The scoop on the New Feature Film Fund
If the $2.25 million that the SFC has recently distributed to nine lucky filmmakers seems tempting and you’re thinking of applying for the next round, here’s some of the things you’d probably want to know.
This long article (warning) will be divided into segments: a cheat sheet to the fund, with details on the shortlist process; a list of production houses that you can work with; plus opinions and exclusive insights to Boo Junfeng and Ellery Ngiam’s upcoming feature films.
First up, the summary:
Each film will get up to S$250,000 in investment from SFC, with all genres supported (except documentaries). However, this $250,000 cannot make up the full 100% of your film budget, so external investments is a must. First time directors will get an additional A&P (advertising and promotions) fund that is 10% of their overall budget, or $20,000, whichever is less.
First time feature film directors are given preference, and if you’re one, make sure you’ve got shorts and/or TV work in your portfolio to back up your credibility. If you’re an experienced director, you can still apply, but you will need to include a sound advertising and promotion plan along with your pitch to be considered.
You must also partner with a production house that was involved in at least one Singaporean feature film, and on top of that, must be at least 30% Singaporean-owned. This partnership must also include an experienced producer, who will help the director see through the project from pre-pro all the way to distribution. This production house must also contribute (in cash or services) at least 20% of the production budget.
Things to look out for:
1. It is stated that SFC prefer films that rely less on effects and/or expensive cast and sets, and looks out more for strong directing, story-telling and an overall quality product.
2. The project and script must also be substantially developed, and fresh in its genre.
3. The judging panel will also take into consideration the production company’s track record along with the director’s.
4. The rights of your film will not belong to you 100% â€“ instead it will be split between the parties who have chipped in, meaning SFC will be owning the percentage of your film for the amount they have granted to you. (E.g. if your film used a budget of $1 million, the $250,000 from SFC will mean they own 25% of your film). Other investors will also own rights in proportion to the percentage they have invested upon.
Things to submit:
– synopsis, storyline, treatment, character bible, draft script (if possible);
– fully-itemised production budget, covering above-the-line, production and post-production;
– production schedule;
– track record, experience and profiles of above-the-line team, including director, producer (mentor), writer, lead cast, etc;
– management, shareholdings, paid-up capital and RCB number of production company;
– level of financing committed to-date (including the production companyâ€™s investment);
– Projected sales and returns on investment.
—END OF CHEAT SHEET—
So what happens after the submission? There is of course, the process of whittling down, involving a panel of judges plus pitching.
“There were two rounds of selection. Our project was shortlisted and we were asked to pitch it to a panel of industry professionals,” explains director Boo Junfeng, who has chosen Zhao Wei to work with on his film. “I was very nervous and stayed up the night before, making amendments to my treatment; but I found out after that the panel had already read the treatment and like it. I’m sure Zhao Wei’s credentials helped very much as well.”
“Putting together the submission took me about a month, and for the second round of selection, Juan [Foo] and I spent a week putting together a visual presentation for the pitch, which itself lasted half an hour,” said Ellery Ngiam, best known for his short film Dance of a Modern Marriage which screened at the 21st SIFF. “A week later, I found out that I was awarded the fund!”
Ellery also took the pains to include a business plan with his submission detailing the synopsis, treatment, character biographies, shooting format, plus marketing and distribution plans, along with the biography of the filmmakers involved. Knowing the target audience of your film is important, as Juan puts it: “Films are made for an audience, and thus a film must speak to the market.”
Case in point, this highlights the importance of partnering up with the right production house and producer to carry through the feature, so below I have listed some of the production houses that have fulfilled the criterion slated above, but do make it a point to hunt around for more as this list is non-exhaustive.
Zhao Wei Films
Ground Glass Images
Bobbing Buoy Films
Hoods Inc Production
Vintage Film Co.
“I brought the script to Juan Foo a couple of years ago. He was excited about the script and decided to come on board as producer,” explains Ellery, whose film was years in the making before being awarded the fund. “The pairing was a fantastic match, as one of the requirements of SFC was that the script was attached to a production company with feature filmmaking track record, and [both Ground Glass Images and Shooting Gallery] definitely had that. I am definitely honoured and excited that all of them decided to come on board to help me make the film.”
“I do think it is a very exciting and strong partnership, as everyone brings something to the table in terms of getting the film made,” added Ellery.
Echoing his sentiments is Junfeng, who joined Zhao Wei as a resident director last June. “Zhao Wei has one of the most experienced team of feature film producers in Singapore. It is also the most reputable company from Singapore internationally.”
IN TIMES OF RECESSION?
“The new scheme is an evolution of what we’ve had in the past. I think this shows that the SFC has thought through what can best support the industry in the current climate, and have developed something that is straightforward and substantial,” said Juan, who also warned that with the large numbers involved, an experienced producer is essential in keeping the budget straight and ensures the movie gets made.
“I think this is a very good opportunity to kick start a filmmakerâ€™s debut feature, as it was a vote of confidence from the Singapore Film Commission,” said Ellery. “It gave the project a greater marquee value, and gave potential investors more incentive to invest in the film.” In the current economic climate, however, the filmmaker warns that “many potential investors are holding back in making investments. Furthermore, to some people, investment in a local independent film is considered a high-risk venture.
“The recession will definitely make it more difficult to raise money for the film, but still, I believe that if the film is packaged properly with marketable elements, like recognisable cast, it is possible to find investors, even in this current economic climate,” comments the filmmaker, who is now in the process of casting and securing investments for his feature, entitled Forgotten Tears.
Juan further notes: “I think some of the non-Singaporean filmmakers are very envious that the government of Singapore, such as the SFC, has stood forth and actively supported Singaporean filmmakers â€“ not many places do so!”
To sweeten the deal, SFC has also roped in local theatre chain, Golden Village to be the sole distributor to the films that will be made under this umbrella. While this ties the films down to just one sole distributor, many still see it as a great opportunity as independent features sometimes struggle to garner a theatrical run at the end of it all.
“This gave the film a guarantee of at least a local commercial release, and will allow the film to be seen by a wider audience,” stated Ellery, who recognised that garnering the screenings were “as important as getting the movie made.”
With the money helping filmmakers to kick start the project, and Golden Village to assist at the end to distribute, the load is lightened, though not completely lifted. “The fund doesn’t provide from start to finish what we need, but I don’t think anyone should expect it to,” says Junfeng, who recognised that as a first-time feature director, one cannot take the venture lightly. “It is a whole different ball game from making shorts, which is a form I have become used to. Other than the scale of financing and logistics involved, the story structure of a feature-length format is a whole new challenge.”
HOW USEFUL IS SCHOOL?
“Education is definitely not enough to become a professional director, as on-the-job experience counts just as much, if not more,” says Ellery, who hails from the prestigious NYU Tisch with a BA in film & TV production. “My education in film production helped because it gave me a good foundation in understanding film, and also allowed me to make valuable industry contacts worldwide. Working on a professional set is always different when I am directing my own short film.”
LaSalle-SIA graduate Junfeng also advices: “Film school was very useful. But what’s more important is how you apply what you have learnt in school in the ‘real world’. That’s where you really learn.” Part of the pioneering batch of LaSalle-SIA Puttman School of Film, Junfeng also pointed out that feedback would also be one way to help filmmakers improve.
“I’ve always wished the SFC can be more transparent about their guidelines and reasons for rejecting projects. Whether the premise of the proposed films are deemed ‘objectionable’ or simply assessed to be not good enough, I think it’d be appreciated if they can define the reasons better for filmmakers. After all the effort put into submitting an application proposal, I think every applicant deserves to know in proper writing,” says Junfeng.
Listing casting and location as one of his chief concerns, Ellery also addresses the need for a cohesive crew. “Finding a good team of people to work with, like a cinematographer, production designer, music composer etc, is always a challenge. It is difficult to find people who share the same vision for my film, and has the skill and artistry to produce the film to its full potential.”
Junfeng succintly summarises: “Filmmaking is a challenge, no matter where you’re doing it, no matter how much the government helps.”