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Woo Yen Yen & Colin Goh (part 1)

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Woo Yen Yen and Colin Goh are virtually household names on the Singapore film and pop culture scene. Founders of satirical website TalkingCock.com, they’ve gone on to make well-received short (eAhLong.com) and feature-length (TalkingCock The Movie) films. Their most recent film was 2006’s Singapore Dreaming (DVD available online), which garnered them the Montblanc New Screenwriters Award at the 54th San Sebastian International Film Festival.

Woo Yen Yen & Colin GohIt’s no secret that Singapore Dreaming did really well in the box office last year. Will there be a sequel or a related movie?We’re very happy with the way that Singapore Dreaming fared at the box office and in recent DVD sales. Our distributors told us we even outperformed some Hollywood films at the cinema. It also reversed the downhill trend that indie Singapore films have been experiencing over the past 8 years — though not nearly enough!But even more than that, we were deeply touched by the overwhelmingly positive response from audiences. We received so many emails from people saying that they had previously been disappointed by Singapore films, and were surprised that they were moved by Singapore Dreaming.

As for a sequel, we have no plans at the moment, but never say never. Maybe if some people throw a huge bunch of money at us …

Do you think that the increasing interest in film in Singapore signals that filmmaking can become a viable profession, i.e. people can make a living from making films?

Hmm… Is there really an increasing interest in film in Singapore?

Yes, we now have a film commission, and we’re hearing more encouragement from the powers that be. We also have a stronger filmmaking community supported by enthusiastic folks like Infinite Frameworks, Cine.SG, the Singapore Film Society, the various schools, and of course, Sinema.

But in terms of box office performance, there’s actually been a slide. Compare the meagre box office returns of today compared to T.L. Tay’s Money No Enough ($6 million) in 1998 and Phillip Lim’s The Teenage Textbook Movie ($680,000) in 1998. These numbers for commercial and independent films have never been achieved again. And it’s been 8 years since then!

But this is also the case for Hollywood films. They’re not performing as well as they used to, even compared to a few years ago. You could say that the distribution landscape has shifted and that more people are watching films — just not in the cinemas, but rather on DVD and other ancillary channels.

What this all means is that despite growing audiences, recouping one’s investment at the box office (which is still the primary mode of release) is now next to impossible. And it’s all the more so for Singapore films that face extra challenges, such as audience bias and competition from international films with bigger names and bigger production and marketing budgets.

So we feel like it would take a lot more than increasing interest in Singapore, as the Singapore market is ultimately incredibly small, and the percentage of those who are interested in Singapore film even smaller, while the cost of filmmaking is very high.

This is something that all prospective filmmakers must face up to, otherwise we’ll just be one-film wonders at best. You can make one, maybe two flicks on passion alone, but after that, it has to pay the bills. And right now, that’s not happening.

Yes, film is a “viable” art form in that they can be made, and people are willing to watch them. But this doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be commercially viable, i.e. that they can make money back and thus enable people to make a living from filmmaking.

To be fair, this is a question that is asked not just by filmmakers in Singapore but by all filmmakers worldwide. It’s a very complex issue, involving technological and business shifts.

Woo Yen Yen & Colin GohYou don’t think it’s possible to make a living as filmmakers in Singapore then?

We personally feel that filmmaking cannot be our bread and butter yet. We do films because we have stories to tell, not because we think that it will make us a ton of money. No, it is not possible to make a living from feature filmmaking alone. Everyone has to have other channels which pay the rent, whether it’s shooting commercials or writing or working on commissioned projects.

Singapore filmmakers also have to think about global audiences, as the Singapore market is too small to be the sole market. At the same time, we feel that whatever you do has to be true to Singaporean audiences as well. If we tell fake stories, it wouldn’t appeal internationally either. There are some feelings and some experiences that are universal, and that’s what we must focus on.

Read part 2 of Sinema.sg’s interview with Woo Yen Yen and Colin Goh, where they explore why Singapore films focus on “heartland” issues and discuss their own future filmmaking plans.

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1 Comment

  1. 9 February 2007 at 1:35 pm

    Looking forward to the next part.

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