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GENERAL COMMENTARY

‘Independent Film Making in Singapore’ by Dr Chua Lian Choon (Richard)

20 December 2019

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‘Independent Film Making in Singapore’ by Dr Chua Lian Choon (Richard)

MDIS Blog Content

School of Media and Communications advisory board member Nicholas Chee calls for more dialogue and collaboration among independent filmmakers in Singapore. To him, the definition of “independence” refers to workers in the film industry who do not attach themselves to a company or production house. Freelancers, or popularly known as workers in the Gig Economy, support film productions. One such freelancer, as suggested by Chee is a Grip, whose payment rate seems to be most stable of them all. Ironically, a film producer is one who has the most unstable income stream, for he/she has a seemingly insurmountable task to secure funding for a film project. That was a constant challenge for film students entering the industry for the very first time.

Contrary to popular belief that film producers are ones who earn the most money, producers are usually the last person in the project to get paid. Logically a film cannot be made unless essential services are provided for. Crew members are such essential services. There is also too much emphasis given to production work but not pre- and post-production efforts. As the industry adage goes, the success of a film largely depends on how the film presents itself to audiences. The video editor is the one who exercises discretion on what to keep and not to keep in the editing studio. In addition, there are many others in the editing suite alongside the editor, audio engineering for one is a profession that largely goes unnoticed. Knowing the importance of post-production creatives in the media industry, many education programmes relating to these fields were provided. 

However, a producer is not one that just engages in socialising in film festivals, getting deals done, photographing with actors in glitzy events, but one that provides in order to allow a film idea to be made to fruition. He/she is usually one who gets paid last meagrely, to say the least. It is also a position that requires great humility. For he/she is one who gathers everyone together, encourages everyone to work on a meaningful idea, reinforces everybody’s passion for filmmaking. For students, understanding the important role producers play would make them better pre- and post-production creatives. Hopefully, they would also assume the difficult role of a producer in the industry. 

Nicholas Chee’s efforts in sharing important data about the Singapore film industry are a testament to his continuous support to locally made Singapore films. Those who have some institutional memory of Singapore film establishments will remember a cosy community theatre up at Mount Sophia called Sinema.sg. It was Chee’s baby and contribution to independent filmmaking in Singapore. In the meeting, he spoke about how overall film production in Singapore has fallen, as well as the difference in the tender processes for film projects between Taiwan and Singapore. One concrete suggestion he made was to encourage public and private sectors to transparently indicate budgets during the tender process for both film and video commissions so that creatives could pitch their best ideas on realistic and workable budgets. 

Although there are systemic problems beyond filmmakers’ control, he also encourages filmmakers to come together as a community to consistently dialogue with each other to find good solutions and strategies. These dialogues could revolve around three aspects: Improving industry practices; Setting professional standards; Caliberating market rates for film workers; Collaborating with each other with honest and ethical partnerships. This is an important role for film producers in Singapore. Community and capacity building might not rank high on a commercial film producer’s mind, but it is nonetheless a single most important mission every film producer needs to do in order to keep filmic art going. Only when filmic art is allowed to flourish can a society’s cultural enrichment be deepened.

Despite Singapore having grant funding for filmic and video projects to be developed and produced, film production students should not just rely on government funding alone in their professional endeavours. Currently, fresh graduates join production houses and film studios as internships and junior staff members to gain experience and be provided with a chance to direct their own films. They seldom assume the role of a producer. Production houses and film companies might not feel that young people were ready to manage production budgets. Without this experience, young Singapore filmmakers tend to privilege directing and other technically creative assignments over the seemingly difficult and uninteresting job of a producer. 

Photo Credit: MDIS Website

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