- POSTED: 21 Dec 2013 20:50
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Singapore filmmakers can look forward to more government support for their craft. The Media Development Authority (MDA) is undertaking a complete review of its various schemes with the aim of giving an additional boost to the local movie industry.
SINGAPORE: Singapore filmmakers can look forward to more government support for their craft.
The Media Development Authority (MDA) is undertaking a complete review of its various schemes with the aim of giving an additional boost to the local movie industry.
Some may emerge as early as April next year, and the focus this time will likely be on helping filmmakers market their work better.
Industry players Channel NewsAsia spoke with welcomed greater state support, but said that is only one piece of the puzzle.
Singapore film “Ilo Ilo”, which won big at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards, is the small film from the small island, that made waves.
More than a film, it was a mirror reflecting how Singaporean families coped during hard times, and what could happen when outsiders have to adapt to local life.
Set during the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, “Ilo Ilo” told a simple tale of a Filipina maid, and her rocky journey with the family of three that she worked for.
But what a tale it was -- director Anthony Chen's work pulled at the heartstrings of international audiences, and hauled in the awards.
The film clinched the Camera d'Or prize for best debut feature at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
Months later, it also won four Golden Horse awards for Best Feature Film, Best New Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress.
The film put Singapore on the global movie map.
Back in 1995, only two local films were commercially released -- one of them was director Eric Khoo's “Mee Pok Man.”
The movie earned critical acclaim overseas and is regarded to be the piece of work that led to the revival of the Singapore film industry.
And there was no looking back, as local movies came out year after year, covering genres from slapstick to art house.
Some see the variety of movies released as a lack of a unique Singaporean film identity, while others beg to differ.
Local filmmaker and “Ilo Ilo” director Anthony Chen said: "I don't think there will ever be a Singapore identity for film. I think the Singapore identity for film, or cinema, is to have different voices, to have diversity, because this is, you know, how our country was built.This is actually the strength of what being Singaporean is.
“We are not one thing, we are many things. And to try and find a singular sensibility or singular vision for Singapore cinema, I think, that would be very simplistic."
One thing filmmakers seem to agree on is that making a career out of their craft can be as painful as a visit to the dentist.
Singapore filmmaker Kirsten Tan has been making short features for a decade.
The notion of 'the struggling filmmaker' may be a cliche, but Kirsten said there is truth to it.
For her, it is often about just making ends meet as she pursues her passion. In short, she is doing what she loves, but is not making much money from it.
Kirsten Tan said: "Everyone, in some ways is like, you know -- buying houses, getting married, getting cars -- in some ways their life is kind of like, set.
“And then you're just from the outside looking at them. But then I wouldn't say that is difficult because in some ways, yeah it's just how it is."
There are avenues for help. The MDA has a slew of schemes which it refines on a yearly basis to support, at least, the passion of filmmaking.
Yeo Chun Cheng, assistant chief executive at MDA and director of Singapore Film Commission, said: "Some people want to do short film, so there's an opportunity to just continue to do short film. We're not saying that you have to do a long feature.
“There are people that will specialise in short film. Some people will want to do a documentary. So those are fine too."
For a feature film, up to 40 per cent of the amount spent on production costs locally can be subsidised.
Making a movie is one thing, but marketing it is another, and authorities are looking at how to give filmmakers a bigger push in that area.
One method being increasingly explored is the use of social media to create buzz over Singapore cinema.
State support aside, those who dream of movie-making can also start in school.
Ngee Ann Polytechnic marks 20 years of its film school's existence in 2013.
For two decades, the institution has produced batch after batch of filmmakers hoping to make it big, with Anthony Chen being, arguably, the school's finest product.
But beyond him, there are others who also want to leave their own unique footprint on the local filmmaking scene.
Kristen Ong is one of them -- the Ngee Ann Polytechnic, School of Film and Media Studies graduate has made eight short films so far.
She wants to embark on her first feature length movie, but more than winning awards or making money, the 20-year-old simply wants to tell a good story, and she thinks her education in film has equipped her for that.
Kristen just wishes there was more creative freedom in Singapore.
She said: "I think one of the most prevalent difficulties is censorship. Because the boundaries that surround the censorship aren't very clear, so I think some filmmakers have difficulties when they are trying to construct their stories, especially with certain genres such as say, crime, thriller, and action, because there are certain things that you can't approach."
But Kristen wants to soldier on. Perseverance it seems, is a must-have quality in movie-making, as much in Singapore as elsewhere.
Anita Kuan, director of the School of Film and Media Studies at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, said: "Dare to fail… And keep failing better. Of course, don't repeat those silly mistakes. And then success will come."
Success, especially at the box office, does not come easy. Distributors and cinemas are picky about which films to screen.
Filmmaking is difficult as a craft, but arguably tougher as a business. After all, there are only about 230 screens in Singapore for a population of 5.4 million.
But there are those willing to give local cinema a fighting chance.
Terence Heng, vice president (Media) at Shaw Organisation, said: "The Singapore perception about local film is getting better than before. And with that, once there's some publicity about the films being available in the cinemas, then you shouldn't wait.
"You shouldn't wait till second week... you should just immediately try to go and support the film as early as possible. Because that helps make sure that the movie gets to have a longer run."
And with 18 local titles being released in 2014, filmmakers may just have a shot at striking critical acclaim, and also, box office gold.
One of the 18 local films is “Afterimages”, a horror flick with a local flavour.
Tony Kern, director of “Afterimages”, said: "You can see the filmmakers improving and including myself, I hope. And I think we all learn from “Ilo Ilo” as well. I mean, there's some dynamite directing in there and acting. So, we all learn now what the bar is, what we're expected to basically create.
“And I think being all local -- and I know I'm not Singaporean, but I lived here for eight years -- and I've been following the film scene, so you're kind of like, learning from the other directors as well."
With many films on offer, deciding what movie to watch can be difficult.
Local filmmakers then, will have to work even harder to convince audiences that Singapore cinema can be a sweet experience, and also, worth their salt.