The long and winding Serangoon Road

HBO Asia’s first original co-production with ABC TV, Serangoon Road, promises to be one of the biggest mini-series to hit Australia, although recreating the action-packed streets of 1960s Singapore came at a steep price.

Production was shut down for several weeks when a stunt involving lead Australian actor Don Hany went horribly wrong.

“He was going too fast and he grabbed the guy too high and missed the mat and went onto the cement and dislocated his arm… the tendon ripped off and he chipped the bone,” director Peter Andrikidis says. 

“That was in Indonesia so we had to race him to hospital in Singapore, obviously to get him on the ferry. So we were shut down for about two months until he got better because it’s a big action series – there’s quite a bit of action in it.”

The detective drama tells the story of Australian-born Sam Callaghan (Hany). His neighbour Patricia (Joan Chen) asks him to help keep her recently-murdered husband’s private detective agency afloat. His reluctant decision to accept sees him enter an unpredictable, dangerous world where Chinese gangs fight to control the streets, foreign powers vie for power and covert intelligence, against a backdrop of racial and political turmoil.

Cinematographer Joe Pickering shot the series using the ARRI ALEXA, supplied by Cameraquip, largely at Singapore’s massive Infinite Studios’ backlot. Some location work was also filmed in Indonesia. 

Andrikidis (he directed the first five episodes, Tony Tilse the last five) says the series’ rich colours and higher contrast look was partly modelled on The Godfather Part II.

“We [also] talked about a lot of Home Box Office shows and Mad Men and there’s a new show called Magic City that’s set in the same period,” he says. “It’s still trying to get a realistic look but it is kind of slightly stylised to make it more glamorous than the time.”

Andrikidis says Pickering first fell in love with the ALEXA’s look on Channel Ten series Bikie Wars: Brothers in Arms. “The digital world is where it’s going to go and certainly the lenses are a big part of what Joe does because he uses a lot of fixed lenses most of the time – all in the interiors.”
But for all the improvements in digital technology, Andrikidis says film is still an impressive capture medium.

Six of the films nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards were shot on Kodak film, including the winner, Argo. (At the other end of the spectrum, the Academy Award-winning documentary, Searching for Sugar Man, included some shot with a $US1.99 iPhone app.) 

Andrikidis’ last TV series to be shot on film, crime drama Killing Time, used Kodak Super 16: 200 ISO and 500 ISO (see IF Magazine #145, Feb-March 2012) and Aaton and Bell & Howell cameras, allowing many effects to be done in-camera.

“In the digital world you sacrifice a lot of that. You’re relying on so many other people to bring the magic to the shot that you could get on the camera. We’ve got a lot of CG on this show as well so you are translating for Singaporean and Indonesians working on it. So you have to rely on that translation and it takes a lot of work.”

This article originally appeared in IF Magazine issue #152