A visit
Friday October 05th 2007, 4:20 pm
Filed under: Writing

Two Zaobao (Singapore’s only Chinese broadsheet) articles by Low Pooi Fong about her visit to Ivan after watching Invisible City. She is retired from the papers but she still writes a weekly column. The tone is very personal yet not navel gazing.

06/09/2007
薰衣草 /普鲁林/ 刘培芳

打开抽屉,从长长名片匣的”生态环境”类别栏里,我找到了这
张名片。
蓝绿底色的名片上,印着一只昆虫爬在叶片上的黑影,一对触角
正伸向那名字:Dr Ivan Polunin。简简单单就一个名字,没有附上
任何职衔或专业。这张名片躺在抽屉里,恐怕已有十几年,如今在眼
下,感觉已是一分珍藏。地址上的邮区还是4位数的,电话号码当然也
不是以6字开头。
某年某月某个上午,我曾经和自然学会的一群朋友,造访普鲁林
在山景道半山上的家。那山坡旁的房子掩埋在绿林深处,与莽莽丛林
融为一体,庭园四周围长满美丽嫣红的野姜花,还有各种各类繁茂葱
茏的花草树木。 (more…)



Movies in Macau
Monday September 10th 2007, 12:06 am
Filed under: News,Writing

Macau is a tiny island city state, it is only 26 km2. This tiny space packs 500,000 people but it has only 2 cinemas! Singapore has 9 times more people (4.5mil) but 90 times more cinemas (we have 180 screens). Albert Chu my host said that people watch movies on pirated DVDs bought from Zhuhai across the causeway in China a 5 min drive away, so piracy killed the cinema spaces.

So with only 2 cinemas, CUT a film society (est 1999) that Albert Chu runs is well supported. He shows movies every Saturday night. It attracts an interesting range of people, from your newly graduated mass communication student to the semi retired blue collar worker who wants to learn more about movies. He says “Some have never even seen “Godfather”. They love movies but don’t know where to start, what to see, so they come here, I programme films they wouldn’t otherwise see”. In recent weeks, CUT showed Edward Yang (to commemorate his recent passing) and then Bergman’s Cries and Whispers (to also commemorate his recent passing) and finally Antonioni’s Blow Up (to commemorate his recent passing too). Before that, there was Fargo. In this mix, Singapore GaGa and Moving House were shown to the club members as a Thurs night special.

The screening room is basic, the audience sit on foldable ikea chairs that Albert unfurls before each screening, the projector is borrowed from a member. The screening space is situated in the ground floor of an old 4 storey shop house that used to be the studio of an artist. When the artist died, his widow rented ground floor to CUT and the upstairs space to a dance group. The vibe is chill, if we can call it that. Bede Cheng from Hong Kong whom I described this scene to said he felt nostalgic, he said Hong Kong in the 60′s had cineclubs like this too.
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(Albert tests the projector before the screening)

About 25 people show up to watch GaGa and Moving House. From the Q&A in Mandarin and Cantonese, they seem to connect with the movies. Someone called Moving House a horror movie. Others talk about the films they want to make of Macau, things are changing too quickly they say, with the new Casinos, and all.

I ask Albert, how on earth he stumbled onto my films? He said, he saw the Singapore GaGa DVD in an independent hole-in-the-wall book store(二楼书店)called Pinto Books. (边度有书). As to how Singapore GaGa came to be on sale in Pinto books, Macau, that is worthy of another blog entry. But for now, a cell phone portrait of the (rather shy) Macau members of Cut!

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Hoi Polloi #2
Thursday May 31st 2007, 2:52 am
Filed under: Writing

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In the USA recently, I met Lucy. Top five questions for a US post mail lady.

1 You deliver your own mail?
Yes, I live in the area I deliver mail to. In fact, that is why I chose to live here, so I can come home in between mail drops to have a cup of tea or snack, listen to music.

2 What did you do before you emigrated to the USA?
I was a professor in the College of Physical Education in Anhui Province China. If I stayed on, I would be a principal by now.

3 So why did you come to the USA
The usual reasons, for my children.

4 Was it hard to get into the postal service?
Yes, I had to take four exams, including being tested for a good memory. My English is not good but I got in because of timing. I took my exam during 9/11 anthrax mail scare, people were not interested then. Now, even people with masters degrees don’t get in

5 Can you give me a ride in your van
Sorry no, its against regulations.

Hoi Polloi #1



Government funding of the Arts
Sunday April 01st 2007, 9:38 pm
Filed under: Writing

A piece for the Institute of Policy Studies eNewsletter

“When public money is used to support the arts, it is often justified on the grounds that the arts, because it is one of the most direct expressions of a society, plays an important role as it enables that society to learn about itself. Since it is a public good and the free market does not consistently encourage its practice, government funding is necessary to sustain it.

While this is plausible in theory, its practice is fraught. Although national grant giving institutions give in the name of the citizens whose taxes support the funds, there are times when the criteria used to decide who to support are not as diversified as the constituents. There are several reasons for this…..” Read more



A category all by himself
Thursday February 08th 2007, 11:00 pm
Filed under: FilmHelp,Writing

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Hoi Polloi #1
Thursday January 18th 2007, 6:58 pm
Filed under: Writing

Image033.jpgaxe brand logo.jpg

Axe Brand Medicated Oil is as as homey as a pair rubber flip flops. It is something one always has at home and it is used for everything from headaches to muscle pains. It is made by Singapore’s oldest family-run pharmaceutical company founded in 1928. Quite by chance, I sat next to its Managing Director, the son of the founder, Mr Leong Mun Sum. Top 5 questions for Mr Axe Brand Oil.

1 Any new products from Axe Brand?
We are introducing an inhaler, it is going to more powerful than any inhaler you have ever had. We are going to advertise it on buses. We find bus ads most helpful. People say that after they see the bus ads, they feel they have a headache where none existed before.

2 What is the most difficult part of the production process
Squirting the oil into the bottle, the hole is very small, (he whips out his bottle to show me) we have to use special machines to put the oil in, our rate is 100bottles/min.

3 Are you competitors with Tiger Balm?
We are in the medicated oil business, they in the balm business, its very different. We are good friends and respect each other

4 How do you find new markets
We export to more than 50 countries, We are very big in Sri Lanka and just got a distributor in Romania. My nephew is now in Morocco on a trade mission with Sr Minister Goh Chok Tong to find a Moroccan distributor. That is how we got our order from Romania too, through trade missions, very helpful.

5 Are your sons in the business?
No, but my two nephews are, one is looking after the Vietnam factory, one the China Factory. We have five factories in Asia, one is in my father’s home town Shunde, Guangzhou, China



Film skool CONFIDENTIAL
Tuesday December 19th 2006, 1:06 pm
Filed under: FilmHelp,Writing

So you realise, a little late in life, after wondering around a bit that you really want to be a movie director, but you have no idea how to get started. With all the buzz surrounding the setting up of the Graduate NYU Film School in Singapore perhaps its opportune to reflect on the notion of film education. Starting from nothing, if one wanted to work in film industry, be a director, is film school the best place to learn about filmmaking and to get into the film industry? Or does it make more sense to apprentice oneself to a filmmaker/editor/producer to learn the chops from them which was how most people learnt about filmmaking in the pre film school days. I was faced this forked path when I realized that I wanted to become a filmmaker in the mid 90’s. At that time, no tertiary film school existed in Singapore (Ngee Ann Polytechnic had just opened, but I felt too old to be making films with 17 year olds). I decided that the best way for me to learn about filmmaking was to throw myself at the feet of Hou Hsiao Hsien hoping that some of his skill would percolate down to me or to apprentice myself to the drama department in Television Corporation of Singapore (TCS, the only TV station in Singapore). The former did not work out so I joined the latter.

Later when I realised that working in television making Triple Nine and Under One Roof did not further my filmmaking dreams did I apply to study for an MFA in film at Northwestern University. Since I learnt the craft under different regimes, I can shed some light on the film education process.

In the best case scenarios, film schools (or education for that matter) allow you to find your voice and they also provide a supportive environment to help you develop it. That was why, although I enjoyed my time making Under One Roof, I had to leave Television. The harsh daily grind of TV-making was killing my voice I had and I had leave to save it. I decided to enroll myself in film school, to not just learn the technical side of things, but to set time aside to help me define, refine my filmmaking voice in a structured environment.

If you are not an autodidact like me then which film school should one go to? Obviously cost is a factor and I will come to that later. The other factor is fit. Different film schools have different emphases. Some are strictly narrative where it is not uncommon for thesis films to cost USD 30,000, be shot in 35mm film. Others are less rigid. The best way to decide which school is for you is to see their students’ graduation films to see if you identify with it. For example, a person like Wong Kar Wai, had he gone to film school would NOT have come out of a film school like NYU, Columbia, UCLA (those schools have a strong focus on script which would have beaten the lets-make-it-up-as-we-go-along inclinations out of him in year 1). He would probably have come from a school like the Art Institute of Chicago which is also the school which Apitchatpong (Blissfully Yours) graduated from. So if you find yourself with a WKW personality, an Art Institute type school would have supported that way of filmmaking.

My references are USA-centred, but one should certainly look to UK, Australia (Unversity of Technology, Sydney has a great films coming out of it), Lodz Film school, Poland, the Beijing Film academy and Hong Kong City Unversity Film School, just to name a few. I myself wanted to go to film school in Japan but I blew the scholarship interview. The other film school I also explored was in Cuba, because I was very impressed by the films of Santiago Alvarez, he who could out of a few stills make the most moving polemical documentaries. At the back of my mind, I was keen on film schools set in cultures I was unfamiliar with, had small or non existent film industries but a thriving underground one. This meant that its filmmakers were more creative in not just getting their films made, but shown as well. They could out of necessity, like Santiago Alvarez say a lot more with a lot less and I wanted to learn from them.
In the end, I decided that Northwestern was best for me, not just because of the scholarship that was offered, but that I fell in love with Chicago. Still, I wonder what kind of films would I be making now if I went to film school in Japan or Cuba.

The other thing is cost. Unlike an MBA from a tier 1 university, which pays for itself 2-3 years after graduation. When you graduate from film school with a Tier 1 MFA, you start at entry level salaries of a fresh graduate or lower. So, if you are going to have to blow a USD 120,000 loan going into a Tier 1 MFA film school in the USA, don’t do it. It will take you many years to pay off the loan and that delays any further plans of auteurship that you may have had in mind, plans that led you to going into film school in the first place.
There are other ways of course, you could find a cheaper film school or win a scholarship. For me, if I didn’t get the Northwestern scholarship, I would have used a fraction of that money to make films and to learn from them. To become a filmmaker, observing others doing it, making one’s own films and watching and reading about films is really the best way. You could do this in a film school (has equipment, crew) or you could do this outside. For every Spike Lee who went to film school, there are others like Amir Mohammed, Martyn See, John Woo and WKW who didn’t. Point is, the benefit has to be balanced with cost, in terms of money and its collary, time.

And so, I ended up in the US, at a school which has a very strong industry focus, but interestingly it also had a very strong experimental niche within its ranks. Added to that, we were surrounded by a world class film history faculty due to our close proximity with the University of Chicago. In searching and refining my filmmaking voice, I was exposed to the best of different kinds of films and non-films so my filmmaking world view expanded exponentially. No longer was film just about what one saw in the cinemas, it grew to encompass installations, new media, theatre and various other expressions of life. I learned how amorphous rules are and how often they are the product of historical and cultural factors that are constantly being re-exammined and changed. I also learned that I could be a force in that change. Through Northwestern, I found myself at ease in the art world, in the film world and also in the TV world. The breadth of my filmmography, award winning documentaries with Discovery Channel, installations (80kmh, 9th August) and also independent documentaries (Singapore GaGa, Invisible City) is a result of this exposure.

A little caveat, film school is not for everyone. If you already have a very strong voice and know exactly what you kind of films you want to make, you may find school’s structured environment oppressive. I had friends who hated the film history or film theory class requirements. They felt that these classes got in their way of filmmaking. If you have a one-track mind, find a one track film school, or just make films and get on with it.

The above post pertains to film school at graduate level where the applicant is alot clearer about what she wants from life. My views on film schools at undergraduate level deserve another post

10 reasons to go
10 reasons not to go

or …if you are looking for short film courses, apart from those conducted by DMA, Objectifs‘, look to the plethora of short film/video courses conducted by Australian Film and TV School . I attended the course by Rob Marchand on directing using Mike Leigh’s Method of improvisation, it is highly recommended. He was able to articulate the craft very well. NFTRS (UK) has a similar short course programme. Singaporeans can apply for MDA’s capability Development scheme for partial funding.



INTERVIEW WITH MARGARET CHAN
Saturday December 09th 2006, 11:19 pm
Filed under: FilmHelp,Writing

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“Drink this blood I shed for you”

A seminal Singapore film Medium Rare (1992) was screened recently in Singapore at a cine.sg screening. I spoke with Margaret Chan who co-wrote and acted in the film
Margaret Interview link

Sinema Review



S$200,000
Friday November 24th 2006, 2:03 pm
Filed under: FilmHelp,Writing

Just heard from Colin and Yen Yen that their film Singapore Dreaming grossed S$450,000 (USD 300,000) after a 9 week run in Singapore. Colin mentioned in their blog that this was the highest grossing non-Mediacorp Singapore film. Their qualification refers to the fact that they did not have the marketing nor distribution clout of Mediacorp, the mega media conglomerate in Singapore. However, they did have the backing of another, albeit smaller conglomerate in Golden Village who threw their heft behind this release, opening it in 18 screens with posters, trailers and marquees everywhere. No expense was spared by Golden Village for this Singapore film.

That Singapore Dreaming grossed S$450,000 with their help provides interesting information for me, a producer and director who wants to make work about and for Singaporeans. Of course the gross may be more than $450,000 at the end of the day after you factor in DVD sales, TV sales, overseas sales etc. So let’s say, the gross, after three years is S$500,000.

My conclusion is this, if I wanted to make an independent non-Mediacorp feature film whose primary market is Singapore, one that has mass appeal, something you can bring your whole family to, then, if I want to BREAK EVEN, the film must not cost more than S$200,000 to produce.

How did I arrive at $200,000? Of the $500,000 that they will have grossed, I conjecture that more than half will go to distributor fees, hall hire fees as well as marketing costs eg organising press screenings, conferences, buying ad space, printing posters, striking 18 prints, making DVD/press kits,
So, what can one produce for $200,000? In this day an age when people boast that they can make a feature for $300, $200,000, seems alot of money. But I don’t refer to those kind of films, I refer to the films where the crew/actors are paid a fair wage, that the production actually has insurance for them. It would have to be shot on video (DVCam?) with small lighting kit and skeletal grip equipment. The should will likely be about 3 weeks, shot in Singapore or Malaysia, be a contemporary small scale plot oriented drama about anything as along as its is enjoyable, has mass appeal, something you can bring your whole family to watch. As usual, for this kind of industrial narrative-focused production, script and actors are key. So films along the lines of Sepet, Iranian children’s films would probably be do-able for this budget and have a good chance of opening in 10-18 screens. Or you could make a ghost movie though you can’t have a period drama, special effects, car chases, helicopter shots, no not for $200,000.

If you want to attempt something more edgy or adventurous in terms of structure or content, may be documentaries, I say just gather a group a friends and start shooting. So that even if it doeesn’t get released, or goes straight to video, you don’t lose your trousers and you don’t have to be too burdened about ensuring a return on investment for your backers and more importantly, you had fun while you were doing it



DIYdom
Thursday October 12th 2006, 10:43 am
Filed under: FilmHelp,Writing

A primer I wrote about distribution of indie films based on my experience with Singapore GaGa. First published in Criticine an online journal about Southeast Asian Film.

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GaGa publicist Qian Xi stamping 1000 postcards