A MONTH OF HUNGRY GHOSTS - News & Updates
We're happy to announce that A MONTH OF HUNGRY GHOSTS will feature three songs by Taiwan-based artist MoShang! A self professed "sound jeweler," MoShang blends recorded sound samples from the streets of Asia with downtempo electronica for unique sound.
Also, photographers Robert Croma and Aaron Bird have licensed historical images to the documentary.
Meanwhile, post-production is moving along on the film with completion expected sometime in July. I have more spooky stories about the raw footage and editing, but I'll have to save it for later. Back to editing!
Post-production for the film A MONTH OF HUNGRY GHOSTS has officially begun!
An unsettling start on official post-production of the documentary with numerous technical hurdles. Earlier this year, I met a local filmmaker who basically hinted that there have been numerous failed attempts to finish a full documentary film on the topic of hungry ghosts here in Singapore. He said he wasn't surprised that my hard drives got lost in transit from the US to Singapore for 4 months - eventually postponing the editing of the film. He said that "things happen" to the projects that have been attempted and that he tried to document it once too, with unsuccessful results. In the end, he basically hinted that "it can't be done."
I wonder what he would think of my preparations for editing in the last couple of days. A tape with an interview with a Tibetan Buddhist Lama simply will not capture certain sections of the interview. I can play the footage on the camera, but I simply cannot capture these problematic sections of the interview onto the system. It only happens on 2 tapes and they are both his interview tapes. This problem doesn't occur with any of the other 60 tapes - that I know of so far.
Also, a hard drive containing half of the captured footage simply decided that it did not want to work anymore. One day it worked, next day it doesn't. I managed to rescue everything using Disk Warrior, but it's taken two days of work just to get back where I started. An inauspicious start indeed.
But I will say this - superstitions, foreboding warnings and inauspicious beginnings included - I truly believe that this documentary is meant to come together. As much as there have been set-backs, there have been more than plenty of windfalls, lucky breaks and a slew of positive circumstances that have lead us to capture a bountiful of footage.
Producer Genevieve Woo and Director Tony Kern will be on-air guests of 938 Live's "The Living Room" broadcast Monday, January 28th at 10:00am. They will be discussing THE MITRE SPELL as well as the upcoming film A MONTH OF HUNGRY GHOSTS.
Great news! Post-production for the film A MONTH OF HUNGRY GHOSTS will officially go into full swing at the start of 2008, with the goal of completion by the middle of the year.
While post-production remains in limbo, more footage of events taking place during Hungry Ghost month is captured during the 2007 seventh lunar month in Singapore. New footage focuses more on getai performances and one of Singapore's biggest getai organizers, Aaron Tan. Meanwhile Royston Tan's narrative feature fillm 881, centering on two upstart getai singers, "The Papaya Sisters", is performing extremely well at the local box-office, breaking the $2 million mark and regenerating interest in local films and the seventh month performances.
Post-production has been completed on a short documentary film Mythopolis Pictures produced in Singapore during the same time period A MONTH OF HUNGRY GHOSTS was being shot. The short documentary is called THE MITRE SPELL and is being presented as a small example of the type of project A MONTH OF HUNGRY GHOSTS can be when complete. A trailer for THE MITRE SPELL can be found here.
With the launch of TK TIME-LAPSE, a stock footage company created by Mythopolis Pictures, and the recent screening at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival of our short film STEEL SKIES, we hope to draw some attention to our work in progress A MONTH OF HUNGRY GHOSTS.
Mythopolis Pictures is currently seeking funding and post-production help in order to complete the film A MONTH OF HUNGRY GHOSTS. Please CONTACT US if you are interested in helping us get this unique documentary film completed.
Return to Singapore and complete work on animations for the Hell Gate sequence, Gaki Zoshi scrolls and compile and composite various high-resolution time-lapse sequences for A MONTH OF HUNGRY GHOSTS.
Members from the Singapore Paranormal Investigators (SPI) team will be interviewed for A MONTH OF HUNGRY GHOSTS this month. Ironically, an interesting story involving SPI unfolds on Monday, April 3rd. The group was called out on a routine investigation by students of Republic Polytechnic, who had been hearing ghostly cries of "help" at night. Upon searching the Tanglin area they made the grusome discovery of the remains of a human body along with scattered bones in a secluded bunk. Preliminary reports have suggested it is the body of a young girl who was murdered and dissected. The police in Singapore are currently investigating the scene.
Also this month, Mythopolis Pictures has acquired rare vintage 16mm footage of Singapore in 1920-1940s from private collectors. Some of the footage has never been seen publicly before and there are no other copies in existance. We hope to use some of this exclusive footage in A MONTH OF HUNGRY GHOSTS.
Mythopolis Pictures collects more hungry ghost related interviews in Singapore, including MediaCorp Raintree Pictures Producer Daniel Yun and Boku Films Director Kelvin Tong. The two collaborated on the production of "The Maid," a film that takes place during Hungry Ghost Month and was released in Singapore theaters during the seventh lunar month in 2005. It became Singapore's highest grossing horror film and Raintree's biggest international success to date. MediaCorp Raintree Pictures has graciously agreed to allow Mythopolis Pictures to include footage from "The Maid" into the documentary A MONTH OF HUNGRY GHOSTS.
Another visit to the "Thieves Market" results in the discovery of
some old Super 8 home movies shot in Singapore. I haven't been
able to view the films yet, so I don't know if they will useful for the
film in any way. Most likely not, but it was still a nice find
considering that such footage is rare in Singapore. I was told
that there is another dealer at the market that has some old 16mm home
movies of Singapore, but as yet I have not found him.
Within the next month, I'm hoping to get interviews
with members of the Singapore
Paranormal Investigators (SPI)
team, who have actually been visiting Malaysia most recently to
investigate claims of "Bigfoot" sitings. Also, planning to
interview a Singaporean real estate broker who will weigh in on the
effects of Hungry Ghost Month on the real estate market.
Mythopolis Pictures captures footage of the annal Hindu
practice of Thaipusam in Singapore in the middle of the first lunar
month. After fasting for an entire month, devotees carried
milkpots, and Kadavis attached to their flesh, for three kilometers
from a temple on Serangoon Road to another temple at their final
destination. The process involves having their flesh pierced with
a gamut of spikes, hooks and skewers. This footage may be used to
help show Singapore's multi-racial make-up and acceptance of many
Mythopolis Pictures captures footage of Chinese New
Year 2006, the Year of the Dog, in Singapore. Footage will be
incorporated in "A Month of Hungry Ghosts" when comparisons between the
popular holiday and Hungry Ghost Month are brought up in interviews.
Launch of A MONTH OF HUNGRY GHOSTS documentary website and trailer in an effort to try and secure grants and raise finishing funds in order to complete post-production of the film. When there is significant news about the production of "A Month of Hungry Ghosts" it can be found here.
Editing of the teaser/trailer for the film begins. Discovered an old black and white 16mm film "Singapore: A Study of a Port" which appears to be copyright free and contains some beautiful shots of life in Singapore during the 1930s and 40s. Perfect for older establishing shots of the country.
Begin capturing and logging more than 40 hours of footage for A MONTH OF HUNGRY GHOSTS in order to compile clips for a teaser/trailer for the film.
September 16 - Friday
Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union news article
on Channel News Asia's new partnership plan features quotes from
September 3 - Saturday - The Last Day of Hungry Ghost Month
1pm - This is the final day of the seventh lunar month. We film a brief Buddhist ceremony, which ends with the release of six hundred sparrows. The ritual symbolizes the freeing of trapped souls and a demonstration of compassion, linking back to Mulian and the original story of him saving his mother from suffering in Hell and the creation of Hungry Ghost Month.
3pm - Record Auntie playing various songs on the gu-zheng, including some improvisational discordant riffs for the purposes of the soundtrack. She also gives us some royalty-free CDs of Buddhist chants and music. Strangely, the bulb from my light explodes upon plugging it in. With a loud bang, tiny bits of glass shatter everywhere. Luckily, I was in a doorway pointing the light away from others and myself. The incident occurs near an illuminated Buddha shrine and Auntie believes that it protected me from the shattering glass. If any malevolent wandering spirits were trying to thwart our progress, that may have been their last chance during production as it is believed that they must all return to the Gates of Hell in the evening… until next year.
6pm - We finish production during the seventh lunar month by filming Auntie giving final offerings to her relatives and the wandering souls. She burns hell money at sunset just before it gets dark as all of the souls must return by the end of the night.
Time-lapse of sunset over Singapore.
8pm - Meet with one of the opera performers, Madam Tan, whom we interviewed previously, in order to make copies of some old black and white photographs of her. Tonight the troupe is putting on a puppet show exclusively for the ghosts. Literally, there is no one else there. The wide empty stretch of grass and the vacant illuminated temple give the scene an eerie vibe.
August 30 - Tuesday
9pm - We film a rare ceremony that is a hybrid Buddhist/Taoist practice called "Running with Lights." After ritualistic prayers a group of young men are given lanterns and run around the temple in various patterns for about thirty minutes. Then the group runs through the nearby crowd having dinner, giving the lanterns to the auctioneers on the stage, where they will be put for auction. Because the young men are wearing white and are constantly in motion, slow shutter gives them a somewhat ghostly appearance, especially when looking at the still frames from the digital footage.
Evening - Not so much directly related to hungry ghosts, but I talk to a couple of waitresses, Moon and Zoe, in a KTV Pub near Chinatown. Moon details a belief in which the color of spirits that appear is significant. White spirits are considered harmless, green spirits want help, red spirits desire revenge and black spirits want to take your life. She also talks about the fires of life on ones shoulders and forehead. When the flames become weak or are extinguished this is when someone can be more vulnerable to spirits or disease. Praying and stamping your feet three times helps protect from spirits by calling on the help of a territorial Earth God. Zoe tells a few spooky tales including one in which her friends claim to have seen a gang of dogs walking on their hind legs at night. Another story revolves around a friend who checked into a hotel near a casino and spent the night listening to a voice under his bed tell him about a man who died in the room after losing a great deal of money.
Afternoon - Film an interview with Master Lee centering on Taoism and Hungry Ghost Month in general. Master Lee has many interesting things to say about the practices and rituals and how they effect society today and visa versa. He talks about the relationship of Hungry Ghost month practices to consumerism, the responsibility of politicians and leaders, the recent 2004 Tsunami tragedy and global terrorism.
August 27 - Saturday
11am - Interview "Death Rites" author, Professor K. K. Seet about Chinese superstitions and Hungry Ghost Month at his home. He addresses general questions about hungry ghosts as well as do's and don't during the seventh lunar month and also addresses the commodification of the rituals. After the interview Professor Seat casually suggests another subject for a future documentary, susuk. Susuk is a little known form of black magic practiced in parts of Southeast Asia and India in which dukun or bomoh inserts golden needles under the skin to enhance one's attractiveness. It is apparently a Malay tradition that defies Islamic fundamentals and is greatly scorned upon but still practiced. At the time of our conversation with Dr. Seet about his limited knowledge of susuk, it was unclear whether golden needles were physically implanted or materialized over time during a magic ritual. My subsequent research would indicate that there is no physical magic trick involved and tiny golden needles are in fact inserted into the subject, sometimes on numerous separate occasions. The "magic" of the ritual is that the needles will supposedly make the person more attractive and irresistible to others, particularly the opposite sex and business associates. In essence, the purpose of the implants is to manifest charm, charisma and power as to cast a spell of fascination over others. Of course, there is believed to be a trade off at the end of the road. Users of susuk are thought to pay dearly in their last days and face gruesome painful early deaths. It's also believed by some that the susuk implants must be removed prior to death or else the wearer will not be able to pass on and their soul can never be laid to rest. One thing to be said for all this is that the practitioners of susuk don't skimp on the quality of their goods. In 1992, after dentists performing oral scans began to find susuks, the "metallic talisman" implants were surgically removed from three patients and studied. The susuks were found to contain nearly 90% gold content. All this is quite interesting, but unfortunately has nothing to do with Hungry Ghost Month.
Afternoon - Purchase some old black and white photos at an antique store at China Square. Stop by a smaller version of the "thieves market" in a back alley and buy a couple more old photographs and a necklace from the 1920s.
9pm - Dinner in Holland Square, an area very popular among expats, with Genevieve's friend Sakina. Before dinner is served Sakina asks us if we've ever heard about a form of witchcraft used to make people look more attractive, called susuk.
Midnight - Sunkist and some other Singapore Paranormal Investigator (SPI) members agree to take us to an area of the Chinese Cemetery where deng kees will be actively communicating with the spirits and trying to receive lucky numbers. Tonight it appears that there are many different groups of deng kees in the cemetery. We film one group in which deng kees go into trance at a table and other members perform a strange ritual in which some sort of "spirit chair" is twisted around and used to spell out lucky numbers in a box of sand.
Evening - Time-lapse shots of two-story Demon King and joss stick sparks in the breeze.
9pm - We are both still sick, but we manage to capture a small puppet show put on for the children… and ghosts.
Day - I am now sick with slight fever and overall exhaustion as Genevieve is still fighting her bug.
Afternoon - We go to the "Thieves Market" on Sungei Road to look for thrift goods. This flea market is named such because it was originally a market dominated by thieves who would come to sell their stolen goods. Now, it's more in line with a standard flea market, mixing psuedo-antiques with lots of junk. Even so, when my tripod was stolen earlier in the week, the response was unanimous… "Thieves Market." I do not, however, find my abducted piece of gear there.
8pm - Filming of a street opera performance and backstage preparations, actors getting made up and various crowd shots. There is a larger audience than the previous street opera from a few nights earlier but its not nearly as crowded as the more popular modern getai. We interview a couple of the actors about street operas in general and hungry ghost month and their own experiences. The eldest actor tells us about having to perform the operas during hungry ghost month in actual cemeteries, literally for the ghosts only. She says that sometimes they would actually see ghosts in the seats watching the performance in the middle of the graveyard.
Time-lapse of street opera actors performing on stage and actress removing her make-up.
11am - We film parts of Master Lee's Taoist festival and are invited to have lunch with him as well.
Time-lapse of Taoist ritual inviting the gods to partake in the festival.
1pm - Through SPI member Sunkist, we visit a family of mediums who are burning hell money offerings today. Interview father and son, who are both mediums, about offerings and their practice in general. The "temple" in their living room has been passed down for generations. Capture footage of the family and friends burning hell money and offerings.
7pm - Filming at Haw Paw Villa after the park's normal hours. Haw Paw Villa is an historical amusement park built in the 1930s that features Chinese folklore and myth, along with the infamous Courts of Hell. The Singapore Paranormal Investigators (SPI) team has received permission from the park to give a tour at night and to place motion detector cameras inside the Courts of Hell and take readings and measurements to determine whether there are any abnormalities during the middle of the seventh lunar month. SPI is also conducting a food experiment in which participants will be given two food samples - one placebo and another which has been placed as an offering. The participants will be asked to decide if there is any difference between the two in the way of taste or smell. While there we happen to meet up with researcher/photographer Ronni Pinsler, whose photographs of Hungry Ghost festivals in the 1980s I had discovered just days before in the Singapore National Archives. He has attended the SPI event as part of his own continuing research on Taoism. We interview him as one of "food testers" as well as a couple of other participants. Three of the four said they felt there was no difference in the food. Ronni agrees to meet with us later and be interviewed in more depth about Hungry Ghost Month and Taoism as well as help us with historical photographs for the project.
Time-lapse of Gates of Hell with green beams of light coming out.
2pm - Master Lee conducts a ritual at Dyna-Mac near the shipyards. We film the entire ritual, prayers and burning of hell money and also interview the owner about the day's events and it's significance to the company and it's workers.
6pm - We eat dinner, including some of the food from Dyna-Mac at Auntie's. Auntie and her husband conduct their own personal prayers and offerings to family members who have passed away as well as wandering spirits.
9pm - Film a small street opera performance near a dinner and auction. The street opera is literally being staged for the ghosts as there are only a handful of spectators, a couple of elderly women and some fidgety children paying any attention to the performance. We stay long enough for the dinner and auction to conclude and we capture another burning of the Demon King.
Time-lapse of deconstruction of street opera stage and dining tables at charity auction.
Afternoon - Return to Peninsula Plaza to buy another Giottos. Since the other one was stolen I checked on Ebay and discover that I paid twice as much as I should have for the tripod in the first place. Seeing as how no other shops have the Giottos model, I am forced to return to the original shop that overcharged me. The shop doesn't have any more. As I'm about to give up searching and leave I decide to check at one last place and they do in fact have one. They sell it for half the price I paid for the one that was stolen yesterday.
Evening - Filming of a getai performance, which is the more modern variation of the old street opera performances. While the small street opera performance from the night before had only four earthly spectators, tonight's getai boosts an anxious audience of hundreds. With the exception of events where SPI was present this is the only event or ritual in which there is a camera crew besides us. There is a grand stage and even a large video monitor for the gathering crowd in the back, who about two hundred feet from the stage. Along side the main audience, people are sitting at tables eating dinner, drinking and waiting for the show to begin. Still, even with the large crowd, tradition is honored, and the entire front row of seats next to the stage is left empty, for the wandering spirits. Whereas the street opera performances of the past were put on for the ghosts, the getai shows of today are clearly for the warm blooded as scantily clad performers, off-handed jokes and modern song and dance are the order of the evening. Even intermittent rainfall won't stop the show or the audience from enjoying it. Everyone remains seated and umbrellas sprout from the seated population. The crowd continues to grow through out the evening.
Time-lapse of thick clouds over Singapore skyline at night.
Afternoon - Continue searching for a shoulder brace at Peninsula Plaza. Purchase a Giottos mini-tripod as a stand-in for lack of a better option. Time-lapse shots at Taoist temple, people praying and an armless beggar on the street.
The infamous "Karmic Tripod Incident" - After an hour or so of shooting time-lapse shot near the temple, I discover that the newly purchased tripod has been stolen. What sort of fool buys a new tripod, than leaves it to sit while using the old one, only to have it swiped from him and hour after purchasing it? That would be me. There is also the irony of filming the armless beggar while someone was stealing from me as some Chinese might believe that stealing in a previous life would lead to reincarnation without hands or arms. Of course, it goes without saying that theft in life would be disciplined in the Ten Courts of Hells by having one's hands or arms cut off!
Afternoon - Various time-lapse shots of storm clouds forming. I am officially addicted to Pokka's Aloe Vera with Blueberry fruit juice.
Afternoon - Wander Chinatown. Time-lapse of downtown skyline from bridge over Singapore River during the day.
10:50am - Singapore MediaCorp News - The body of a sixteen year old boy who drowned is found in the Kallang River. The boy and some friends decided to hang out by the river when he suddenly decided to jump in. Finding difficulty, he shouted for help and two of his friends tried to assist him but they said once they jumped in he was nowhere to be found. Police said there were no other injuries found and they classified the case as "unnatural death." It is one of the most popular superstitions among hungry ghost believers that during the seventh lunar month swimming should be avoided because of "guei la jiao" ("ghost pull leg") and the danger of drowning is greater during this time. Online news story of the drowning here.
Drowning Research - There is an average of fifty drowning deaths (excluding suicides) per year in Singapore from 1992-2001. Currently, I am unable to find any statistics on drowning from month to month in Singapore. Because there are an average of fifty drowning incidents every year here, I am curious as to why this one receives front page headlines in every newspaper. I'm told by Genevieve, who has asked a number of different colleagues, the reason this incident received headlines is most likely because it is Hungry Ghost Month. Even though the Strait Times and other papers refuse to address the seventh lunar month directly in such articles because of editorial reasons, it's implied and everyone knows it.
7:30pm - We film parts of an auction in which proceeds will go to charities and/or funds providing for next years Hungry Ghost festival. My research indicates that these auctions use to including bidding on offerings that would then be burnt but now the items are clearly useful goods for the secular world.
9:00pm - We make our final return to Ullambana for the dismantling of the festival displays and altars. The Boat of Compassion and the Demon King, along with all other offerings, are packed up into trucks and transported to the Chinese Cemetery where they will be burned.
Midnight - After the Boat of Compassion, the Demon King and all of the other items are positioned correctly, the Lama's followers spend time showering the offering with hell money. The Lama then makes his rounds saying prayers and then eventually sets the mass of offerings ablaze. Within a couple of minutes the rather large mass of paper offerings are burnt to the ground. A convoy of cars gathers up everyone and we leave the smoldering flames in the cemetery. This Ullambana Festival is complete.
12pm - Meet with Auntie again for lunch and she takes us to the Buddhist Temple on Geylang Road. We film her in the temple praying and then we interview her. She talks about how she goes about giving offerings to her family members who have passed away, including her mother and her son, and the process by which she adheres yearly. Time-lapse shots within the temple and one of dark clouds intersecting over the skyline.
7pm - We return to Ullambana for the Fire Puja in which a bonfire is built and after a series of prayers the congregation lines up and gives offerings to the spirits. It's somewhat painful to watch some of the people wincing as they approach the fire to burn offerings, especially some of the children, who are clearly frightened by the growing flames and stinging smoke. Interview Wisely, a young Singaporean who is a Taoist. He explains some of the beliefs and a perspective from the younger generation. Time-lapse set-up of bonfire for the Puja.
11pm - Watch the feature film "The Maid" with a sold out crowd at a movie theater on Orchard Road. The horror film, written and directed by Kelvin Tong, was made in Singapore by Raintree Pictures, the film division of MediaCorp, and the story takes place during Hungry Ghost Month. "The Maid" turns out to be very successful and sets a box office record for an opening weekend for a horror film in Singapore, with a solid media campaign driven by MediaCorp press articles. MediaCorp's own film production arm, Raintree Pictures produced "The Maid." There is hope amongst the press and the Singapore film community that "The Maid" will be a breakout hit overseas in America and put Singapore on the map in Hollywood. I can envision the rights to "The Maid" definitely being sold to someone in Hollywood, but I don't see it being produced without major changes that would effectively render it weaker than the original production in the long run. But of course, what else is there to be expected from a Hollywood remake of an Asian horror film? Honestly, this dampens my spirit a little bit as the whole documentary I am currently undertaking was originally research for a film script I want to write that takes place during Hungry Ghost Month, a concept foreign to most of the rest of the world. I had planned to pitch this idea to the very company that produced "The Maid," Raintree Pictures. I found my initial research of the topic interesting and felt it would make for an interesting original horror film. There are big differences between "The Maid" and my own story, but for better of worse, "The Maid" will have beaten me to the punch in the American market one way or another.
A month later, the discovery of the severed head of a Philipino maid at an Orchard Road park will make headlines. The suspect in the case was the maid's best friend, another Philipino maid. Read the September 8th news story here.
7pm - Ullambana Festival with the Lama and SPI. SPI is setting up their gear around the altar for the wandering souls. There are numerous unexplained power failures in the area near the alter.
8pm - SPI has organized a trip to one of the sections of the Chinese cemetery. The mini-tour features two famous trees. One is a banana tree, which is believed to harbor a spirit that can be conjured by wrapping a red thread around its trunk. The other tree is massive and appears very old, squatting in the center of the grounds. There is an altar set up around it and it is apparently the focus of many rituals. The group slinks through the dark cemetery between the old Chinese tombstones and then we make our way back to the Ullambana festival.
10pm - Upon returning from the SPI cemetery trip there are more power failures in the area around the altar for the wandering souls. The Lama says that the spirits came to him and were complaining because there were some people who came for the SPI tour that were not showing respect. The Lama conducts a series of prayers in order to appease the spirits. During the prayers the power is intermittent and the lights flicker on and off. I am asked to stop recording the prayers halfway through and I oblige. Later we interview the Lama about what happened and he explains that the prayers generally appeased the spirits and he did all he could but that "you can't tame a wild tiger."
Afternoon - Research and buy various types of Hell Money from Ebay auctions. Find some from the 1960's featuring Marilyn Monroe, JFK, and Humphrey Bogart.
Evening - Time-lapse shots of Craziest Toy Fair shoppers, woman with mosaic sidewalk background, and Orchard Road intersection. Eat stingray at hawker center.
Afternoon - Take time-lapse shots of rain cloud patterns and buildings.
6pm - We meet with Singapore Producer/Director Adam Stanger of Point Digital.
10am - Spend the day filming Taoist rituals and offering in a strip mall area in Chinatown. The partially enclosed area is choked by the smoke of fuming joss sticks as music meant for the spirits blares in the sweltering heat. If these sounds don't wake the dead, nothing will. The priests lead a group of followers around the interior and exterior of the mall area and I am literally chasing them as they make their way past the shops and through the streets in the blazing afternoon heat. Time-lapse shot of people eating at the various foods stands in the mall with the festival stage in the background.
8pm - We return to the strip mall in Chinatown for the conclusion of the day's events, including the burning of Demon King and other offerings in a large bonfire. Mr. Chua arrives there as well and is frustrated because he believes the group is not setting up the bonfire properly.
Afternoon - Search for a shoulder brace for the camera, which turns out to be an unsuccessful endeavor, buy some more tape stock, and purchase a replacement XLR cable for the one lost over the weekend. One of the 1GB compact flash cards has disappeared as well.
12pm - Meet Mrs. Phua (Auntie) for lunch and follow her to a local store to buy joss sticks, hell money and offerings for her annual middle of the seventh month burning ritual. During one shot of Auntie picking out joss sticks, the background is filled by packages of dress shirts. I feel this really isn't an appropriate background so I want to move to a different angle. However, I discover that the shirts are not real but they are actually paper shirts meant for offerings. Paper offerings of all sorts are available, such as cell phones, cars, houses, shoes and various appliances, besides clothes. We interview the shop owner about how Hungry Ghost Month effects his business and how the economy effects the rituals. Take still photos of various offering items.
4pm - We visit Auntie's neighbor, an old blind man who is a spiritual medium for many Hells Gods. We interview him and film him going into a trance. The Beggar God, who heard about the documentary and is pleased, possesses him in the trance. As the Beggar God, the medium's voice chances slightly to a higher pitch, he rocks back and forth, and most distinctly as this entity, he intermittently waves a flickering fan. A group made of middle aged neighbors flank the blind man, waiting for advice from the possessed medium. The Beggar God gives Auntie karmic advice on how to deal with an unruly neighbor. In addition to giving other locals advice and personal information, such as lucky numbers, he blesses someone's dog. He then instructs me to eat more liver for my poor blood circulation while relaying a warning to stay away from the White House in September because there will be an assassination attempt on President Bush. Immediately after falling out of the first trance, the medium becomes the vessel for another god and continues to offer services for other members of the remaining group. After coming out of the final trance the blind man brings out a two-hundred year-old violin and plays a few songs. Then he reveals a Chinese violin, the erhu, a two-stringed instrument with a sorrowful almost human whine. This of course, will be perfect for use in the film's soundtrack.
7pm - Interview one of the local men in the back alley under an old winding Chinese staircase. The man tells various local ghost stories and one in particular that he experienced during Hungry Ghost Month as a young boy, in which he believed that he was being chased down by the ghost of an old woman in a back alley.
8pm - We record Auntie playing various songs on a gu-zheng, a beautiful stringed Chinese instrument, during sunset. Auntie generously gives us permission to use her music in the film as well. By request, she will create a spooky piece of music from scratch, which we will record at a later date.
11am - Meet with Professor K. K. Seat, author of "Death Rites," a collection of supernatural tales that incorporate many Chinese superstitions in Singapore.
1pm - Go to India Town and purchase a power converter/surge protector and buy some cheap shirts and cargo pants.
8pm - We have dinner with Grace for Genevieve's birthday at Bukanero, a restaurant that only serves one turnover a night and requires reservations two months in advance.
11am - Film interview with the Tibetan Buddhist Lama who led the previous evenings spirit invitation in the woods. Among many other topics of discussion, including Ullambana, Hungry Ghost Month, and Buddhism in general, the Lama is asked to address the incident that took place within the forest during the invitation of the spirits when I became separated from the group when filming. He explains that he put a protective "force field" around the group before everyone entered the woods to invite the spirits. As the group was leaving, I lagged behind as I was filming the group leaving. The Lama said he could feel the protective shield being stretched to its limits. He back to see me filming in the distance, surround by approaching spirits. That's when he signaled for me to catch up with the group because we had "friends with us now."
8pm - We film general Chinatown shots on the first evening of Hungry Ghost month. There is an Ullambana celebration going on with monks chanting. We gather some interviews, including a group of older men drinking and a food vendor. Time-lapse of run down building at Chinatown intersection.
Morning/Afternoon - Dark storm clouds appear and it rains throughout the first half of the day. One this night, the eve of the first day of Hungry Ghost Month, it is believed that the gates of Hell are opened and all of the souls are released. There are some who believe that it always rains on this day in order to cleanse the newly released souls as they come out of Hell.
4pm - Film Mr. Chua's factory workers coming together for prayers and offerings on the eve of first day of seventh lunar month. Inexplicable drain in camera battery power. Interview Mr. Chua in his office. Time-lapse shot of ritual set-up and burning joss sticks.
10pm - We stop at a Taoist celebration, but discover that it was already concluded for the evening. There a few people left over and they offer us beer and invite us back the following evening, but we are unable to make it. I do manage to capture a few shots of their set-up of the Gates of Hell and some of the elaborate offering tables. The remaining members insist that we have a drink with them, so I chug a mug of beer and we continue on our way.
10:30pm - Film a Tibetan Buddhist trip into the woods to invite the wandering spirits to partake in upcoming events throughout Hungry Ghost Month. Most of the experience is shot in infrared since I didn't want to use any obtrusive artificial lights. A congregation of about thirty Buddhists follows the Lama into the woods, each holding a candle. It's a rather surreal scene as the group winds through the dark woods by candlelight. The infrared combined with lens distortion gives the scene a magical look and the army of hovering candle flames multiply and seem to float in the air when the camera is tilted and panned in a certain manner. At one point, I am so engulfed in filming that I forget where I am and I continue rolling as the group leaves the spot where the Lama has invited the spirits. There is a rustling noise behind me and I turn back to the darkness, but can see nothing. However, I continue to stare back in the direction of the sound, almost as if in a trance for a short moment. Upon turning back to the monitor screen on the camera, I can see the group in the distance. They have stopped and are beckoning me forward. Illuminated only by the glow of the monitor, which displays a zoomed shot of the distant group in infrared, I suddenly realize that without their flames, I have been left in almost complete darkness, except for the few candles on the ground that they have left behind. I scoop up the camera and tripod and run to catch up to the group. When I arrive, the Lama is chuckling warmly as he explains that I must keep up with the group "because there are friends here now."
Midnight - We manage to get a cab driver to take us to an old Chinese cemetery. As we enter, it's clear that many burnt offerings have already been made at the entrance gates. Unexpectedly, the cabbie agrees to drive us deeper into the cemetery and we can see a bonfire in the distance. Making our way to the area where the fire is, we happen upon a group of individuals who have taken it upon themselves to give offerings to all the souls in the children's section of the cemetery. Each of tombstones is graced with cookies, candy, candles, joss sticks and other offerings for children. The group is independent and not associated with any particular congregation. They're responsible for the massive bonfire that drew us to this section. Unfortunately, none of them want to be filmed, but one woman talks off camera and allows us to record sound bytes.
There was one shot in which I was blindly scanning a tombstone while zoomed in and I suddenly noticed there was a big spider amongst the offerings. At first, being in this spooky old setting, I thought it might be part of the offering, as a toy or something. But soon it was apparent that it was real as I could see it munching on the ants that had come to partake of the food offerings on the headstone. Unfortunately I missed getting a shot of the spider scurrying off. Of course, it all had little to do with hungry ghosts, but it will certainly help set the spooky mood of being in the cemetery late night. Capture time-lapse shot of distant bonfire smoke rising into amber skies over cemetery.
The group eventually leaves and so do we. Our cabbie is still with us and even though it's late we continue on. Thinking that I hear other distant chants we move deeper into the cemetery. Eventually we spot a distant otherworldly glow spewing smoke from behind some ancient trees. As we make our way toward the new bonfire we're forced to park and walk as other parked cars have blocked the path. We follow the trail toward more late night rituals. A group of people, mainly Taoists, are still giving offerings and hovering around "deng kees," mediums who are supposedly communicating with the hell gods in order to receive lucky numbers. But first we must pass through their symbolic "hell gate" a chain crossing the road, leaving only a small opening through which we are supposed to pass. Once among the group the cabbie gets us permission to film as long as we don't focus on individual faces. I film in infrared as not to disturb any of the Deng Kees in trance. We leave after 3am and there is still a crowd of people surrounding the mediums in hopes of receiving lucky numbers or some other pertinent information from the gods. Driving back our cabbie tells us numerous spooky stories including one about a neighbor girl who was possessed by a tree spirit she angered.
5pm - Film a group beauticians who work at a hair and make-up salon in the United Square mall folding hell money in preparation for burning on the first day of the seventh lunar month.
8pm - Meet with Kenny and Eugene of the Singapore Paranormal Investigators (SPI) and talk about various plans for tours during Hungry Ghost Month.
3pm - Meet with Master Lee, President of Taoist Association and head of the Taoist Mission in Singapore. Master Lee gives the crew a protective blessing for our journey in documenting the entire Hungry Ghost Month. Master Lee explains that because Genevieve and I were each born in the Year of the Rooster this put at a more of risk during this period. The current year being 2005 and also a rooster year doesn't help matters either. He performs a ritual meant to give us better fortune and create a paper charm to protect us.
5:30pm - Meet Tan Mei Ling, Manager for the Singapore Thekchen Choling temple.
7pm - We film a "street opera" performance for the gods in preparation for Hungry Ghost Month at a Taoist temple. Backstage, actors are putting on make-up and helping each other up into costume. Lights bounce off of mirrors and the sprinkle of artificial gems and vibrant fabric fills the space. The energy of actors busily preparing for performance fills the atmosphere. Onstage, characters sway with rhythm and pose with confidence. This is a classical Chinese play the group is performing for an audience of probably 150 or 200 Singaporeans who will watch it's three hour story unfold.
11:50pm - Arrive in Singapore. Picked up at the airport by Genevieve Woo, who will be helping to produce the Hungry Ghost documentary and will also be responsible for scheduling and translations during interviews.
5:00pm - This is the last day of my full-time job, which I am leaving in order to pursue my own independent film projects, A MONTH OF HUNGRY GHOSTS being the first. This project originally started out as research for a future script. Since I had no luck finding a documentary in English about hungry ghosts, I have decided to make one myself. I am jumping the corporate ship in America and will be landing in the middle of a world I know very little about and have never personally experienced. At the beginning of the seventh lunar month the hungry ghosts will be set free to walk the earth, and I will be a hungry ghost walking among them with my camera trying to capture as much of this dying culture as I can throughout the entire month.
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