Have you checked out 261 Sundays which stars local actor Sean Lee? What most might not have known is that the short film also marks Sean Lee’s debut in directing. For those who haven’t seen the film yet, you can check it out below.
We caught up with Sean Lee to discuss 261 Sundays, plus a bit about himself and what brought about the short film – what inspired him, how he managed to produce and what the motivation was behind it.
Give us a bit of background on how you got into acting.
My career sort of kickstarted from YouTube, that’s where I got discovered. Well I started of doing my diploma in performing arts, at Sunway College – where they taught us a bit of everything in film and theatre, from scriptwriting to stage management, acting and even directing. Prior to that, I was already into performing and theatre, I used to take part in church plays, almost three to four per year, and that’s where my passion sparked.
In college, my passion grew, as I became more exposed to the art. That was also when YouTube was up and coming in the country – people like Jinny Boy and The Ming Thing were booming. Sadly though, things weren’t that smooth for me, and my YouTube career didn’t really take of, but I just kept doing things.
Then as part of my internship programme with BFM, I was tasked to help the radio station come up with some video content. They needed someone to act in their sketches, and being the intern there at the time, I got the opportunity to act for them. That’s where I also became more well versed in Bahasa, as their content was in Malay.
There was this director, Rewan Ishak, who watches the BFM sketches, and who needed to look for a Chinese guy that is fluent in BM, for a Samsung commercial. So I went in for an audition and got the job, then things escalated from there.
What did it feel like, directing while acting in the short film?
I have done a lot of short form content, promotional material, but with a short film it’s a whole different level. It’s kind of a new and fresh experience for me.
Plus it was definitely a bit more of a challenge to be both in front and behind the camera. Thankfully however, I had an amazing team behind me, which made the entire project a dream to work on. My assistant director was heaven sent, and al of the crew were just so professional and adept. You need a great team to make it work as an actor-cum-director.
Meanwhile, I chose to act as well, because it’s a challenge for me too. I’m more used to working on Malay drama, so this was to bring out different talents. Plus, I don’t really have that much experience as a director, so it would be difficult to direct another talent, especially so if he has more experience than me. Since this is my first time directing, I didn’t want to take any chances.
What brought about the idea for 261 Sundays?
That’s a funny thing actually. It started from a mock poster that me and my friend Bay Doucet, my co-star, did. What happened was we posted the poster for fun, I was jokingly telling her to get into acting, and said I’m going to try and do a movie poster and see if it works. All I did was have a picture of her and me, put our names there, and the title 261 Sundays, and it looked legitimate.
And we said, ‘Coming next year.’ Surprisingly the response was great, so we thought “wow, there’s potential!” So we thought that if we were to do something on our own, there would be a good amount of people who would want to watch this. So let’s just try it out!
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How long did it take you to go from ‘fake’ poster to realising 261 Sundays?
After the poster came out, we left it be for almost half a year. I was pretty busy with my TV drama, and I had quite a bit of acting and shooting to be done already. I hadn’t even thought about what the storyline would be; at the time we just had a title, and the name of the two main actors.
The mid 2020, a friend asked, ‘Eh, Sean Lee, what about 261 Sundays which you spoke about last year?’ Then he offered his help to work on the project together. So we slowly gathered a collective of talents, from a producer, a scriptwriter, cameramen and such. All in it took us about four months, having started in August 2020.
Why the title 261 Sundays?
Well, it’s because that’s the general number of Sundays it takes to make up a year, and it took 5 years for the lead actor to overcome his emotion, or state of being – those who have watched the show will understand.
As for why ‘Sunday’ and not ‘Monday’ or any other day? I guess I just relate more closer to Sundays. It’s a lot of significance, since I’m Christian, I go to church every Sunday, and I can’t put my finger on it, but I just feel more spiritually and physically connected to that day; plus it sounds good I believe.
Can you explain a bit about the short film?
It’s honestly open to interpretation. Even if I tell you Emily’s ‘real’ boyfriend took the picture of her, how could it have been in Ben’s house? There’s things that play with Ben’s mind, to an extent that he can be seen as obsessed about Emily. After 5 years, he’s still unsure, whether to move on, or not to move on; he’s so consumed by the thought of this woman who he has met, or maybe not, but it’s a subtle and smooth angle, because it can also be seen as they’re dating for real.
I expect the audience reaction to be questioning what’s going on, and this then opens up discussion. I feel that’s what film is supposed to do, it’s supposed to make viewers think and talk a little bit, and interact with one another. Everyone has their own interpretation, especially towards the last scenes.
How you connect the dots is really up to you. You can show the same movie to 10 people and some of them would have different interpretations on the ending. There are a number of concepts I’m playing around with, but yea, I’ve incorporated a number of things I’ve learned throughout the years into this one piece.
What do you want viewers to get our from 261 Sundays?
I want them to empathise with the reality of Ben, who’s trying to move on from the loss that he has. In a way, his action, or reactions, are very relatable. Without giving much away, I’m just saying that, the things he does have been done by most if not all of us.
Even though we have a desire to take action, there are times when we just don’t, for no apparent reason. That is us. It’s very realistic, and a lot of the small scenes are just a number of real-life experiences being conveyed.
Have you submitted 261 Sundays for any film festivals?
The short answer is no, mainly because most film festivals don’t let you publish or publicise your content beforehand. However, this was made with Project Oscar in mind. Which was the challenge posed to Finas, to produce an Oscar-worthy film. It’s a government initiative to increase the level of filmmaking in Malaysia, so that drove me to come up with great content as well. If I can get into a film festival, it’ll be a bonus for me.
Tell us about your shoot location, the area was beautiful.
Ah yea, I was so grateful that Setia Eco Park jumped on the opportunity to work with me. And more than just providing the gorgeous backdrops and scenes which you see throughout the short film.
I was definitely blessed because I was looking for one location to shoot everything, and things would have been even more difficult for me.
What other projects can we look forward to?
There were supposed to be a couple more short films shot this year, but the MCO has definitely gotten in the way. However, I’m thinking of getting back into producing more YouTube content, because that’s where my career sort of started as well.