife, just revealed that her husband only liked his coffee as “Kopi O-Kosong”!

Rich would like to…

  • Tell everyone that I love my wife! (She is reading this)
  • Go back in time and keep telling myself that I look good
  • Invent an imagination machine that captures all my thoughts onto film, scene for scene, and thus lazy me will never have to go outside to film, deal with difficult actors etc. ever again.
  • Start my personal robot army and island-space capsule that will take me to the worm holes of the universe.
  • Promise that I would program my robots to do the housework and cooking in the island-space capsule so that my wife will allow me to have them in the first place (She is still reading this).

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Director’s Bio:

After more than 15 films and awards, including being the 1st Singaporean digital short film nominee in the 2004 Taipei Golden Horse Awards, “COFFEE: Black” reflects Rich’s mischievous nature in film by playing with the audience’s perceptions.

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Catch the screening of Rich Ho’s Coffee: Black at the Substation on April 6, 8pm. Coffee: Black is one of the chosen short films for First Take April.

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