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Taking creative control

SINGAPORE — Jason Chan and Christian Lee are the perfect example of “if you don’t like the way things are, go and do something about it”.

Christian Lee (left) and Jason Chan: Men, not guys.

Christian Lee (left) and Jason Chan: Men, not guys.

SINGAPORE — Jason Chan and Christian Lee are the perfect example of “if you don’t like the way things are, go and do something about it”.

The two directors, who both have a background in acting, moved to 
Singapore from the United States (Lee) and Australia (Chan) and run the production company BananaMana Films. But instead of waiting around for that chimerical perfect script, the two actors wrote, directed, produced, edited and starred in their own Toggle-commissioned Web series, What Do Men Want, about two struggling actors who also struggle to get their lives and loves on track. It went on to win the Outstanding Directing In A Drama Series award at the Los Angeles Web Series Festival 2014.

“We’ve always wanted to do this Web-based series about two struggling actors — something that we know about — and the antics that happen with following basically your heart over your head,” said Lee, 47, whose television credits also include roles in the Channel 5 series Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd and Achar, as well as US telemovies such as Marco Polo.

“We were actors for 10 or 12 years and, as a certain breed of actor, we always felt dissatisfied because we went, ‘It’s not really my story. It’s someone else’s script and someone else’s vision and they’re telling me where to stand and where to talk. I want to tell my story’,” added Chan, 42, whom you might recognise as the Green Ranger in Power Rangers Ninja Storm.

MY STORY, ON MY TERMS

Being in charge of the entire creative process means having ultimate control, which is a “beautiful thing”, said Chan. “A lot of the time, in Singapore, you work on set and then you leave, and then the post-production is taken care of in a different way,” he said, adding that as a director, he could “actually follow a vision all the way through”.

That also means a lot more work, much of which is nitty-gritty stuff, such as the sound (“Are you going to have that dog bark or take it away?”) and the music for the show, which was written by Chan.

“But there’s nothing more fulfilling,” said Lee, who pointed out that Web and online technology have made starting your own project easier than ever.

“People are empowering themselves with technology, so the prices of getting production done are dropping, to the extent where we can actually take advantage of this and create series on our own for the online platform for a global audience. We can now reach a global audience with these universally themed series and stories,” he said.

With What Do Men Want, the duo “took a lot of influence” from Korean dramas. “We told ourselves, ‘If we could create Korean dramas in English with Asian faces, that would be our mark, and eventually we’ll use regional talents and be that player in that space, because nobody’s really doing that’,” said Lee.

“We hope we can continue to tell important stories, but tell them our way and on our terms,” Chan added.

For example, the apartment the two protagonists, Bob and Jimmy, share is based on the house that Chan and Lee shared as freelance actors in Singapore six years ago. Auditions were held all the time — actors would come and go — and there were parties, Lee said, which were “more wild” than those in New York or Los Angeles.

Modelled on those experiences, the antics their characters get up to are a little risque — so much so, they thought the series wouldn’t get past the commissioning producers. “But they said, ‘No, it’s an online platform — we want something a little edgier ... for the whole other demographic of people who want more sophisticated, edgier stuff’,” said Lee.

“We just always wanted to paint reality in all its grey areas,” added Chan. For instance, one episode has his character falling for his girlfriend’s sister. “Everyone says, ‘You would never go after your girlfriend’s sister.’ Are you serious? That happens all the time!”

Their writing startled even themselves. In one hospital scene in which Bob’s girlfriend had attempted suicide, the whole cast got the giggles.

“It was the ridiculously black comedy moment of, ‘We wrote this’ — that this girl attempts suicide and all your best friend wants to know is, ‘Did you break up with her?’ Not, ‘Is she alive?’” Chan recounted. “We go a little bit edgier every episode and then have to deal with it: ‘Oh, man! How do we get out of that?’”

MEN LIKE WOMEN

Having explored the topic thoroughly, Lee and Chan can confidently answer their own question about what men really want. And no, it’s not only beer and sex.

“What men want is a gentleman’s code where everything is sacred and they don’t tell women what goes on in their heads,” said Lee, admitting that the show goes against that desire.

“We kind of reveal a little bit of that. We’ll let you know if we get beat up.”

And while he wouldn’t quite agree that men are actually more complicated than women give them credit for, Lee quipped: “We have more complications because women are 
more complicated.”

In Chan’s opinion, what men want is “the perfect girl” (incidentally, Perfect Girl is the title of their newest Web series, which is about a guy who meets his high school crush 10 years later).

“Men are looking for the perfect girl in all the wrong places,” he said. “They will do a lot of other things along the way to get that and sometimes in the wrong way. It’s the perfect girl and then, ultimately, satisfaction — they think it’s recognition but it’s satisfaction, in their work and in their partner. The perfect girl is someone who recognises them for who they are, what they want and what they pursue.”

What Do Men Want is currently available via Toggle and will air on MediaCorp TV Channel 5 from Oct 21 at 10pm.

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