Sunday 28 March 2010

Your film flopped? Here's more taxpayers' money

Maybe it's because I just filed my income tax.

But when I read last week that the Singapore Film Commission (SFC) is giving four local film projects up to a grant of $500,000 each - twice what it gave previously - my first reaction was: "Wait a minute. Isn't that taxpayers' money?"

Since the SFC is part of the Media Development Authority, which is part of the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, I think it's safe to say that yes, that's taxpayers' money.

So possibly up to $2 million of taxpayers' money is going into making movies that I believe most taxpayers' aren't likely to watch even for free on Okto, much less pay to see in the cinema.

People complain about paying the TV & radio licence fee. So how come no one is complaining about this? Many local films suck as bad as local TV shows.

But hold on, the SFC says it isn't just "giving" the money away. That would be stupid.

No, the commission is actually "co-investing" in them and expects a cut from the millions of dollars the films would hopefully make. We'll see.

In 2008, the SFC had "co-invested" $250,000 each in nine films. That's a total of $2.25 million of taxpayers' money.

Of the nine, only one, Blood Ties, has been released. The film reportedly cost $850,000 to produce and has earned only $282,000 so far.

That Blood Ties lost money is not surprising. As a rule of thumb, Jack Neo's movies are the only local films that make money.

And since Singapore's most famous adulterer didn't make any of the nine SFC-funded films, I doubt the commission will see that $2.25 million again

So what does the SFC do? It has decided to double the individual grant to half a million dollars.

When will it end? Will it be a whole million next year? What about the year after that?

The expression "Throwing good (taxpayers') money after bad" comes to mind.

Set up in 1998 to "nurture" the Singapore film industry, the SFC has funded dozens of short films and features. After 12 years and tens of millions spent, its biggest hit was Royston Tan's 881 in 2007. A few other things were selected for international film fests and won awards here and there.

Any legit film company with a track record like this would've gone out of business a long time ago - or asked its managing director to leave. I'm looking at you, Raintree Pictures.

Would the money be better spent on, say, building safety barriers at all MRT stations sooner so that another life doesn't have to be lost on the train tracks?

Of course, nobody wants every local film to be a Jack Neo movie, but a viable local film industry has to be at least self-sustaining.

Unfortunately, for all its good intentions, the SFC may have encouraged a mindset where local film-makers seem to feel that the Government owes them a living.

Last year, when the SFC removed a travel grant for film-makers, oh how they bitched. One said: “It is a crisis for us film-makers and it is helping to bring us independent film-makers together.”

Perhaps it's time these independent film-makers live up their name and be truly independent.

It's funny how some would decry our nanny state, yet seem content to suckle at the nanny's teats indefinitely. Let the final cut be the apron strings.

If only I could claim tax relief on my cameraman.

- Published in The New Paper, 28 March 2010

SFC's response:

We refer to your article (dated 28 March 2010, entitled 'Your film flopped? Here's more taxpayers' money') referencing the funding of local movies and the question of how much funding is too much.

It focuses on a perennial challenge: balancing the call on one end of the spectrum by up and coming filmmakers for greater Government support, and the thought at the other end that these independent filmmakers should be true to their name.

The Media Development Authority (MDA) is continually in discussion with the industry to achieve the best balance between support and self-sustainability.

While we support artistic films and recognise its contributions to Singapore's culture and identity, we also believe that the industry is ready to develop a more commercially viable sector within the filmmaking space.

This is why the MDA takes a two-pronged approach to supporting local filmmakers; investing in capability development and artistic endeavour, with a greater emphasis on supporting commercially viable projects for a sustainable sector.

When the Singapore Film Commission first became part of MDA in 2003, much of SFC's and MDA's financial participation in content projects was in the form of grants. This was necessary to get the industry going.

In recent years, while we still have grants in place, such as the Short Film Grant and the Script Development Grant, we have also moved into co-investments, where Government's share of the rights and returns are ploughed back into further seeding and catalyzing of the industry.

As a result of these efforts, local films today are gaining traction in the international festival circuit with participation rates doubling in the last five years from 30 to over 70 in 2008.

Last year also marked the fifth consecutive year a Singapore film was screened at the Cannes Film Festival. In addition, our average annual feature film output for 2008 almost quadrupled compared to what it was before SFC was founded.

There is also growing evidence of local players creating or co-producing projects for international sales. For instance, world-renowned sales agent Fortissimo Films (who made Wong Kar-wai famous) signed Singaporean Boo Junfeng's debut feature, SANDCASTLE, for international distribution even before the cameras started rolling. SANDCASTLE, incidentally, was one of the films to receive funding through the New Feature Film Fund (NFFF).

The US$10 million HOST 2 film, scheduled for a 2011 release, is jointly-produced by Korea's Chungeorahm Films and homegrown Boku Films. BAIT, Singapore's first stereoscopic 3D film which has already been pre-sold to over 24 territories, will be co-produced by Australia's Arclight Films and Pictures In Paradise, as well as Singapore’s Blackmagic Design.

While the progress made by the local film industry is encouraging, not every homegrown film will find commercial success. This mirrors the very nature of the film industry worldwide.

By increasing our funding quantum for the New Feature Film Fund, we are stimulating higher overall production values and wider international marketability. This move supports our goal of creating a viable, self-sustaining film industry supported by robust production, distribution and financing frameworks. Such an industry would drive up employment and projects created for the global audience, but made by or with Singaporean talents.

We thank Mr Ong for his comments, and continue to welcome discourse and input to our ongoing calibration and refinement of our cluster development strategies.

Mr Kenneth Tan,
Director, Singapore Film Commission

Sunday 21 March 2010

Jack Neo should’ve listened to my mother’s advice

My mother and I don’t talk about sex much.

About 90 per cent of what I know about the subject I learnt when I was in the navy during my National Service.

The remaining 10 per cent I learned while watching Kumar’s stand-up earlier this month.

So I was surprised when a couple of years ago, out of the blue, my mother warned me not to be tempted into affairs with the pretty actresses at MediaCorp, where I was working at the time. This was long before Jack Neo’s affair with an actress in his movie came to light.

My mother probably thought that since I was then a TV producer, I must be friends with many pretty actresses. I didn’t know how to tell her that even ugly actresses didn’t want to be friends with me.

Instead, I told her that I was the secret biological father of Zoe Tay’s two children.

My mother then wondered aloud why she even bothered talking to me about anything. I wondered the same thing.

And now because of Jack, for the last two weeks, I’ve been asked several times by people other than my mother whether I had taken advantage of the legendary “casting couch” to have affairs with actresses in the TV shows I produced.

The sad truth is that because the shows I produced were for Channel 5, I don’t think any woman would debase themselves by having sex with me in a Toyota just to be on Channel 5.

Have you seen the channel’s ratings lately? Not worth it, babe.

Now, if I were working on shows for Channel 8 – like Jack – then maybe my mother might have something to worry about.

Anyway, MediaCorp programmes are generally so poorly regarded, I believe someone would be more likely to sleep with me just to get out of one. It would be better for her reputation.

One frequent criticism about local shows is that local people can’t act.

What I find strange then is that many have accused Jack of manufacturing the sex scandal to publicise his movie Being Human and that he, his wife Irene, Wendy Chong and Foyce Le Xuan were all faking it.

So now they can act?

I don’t think even a Cultural Medallion recipient like Jack is talented enough to pull off such a ruse.

I should’ve introduced my mother to Jack so that she could’ve given him the advice that she gave me.

But then I would be afraid he might hit on her.

On the other hand, if he did, I could just make a movie about it.

I'd call it Mommy No Enough.

- Published in The New Paper, 21 March 2010

Sunday 14 March 2010

What if Jack Neo made Phua Chu Kang movie?

How can I not talk about Jack Neo?

I had a couple of encounters with Singapore’s most famous adulterer in the ’90s when I was working at then Television Corporation of Singapore. Fortunately, he didn’t hit on me, although he might have wanted to hit me.

That was when I was working with him on a skit for a charity show and he was annoyed that I kept mispronouncing “Liang Xi Mei” as “Liang Si Mei”.

Sorry, my China not so powderful.

Ironically, even though I haven’t spoken to him since then, I never felt his presence more than when I was working on the Phua Chu Kang movie recently. The movie is set to be released later this year.

When I was first approached to do the script last August, my brief was to write in at least one “touching” moment and a social message – like in Jack’s movies. He is, after all, the country's most successful filmmaker.

About half the dialogue in the movie should be a mix of Singlish, Mandarin and/or other Chinese dialects.

I figured Hokkien was best since the dialect was practically the raison d’être of Jack’s movies – and like him or hate him, his movies made money.

When Mark Lee was unavailable to play the villain in the PCK movie because he was busy with his own movie, Henry Thia was cast to replace him. Both are, of course, members of Jack’s J Team.

So is the director of the PCK movie, Boris Boo, a long-time Jack Neo acolyte who has written scripts for him for years, including the movies I Do I Do and Love Matters. Boris’ only previous directorial credit was for a segment in Jack’s Where Got Ghost?

During my script meeting with Boris, he would cite what Jack wouldn’t allow in his movies. (I didn’t ask Boris if Jack ever hit on him.)

This is about as close as you can get to a Jack Neo movie without actually having Jack involved. And what’s wrong with that? His movies made money.

Even in casual conversations during the filming of the PCK movie in KL, Jack’s name came up often.

Gurmit Singh (who plays PCK) would complain about the last-minute script changes when he was acting for Jack in Just Follow Law, despite having received a Golden Horse best actor nomination for that movie.

But I didn't hear any mention of Jack being a “buaya”. Before the scandal broke a week ago, he seemed almost asexual.

All that mattered was his movies made money, which was enough to cover a multitude of sins.

Until now.

- Published in The New Paper, 14 March 2010

UPDATE: I’m scared to watch PCK movie because it may kill me

Sunday 7 March 2010

If cycling on footpaths is legal only in Tampines, then ... anarchy!

I never realised I was living in such a lawless town.

Sure, I was used to witnessing the casual acts of crime that occur regularly in broad daylight around my neighbourhood.

Like housewives brazenly pushing their groceries in stolen NTUC FairPrice supermarket trolleys home before abandoning them wherever it was convenient.

Uniformed secondary school students boldly smoking cigarettes that they are clearly not legally old enough to buy.

Pet owners blithely not picking after their dogs when the animals defecate on the exact spot your brand new Hush Puppies will land on.

The insouciant littering. The rampant jaywalking. The visible panty lines.

Then last week, Tampines officially became Singapore’s first “cycling town”. For the first time, cyclists are allowed on the footpaths.

This means two things. First, it was previously an offence to cycle on footpaths. Second, if you’re not in Tampines, it still is.

I do not live in Tampines, yet I see cyclists on the footpaths every day in my neighbourhood – including a few wearing Singapore Post uniforms and carrying the mail!

So in addition to trolley thieves, underage smokers and negligent dog lovers, the town where I’m trying to raise my children to be law-abiding citizens with a good fashion sense has also been letting these two-wheeled scofflaws roam freely on the pavements in open defiance of our country’s legal strictures without censure or punishment all this time?

Could anarchy be far behind? We might as well replace our court system with the Thunderdome.

Yes, I understand why cyclists prefer footpaths to roads – you would rather bully pedestrians than be bullied by other vehicles. But does that justify breaking the law?

As if to add insult to indignation, it was also reported last week that the Tampines town council hired auxiliary police to ensure that the cyclists observe safety rules and not be a danger to pedestrians.

Whereas in my town where cycling on footpaths remains unlawful, I’m still playing chicken with cyclists on the sidewalk during my weekly stroll to my eyebrow-plucking session without the protection of any law enforcement.

I’m tired of living on the edge.

You know what? I should just move to Tampines.

Even if it’s nearer to my mother-in-law.

- Published in The New Paper, 7 March 2010