An exclusive interview with Tony Tilse [Director] and Steve Evans [Editor] of HBO Asia’s mini-series ‘Grace’  

‘Grace’ took home trophies for ‘Best Editing’ and ‘Best Actor in a Supporting Role’ at the 20th Asian Television Awards (ATA) in December 2015 and was ‘Highly Commended’ in three categories – ‘Best Direction’, ‘Best Actor in a Supporting Role’...

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‘Grace’ took home trophies for ‘Best Editing’ and ‘Best Actor in a Supporting Role’ at the 20th Asian Television Awards (ATA) in December 2015 and was ‘Highly Commended’ in three categories – ‘Best Direction’, ‘Best Actor in a Supporting Role’ and ‘Best Original Screenplay’. In a recent interview, Tony Tilse & Steve Evans share with us their thoughts and challenges producing the horror mini-series, which investigates deep into the human psyche dealing with trauma, fear, self-doubt, death and jealousy.


Tony, in what ways do you think the production has risen above its mark deserving such commendations from the ATA?

We were all very grateful for the number of nominations from the ATA, and it is a measure of the dedication and talent the whole production team put into the making of this series. HBO Asia had a very clear vision of what the series should be and that really allowed us to maximise our production values. Also, I was given a lot of freedom as Director and was able to draw on so much from that assembled talent.


Steve, what are your thoughts on winning ‘Best Editing’?

Very, very pleased! I was thrilled to get the job and as I edited the dailies I was aware that we were involved in a very special production. We have cast and crew from all corners of the world, nevertheless, we were all united in our ambition to make a successful series. Each day I could see the fantastic efforts of the actors and the production team from the different departments and was keen to do justice to everybody’s creative labour. It is gratifying to be acknowledged but it really is the culmination of everybody’s work.


How is this production different from the other productions which you have worked on previously?

Tony Tilse: This was my first solely produced HBO Asia series, as well as my first chance to do a horror-thriller genre. The tight collaboration between HBO Asia, IFA and myself on set everyday was a great contributor to the success of Grace. It was a very open, free flowing exchange of thoughts and ideas and not all production are like that. I think the “can do” attitude from cast and crews in this region makes this a fantastic place to film.


Steve Evans: This was my first time working in Singapore, so I had to build up good working relationships and have clear lines of communication with all departments. This happened quickly as the shoot was 90% studio based and the edit suite was, very conveniently, right next to the shooting studio. I was able to get the dailies every few hours and be assembling them straightaway and show the edits at the end of the day to the producers, writers, camera, etc. Everybody was able to view material and get immediate feedback. This was really exciting to be so connected to the filming process and I think it really contributed to the success of the edit.


What are some of the most challenging aspects of the production faced while filming and producing a horror-thriller series like Grace?

Tilse: The subject matter is always challenging. The need to balance suspense, scares and still keep a strong emotion through the story line is vital. The all Asian cast and setting was very important for me to try and get right. On a practical level filming any ghost story is not without issues one can never have predicted.


Evans: The first one is to watch and select all of the performances very, very closely and to build each of the actors performances into interesting characters that all exist in one world. Then you need to examine the narrative so that the story you are telling is clear and you are holding the audience’s attention, especially so in a horror-thriller where suspense/tension is paramount. This means that you work twice as hard on the non-horror-thriller scenes to build up the anticipation. When I’m editing, I also think about the sound and music which will be added later in the process and how I need to accommodate to that. The music and sound have contributed greatly to the success of my edit, as well as the success of Grace.


Tell us a little about your previous experiences as a director/editor and how it has helped you in the production of this mini-series.

Tilse: I have had the good fortune to have been directing for 20 years now across many various shows and various styles. It was that experience and my love of early Hong Kong movies that may have helped. It was also my Serangoon Road experience that really had me excited about filming in Asia.


Evans: I have been editing drama for over thirty years including shorts, features and TV series. Due to this experience I have a good sense of storytelling and strong ideas about what will work for an audience. I have watched a lot of performances in that time and so am sensitive to what is authentic and emotionally engaging. This was my first horror-thriller series, so this was a really exciting challenge to be aware of the genre and the audience expectations.


Tony, you have also directed for HBO Original series Serangoon Road. What are some of the similarities and differences of these two productions?

Serangoon Road was a co-production between ABC Australia and HBO Asia and as such had a requirement to service both markets in terms of story, casting and visual storytelling. The co-production also allowed for a bigger budget. Serangoon Road was also a different genre and style but it opened my eyes to the amazing talent both in acting and crew that was available here.

The challenge with Grace was to keep that production value on a smaller budget but with the freedom of only one Network. The great joy was working with an incredible all Singaporean crew.

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Tony Tilse [Director] is a veteran in the Australian industry, winning the Australian Directors Guild Award for “Best Direction of a TV Drama Series” for Underbelly in 2008. His other list of credits include Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and the HBO Original series Serangoon Road and sci-fi cult favourite Farscape. His latest project is the TV adaptation of the cult Sam Raimi movie The Evil Dead entitled, Ash vs Evil Dead.


A veteran of 25 years, Steve Evans [Editor] has worked on over 20 feature films and 150 hours of television drama including Rush and Miss Maple’s Murder Mysteries. His awards include “Best Feature Film Editor” for Suburban Mayhem and an A.F.I. “Achievement Award” for the TV series Underbelly.