[Photos courtesy of @summerdazetheseries]
By Loraine Lee
Backgrounded by the scenic views of Jeju Island, two male best friends slowly fall in love with each other in an ethereal 3 minutes and 37 seconds short film, without a single word spoken.
The 2018 boys’ love (BL) short film — titled Summerdaze — was produced by Telescope Studios, director Martin Hong, and the founder of fashion label The Authority. The poignant and emotional passion project would garner over three million views across the internet and a loyal international fanbase hoping for more.
Now, the team behind the short film hopes to fundraise to turn Summerdaze into an eight-part web series, making it Singapore’s first BL drama. Its trailer, launched on Oct 4, has already surpassed 300,000 views.
To learn more about the project, I sit down with Jeremy Kieran Ng, 27, and Zhang Minhua, 31, co-directors of the upcoming Summerdaze: The Series.
Summerdaze: From short film to eight-part web series
“When we first did (the short film), we did not expect it to get (so many views) as Singaporeans aren’t as supportive,” says Ng, who was its producer. He is also director of photography for Summerdaze: The Series.
What came as a surprise for the duo, however, was stumbling upon a Weibo post in 2020 where a fan account had reposted Summerdaze and garnered over a million views. The short film also gained international traction in Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, and the United States.
“We didn’t know people were still interested in Summerdaze, it was two years old at that point. But ever since (stumbling upon the Weibo post), we thought that we should seriously consider picking this up again,” adds Zhang, who was its creative director.
The biggest push to start pre-production for Summerdaze: The Series were the comments asking if the short film was turned into a full series — and the team’s constant teasing.
“We kept replying to their comments saying things like ‘maybe soon’ and a lot of people were hoping. So we now can’t let them down,” shares Ng, stifling his laughter.
So, with some downtime between their filming schedules during the circuit breaker in 2020, Ng, Zhang, and the Telescope team started tinkering around with the idea of expanding the short film into a web series. However, the team shelved the idea because of the constraints of sending their 30 man crew to Korea for filming during the pandemic, which seemed unrealistic, and revisited the idea again a year later.
“I don’t know why we did it, but we thought, let’s just film the trailer,” says Ng. They turned to crowdfunding website Indiegogo for help to make Singapore’s first BL web series a reality.
Zhang shares that the upcoming series will take on a more “light-hearted” and “mushy” atmosphere inspired by Thailand’s BL rom-coms, a drastic contrast to the emotional silent film released in 2018.
Celebrity Evan (played by David Eung) is forced to act in a queer film to redeem himself after uploading insensitive material on his social media page. He then meets budding actor Kai (played by Alfred Sng) who has just got his first big break as Evan’s on-screen love interest. As sparks fly between the duo, Summerdaze: The Series follows Kai and Evan’s budding love on-screen and off.
The upcoming web series was inspired by the filming process of the 2018 short film where Eung and Sng, who also acted as the main characters, had to foster a bond between each other — despite meeting for the first time on the plane ride to Jeju Island. The director would ask Eung and Sng to sit together and sleep on the same bed to foster their friendship in a day, says Zhang.
“Some of the dialogue you see in the trailer was actually said by the director when filming (the short film),” he adds.
While the tone of the web series may be different, fans can expect similarly stunning aesthetic visuals, inspired by the Hulu series Love, Victor.
“A lot of fans of the short film enjoyed the visuals, so we wanted to alleviate that and not compromise on it,” affirms Ng.
New faces among the star-studded cast of Summerdaze: The Series
For Singaporean viewers, the trailer may come as a surprise as well-established celebrities such as Patricia Mok and Irene Ang made their appearances.
Mok acts as Aileen, the head-honcho of entertainment company D’Entertainment, who banks on Kai’s success and rise in stardom — a role which Ng hints “won’t be the same as how we’ve seen (Mok).”
“There’s an interview where Patricia cries because she always gets cast as a comedian in shows with little depth.
“While she may seem like a loud and comedic personality on the surface-level, (Summerdaze: The Series) will show a different side of her… which some may have spotted in the trailer when she comforts Kai, depicting her as a motherly figure.”
Up-and-coming actor Jon Louis will play the secondary love interest, Lucas. Despite having no prior acting experience, Ng and Zhang share their praises of Louis’ acting and his chemistry with Sng.
“Our casting process is quite unconventional,” shares Zhang. “We made it like a private hangout where we invited the cast to hang out and see how they bonded… their chemistry is what we were looking for.”
When asked if they had any issues with casting as the first BL drama, Ng and Zhang shared that all the members were very supportive, and none of them pointed out the nature of the film; which differed from the casting difficulties they faced when producing the 2018 short film.
Challenges in production
While the team is hopeful in turning the web series into reality, it is now faced with its biggest hurdle — funding.
“If Summerdaze was a traditional, modest Singapore family rom-com, IMDA would have whole-heartedly supported the (series). But because it’s different, we have to target consumers directly in hopes of raising enough,” says Ng.
The team has started a fundraiser on Indiegogo, with a target of S$400,000. It has since raised more than $19,000 as of Oct 10.
“The target on Indiegogo is quite high and we don’t know if we’ll reach it,” Ng shares.
“Perhaps we will need to adjust the length of the episodes or reduce the number of scenes overseas. And if we fall short, we will try to find more sponsors to… help make the series happen.”
The ongoing pandemic also puts much of their filming plans in the air, as safe-distancing measures flip back and forth and it is uncertain if they would be able to film overseas — especially when a bulk of the web series will be set overseas, chimes Zhang. However, with the recent news that Singapore and Korea will be starting a travel lane, perhaps the team would be able to film on Jeju Island again should their budget permit.
Ng shares that the team were also “self-conscious” about the nature of the web series, and had concerns about being able to film it.
“When we were getting permission to film (the trailer) at a location, the management asked us for the script and the storyline but… we were scared to submit because what if they don’t let us film.
“It’s that fear we have internally, but are we wrong to have that? We don’t know.”
Representation in the media
For Zhang and Ng, the film is just a small step to make progress for equal representation in the media.
When the team released the trailer, Ng shares that they received many comments expressing surprise that the content was coming from Singapore, questioning if they were “allowed to do this” or if it was “illegal”.
“But some people were also quite happy, saying that Singapore finally has the (guts) to put out this kind of content.
“When we read these comments, we felt rather encouraged. Because personally, we thought we were crazy to embark on this project. But seeing that people are happy, it is rewarding.”
It comes as no surprise that Ng and Zhang felt this way, considering Singapore’s section 377A that criminalises gay sex and there is a lack of rights for the LGBTQ+ community. Media representation is also lacking, and Singapore’s rating system often puts content depicting LGBTQ+ persons out of the country’s mainstream media networks.
Regardless, the duo are optimistic about the impact Summerdaze: The Series could have.
“It’s just two people with feelings for each other who happen to be boys. It won’t immediately change but it might help slowly make progress… to reach equal representation,” adds Zhang.
“Younger people that watch this show can look up to this narrative where they won’t feel like something they feel is not normal or unconventional, they have the freedom to love and there are no labels,” Ng adds.