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Valnice Yek in Queen of Hearts - Episode 3, The Singer

On cyberbullying and more with filmmaker JD Chua who made the Queen of Hearts web series

Viddsee Originals newest addition ‘Queen of Hearts’ explores the aftermath of cyberbullying – getting down into the different perspectives for not just the victims and their friends but also the bullies. Created by Singaporean filmmaker JD Chua and produced by Viddsee Studios, ‘Queen of Hearts’ delves into the causes and effects of bullying.

Shot entirely on the iPhone X, the story centres on the disappearance of social media influencers Tori Leong, played by Caryn Cheng. She vanishes a month after going public with her relationship and this leads to wild speculation from her followers with some calling her out for pulling a publicity stunt.

We caught up with JD Chua to talk about the inspiration behind the series and his approach on including a different perspective, of the bully, in the story.

So let’s start with why you decided to focus on the bully in this story?

'Queen of Hearts' is more than just about the bullies – it's about the act of cyberbullying told from multiple perspectives, from the bullies to the friends and to the victim. It shows that the act goes beyond just between the bully and the victim. We should understand where they are coming from and what they are going through and maybe have the audience find relativity in them. I want the audience to realise that how they are dealing with their issues is malicious, no matter if they are aware of it or not. It is easy to feature the victim only and just find empathy with him/her. But to feature the bullies too, I find exploring that perspective makes the series fair and more objective.

Caryn Cheng as Tori Leong in Episode 5, The Victim

Were you drawing from any personal experience when developing these characters? Would you mind sharing a bit about that?

After witnessing a friend whose privacy was invaded from his postings and after witnessing another friend going through Instagram and Facebook to mine for information, I find that the current world of social media can be truly scary. I recall a time as an irresponsible youth joining my friends in impersonating as a girl to lure users on IRC (Internet Relay Chat) to have conversations. Some of the stuff they shared were seriously intimate. It was an awful deed that we had committed, so when Viddsee had an open call for thriller projects on cyberbullying, I used these experiences as the basis.

Also, it is rather interesting to read the comments among the users on the webseries on YouTube.

What kind of comments have you seen?

It's a little meta. I chanced upon one user commenting on another, calling her an 'idiot', on the very episode on the victim of cyberbullying. Maybe it was just a comment. I'm not sure the extent of that user's abuse. I thought it might not happen if they were to meet in real life. It was interesting that people can still be unaware of their actions online.

How did you approach these characters of bullies and their motivations? 

I believe that without the internet, the act of bullying is still an act of bullying. And thus the bullies are still bullies. And recognizing that, the bullies are humans too. They have their own motivations in their own lives, their own issues that they have to deal with and they have to retreat to other forms of outlet. In this case, to go online to vent their grievances.

Behind the scenes with Caryn Cheng (left) and Leon Lee

What was the filming process like in terms of bringing these characters to life in a way that made sense to the audience?

We must first have the screenplays make sense on script. From there, the team and I have discussions on how best to convey our thesis and then we step into production. On paper, we can see if the characters match up to what we want to say and if they make sense to us; then we direct the series in an expression that makes sense to the audience.

We shot the entire series on iPhone Xs; we are spending most of our social media time on our smartphones, and it was only fitting that we produced the whole series using our mobile devices.

So what message are you trying to send out with this series?

I want to spread awareness of how we behave online can affect somebody else, even somebody we have never met. And like I said, cyberbullying is still bullying. The bully just gets away easier.

While the series focuses on the negative aspect of interacting online, one mustn't forget that we can do good too! Anyone remember when a foreigner was caught in a retail scam? Some kind soul out there started a campaign to raise money to help that foreigner. So, we are now in the online world. How you interact is up to you.

Obviously, good manners and kindness should permeate through to every aspect of our lives, from real life interactions to our behaviour online. But do you think there needs to be a special focus in how we teach our children about internet etiquette, especially since the net in general is something so new to everyone (with the exception of the latest gen Z who are born into the world of internet)?

I am not sure how we can teach about the internet except to spread awareness. I feel that children need to be taught about etiquette. Period. No matter online or offline. There are agencies who are experts this and better suited to help us with this issue with expertise. (JD notes that the Medial Literacy Council has a comprehensive guide for parents on cyberbullying)  https://www.betterinternet.sg/Resources/Resources-Listing/Parents---cyber-bullying

I do feel that if one actually observes the power of his/her actions online and the effects it can cause, he/she might be a little more responsible with the power of the internet.

I always thought how you behave, no matter on which platform, is a reflection on how you've been brought up.

Check out The Viddee Original Series Queen of Hearts on Viddsee.com ( https://www.viddsee.com/series/queen-of-hearts).