By Saraniyah Saravanan
A new epoch of Singapore cinema arrived with the phenomenal success of Crazy Rich Asians in 2018. The blockbuster grossed more than US$200 million globally and flaunts a slate of 12 cast members from Singapore along with a production crew involving up to 300 local media talents—a truly unprecedented scale. A prime example of made-with-Singapore content that was sparked at the Infocomm Media Development Authority’s (IMDA) Singapore Media Festival (SMF), Crazy Rich Asians spurred greater opportunities for regional and international creative collaboration.
Despite these milestones, little is known of the showrunners involved in such major projects. Also known as executive producers, Singapore’s showrunners have connected local creatives with international talents, markets and resources to create enjoyable and impactful films. Through its line-up of events that include the Asia TV Forum & Market (ATF) and the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF), SMF brings together creators, showrunners and major distribution platforms—embodying the collaborative spirit of the media industry.
Notably, the collaborative opportunities inspired by SMF have enabled showrunners like Eric Khoo and Fran Borgia to take Asian storytelling to the region and beyond.
A rising demand for Asian storiesLocal veteran filmmaker, Mr Eric Khoo found a deep affinity to films as a child because of his weekly visits to the cinema with his cinephile mother. At a tender age, he began telling stories through the lens of her super 8 film camera. Mr Khoo’s critically acclaimed debut film, Mee Pok Man (1995), a quintessential arthouse title, has gained iconic status in Singapore’s cinematic history.
Eventually venturing into the showrunner business with the local comedy, Liang Po Po—The Movie (1999) followed by Royston Tan’s cult classic, 15 (2003), Mr Eric Khoo’s impressive portfolio consists of collaborative works with various local and regional creators. His latest work, HBO Asia’s Folklore, has garnered significant acclaim from film festivals worldwide. Directed by local directors from across Asia, the two-season anthology series delves into the bone-chilling mythologies of infamous ghouls from cultures across the region—bringing decades of Asian storytelling to the big screen.
“There are so many talented Asian film-makers I want to collaborate with and as the streaming platforms are investing in Asian content now, we have the opportunity to tell distinctive and worthwhile Asian stories.”
With increased access to content over the decade, Mr Khoo recognises the potential avenues to enhance the reach of Asian storytelling. He cites the success of Crazy Rich Asians as the trigger for an increasing demand for uniquely Asian stories by leading streaming platforms. While the iron is hot for global investment opportunities, regional collaboration has never been more essential.
With the success of connections made at previous SMF events, IMDA’s efforts to strengthen Made-with-Singapore' content have been particularly effective in nurturing the growth of producers and creative talent in the industry. Mr Khoo adds that such events are integral spaces that cultivate conversations and spark working relationships between industry professionals and a range of local talents.
A culture of collaboration
A big name in the festival circuits, Mr Fran Borgia is a highly-regarded showrunner who’s brought large scale regional collaborations to the shore. His notable works include Boo Junfeng’s Apprentice (2016) and Yeo Siew Hua’s A Land Imagined (2018): many of them regionally co-produced and have bagged awards internationally such as at the prestigious Locarno Film Festival.
As the founder of Akanga Film Asia, an independent production company based in Singapore, Mr Borgia has dedicated more than a decade of his life to producing quality films by Asian and Southeast Asian filmmakers. His latest work, YUNI by Kamili Andini is the result of collaborations with production companies in Indonesia, France, and Australia—as well as the support of IMDA’s Southeast Asia Co-Production Grant. The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this year and clinched the Platform Prize for Best Film, a historic win for a Southeast Asia film at the festival.
“We have very talented individuals and we just need the opportunity to show we can compete on the world stage. These opportunities are coming to us in different forms, we just need to keep working and delivering competitive results. It’s only a matter of time before local talents are globally recognised if we stay hungry and smart.”
Dipping his feet in different waters, Mr Borgia has paved new avenues for filmmaking in Singapore. The responsibilities he’s taken on as a line producer for Crazy Rich Asians and the hit HBO sci-fi series, Westworld are reflective of the scale of his collaborative works. He adds that industry events like SMF play a significant role in allowing showrunners the opportunity to identify talents with the creative and technical expertise to contribute meaningfully to collaborative projects.
In the next decade, Mr Borgia simply hopes to “be surprised” by more unique voices dominating the screens.
By creating a vibrant space for showrunners like Eric Khoo and Fran Borgia and connecting local and international industry players, the Singapore Media Festival helps bring local talent to international shores and has sparked an eclectic mix of unique content. By supporting local talent and creating new connections, the festival fuels the creation of made-with-Singapore content capable of scaling to global acclaim.
By forming valuable connections and supporting local talent, the Singapore Media Festival is set to bring both local and regional content to greater heights. Click here to find out more about the myriad of events happening at the Singapore Media Festival (SMF)!