Why were you interested in picturing cashiers struggling with being fired? Do you have further projects on this subject?
CA$H is actually part of a short film series Temasek 20/20, which prompted aspiring young filmmakers in Singapore to imagine what the future holds for us beyond the year 2020. I remember researching particularly into the issue of work replacement (for some reason), and I was reading this 167-paged PDF document published by the World Economic Forum which discussed the impending Fourth Industrial Revolution at length. As I went through the brutal statistics, it suddenly dawned on me how soon this was all going to come. My mom has been working as a cashier in a supermarket for more than 10 years now, and growing up, I was always intrigued by the many stories she would tell me about her work. She used to be a homemaker, taking care of my brothers and I, and I saw how her return to the workforce gave her so much more purpose in life. She would come home feeling proud that she could memorize barcode numbers of certain products, or that her colleagues had just praised her for making breads look puffier for better sales. Reading the paper, I started imagining how the communal experience could be taken away from us in an increasingly isolated society. And if her job were to be taken away from her unwittingly, I don’t know if she will have the courage to start over again like she did 10 over years ago, simply because of her age. The same probably goes for her friends and colleagues. It’s funny how when we started writing the film a year ago, my mom told us that the branch she is working at would never install the self-checkout system, simply due to the old architecture of the shop, and it being one of the oldest branches in the franchise. But fast forward a year, they have just installed the new system. At the same time, the first fully-automated, cashless supermarket has opened in Singapore since, where robots would pack groceries into bags and customers paid only with their smartphone app. To be honest, I don’t necessarily think that employees will lose their jobs as new types of work will be created. When my co-writer Zoea and I were researching about this issue, we have also encountered many kind organisations that are trying their best to retrain workers for the changing market. But I do want to depict the chemistry between the characters, the subconscious co-dependence and simply their unsaid love for each other. The future has never been about robots, technology, or artificial intelligence to me, but how our human experiences and relationships are being shaped. And I think it is important to be aware of what we might be losing in pursuit this “progress”. No, I do not have further projects on this subject!
Why did you want to give intimate details on the cashiers in the beginning of the film?
I can’t remember the exact thought process, but I guess it felt important for the audience to know the stake each character has in this battle. Although we might not get enough time to remember their specific characteristics, however, I thought Xiao Mei’s affection towards her colleagues does help us root for them as a team! I also did not want to begin the film on a dead serious tone, so I thought Xiao Mei’s slightly comedic voiceover paired with the music might help ease the audience into knowing the characters first, before we begin to tackle the difficult issue at hand.
How did you work on the dialogue and the cashiers fighting?
I usually work on characters before writing dialogue. I feel that once I know a character well enough (so that he or she feels like a friend of mine), I will more likely know what he or she will say when put in a scenario, or when put against another character. However, I do remember having some trouble developing these characters at the beginning, perhaps due to generation gap. But what I could resonate with is the bond within a clique, much like the cliques that we formed back in school days. Similar to how graduation pulled us involuntarily apart, I saw these specific experiences could be similar to what these middle-aged characters are going through. And so we decided to shape the characters based on people we know who would be likely to get along in school, and we feel like such chemistry is likely to be independent of age. Apart from that, we also hid outside supermarkets to study specific characters. When the cast came together, we did many improvisations during rehearsals and sometimes during shoot as well, which definitely brought another layer of life into the characters and their dialogue.
Why did you decide to end CA$H on a kind of unfinished dialogue?
The unfinished dialogue, in some sense, mirrors their unfinished business in the supermarket – there is food littered on the floor, stock awaiting to be arranged and a supermarket awaiting their customers. The attention is shifted to their loss and the environment that they ultimately have to leave behind.
Would you say that the short film format has given you any particular freedom?
With the limited time, the characters tend to have to face things head on, with less time to waste and no excuse to stall things like we usually do in life. I like the freedom that comes with this time restriction, so I tend to write films that happen over a single night, sometimes even a single location.
CA$H was shown in International Competition.