Singapore Financing Program Boosts Southeast Asia Production

In 2011, the Media Development Authority of Singapore took a niche film festival, and reinvented it as ScreenSingapore, Southeast Asia’s premier marketplace for filmed entertainment.

Five years on, the event’s organizers have their eyes focused on consistent and sustainable growth, adding a new feature, the Southeast Asian Film Financing (SAFF) Project Market, to the mix.

Modeled in part after the successful Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF), the SAFF is organized by two producers networks, the Southeast Asian Audio-Visual Assn. (Saava) and pan-European Italy’s Ties That Bind.

“Other project markets in the region tend to be focused on East Asian projects and filmmakers,” says Justin Deimen, exec director of Saava. “There’s not one project market in the region that is totally focused on Southeast Asia, and on development as well and so the charge for us is to focus on Southeast Asian projects.”

The five-person selection panel for the inaugural SAFF is led by Paolo Bertolin, programmer of the Venice Intl. Film Festival, and will see 10 projects presented to international producers and financiers.

The partnership between Singapore-based Saava and Italy’s Ties That Bind demonstrates a new confidence in forging partnerships outside such traditional markets as China and Hong Kong. Ties That Bind will also bring its highly acclaimed producers lab to the upcoming edition of ScreenSingapore.

“Saava and ScreenSingapore are the perfect partners to build the new project market in Singapore as they offer a fantastic pan-Asian professional network similar in its goals and philosophy to what Eave does in Europe,” says Kristina Trapp, CEO of Ties That Bind organizer European Audiovisual Entrepreneurs (Eave).

The Singapore Media Festival is casting its eye over the fast-growing online video industry now. Digital Matters, a new component event, will be held Dec. 3-5 and will see representatives from major digital content platforms, brand owners and content creators come together to discuss the state of the online industry.

Billed as one of the first Business-to-Business-to-Fan (B2B2Fan) events, the convention will include extensive contact sessions between fans and content creators, while the business side sees dialogues between industry players on new frontiers in the areas of digital creativity, social distribution and competition.

“Digital Matters attendees will have the opportunity to meet digital natives, leading content creators and their fans who are fundamentally changing the global entertainment industry,” says Jasper Donat, CEO of event organizer Branded. “The desires, actions and communications of these influencers are the exact zeitgeist that everyone wants to understand and monetize.”

Whether the MDA plans to extend its financing schemes to the burgeoning online distribution scene, however, remains to be seen.

For now, the MDA is comfortable with its slate of existing support mechanisms. Its mainstay Development-Assist (D-Assist) and Production-Assist (P-Assist) initiatives have supported a series of film and television productions since its launch in 2011.

Royston Tan’s musical-comedy “3688” benefitted from early D-Assist support, which contributes to the script development, storyboarding and concept art, among others. In general, awarding of grants is genre-agnostic, as long as there is significant Singapore spend. In recent years, P-Assist grants have been awarded to historical epics like “1965,” as well as post-production arthouse feature “Apprentice.”

Grants have also been awarded to Hollywood features to help defray the cost of filming in Singapore. Sci-fi pic “Hitman: Agent 47,” (pictured) starring Rupert Friend and Zachary Quinto, as well as the upcoming Kristen Stewart starrer “Equals” have all made use of Singapore’s stunning skyline and cutting-edge architecture to bring futuristic screenplays to life. In total, S$19.6 million ($14 million) worth of P-Assist grants have been awarded to 23 projects so far.

Similarly, television productions have seen increasing levels of support from the MDA. According to producers, soft financing from the MDA’s Production Assistance Scheme has become so crucial to the viability of co-productions that many international commissioning bodies and broadcasters now insist on some component of P-Assist being included in the financing before giving the greenlight to Singaporean co-producers. Indeed, one of Singapore’s largest producers, Infinite Studios, champions its ability to act as “a critical conduit to help unlock Production Assistance from the MDA available to global producers.”

Other support schemes are generally geared towards local producers and directors. Marketing Assistance, for example, provides marketing support, including entrance fees, flights and accommodation to foreign film festivals, while the New Talent Feature Grant offers $177,000 or up to 100% of a film’s budget for Singaporean directors making their first or second feature. The grant seems to have paid off. Nine filmmakers and their films have been supported so far, including “Banting,” the first Malay-language feature film to be produced in the island nation since the 1970s, while Kirsten Tan’s “Popeye” was one of 15 projects selected for the L’Atelier program at the Cannes Film Festival.

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