#2125 | December?

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I thought to myself oh its the start of December already I should probably remember to jot down my thoughts so I dont forget anything. But no, a blink and a hop and it is the 11th, which is nowhere near the start of december, more like fast approaching the middle.

I mean, what? What??

I generally love christmas but this year has been so hectic it doesn’t feel anything close to christmas yet. A bit sad about that, but it is what it is. The year has been so insane. But i feel like I’ve said that the last two years too? Maybe this precipitates a pattern, who knows. The end of the year always sees me try to wind things down quietly, but this year is going out with a bang for sure. More on that soon. x

x
Jem

#2123| google pixel 2xl vs samsung note8

Hi guys,

In November this year I got my paws on the Google Pixel2XL at the Singapore launch event and wanted to see how it would match up against my existing phone, the Samsung Note8. I told the Google real-human assistant (you know, as opposed to the artificial intelligence system they have) this, and he let out a low whistle.

“That’s a tough battle,” he said.

It’s true. The Note8 is widely considered to be the best Android phone available to man, but now that Google has released the Pixel, they’re basically neck to neck. Both phones are already considered very powerful, and it’s really the nitty gritty details that give either one an edge over the other. Now, I’m no tech wizard although I do super love geeking out over gadgets, so I can’t give you solid commentary on the intricacies of the specs in either phone. But I am an intensive phone user, and one who obsessively customizes and tweaks her phones to get the best possible user experience out of it, and it is based on that that I am now presenting to you: ANDROID WARS!!!!!! GOOGLE VS SAMSUNG.

Disclaimer

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I was seeded media sets for both the Google and the Samsung. I am not being paid for any content created relating to either phones, nor do I earn a commission on sales or anything remotely like that. If you want to know why I switched from being a full on Apple user to Android, I’ll be blogging about that in a separate post.

We also did a comparison of the Apple iPhone X, Google Pixel 2XL, and Samsung Note8 on Hype Hunt’s latest episode – which you can watch here:




But because we’re limited by screen time and also cos it’s a lifestyle and not tech show, we covered more day-to-day features on the show. This post will be a bit more about the in-depth user experience.

Google VS Samsung: the basic stuff

Right out of the box, both phones operate Android but different versions of it. The Samsung Note8 runs Android 7.1.1, affectionately known as Nougat. And the Google Pixel runs the Android 8 – the new Oreo system.

Because Google’s Pixel is native to the software it runs on (Google owns Android, FYI), the Pixel is likely to get updates before anyone else in the future, and it’s also probably going to run more smoothly with these updates. There’s no news yet of the Note8 getting the Oreo, and because Samsung is third party to the Google Android OS, it still has a layer of what’s called the ‘samsung skin’ on the phone. This means that the Note8 will be marginally slower than the Pixel because commands from the Android system will go through the Samsung skin first before you see it. In reality, this hasnt made a huge difference for me. My Note8 doesnt lag, and neither does my Pixel2XL. I also dont really see a huge difference between the two versions of Android, but i think this is more a FOMO situation than anything else cos some people are bound to just want the latest version of the OS.

At the moment though, I actually prefer the older version of the OS that my Samsung Note8 runs because it’s more customisable, especially with regards to widget control. This is because of the Samsung skin that runs on top of the Google Android OS, but it’s also why the Note8 is a bit slower than the Pixel.

The Google Pixel2XL comes with free original quality Google Photo storage until 2020. This is pretty cool cos as far as I can tell, google photos is the default storage album for the Pixel phones. So everything you take is automatically uploaded to the cloud unless you disable it, and the phone has the option of freeing up storage space on the device itself by deleting images that are already backed up to your Google Photos. This might make you panic, the idea of photos just deleting themselves, but its ok cos its all stored in full res on your Google Photos which you can access any time on your phone as long as you have internet connection! This is an extremely cool function because I am all too familiar with that “YOUR PHONE IS OUT OF STORAGE SPACE” pop up and that’s just never going to happen again with the Pixel!

The Samsung Note8 does not come with free anything as far as I can tell, but I dont think the unlimited original quality google photos is a dealbreaker for the Pixel vs Note8 because actually, all phones can download the google photos app and get free unlimited high quality cloud storage. I’ve been using this app since my iphone days and this is actually super. Basically the minute you get wifi, the phone starts uploading photos that youve taken or downloaded on your phone to the Google photos cloud linked to your gmail account. Anything under 16mp is fine, anything above that gets compressed to 16mp. Which honestly is enough for most people unless youre a professional photographer, cos 16mp is pretty generous for a photo anyway. It’s just that with the Pixel, you can keep your pictures in original quality lor.

The Samsung Note8 also comes with two sim card slots so you can run two numbers at the same time, whereas the Google Pixel2XL only comes with one. Again, this is not a dealbreaker, unless you travel a lot to one other specific country for work. Like say, if you live in Singapore but work in Malaysia, then the dual-sim would be invaluable because you can run your SG and work number in the same phone instead of switching to and fro especially when you need to authorize banking transactions or whatever with your OTP.

Google VS Samsung: physcial looks

Both phones are pretty big, with the Samsung being a wee bit longer. No real difference lah cos big is just big. But once you turn it on, the difference kicks in because Samsung has a bigger screen, so you get more real estate on your device.

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The two phones side by side: Display Off

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The two phones side by side: Display On

The most noticeable difference from the front is that the Samsung Note8 has a slightly curved screen that tapers off at the edges, a design aspect ported over from the Samsung Galaxy S series. This gives it a really nice, classy look. The Google Pixel 2XL has a glossy screen too, which is very pretty, but for all intents and purposes it’s just a straightforward and nice looking screen. Both phones have Always On Display functionality, which means that you can tell the time without waking up the phone. The Pixel’s AOD is cooler by a margin because it has auto music recognition, so if you’re in a mall or cafe and there’s music playing in the background, the Pixel will auto-detect it and display the song currently playing in your vicinity. It’s basically like Shazam, for those of you familiar with the service, except it detects the song playing automatically in the background.

The Samsung Note8 is a fingerprint magnet through and through. It picks up fingerprints more easily than the Google Pixel2XL, and while i dont understand exactly why, I can just honestly say that it’s a noticeable difference when both phones are sleeping. This really bothered me at first, and now I’ve just come to accept it as is. I’m going to get a matte screen protector for it so hopefully it stops picking up fingerprints then.

Speaking of fingerprint magnets – the back of the phones also differ quite a bit. I think this is just a minor point because most people will buy a case anyway, but the Samsung Note8 has a really glossy (and thus, fingerprinty) backing, whereas the Google has a nice matte metal back panel. I have no idea why Samsung makes phones with glossy backs and smudgy fronts because literally everyone I know will pick a matte option if they have half a chance to. I definitely prefer the matte feel of the Google Pixel2XL’s back, but then again, this isnt really a big deal once you put cases on both phones. And as far as I know, both phones come with cases out of the box.

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Comparing the back of both phones

Oh, and one last thing. Fingerprint related also. The fingerprint scanner on the Google Pixel2XL is perfectly placed. I really hated using the iphone fingerprint scanner because I found it irritating (the new iPhone X has done away with that though, I heard), and the Samsung Note8 fingerprint scanner is just pure awkward. It’s too high up, it’s on the same panel as the camera (and so you end up touching the camera lens instead quite a bit), and it’s basically a very strange position to have a fingerprint scanner. You can bypass this if you use the iris scanner or passcode instead, but it’s just annoying if youre already used to unlocking your phone with a fingerprint.

Google VS Samsung: onscreen looks

When you power on the phones, the first thing that comes to mind is that the Google Pixel is cuter. The time stamp uses a thicker font, which makes it look more adorable, and the Pixel’s app icons are brightly colored little circles that reflect the spirit of the quad-colored google logo.

The Samsung Note8 is a bit more grown up. I’m using a theme that I found in the inbuilt Samsung theme store, and I adore it because I’ve tweaked my phone screen to show me exactly what I want in the way I want it. As a result, my entire display is more muted, with more jewel tones and less bright pop colors. This is mainly because I have tweaked the phone extensively, but it’s worth noting that while you can do all this on the Samsung Note8 right off the bat, you need a third party launcher on the Google Pixel to change or edit the theme, which is kind of troublesome. I’ve used third party theme launchers before (I used a Sony XPeria, very briefly, 2 years ago) and I hated it because it was just so cumbersome and it slows the phone down. So if you dont want to figure out the mechanics of using a third party launcher, you’re stuck with the original Google skin that the phone comes with.

It actually really annoys me that I cant customize the way the Pixel looks, but to be fair, the original Pixel configuration is pretty gorgeous from day one of use. It comes with a live wallpaper enabled, and mine is an aerial view of a sea washing up against a cliffy beach. The waves move too, they’re perpetually crashing against the beach, and the overall effect is really nice. The same live wallpaper is also available on the Note8, but somehow i think its more optimised for the Pixel cos the movement and colors seem more vivid there.

Google VS Samsung: camera and pictures

Both phones have killer cameras. I initially thought the Samsung was a definite win, but after using both phones for about two weeks, I think they’re basically on par.

Both cameras are really good, impressive markers of how far technology has come. The Google Pixel2XL operates on a single lens, whereas the Samsung Note8 has 2 lenses. Google is trying to prove, i think, that you can get great photos without needing two lenses, and they do quite a good job of that with their Portrait mode. The portrait mode on the Google is also available for the front facing lens, which is nice if you want professional looking selfies. The Note8 only has portrait mode for the back camera, but it is the only camera (of the current 3 flagships – Google, Apple, and Samsung) that allows you to toggle the intensity of the portrait mode, so you can decide how bokeh you want the photos to be.

As a result of its single-lens configuration, the Google photos look a bit more digitized. I actually have to edit the photos to soften them a bit, otherwise it’s too sharp and looks unnatural in certain lighting conditions. The colors on the Google are also more true to real life, so they look a bit colder. But then again, some argue that colors on the iphone and Samsung are artificially saturated. So it depends on what floats your boat. Either way, you’re probably going to edit a picture before posting it, which brings me to my next point – the native photo editing capabilities within the Google Photos folder on the Pixel is fantastic. It’s actually pretty impressive for a native editor. Here are some examples of the photos on both phones:

Selfies:

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Photos with the back cam:

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These photos are all unedited. But once you put in editing, both phones produce fantastic photos lah. I think the act of comparing the cameras is really just an exercise in how amazing technology is now. I’ve shot entire blogposts on purely the Samsung Note 8 camera – look at these amazing low light photos in this Mexican restaurant we went to in Melbourne! I don’t have blogposts that are fully shot on the Google Pixel yet cos I just got it not too long ago, but the Pixel camera is honestly also damn good, like I’m super impressed every single time I use it. I’m going to just put some of my favourite photos from both phones here.. these are edited using various apps on the phones:

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My birthday party this year, shot on the Note8 back cam

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Selfie at St Kildas using the Note 8 front camera

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Other photos using the Note 8 back camera

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Selfie at a cafe using the Google Pixel 2XL front camera

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Photos indoors using the Google Pixel 2XL back camera

PS. This all refers to photos – the video taking capability on the Samsung Note8 is a clear win – you can see us test the two phones and their video functions in our latest Hype Hunt episode. This may not be a big concern for most people because not everyone uses their phones to take video – but it’s important to me because I film and edit my #Jemmainajiffy videos on my phone.

Google VS Samsung: Audio and Music

EARPHONE JACK: Google 0, Samsung 1
SPEAKERS: Google 2, Samsung 1

I have mixed feelings about this. The earphone jack actually doesn’t matter to me because I’ve been using wireless earphones for a long time, I hate wires. I use the cordless Samsung Icon GearX buds with the Note8, but when I was on my iPhone, I used the wireless Sudio Sweden Vasa Blas. So the earphone jack thing actually doesn’t matter to me, although I know it might to some people.

I really don’t know how to feel about the speakers. I think both phones leave a lot to be desired in terms of how they’ve designed the audio experience. Firstly, I think in terms of speakers, Google has got the right idea there, installing front facing dual stereo speakers on the top and bottom of the phone. Samsung only has one speaker on the Note8, and it’s placed at the bottom right of the phone, which is an incredibly awkward place for a speaker because when you’re using your phone chances are your finger will block the speaker and muffle the audio. Between this speaker and the fingerprint placement thing, I think Samsung really needs to find whoever is making these decisions and shake some sense into him, because both of these are really major design flaws.

But then when the music actually starts playing, the sound output on the Samsung is significantly better than the Google. I’m really not a tech expert so I don’t know what the industry term for this is, besides saying the same song just sounds better played on the Samsung than the Google.

So.. the conclusion is you would not be buying either phone for their audio experience.

This is no longer an issue if you listen to your music with headphones on or whatever, but it’s noticeable to me because I listen to podcasts in the morning while I’m getting ready, and I don’t plug in because I want to be able to move around and choose clothes etc etc. So podcasts are always broadcasted off my phone in the mornings. And also, like I mentioned before, I like to watch Netflix videos while conditioning my hair, and obviously I won’t have earphones in while in the shower, so yeah, there are just some situations where I’ll be using the phone speakers instead of wireless earphones, and those are the situations in which the output experience matters.

Props to the Pixel, however, for putting in a lot of effort into designing the music experience of their phone. For example, like mentioned before, when your pixel picks up music playing somewhere in the vicinity, it auto-identifies the song information and puts it on the Always On Display, which is a cool feature especially for Shazam lovers. And when you use the Pixel to play music off Spotify or something, the entire screen changes to the album art, which is pretty nice.

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The Google Pixel 2XL plays with music lovers pretty well.. for anything except the actual music playback

If only the Pixel had better audio output quality. Sigh!

Google Vs Samsung: Assistants

I must say that getting into the AI functions of my phones is a relatively recent thing – I tried Siri briefly when I was using the iPhone, found it totally unusable, and quickly forgot all about it.

But ever since getting on Android, I started fiddling with the AI features on both the Samsung and Google again. Google uses Google Assistant, and Samsung uses Bixby. I’m just going to say, straight up, that there is absolutely no competition here. Google wins hands down.

The Google Pixel 2XL has fantastic, fantastic google assistant capability – it activates either by voice (saying “ok google” wakes the phone up”) or by squeezing the phone. This is so random and cute that I just adore the weirdness of the whole thing. What a time to be alive – you can pick up your phone and squeeze it and it will wake up and ask you what you need! This must be what married life is like.

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Super cool! Nothing happens when you squeeze the top half – it only activates when you squeeze the bits that i put the wiggly line next to

The voice recognition on the Google Pixel 2XL is AMAZING. It can recognize what youre saying relatively easily, it’s able to discern the intention of your statement pretty easily (so I can say “ok google take me home” and it maps me home), and it is incredibly quick. Singlish recognition is coming to Google Assistant soon too, which is an added plus, though not a dealbreaker. All in all, I think the Google Assistant function is integral to your phone usage – I use it nonstop when I’m holding on to the Pixel.

The Samsung has Bixby, which can also be voice-activated (say “hi bixby” to wake it up) or physcially activated with a dedicated Bixby button. Bixby is developed by Samsung, and it doesn’t have the same advantages as Google of having, well, the largest search engine and artificial intelligence database in the world. So when you bear in mind that Bixby is still a baby, it makes sense that it’s just not as good as the Google Assistant. It does have some pretty promising features – I programmed some quick commands into it, which basically means I link stacked commands to a certain series of keywords. (EG. I say “Hi Bixby Goodnight” and it turns off wifi, turns off bluetooth, turns on blue lighting filter, sets my alarm for the next day, clears all my notifications, and optimises my phone battery in the background)

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Dedicated Bixby button – but the Samsung Note8 also supports Google Assistant if you prefer that

In theory, this is fantastic. But the voice recognition capabiliy of the Samsung is just not as good as the Google. Bixby often doesnt understand my speech, which I’m a bit offended at because I’ve been using it for like a month already. And it also randomly wakes up sometimes for no good reason without me activating it. I dont think this is simply a Bixby problem – I think it might be Samsung’s internal voice recognition software, because I also have Google assistant downloaded on my Note8 and it doesnt recognize my speech as accurately as the Google Pixel. Google Assistant on the Note8 is still better than Bixby on the Note8, but yeah, its just not as accurate.

Overall, Bixby and Google Assistant both have different capabilities (Bixby’s stackable quick commands are honestly genius) and in an ideal world, using both on the Note8 would really render the Note8 a powerhouse. But Samsung really needs to work on its voice recognition technology, because that is such a crucial part of the AI experience. So yes, for now, Google wins.

Google Vs Samsung: hardware

Both phones are water-resistant, so you can take them into the pool or the beach without worry. Personally, I load Netflix shows on them and prop it up in the bathroom so I can watch new episodes of shows while conditioning my hair, which is a half-hour affair.

Battery is pretty good on both, especially when you tweak the power saving modes on the Note8. They can comfortably go a full day on a single charge in my experience, though the Pixel has overall longer battery life.

But the Samsung’s main advantage is its stylus. Honestly, incorporating a stylus into the Note series is a brilliant move. Firstly, it differentiates the Note so distinctly from every other phone out there, that if youre dependent on the stylus, you’re never even going to consider moving to another phone system.

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The SPen is the Star of the Note 8

Secondly, it is a damned good stylus. It’s made by Wacom, which is what, like, every serious digital artist in the world uses. It’s pressure sensitive, which means your handwriting on the Note is personalised and pretty, but beyond that, it also means that you can sign off on documents while on the go, which is a huge thing for freelancers like me. The Note8 comes with Office suites, so if clients send me contracts, I can easily endorse them and send them back without having to look for a printer/scanner. This is amazing. I cannot emphasize this enough.

The stylus is also waterproof and made to play well with the Samsung screen. This has two main functions, the more obscure of the two being if youre trying to take a photo underwater, you can use the stylus to do this, because sometimes screens dont recognize your finger underwater. The second, and more relevant function, is that when you use the stylus to take notes, you can lean your wrist on the Samsung screen while writing/jotting notes down using their native Samsung Notes app. This is amazing. You have no idea. I have been using this nonstop at press conferences to jot down important notes and points that I later incorporate into my articles, and its not only more intuitive to use a pen-like stylus, it also looks more professional because i dont look like I might be texting when the speaker is talking? I assume this is the same for office meetings or school lectures.

And lastly – if you’re into doodling, this is also pretty great. I use the stylus every single day for drawing on images, especially on my instagram posts or instagram stories. It just makes for more personalised content, and I personally love doodling, so it made total sense. It also complements the big screen very well, because you have a lot of real estate to doodle on! Every single doodled photo in this post was doodled on using the Note8 Stylus.

The stylus slides right into the Note8 and clicks into place so youre not likely to misplace it – it sends an alert to your Note8 if you move too far from the stylus to remind you not to leave it behind. Pretty impressive!

Verdict

This is an incredibly close fight because both phones are fantastic and I find myself perpetually amazed that we are living in an age where phones are able to be so powerful: they’re basically tiny computers by now. COLOR ME IMPRESSED Is what I am saying. But if youre looking to definitively buy one of the two, telling you both are great isnt going to help much. So I re-looked at the functions and features on both phones, and I narrowed it down to basically one criteria..

The deciding factor is AI vs hardware. Everything else is so excellent on both phones that this is really the main differentiation point of the two phones. If you foresee yourself relying on Google Assistant, the Google Pixel2XL will give you an integrated, smooth experience with the AI. If you love the idea of having a waterproof stylus that can quickly mark up documents and essentially act as an extra arm for you, then the Samsung Note8 might just be your best bet. So ask yourself this question, and you’ll find your decision a lot clearer.

Ultimately, both phones are stellar and I’m pretty sure youre going to love whichever one you finally go with. The real winner here, is the consumer. Keep competing, all you phone makers. I am here for it.

X
Jem

#2122 | Thanksgiving 2017 – My BB Love

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My BB Love – Original short film for Laneige Singapore
Executive Producer: Jemimah Wei
Director: Martin Hong
Producer: Liu Long Hao
Director of Photography: K Hanshen Sudderiddin
Production Studio: Savour.Love

Hey guys,

So this post is way overdue. In May this year I begun pre-production for the film that would finally end up to be Laneige’s My BB Love, and we filmed the entire thing (29 shots) over the course of a very long day in end-July. The conceptualisation of the entire campaign started a year before, and we only truly wrapped press for the film in mid-September. It’s been a long journey, is what I am saying.

I knew I wanted to document the process over on my blog, but I was severely burnt out in September and October (I was finishing up my Masters thesis at the same time, and starting work on another film project that’s coming out end Nov), and it felt like I had so much I wanted to say, so many things to be grateful for, that to even begin on the post for My BB Love seemed such a mammoth task. Excuses aside, that’s kind of why I hadn’t spoken about the film extensively till now. But thanksgiving 2017 seems a good place to start. 🙂

I dont think I’ve ever wanted anything as badly as for this film to work. I certainly haven’t embarked on anything as large scale in my life, and I think I lived in a constant state of paranoia for months because I was afraid I would screw things up or people would take the film the wrong way. The film is, make no mistake, a passion project from start to finish. It was not a campaign that came with a brief, or anything remotely like that. There was a certain story I knew I wanted to tell, but for a long time it was just festering at the back of my head, waiting for the right moment to mature. When I met Trishna last year, everything kind of clicked into place. Thus began almost a year of writing, rewriting, focus groups, proposals, pitching, and about five zillion reality checks.

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Laneige accepted the pitch in the first week of June, and that is where my first point of thanks comes in. I’ve been working with Laneige as their social media ambassador for the last two years (coincidentally, my first project with them was a video project for the BB Cushion as well), and they have always trusted me to bring my own creative concept to the table instead of policing the content I create for them with an iron fist. Often, this just means collaborating on individual instagram postings, in which case the amount of variation I can bring is probably pretty limited. Still, our relationship has always been mutually trusting, which I appreciate greatly, and which is what makes them one of my favourite long term clients.

But even then, I had all my fingers crossed when I went to them with my pitch and asked them to let me take over their entire marketing campaign efforts for mid-2017. Even in retrospect I think it was incredibly brave for them to have put their faith in someone who is not from the brand, and for that I really have to thank the team – Sherin, Yifang, Shiying, and Tina, with mega special thanks to Sherin who was heavily pregnant at the time but still put in an INCREDIBLE amount of effort into making this project a reality.

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My A team: Tina, Sherin, Yi Fang, Shi ying

I am so, so, so grateful to them for trusting me with this. Trish and I are not from Laneige, meaning we are neither employees of the brand itself nor their PR agency, and it is extremely unprecedented for brands to allow independent content creators to take over their brand-owned content. It’s more flexible if the content is put on the content creator’s own channels, but for brand-owned channels it’s normally quite strictly controlled, which is why this was such a huge thing for us. As much as this was a passion project for Trish and I, the content ultimately would sit on Laneige’s channels and have Laneige’s name behind it, and so I was mad grateful that Sherin and team were willing to take a bet on us 🙂 I know what a huge leap of faith it was and I am so, so, so thankful. I could not have asked for a better team :’)

Speaking of jumping into things. Trish – honestly, I sometimes think of our meeting as one of those love stories where you meet someone and elope immediately. I met her last year at an event, started talking to her, and then she moved away to London to study fashion. On and off we chatted (mostly about school stuff), and then one faithful day I sent her a Facebook message. Hey girl, I said, I have something to ask.. And the rest, as they say, is history.

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On set, in between scenes

The campaign we conceptualised was separate from the film itself, although they were correlated and often conflated, but the truth is, the roadmap of how the entire thing unfolded was so much huger than just the production. The overarching campaign was conceptualised based on Trish’s experiences, and I later translated it to film. Trish and I had long discussions where she told me basically her entire life story, we strained out key experiences, and weaved it into the motivation for a narrative. Obviously, you all know that Trish also ended up being the star of the film, and she was so good. The final film is so light hearted and fun that I dont think anyone would have guessed that this was the fourth iteration of the narrative – the first was actually science fiction, can you believe it! How far the story has come.

PS. I actually watched SO many korean drama clips to try and understand the humour and romance that K-culture emulates, and this was both very silly and very fun because Trish and I are both not typically kdrama fans. I did study scriptwriting in school for a semester as part of my Creative Writing minor, which helped a bit, but there was still a lot of researching the process of how scripts are structured for web. Definitely a learning process – I think from the entire campaign I learnt that I do enjoy scriptwriting and might have potentially considered it a career option in a different life, but unfortunately from what I understand there’s no market for scriptwriters in Singapore 🙁 Oh well.

Anyway. Down to the film itself:

In terms of technical expertise I have nearly nothing – I am not trained in film; my training is in storytelling and writing, and so I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I started. I am so, so grateful for the kindness and guidance I was shown by my friends who do know film. A lot of hand holding took place over the course of this production. Martin, my dear friend and incredibly talented director, without whom this would not have been possible. Long, our producer, who taught me so much about the intricacies of film making. Before this film I had no idea what the difference between a shot and a take was. Now I can tell you about lighting and match-cuts. This is entirely to the team’s credit – they were incredibly patient with me, and they taught me so much.

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The set up that goes on behind crafting that one perfect shot

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Martin (why r u like this), Me, and Long (our producer)

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Me and Sham, our amazing amazing assistant director who ensured everything ran on time and smoothly

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THANK YOU

So much of film is visual, and so I greatly credit the amazing hair, make up, and wardrobe team for the gorgeous looks you saw on the film. My personal hair sponsor Hairloom immediately came on board to support this project when I told them about it – so thank you, my hairloom fam – Mervyn, Ben, and Calvin. Mervyn was our on set hairstylist, and he was amazing.

Makeup for the shoot was obviously done by the wonderful Tina from Laneige – their in house make up professional and someone who felt passionately about the project from the start. Both for the gorgeous looks and for the support, thank you.

My dear (and very stylish) friend Amanda volunteered to come on board as wardrobe stylist, thank goodness because honestly I happily committed to doing everything before realising that i had bitten off a bit too much, and anyway, Amanda has amazing style. Our entire wardrobe for the shoot was sourced from Zara, via Charmaine from Access Communications, so thanksgivings are in order there too. Everything looked absolutely incredible.

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Hair, Make up, and Wardrobe
PS. How AMAZING does Trish look?? I swear, she can pull off anything

All our friends who took a whole day off their busy schedules to play high school students. My sister also took a day off from her internship to help out on set and occasionally double as a student on set! Knowing how precious time is, I could not be more grateful:

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Thats my sister, who was a logger on set, which means she has to work with the AD to keep track of scene shots

We honestly got so, so lucky with Tae gu, our male lead. Special thanks to Han Dong Gyun, a director from South Korea, who recommended Tae Gu to us. We video-casted Tae Gu over Skype, and he was so brilliant that we just knew.

And how great that decision turned out to be too. Tae Gu was such a joy to work with – everyone who met him immediately loved him. Our shoot day was insane – budget constraints and what not meant that we had only one day for the entire shoot, and that was essentially a 21 hour day for me (including set up and tear down). Despite how long the day was he was a trooper nonstop, and never once gave any inkling of an indication that he was tired or bored or whatever. I mean ya la it’s my first film so I guess i wouldnt know if this is standard behaviour, but from my knowledge any kind of talent can be very diva ok! So I’m thankful that he wasn’t, and even more thankful that he was such a wonder.

We went for drinks the day after the shoot, and we were explaining to him the concept behind the campaign, and he immediately went from being our actor to being our advocate. We did a couple of interviews together after the film debuted, and I think it was so clear to everyone involved that as a younger-gen South Korean, he felt it was high time for a people back home to start opening themselves up to empathising with cultures other than their own. He actually went back to Korea and gave a talk at a school there where he screened the film and discussed it to great success. He texted Trish and I later to say that it was very well received :’)

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With Tae Gu on our ADR day!

And our crew – many of whom I met for the first time on set. They were incredible!! I think I really got so, so lucky with crew, and for that I have to thank Long our producer. For those of you who are unfamiliar with film, a producer is someone who gets all the internal workings of production together so the film can happen, and part of that is sourcing crew. I met Hans, our director of photography, on set and worked with him again the following month on a different film project, and it was so fascinating to me to watch how he and Dion (his camera assistant) worked the camera movement. Each shot was motivated by tracking the internal process of a character’s mental state, which makes a lot of sense when you watch the final product because all these subtle things add up, and when an audience watches the final thing, he/she feels strongly for a scene but cannot quite put a finger on where the magic is… yeah. No. After working on this and subsequent film projects I can tell you exactly where the magic is, and it’s a combination of hard work from the crew and many, many minute details.

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We shot on an Alexa Mini, which is the same camera they use in hollywood 😀

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The BTS Set up

Our Assistant Director, Sham, kept things running so smoothly and on time, which is a HUGE deal, way bigger than it sounds. Our schedule was insane and unrealistic from the start, and we were all praying that we could finish our shoot on time because if it overran we would be in a lot of trouble and our budget would be totally shot. The industry standard is normally 25 shots a day (a shot being a particular angle ish, and then within shots, you have different takes), and we (well, I) wrote 29 shots in which Martin nearly strangled me over. WHAT? It was necessary for the story!! But anyway we all went in with our fingers crossed because there was a high chance we wouldnt be able to finish shooting if something went wrong on set, and a MILLION things could go wrong – scenes overrunning, location problems, RAIN.. And thank goodness Sham was there to keep everyone in check and to keep us all on schedule. There were a few snap decisions that had to be made because we were battling the sunlight movement, and she made them, and I cannot even begin to explain how reassuring it is for someone to be steady enough to do that under pressure.

Our Art director, Karen, a total sweetheart and crazy talented, also did Art for the Crazy Rich Asians movie coming out soon, which I think is so insane because how on earth did we get her?! Art Direction for film sets are really a whole world of their own – everything you see we had to build on the existing location, and it’s the reason why the film looked the way it did. The dorm room, in particular, was a thing of beauty. It’s such a pity we could only show part of it!!!

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EVERYTHING here is built on from the bare bones of the NTU dorm room. Our Art team replaced the curtains, installed fairy lights and lamps, and themed everything around the Laneige Blue and complementary colours. And if it looks like my old dorm room.. its cos half the stuff is mine HAHA. We raided my home and office for props so we would have to purchase less

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This is what the same dorm room looks like without embellishments!!!

Am also extremely grateful to my alumnus, NTU. We filmed the entire thing on campus – in order of appearance in the film: outside NIE, the new NTU Sports Complex, outside the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, NTU HSS Sem Room 9, and NTU Hall 3. Special thanks to Christina from HSS and Angela from NTU Housing who were so kind and helpful when we were trying to secure locations! After the film came out it occured to me that the film could easily be an ad for NTU being a beautiful campus – and I think they had the same idea because NTU Corporate Communications reached out to me afterwards to request permission to screen My BB Love onscreens across the school!

And after all that..

The film debuted on the 24th of August on Laneige’s Facebook page, and immediately went viral, with over 100k organic views over the weekend. It went on to hit over 300k views and 1k shares, not counting the illegally ripped versions floating around FB where other pages ripped the video and reposted it (thus accumulating views on separate pages that don’t link back to us).


Full HD Version hosted on their youtube channel

Trish and I also handled PR for the film after the release, and that included pitching the news story and giving interviews, but the way the story was picked up so quickly and across so many channels blew us away. We had commentary pieces (read Rice Media’s think piece here), beauty centric articles (Read: Buro 247 and Cleo, articles measuring the online community’s response to the film (Read: Asia One, Mothership) and even write ups from internal advertising industry magazines (Read: WARC’s coverage here)

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Looking back at the whole thing, it really seems so surreal that I cant believe it happened less than six months ago. Trish had to return to London for studies quite shortly after we finished filming, so we never had the chance to properly celebrate the launch together, though she’s coming back this Dec so I think we’ll probably have our very delayed wrap party then 🙂 But seriously, we had so many great moments of hysterics over the net – for nearly a month we were waking up in Singapore and London respectively to messages from each other going OMG OMG OMG DID YOU SEE WE MADE IT ON MOTHERSHIP/CLEO/ETC ETC ETC because of the time zone difference.

This whole campaign was such a ride. Honestly, I don’t think I had ever been so stressed in my life before. On the day of the shoot, I actually broke out into hives on my face because of stress, and this has NEVER happened before, so you know shit is serious. Trish and I had SO MANY panic attacks before the shoot itself, we debated every single line in the film with Martin (a godsend, a born talent) to make sure nothing was superfluous, and in between the shoot and the actual film launch, we panicked over how it would be received (poor Trish was all the way in London so she was panicking like, alone) and then when it launched, we were NEUROTICALLY monitoring the online response and refreshing it every few seconds.. Actually, I think everyone involved on a creative level was extremely stressed haha, including Sherin from Laneige who I mentioned was heavily pregnant yet still running rounds to make sure everything was ok. And that fear that came with both doing something completely new to us and new in general was overwhelming and all-consuming, I think no one ever tells you that, and nothing can ever prepare you for it.

I think it is also in my personality to work myself up and start shit with myself, so every little fear got mega blown up in my head as we were leading up to the shoot date, and many times I think Trish and I felt paralysed by fear almost. But it came to a point where we had to ask ourselves: yes we are afraid, but does that mean we won’t do it? The answer was a clear no – there was no option for either of us to drop the idea at all. And from there, things became a lot clearer. What was left was to just get to it, and do the thing we said we would do.

And we did.

Thank you.

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Jem

#2121| “Coco” is the most important animated film this year

When I was 10, I was sitting in a dark theatre with my parents, two hours into a movie, and I heard a sniff. Scrap that: I turned around in my seat and the entire row behind me was a hot mess. Tissues were out, tears were streaming, some people were openly bawling. I looked up: my mother was next to me, staring straight ahead, eyes glistening. I think it might have been the first time I saw my mother cry. The year was 2002, the movie – I not Stupid by Singaporean filmmaker Jack Neo.

Since then I have bawled at many movies, but no movie has had the same effect on me: entire rows behind me, eyes wet, openly crying, all of us sitting in the dark and communal in a kind of vulnerable, open emotion. That is – not until Coco.

I was in San Fran for the Coco Country day last month, an immersive full day experience at Pixar Studios Emeryville dedicated to understanding the process behind the art, research, and animation, as well as running interviews with pixar employees and the filmmakers. I got very excited over the technical aspects of the film there – the art direction is brilliant, the film is a visual spectacle, and the fact that it was created by the same team that brought us the Toy Story franchise was also very promising. They had just finished the final version of the film the friday before I reached, and so we watched a 20 minute screening whilst there, which was just enough to confirm the above: gorgeous, vibrant, engaging, etcetera.

But when I watched the movie in its entirety back in Singapore? I was blown away.

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Repping SG in Pixar Studios

The best Pixar films in my opinion have always been able to operate on two levels – the first being a straightforward (yet enchanting) story, the second being a unique ability to offer insight into some aspect of human nature. The Toy Story franchise explored the parent-child bond, Wall-E commented on the human tendency towards unchecked excess and its consequences, and UP was a touching ode to the process of ageing. All of them also operate at a basic level of technical excellence, dont get me wrong, with cinematic technique that classify them more as animated films than simply being cartoons. But they’ve always been able to tap on a deep emotional and dramatic vein, and that is what has made the most successful of their films so iconic during their Golden Age.

And at the end of Coco, I found myself wondering if this might just be the film to bring the Golden Age of Pixar back.

The film is set against the annual Mexican celebration Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, which is a celebration of life, and a display of respect and love for deceased family members. It’s a day of family festivities, and in this particular story, we follow twelve year old aspiring musician Miguel Rivera growing up in a family which sees music as a curse (this is explained at the film’s beginning with some exposition about his great great grandfather walking out on them to pursue a musician’s life). Despite this, Miguel makes the decision to pursue his passion for music, and things get a little complicated when he steals a famous musician’s guitar and gets transported to the actual land of the dead. His hero’s journey, then, is figuring out how to return to the land of the living by obtaining the blessing of his idol, a (dead) suave musician who uses too much hair gel, before the sun rises and he’s stuck in the land of the dead forever.

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Admiring the coco concept art that’s hung all around the Pixar campus

When watching any film, the first thing that strikes an audience is the technical proficiency of the storytelling, and Coco is a visual feast. A good 70% of the movie takes place in the land of the dead – who knew animated skeletons could look so expressive? – which gives the filmmakers space to be visually creative with the rules of the underworld, and the result is a dazzlingly rendered cinematic universe. The graphics are accompanied by a solid soundtrack – Disney Pixar for some reason won’t officially call it a musical film, but that’s what it is to me. The soundtrack is fantastic (scores by Michael Giacchino – Ratatouille, Inside out, Zootopia, Doctor Strange, Rogue One, Spider-Man: Homecoming, UP, and so on) and it really shows off amazing vocal range from the cast. Goosebumps when they break out into song, all around. The story itself is also compelling – it’s the classic chase-your-dream story, with heavy emphasis on familial love. This recurring theme of familial love turns out to be the strongest emotional bloodline for Coco, and different iterations of this resonate throughout the movie – the overwhelming love that teeters on suffocating, the idea that family knows best, and the young protagonist’s struggle between finding his individuality while balancing his love and respect for family. At the end of the day, the cumulation of all these things climax in a beautifully emotional sequence that will play your heartstrings like a fiddle. And as the credits roll, you think, damn, Pixar has done it again.

So on that level, the film is already a triumph. It is emotional and beautiful and yes, it will probably make you cry.

But on another level, the film centers itself as iconic in today’s world because there is no considering Coco without a subtle nod towards the political situation in the West right now. In a time when the real world threatens to build walls, Coco’s animated world sings it down, Jericho-style. This is the first film Pixar has released since Trump became president, and while it doesn’t directly comment on politics (how can art, really?), it’s a film designed to make you fall in love with Mexico and it’s rich culture. Disney’s recent movement towards a more diverse, inclusive storytelling world has never been as straightforwardly laid on the table as it has been with Coco, and yet, the filmic universe surreptitiously charms the viewer into being immersed into a world where the humanity of interpersonal relationships is key. When the film concludes and we are left with the hot mess of today, you can’t help but feel a sense of nostalgia for the animated world you were invited to participate in for a short moment. And if anyone really needs it spelt out, director Lee Unkrich has famously called the movie “A love letter to Mexico.”

You can feel it whilst in the film, too. Coco is the first Disney Pixar film to feature an all-Latino cast, but beyond the voice actors themselves, the set designers, show runners, and technical designers all hail from various backgrounds, and all of them emanate immense pride at being part of this project. The film itself is a celebration of Mexican culture – beyond the obvious reference to the biggest annual Mexican celebration, the film highlights other aspects of Mexican culture as well: the traditional ofrenda (family altars that welcome the spirits of your loved ones back to the land of the living), the recurring image of the magnolia (a mexican flower) as a bridge between the land of the living and dead, the heavily featured Alebrijes (colourful fantasy Mexican spirit animals), and even the protagonist’s animal sidekick that isn’t randomly chosen – it’s a breed of Mexican hairless dog called the Xoloitzcuintli. There is an insane amount of care that has obviously gone into making sure the film represents the culture and celebration accurately (Disney hired cultural consultants, and the filmmakers made multiple trips to Mexico for research), and even then, Lee is quick to state that he is not trying to make “the definitive Mexican movie” – he’s just telling one good story, and hopefully more will follow.


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Character design for Coco, pasted on the walls of one of their meeting rooms

As an audience member born and based in Singapore, the amount of contact I have had with Mexico to date remains minimal and firmly limited to the F&B realm. Coco dazzled me with it’s fully realised and vibrant universe – and I enjoyed it so much that it made Mexico, a place I’d never been to before, seem so real to me that I felt close enough to reach out and join the Rivera family’s group hug. And I can only imagine how important the film must be for Latino children all across the world. Pixar’s greatest strength has always been the creation of emotional empathy while making a larger point on humanity (read: the hidden message in pixar films), and now they are using this empathy as a means of showing solidarity in a divisive time. I am here for it is what I am saying.

Coco is not the first film about Mexican culture – Daniel Craig’s SPECTRE 007 opens with a Day of the Dead sequence shot, Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003) has a scene sequence featuring the festival, and 20th Century Fox’s 2014 animated film The Book of Life also gravitates around Dia de los Muertos – but the fact that it’s Disney Pixar doing it does make a strong statement that immediately cements the film as iconic. Here’s to hoping Coco opens the floodgates for more films celebrating different cultures to take centerstage, but for right now: may we all sign off on this love letter to Mexico.

Disney Pixar’s Coco opens in Singaporean cinemas on November 23rd, 2017.

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Jem

#2120 | 40 degrees in a Goyang Autumn

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Goyang, Korea

I was in Korea two months ago to film a web travel short with Klook Asia, and as it happens, my body betrayed me two days into the trip. I woke up on night zwei, clammy with horror, and I thought, oh boy. If my life were a netflix original this might have been the turning point where our dear protagonist (aka me) had an epiphany on the nuances of transitioning from girlhood to adulthood, etcetera, but.. no. There is no romanticism to being bent double over the cold tiles of a toilet floor, gripping the sides of a bowl and staring at your half-digested ddeokbokki from the night before, I can tell you that.

The following four days I had a fever which stubbornly refused to break, and if you know me, you’ll know how damned affronted I was by this defiance. I fall sick precisely once a year, and then, only for a maximum of forty eight hours at a go. This was my third time this year. Obviously, at twenty five, I have reached Peak Asian, and from here on it is just downhill. How else does one explain this nonsense? Also, as if just for dramatic quality, the daily call time was about 630am, and the shooting itinerary involved 1. paragliding off a freezing mountain, 2. hair tosses atop a speeding open air bus, and 3. ice skating. I adore these things separately, but when they collide with a forty degree fever in fifteen degree weather, well, the only thing you can really do is throw back your head and laugh.

In the photo above I am standing outside the ice skating rink and drinking banana milk, sipping emotional comfort associated with korean childhoods that I consumed in droves from dodgy streaming sites. In all the television shows, korean children drink banana milk, and if you are not a child and are being given banana milk on television, you must be emotionally distressed or crying or something. Invariably characters are happier post-banana-milk, having had absorbed some kind of wisdom from the mysterious banana milk. Later, at 24, when I took Korean classes, the first thing the teacher taught me to say (and the only thing that stuck) was banana milk – pa-na-na-uu-yuu. Commercially, emotionally, and in terms of national pop culture importance, this banana milk is obviously a timeless icon. You can get it for 1,000won in any korean convenience store.

This is to say that I am a sucker for branding and marketing, because I immediately felt better after that banana milk, and I did not throw up that night. A magical recovery it was not, but I definitely experienced a mild uplifting in spirits, I might have even heard the strings of a korean OST play in the background of my mind. There is a scientific term for this – the placebo effect – and I remembered laughing when I thought of it that night, vomit free. I went back for more banana milk the next day, convinced that it was the key to emotional and physical health. I must have had three servings of banana milk the day after. And I thought, this is it, everyone laughs at korean dramas for being unrealistic and fluffy, but here I am, nausea free and happy! It was wonderful. I bought more banana milk. It was a good time, I told myself, to be young and alive.

I should have seen it coming; it surprises me that I did not. It landed me right back on the toilet. I had conveniently forgotten the inconvenient fact that I was mildly lactose intolerant. And so it goes.

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Jem