Last updated: 13 March 2023

Published on: 08 March 2017


Two veteran industry experts talk about what it takes to draw audiences to Singapore-made television shows.

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Industry experts Cynthia Hsiung (extreme left) and Jonathan Lim shared their insights on TV production at a WritersLab session moderated by Shari Goodhartz. (Photo credit: LASALLE)

By Suresh Nair

From writing believable dialogue for television and film to producing high quality content without busting the budget, budding scriptwriters were treated to thought-provoking insights at a seminar conducted by industry experts.

Over 90 minutes on 23 February, Visiting Experts Jonathan Lim and Cynthia Hsiung offered practical insights into crafting television scripts that all television writers need to know.

The session was held in conjunction with the inaugural WritersLab, a 10-week scriptwriting programme for aspiring film and television writers. WritersLab is a Story Lab initiative by the Infocomm Media Development Authority, which aims to bring together talents to tell compelling stories across various platforms. Organised by LASALLE College of the Arts, it features consultations, tutorials and workshops with local and international industry experts.

Keep it real

Actor, playwright and director Jonathan Lim, who graduated from Sydney’s National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), called for a refreshing Singaporean writing culture where “Singaporeans write for Singaporeans…with a real feel of the heartlands”.

He urged the younger generation of writers to be “bold to push the boundaries by feeling the true pulse of the grassroots”. He is the creator and writer of Singapore’s longest-running live parody sketch show ‘Chestnuts’, which is currently in its 17th year. 

Good dialogue that resonates with the Singaporean beat is one key aspect of keeping things authentic. To avoid dialogue that sounds artificial, he urged the writers to go to the heartlands like Chinatown, Ang Mo Kio, Little India or Geylang Serai, to feel the real beat of the grassroots.

“By going down to what I call the ‘people’s backyard’, you learn how to create riveting and compelling dialogue that propels the storyline and reveals a Singaporean-styled character personality. You also learn how to weave emotion, description, and action into their dialogue, compared to getting the script done in the office, using a lot of personal imagination.” 

Strive for quality content

Award-winning director, producer and writer in television, digital media and film, Cynthia Hsiung, called for “quality-end products”. Among other things, this involves creating quality entertainment for a range of mediums.

“If the quality is there, the audience will come. Always deliver great content to your viewers,” she said. Cynthia is familiar with the top-end of production quality, having worked for MTV, VH1, Fox Kids Network, HBO, NBC and Warner Bros. Online.  

She noted that while there may be a tendency in Singapore to avoid topics such as race, sensitive issues deserve to be explored further on film or television. “Everything has two sides to it - the good and the bad.” 

The session’s moderator, television writer Shari Goodhartz who is also the WritersLab Project Director, encouraged more made-in-Singapore script-writing and production, especially for television, which she describes an “exceptional media for exploring and learning”.

Staying on budget

Audience member Richard Tan, a Singapore Management University business undergraduate, said his best takeaway from the session were the insights into maintaining high standards while being conscious of the budget.

"Budget will always be the biggest constraint but that shouldn't discourage newcomers from giving their best shot in offering high-standard productions, " he said.

Meanwhile, scriptwriting undergraduate Gracie Ong was encouraged by what was shared at the session. She was particularly inspired by the experts’ push for Singaporean “scripts that should be written with an awareness of production… and with dialogue written based on real-life voices and observations”.

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