The 28th Singapore International Film Festival kicked off this week with screenings, of course, but also panels, workshops and presentations from across the value chain of content creation. One such panel was organised by the newly founded Southeast Asian Producer’s Network on Sunday 26th November at Scape, Singapore’s municipal creative facility in Orchard Road.
In marked contrast to most of the marketing industry events I attend the entire panel was Asian and also three-quarters female with Philippines producer Bianca Balbuena hosting a high ranking trio of content co-funders, acquirers and distributors including:
- Najwa Abu Bakar – Vice President, Astro Shaw Sdn Bhd
- Garon De Silva – Director of Original Productions, HBO Asia
- Daphne Yong – Executive Director, Catchplay
Being a producer herself Ms. Balbuena was very much the voice of the audience who, of course, all wanted to know what projects these decision makers are looking to co-fund, acquire and distribute.
Garon kicked off by claiming HBO are looking for, what he described, as “passion projects”, that is to say projects that are not necessarily developed strictly for HBO but which the producer has a driving passion to produce. That passion has the capacity to move HBO out of their comfort zone. By way of proof Garon pointed to a recent non-fiction production from HBO Asia who are renowned for their scripted output.
Daphne Yong who runs regional OTT platform Catchplay from Taiwan, (which co-funded The Revenant and Assassin’s Creed with New Regency), said that her data is proving the case for more diversity in output as online audiences demand more niche content. She observed that audiences are more willing to take a risk on what they watch online than in theatres.
For Najwa Abu Bakar of Astro Shaw, Malaysia’s biggest film producer, passion must meet craft in a great pitch. She is all about original scripts with a relevant message and unique voice but is concerned about a lack of Malaysian films with international appeal.
In terms of the actual approach to these companies, personal connections are important but aren’t a substitute for preparation and all more-or-less agreed that it takes more than just a good idea to get them interested. A detailed treatment, synopsis and, if possible, a script are the minimum requirements to be taken seriously. But all did agree that they are open to new and even debut filmmakers and were able to point to examples that they had backed.
Ms. Yong went on to say that producing a film is like opening a restaurant, you have to know your market position, are you Michelin Star or breakfast bar? Do you have the right skills in the kitchen i.e. can you actually cook what’s promised on the menu? Mr. De Silva added that if the writer or director are inexperienced the CVs of the rest of crew become a more important factor. Who’s your Producer, D.O.P or Production Designer for example?
Sitting the front row was the ever present editor of Content Asia, Janine Stein, who asked a question that has often kept me up at night: has the development process improved in Southeast Asia, which has reputation for, as she put it, “writing on Wednesday, shooting on Friday”?
All thought the process had improved but cited the cost of rewrites and the fear of projects getting stuck in “development hell” as reasons why things have perhaps been rushed in the past. Ms. Balbuena also chimed in that there is a lack of development talent in the Philippines, specifically development producers and script doctors, which struck me as a great opportunity.
“Philippines filmmaking is ONLY production!”
Bianca Balbuena, Producer
Coming from a marketing background I asked about the role of data in decision making, which is near fetishised in the ad industry. Surprisingly all downplayed it’s importance. Whilst admitting that a platform like Netflix may well have much more sophisticated systems Ms. Yong said that Catchplay had experimented with algorithmic recommendations but that her in-house editors and writers’ recommendations outperformed automatons every time.
“Human recommendations beat algorithms because they are walking IMDbs.”
Daphne Yong, Executive Director, Catchplay
Ms. Balbuena closed the panel by advising all the producer’s present to get the cards of the panelists, which was great advice, and thanking them for what was a genuinely candid and informative discussion. My impression is that the region is impatient to professionalise and hungry for new talent, which is hugely encouraging for all of us.
The 28th Singapore International Film Festival runs from 23rd November – 3rd December featuring films from 31 countries including 21 from Singapore. Book tickets now at https://www.sistic.com.sg/events/sgiff2017.