His Award-Winning Film Career Can Be Traced Back To... NS Guard Duty
STORY: Nicholas Yong
24 November 2021
Thanks to the late nights working as a security trooper during his NS days, Samuel Delitans Lee is now able to handle overnight shoots very well. “To this day, I am thankful for what national service taught me”, says the 29-year-old, who was in 8 SIR.
Assigned guard duty on a regular basis, Samuel had a lot of time to plan for future films and ideas. And when his commanders found out he had a background in media, they offered him the opportunity to be part of the media team.
“I did learn new skills and time management in the army, balancing 6am call times and only editing after 7pm,” says Samuel.
“There were times I would serve as Media IC during the day and continue my guard duty through the night. But because of my passion, I did not regret the work. This experience taught me a lot about resilience and perseverance.”
Today, the action film director has helmed not one but four award-winning short films: "Rescue Before Dusk", “Star Wars: The Awakening”, “Timecase”, and his latest flick starring ex-commando Jonathan Cheong, “Deadlock” which won Samuel Best Director at the World Film Carnival Singapore awards. The movie itself won "Outstanding Crime Film" and Jonathan took home "Best Actor".
He also started his own production company, “Littleworks Productions” in 2011 while pursuing a diploma in Film Sound and Video at Ngee Ann Polytechnic. He originally wanted to be an actor, but realised his true calling was behind the scenes after taking up film studies.
The top 3 films that have influenced him: "The Man From Nowhere" from Korea, "The Raid Part 2" from Indonesia, and the live-action film adaptation of "Rurouni Kenshin" from Japan. Plus, Christopher Nolan, Denis Villeneuve, Kim Jee-Woon, and Bong Joon-Ho take top billing as Samuel's fave directors.
We speak to the director/editor about working on “Deadlock”, his thoughts on the least appreciated parts of filmmaking, and the challenges of being a local film director.
Samuel, you're an "action movie director". How did swift punches and flying kicks become part of your repertoire?
I love stunts and flips very much. But they are not grounded in combat. As an action movie director, before I move into fanciful flips and wirework, I must learn how to make punches and kicks look good on screen. Every fight scene will have swift punches and flying kicks, but how well the action flows depends on me.
I wanted to become an “action film” director simply because the action genre is deemed as the most difficult genre in Singapore. Action movies are extremely rare in Singapore and highly ambitious. It is the most commercially disastrous journey to embark on the action genre.
But consider this, what if we are able to create our own identity from that genre? When people see such a film, they will think: "This great film... is made in Singapore". Thailand has their action films, Korean has their gangster films, Indonesia has The Raid films. And I wanted to stand out and craft my own style.
I purposefully chose the most difficult journey, knowing full well there will be huge disadvantages and challenges in my way. I persistently believe that in Singapore, a gem has yet to be found.
You're definitely on the right path, having clinched a Best Director award for “Deadlock”. Congratulations! What was the biggest learning lesson for you working on the movie?
Thank you! The biggest learning lesson is adaptability. Working and managing with people of different skill sets - be it stunts, cameras, or lights. All of us have different talents. As a director, I try my best to place people where they can excel in or where they can grow.
You also directed your first music video, the official MV for the movie’s theme song featuring FRGN and Charles ENERO. How different was it working on an MV?
Working on an MV requires you to think hard and fast. Sometimes FRGN and Charles will ask a question and I would create a scenario in my mind whether that idea would work or not. I need to stick to the schedule but also be open to suggestions.
Usually when I plan a short film, I almost have a fixed plan on what needs to be done. As this was my first MV, I was given total freedom. Being an editor too, I will plan in my mind whether a particular shot works or not.
As both a director and video editor, what do you feel is the least appreciated aspect of film, and why should people become more aware of it?
I feel the two least appreciated aspects are the stunts and film editing. Most of the time when a film does well, very little thanks goes to the editor who pieces all the shots together, and the stunt work that sells the action. Even in a film when a character falls down the stairs or gets hit by a car, it is the editing and stunts that sell the impact.
I have heard many people say, ‘‘The writing is good,” “Oh the camerawork is crazy,” “That is great direction,” or “Look at the beautiful visual effects.’’ But rarely do I hear the words, ‘‘The editing is top-notch” or “That is some great stunt work.’’
People won’t notice good editing or stunt work unless it is done very poorly. Imagine having a great film where the editing is horrible or the actress falls flat on a pavement without stunt work. Can you imagine how angry her fans might be?
What are the major challenges of being a local film director (and video editor) in Singapore?
You are pretty much on your own. You learn to write, produce, make props, direct, and edit your own film first. Not many people will believe your dreams and ambitions.
Once you have done some films and established yourself, you end up comparing yourself with and competing against your friends in the same industry. Everyone has their own rice bowl to provide for.
I did not have the pleasure of having a large pool of friends to kickstart my career. I had to constantly believe in myself, tackling doubts daily, and see every failure as an opportunity to be better.