Beatrice Wong on translating mental health struggles into filmmaking

We spoke to Beatrice Wong, director of My Room 37, about translating mental heath struggles into filmmaking.

How did you get into filmmaking?

I used to have a degree 17 years ago where I sort of majored in video production. But at the time I was struggling with my sexual desires and gender dissatisfaction, so I was constantly distracted, I never put together a decent work and I felt like a failure and gave up shooting video for a long time. To be fair, I didn’t even have the initiative to learn the basics like lighting. It was until a few years ago when a videographer friend needed someone to be his assistant when I actually learned the practical stuff, then in 2015 when I had my SRS, I put together a short documentary about my transition that had some success and gave me the confidence to pour my life savings down a rabbit hole.

The film is based on your own experiences – how do you find it to work with a subject matter so close to you personally?

The most difficult part is translating my experiences and feelings that are so personal into a narrative that attempts to communicate with the audience, rather than putting together a patchwork of images and sounds that follows a logic only I can comprehend. It involved some form of depersonalization during scriptwriting, and a lot of courage, because I needed feedback from my friends about my initial half baked ideas, I exposed myself to a tonne of criticism, I have to be tough, not give up and push myself to keep modifying my creative concepts. Somehow, a voice inside my head keeps telling me I should NOT just rent a warehouse, lock myself in and let my feelings and emotions guide my camera.

What was the biggest challenge in representing mental health struggles on film?

For films on such a topic, either you hit, or you miss, there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground. There’s no biggest challenge, it’s a packaged deal, you start writing the script, and you get rewarded with a bundle of challenges: How do I visualize the desire to do nothing, to be nothing? How do I make this interesting to an audience? How do I find fun in producing such a work about longing for nothingness? And so on and on and on, and then the eternal riddle, “What works?” So I just think back to all the films and TV I’ve watched, “borrow” elements from them and do some mix and matching in my head. And then, there is the final challenge – How do I make the film my own and not a Black Mirror rip-off.

You did everything for this film singlehandedly – you directed, wrote, produced it as well as doing the camera, art, editing and music and starring in it! What was it like to make a short film so independently?

It’s a very calm process, because with no collaborators, there’s no deadlines or compromising nor tension.  I worked at my own pace, I am able to say my own message in my own way. Is it too solitary? Yes, but my process is free from conflicts. Do I feel helpless sometimes? I did, but to me, it’s like playing a video game, I encounter difficulties, I think of ways to go to the next level. There was a moment I really wanted to give up because all the audio I recorded are unusable, so what do I do? I hug my sweet penguin, and I Google how to do ADR and foley. I get stuck, I go party and get wasted and after the hangover, a solution will manifest in my brain, that’s it.

My Room 37 screens in See Me Proud presents: Mental Health Shorts on Friday 4 October. Beatrice will be attending for a Q&A. Click here for more info and tickets.

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