The year 2013 has been an exceptional one for Singapore’s film industry, marked by local films gaining commercial momentum and critical acclaim. Ten local films were released in the year in review, with total box office takings for the year amounting to S$13 million, an increase of 10 per cent from 2012.
One of the most notable achievements was Anthony Chen’s celebrated debut feature film, Ilo Ilo, a story of the relationship between a Filipino domestic worker and a Singaporean family. The heartwarming family drama won more than 30 awards internationally, including Best Feature Film at the 50th Golden Horse Awards and the Camera d’Or at the 66th Cannes Film Festival. It also came in fifth in France’s box office, and has been sold to more than 17 territories around the world, including Benelux, France, Switzerland and USA, Australia, Hong Kong and Taiwan. MDA supported Chen since his early days of filmmaking when he was a student at Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Film and Media Studies. His short films were funded by MDA, and he subsequently completed his Masters in Film Directing at the prestigious National Film and Television School in the United Kingdom under MDA’s Media Education Scheme scholarship. MDA also co-invested in Ilo Ilo under our New Feature Film Fund in 2011, which has now been replaced by the New Talent Feature Grant (NTFG), and supported the cast and crew to attend the Cannes Film Festival in 2013 under the Marketing Assistance grant scheme.
Besides Chen, a number of local first- or second-time feature film directors also clinched international accolades. They include:
At home, Jack Neo’s sequel to his national service comedy, Ah Boys to Men 2, broke box office records for a local film, raking in S$8 million. Not only was it the second highest grossing film of 2013, just behind Iron Man 3, it also topped the earnings of Hollywood blockbusters such as Thor: The Dark World, Man of Steel and animated feature film Despicable Me 2 in the local box office takings.
2013 also saw the SFC celebrating its 15th Anniversary. Since its inception in 1998, the SFC, through MDA, has supported more than 600 short films, scripts and feature film productions. MDA remains committed to supporting the development of new films and emerging filmmakers. An example of a recent project supported is A Yellow Bird, directed by K. Rajagopal, under the NTFG. The film was selected to participate at the Cinefondation’s prestigious L’Atelier section of the Cannes Film Festival 2014.
The SFC also continues to deepen the support and appreciation of local films in Singapore through the Watch Local initiative which was launched in October 2012. As part of this initiative, the SGFilm Channel on YouTube has promoted 50 short films and has attracted over 200,000 viewers to-date.
In the year in review, local television production companies have gone from strength to strength, gaining recognition internationally and forging successful partnerships with international players such as Home Box Office (HBO) Asia, A+E Networks Asia, Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific and National Geographic Channel Asia.
As an example, Singapore-based Infinite Studios worked with HBO Asia, Australia Broadcasting Corporation Television, Great Western Entertainment and ScreenWest on a co-production to create HBO Asia's first original series, Serangoon Road. Supported under the Production Assistance grant scheme, the ten-episode detective series premiered on HBO Original in September 2013 and received the Digital and Film Award at the Australian Arts in Asia Awards.
Another noteworthy co-production is Gabung: Kisah Antara Dua Sungai (Tales of Two Rivers), which is the first collaboration between independent producers from Brunei and Singapore. Produced by Brunei’s Masscom TV Productions and Singapore’s Mediamorphosis, the five-episode TV documentary focused on the transformation of two national rivers in Brunei and Singapore through the years of economic growth.
Meanwhile, The Great Elephant Gathering, a documentary produced by Beach House Pictures and shown on National Geographic Channel Asia, received a Silver Medal Award in the Nature & Wildlife category at the New York Festivals and Asia’s Underworld by Third Floor Pictures for the Crime & Investigation Network won Best Direction and Best Editing at the Asian Television Awards 2013. I Wouldn’t Go In There, a factual entertainment series for history buffs and urban explorers created by Infocus Asia for National Geographic Channel Asia was also well received.
2013 was a year of steady growth for Singapore animation companies, with local animation productions making headway overseas and a number of companies embarking on international co-productions.
Two animation projects, Silly Bitty Bunny and Franklin & Friends (episodes 1-26) were recognised as Official Co-Productions between Singapore and Canada on 2 January 2014 and 18 February 2014 respectively. Silly Bitty Bunny was co-produced by Scrawl Studio Pte Ltd (Singapore) and CarpeDiem Film & TV (Canada), while Franklin & Friends was the co-production between Infinite Frameworks Pte Ltd (Singapore) and Nelvana Ltd (Canada).
Meanwhile, Monstrou Studio signed a deal with Spanish production company Sweatbox and Catalan TV network Televisió de Catalunya (TV3) to create CGI action-adventure series Nightbreeds, making it the first international co-production between Spanish and Singapore animation companies.
Singapore animation is also gaining more recognition in North America, as Sleepwalking Jack, an episode within the TV animation series Jack
co-produced by Sparky Animation Pte Ltd (Singapore) and PVP Animation Inc. (Canada) won the prestigious Youth Media Alliance’s Award of Excellence for Best Television Programme, Animation (Ages 6-8 Category). The animation project was an official co-production between Singapore and Canada, under the existing Co-production treaty.
Rising mobile Internet adoption across Asia has opened up new opportunities for the sector, particularly in the area of mobile and Internet games.
Some local game developers have been harnessing opportunities in transmedia. Lewenhart Studios, which specialises in mobile game development, debuted their transmedia story-telling game Weird Tales this year at Casual Connect Asia, a major casual games event. Originally planned for a board game released three years ago, Lewenhart digitised the game on the mobile platform for iPhone, iPad and later Android.
Local game-makers have also been flying the Singapore flag abroad in various competitions. At the 5th annual Independent Games Festival in Shanghai, China, Singapore University of Technology and Design’s Game Lab won the “Best Game” award for One Upon Light, and PD Design Studio’s
Dusty Revenge received the “Excellence in Audio” award. Vinova’s castle defense game Ultimate Arrow won the “Best in Show” award in Indie Showcase in Casual Connect Asia 2013.
To honour the best and the brightest in the games industry, The Straits Times organised the Digital Life Awards in February 2014. Companies which received support from MDA such as LambdaMu Games clinched the Editor’s Choice award for Pixel People while Gumi Asia’s Brave Frontier won the Reader’s Choice award in the Made-In-Singapore games category. As a testament to the quality and popularity of Made-In-Singapore games,
Pixel People achieved steady revenue following its launch, garnering over two million downloads within three months from its release, while Autumn Dynasty Warlords, a MDA-funded mobile game by Touch Dimensions was the top grossing game app on iTunes Store.
The homegrown IDM industry has been experiencing steady growth, contributing S$301 million to the national economy in 2012. From 2008 to 2012, employment in the IDM sector grew at a CAGR of 17.5 per cent, adding a total of 6,897 jobs during this period and resulting in a total sector employment of 14,510.
To help the sector achieve sustained growth, MDA, which hosts the Interactive Digital Media Programme Office (IDMPO), aims to interlock the IDM ecosystem by enabling academia, industry and public sector to collaborate and use Singapore as a test-bed to develop innovative products and applications. This is achieved through:
On the education front, MDA has provided S$5.69 million in funding under the Game Research, Education, and Training (GREaT) Funding Initiative, which comes under the i.ROCK Programme to support the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) Game Lab.
The SUTD Game Lab aims to train 500 interns for the industry over five years to help Singapore become a leading game design research hub, produce a pipeline of innovative games and nurture entrepreneur. Specifically, under the Game Innovation Programme (GIP), the SUTD Game Lab trained 32 students in game development through a 14-week internship in 2013.
1 These include Carnegie Mellon University; the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS); ETH Zurich; Fraunhofer Gesellschaft; the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IITB); Keio University; Tsinghua University; the University of North Carolina; and Zhejiang University.