Lights, Camera, Singapore!
Action movies, kids’ programs, sci-fi animation – the island-nation is gaining popularity as a media hub for international productions.
“Singapore as a nation has great aesthetic diversity especially for filmmakers looking for interesting urban settings that blend history and the modern, the East and West,” says Mike Wiluan, Chief Executive of Infinite Studios, explaining the country’s appeal as a movie location.
When Hitman: Agent 47, Hollywood’s biggest film shot in Singapore in recent times, hit the big screens in August 2015, the world did not simply get to see a fictional future of genetically engineered super spies; it got an eyeful of the shiny metropolis that is Singapore as well. Marina Bay, Chinatown, Gardens by the Bay, and Robinson Road formed the backdrops against which a good part of the movie unfolded.
But the island-nation was more than just a pretty face on the multi-million-dollar Hollywood production. Singapore-based Infinite Studios was a co-producer of the project. Increasingly, Singapore is positioning itself to partner international productions, offering not just its streets and attractions for filming but also its expertise, funds, and support. The stage is set for Singapore to be a media hub.
“We need to be proactive to go to the market and aggressively promote our value propositions in a way that we convey quality, economic value and trust. Business does not come without good relationships and we strive to maintain these globally at all times to bring the business into Singapore,” says Wiluan.
The Singapore Showcase
The decision to set part of the Hitman: Agent 47 in the country was a hard-fought, strategic one meant to showcase Singapore’s potential and draw other global productions to the city.
Thus far, Singapore has scored a few significant successes in this area. Ridley Scott’s sci-fi romance Equals, had major sequences set in Singapore. HBO-Asia chose to film its miniseries, Serangoon Road, at one of Infinite Studio’s two sound stages, the largest purpose-built ones in the country and patterned after Hollywood sound stages. Popular Australian children’s show, Hi-5, chose Singapore when it decided to film outside of Australia for the first time in 14 years. International film production and service companies like Double Negative Visual Effects and Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) under Lucasfilm have set up development studios in Singapore as well.
“The caliber of animation and visual effects created in Singapore is comparable to the work produced out of any of Lucasfilm’s worldwide locations in San Francisco, Vancouver and London,” affirms Teresa Cheng, General Manager of Lucasfilm Animation Singapore B.V.
Local Expertise and Tech Wizardry
Over the years, Singapore’s technical expertise in film-making, particularly in the digital effects department, has matured, increasing its standing internationally. When Lucasfilm wanted to set up shop in Singapore, there were concerns that the local talent would not be sophisticated enough. A decade later, any concerns have been put to rest. Lucasfilm Singapore has contributed to outstanding visual effects in movies like Star Trek Into Darkness, Pacific Rim, The Avengers, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Jurassic World, and Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the most-watched premiere in Cartoon Network history.
ILM Singapore has also turned out international hits such as Western animation, Rango, which won an Oscar for Best Animated Film at the Academy Awards 2012. On the cards next, the new Star Wars trilogy; and an adaptation of online game, World of Warcraft.
Singapore’s skilled, English-speaking workforce was another reason why 20th Century Fox picked Singapore to make Hitman: Agent 47. More than 150 Singapore talents were involved in the production. Working alongside professionals from the US and Europe has been instrumental in enhancing local talent and increasing their value in future major productions.
That is why Singapore has been actively nurturing its media talents, working with companies like Lucasfilm.
“We have brought in global expertise to train and build up the local talent base in real work situations. In collaboration with local schools, Lucasfilm Singapore also runs an annual apprenticeship program named the Jedi Masters Program, with a goal to identify young artists and to train them under the mentorship of accomplished artists from ILM and various animation studios,” says Cheng.
Things have worked out so well, Lucasfilm now requires an entire building for its operations. The eight-storey Sandcrawler at Fusionpolis, which houses a 100-seat theatre and state-of-the-art production facilities, is its first purpose-built facility outside of the US.
Welcoming Entertainment Eco-system
A nurturing environment has added to Singapore’s appeal. “The Singapore government has been very supportive of our continuing efforts to build a local industry here. Singapore lies in the heart of Asia where East meets West and where diverse cultures are critical to this creative pursuit,” says Cheng about the company’s decision to set up Lucasfilm Singapore in 2005, its only office outside of the US.
As part of that support, Singapore created its first digital media hub, Mediapolis@one-north. The 19-hectare sprawling premise is home to Infinite Studios, Discovery Networks, Globecast Asia, Namco Bandai Studios, Haymarket Media, and AMX Audiophiles. Free-to-air broadcaster, MediaCorp, is set to move in as well. Having the media facilities in one place creates an eco-system that makes for ease and speed in the processing, management, and distribution of content and services. This is something the industry appreciates.
“Good infrastructure always serves as the basis for a strong industry. Although we are a fully integrated studio, we prefer to collaborate with partners as we lean on each other's strengths. In the game of content, the more collaborations, the more opportunities will come. A cohesive and collaborative industry will only evolve it to more positive places,” says Wiluan.
The media eco-system within Singapore creates a springboard for access elsewhere as well.
“Singapore has direct access to international markets, rule of law for intellectual property, and technical prowess,” he adds.
“We have worked hand in hand with Singapore government agencies such as the MDA, the Economic Development Board (EDB) and the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) to create awareness at the various markers and achieve strategic reach for our programs organized throughout the years.”