In her own way, Eunice Teo was a star on the set of Crazy Rich Asians, the Hollywood production released two months ago.
To be exact, she stumped the entire cast and crew with her exquisite and eye-catching floral arrangements throughout the movie.
That she started her career as a florist with only RM40 would make good fodder for a movie in itself. (Read about her journey here.)
Teo, 51, is the principal of Amtrol Flower Designing, an online florist and training centre based in Damansara Kim, Petaling Jaya, Selangor.
She is an American Institute of Floral Designers (AIFD) certified floral evaluator and judge, the only person in South-East Asia with the qualification.
Last year, Teo was chosen to do the floristry for the Warner Bros’ box-office hit, something she never dreamt would happen.
It all started when she got a call from a guy asking her if she could do some floral arrangements for him.
Thinking it was for an advertisement, she agreed. However, she was asked to submit her portfolio for the job.
It was only when she was finally given a contract to sign, on which she saw the words Warner Bros at the top, did it finally sink in that it was for a movie.
And it turned out that the guy who contacted her – who was part of the set-building team in the movie – had come to Teo’s shop over 20 years ago to buy some flowers for a photo shoot.
When Teo first met Nelson Coates, the production designer, he asked out loud whether Teo could do the job.
The reply from three members of the production team was, “There is no one in this part of the world who is more qualified than her.”
Only then did she realise how big the job was and that they had done a background check on her.
“There was a lot of fear and excitement all mixed together. I had not heard of (the book nor the movie) Crazy Rich Asians before but told myself to be prepared, perform and do my best,” said Teo, who reported directly to American set decorator Andrew Baseman.
For her first task, Teo had two days to prepare a few arrangements, which were used in the jewellery shop scene shot at St Regis Kuala Lumpur.
Generally, she had a free hand in coming up with the arrangements; she would just be told the colour theme or she would go to the set to get a feel of the ambience before working on the various florals needed.
Teo used a combination of both artificial and fresh flowers, the latter including peonies, tulips, hydrangeas, phalaenopsis (moth orchid), calla lilies, alstroemeria (Peruvian lily), snapdragons, stock flowers, lilies, magnolias and various succulents.
A little insider story: not a single stalk of rose was used in the entire movie.
“That was an order from Nelson because he said he has designed over 40 movies and has had enough of roses! And since it was a luxurious setting, everything had to be top class,” said Teo, whose team consisted of her husband, two daughters, a nephew and a few employees.
Working under tight deadlines and the pressure to perform, Teo drew on her many years’ of experience to come up with her creations.
One example was how she was asked at 6.45am to deliver a posy to Carcosa Sri Negara by 7.45am. Thankfully she had the right amount and colour theme in her shop and while she assembled it in the car, her assistant drove to Carcosa. The posy was for the tea table in the Bible-reading scene involving Malaysian actress Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh.
And there were many other situations which put her to the test.
However, in all of them, things just worked out in the end, some at the very last minute, almost as if there was divine intervention.
“I thank God for all the provisions because everything went well. I really learnt a lot. All my 30 years’ of experience in floristry went into the movie. I used and squeezed out all the techniques and knowledge I knew!”
A clear testament to that was the endorsement from Coates, who asked her one day whether this was the craziest movie she had done. When Teo replied it was her first movie, he was shocked.
“What?? This is the first movie you have done? I thought you have been doing this forever! I have been telling everyone that you’re the best I’ve ever had in my whole career! Eunice, you are awesome, your team is awesome. Everybody is talking about the flowers, the actors, the producers, everyone said it’s the best florals they have ever seen,” enthused Coates.
The movie certainly will not be her last. Recently, Teo was approached to do the floristry for another Hollywood production, due for release next year.
One of a kind
Teo’s biggest challenge was creating 26 blooms of tanhua (moonflower), by hand, for the tanhua viewing scene. Each bloom took her four hours to put together.
“That was the hardest part of the whole experience. I would do it at night, after I finished my classes, and watched Korean dramas to stay awake doing them!” she shared.
Since the real flowers only bloom at night, and nobody knows exactly when, Teo handmade the flowers and attached them to the real plant, which comes from the cacti family.
However, Teo was privileged to see the real flowers blooming while she was working on the set one night.
“Four of them bloomed right before my eyes – it was so exciting!” said Teo, adding that the scene where the tanhua slowly bloomed in the movie was of the real flowers.
For the movie, Teo also handwove the baskets carried by the flower girls in the wedding scene, using fresh and artificial twigs. She also created the striking boutonnieres for the groom and best men from four different types of flowers: birds-of-paradise, hydrangeas, orchids and leucospermum (pincushions).
Another challenging task was creating 10 centrepieces measuring 6’ x 4’ (1.8m x 1.2m) each for the Gardens by the Bay scene. She made those in Malaysia and had them delivered to Singapore by land.
Overall, Teo estimates that she used over 10,000 stalks of flowers.
“I feel very blessed to have had the chance to do this and I just want to share my story because I want people to know that they can dream big,” she said.
She also cherished her encounter with Yeoh, whom she feels has helped promote Malaysia on the world stage, on the second last day of the shoot in Singapore.
Teo was working at the Gardens when Yeoh walked in.
When Yeoh complimented her on her floral work, Teo said, “I really wanted to say thank you for bringing Warner Bros to Malaysia,” – to which Yeoh teared up and gave her a hug.
“I think, for her, a word of appreciation from a nobody meant a lot. And I also really appreciate the hard work that goes into making a movie,” said Teo.
For what it’s worth, Teo is definitely not a nobody.