In a time when our conversations about movies are still filled with discussions about the latest Marvel blockbuster, or how an award-winning foreign film is coming to our shores, local movies and their directors are still relatively under the radar.
That’s not to say though, that there isn’t a growing recognition and appreciation of works made locally.
With our local directors gaining recognition overseas, like Anthony Chen’s ‘Ilo Ilo’, Kirsten Tan’s ‘Pop Aye’, Boo Junfeng’s ‘Apprentice’ and K. Rajagopal’s ‘A Yellow Bird’ winning awards and international acclaim.
But there’s a new local movie project coming up, and it’s going to be pretty huge – both in terms of the themes it’s covering, and also in terms of the directors involved in it.
’15 Short Films’ is both an unlikely and unique project.
As its name suggests, the project is bringing 15 local directors together to tell carefully curated and largely untold stories of Singaporeans from the 1970s to 90s – our nation building years.
While some might be quick to compare it to ‘7 Letters’, which too brought together a group of established directors and their works in commemoration of Singapore’s 50th birthday, this is a ground-up movement, and there are 2 key differences.
First, while getting together 7 directors is no mean feat by itself, bringing together 15 onto the same vision is on a different level altogether.
Each short film is a collaboration between a producer and a writer – with the former playing the very important role of being the bridge between the filmmaking world and the online world.
Released from July 2017 to end 2018, the 15 short films would be found on both online video platforms and traditional media, and features well-known names like Eric Khoo, Kelvin Tong, K. Rajagopal, Boo Junfeng, and Kirsten Tan.
And it gets even more interesting.
The stable of 15 directors doesn’t just include those with a plethora of directing experience to tap on – it also includes rookies who have yet to make a feature, and online filmmakers as well.
So how did this motley crew of directors come together? Who would be able to convince both sides that the project is something beneficial for both sides?
Perhaps, the producer is someone the directors know, and have worked with before.
Or perhaps, less than the prior connections, it’s the concept of telling stories of Singaporeans during an unlikely era that attracted them to the project.
These are the stories, sometimes politically incorrect, that have fallen through the gaps of the mainstream narrative that mainly speaks of our economic prowess and rise from third to first world status.
The producer and his team are unearthing these stories from the archives and the directors get to choose the stories that appeal to them.
They may even come up with a story themselves – as long as it is a true story about a Singaporean who did something out of the ordinary after the independence of Singapore, and before the advent of social media.
As a matter of fact, the directors are so sold on the idea that they’re actually working on it low bono!
The producer conceptualises this as a ‘ground-up’ project and has himself turned his back on full government funding – choosing instead to work with National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) to get donations from corporates, brands, and the public, because as compared to a commissioned project with materials provided by the government, the films will be the result of the directors’ careful curation and sourcing.
Who Is This Producer?
Holding over 26 years of experience in Singapore broadcast and film production, calling Daniel Yun a veteran is quite an understatement.
More than just an executive, Yun is also a self-starter – having established the Marketing Communications and Programming and Acquisition departments for TCS in 1994, and founding Mediacorp Raintree Pictures in 1998.
This was the film producing company behind popular titles like ‘I Not Stupid’, ‘The Eye’, ‘The Maid’, and ‘881’ – all of which the average Singaporean would know and love.
With an aim to help develop the Singapore filmmaking industry and its filmmakers, Yun produced and released 30 titles during his 12 year run as its CEO, and also pioneered many collaborations between Singapore and overseas directors.
For example, ‘The Truth About Jane and Sam’ and ‘The Eye’ with Hong Kong, ‘Painted Skin’ with China, and ‘The Home Song Stories’ with Australia.
After moving on from his role at Raintree Pictures in 2009, his next big project was ‘1965’, a movie on the pioneer generation that he co-produced, co-wrote and co-directed in commemoration of Singapore’s 50th year of independence.
But in an interview with us, he reveals that it was after the release of ‘1965’ in 2015 that he realised that making a film “cannot just be about Singapore anymore, or just the traditional cinema and smaller screens”.
Yun also realised that there is a shift that filmmakers could not ignore – the rapidly growing digital landscape.
“There’s a digital revolution. The online world is no longer the alternate reality – it is a new reality.”
But even after close to three decades in the industry, Yun shows no signs of taking a break.
He is marshalling his experience in marketing, media and filmmaking to galvanise projects in the digital landscape, which he reveals is a “brave new world” for him.
Yun’s Blue3Asia, And What We Can Expect
Last year, he, alongside the YDM Global Company, founded Blue3Asia with the purpose of creating branded digital entertainment for “studied and integrated distribution” for both on and offline mediums.
The endless number of channels that a single piece of digital content can be distributed is also something that Yun reveals he finds “very liberating”.
This then spurred him on to further explore and understand the digital world, one, he humbly admits, is something he is still working on to fully grasp.
“I feel that it’s an ongoing process to understand it better, I see it as a space where I need to work and play, and therefore find a way to make it a part of me.”
As one of the filmmaking pioneers in Singapore, Yun is now taking his war chest of experience and contacts into the digital world, and is constantly reexamining how the rules of filmmaking – some still archaic – can be rewritten.
To kick things off, he is now in talks to produce Southeast Asia’s first ever creator movie, bringing together some of the most popular Youtubers from Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia onto the big screen.
The aim is to bring the energy and uniqueness of online creator content to the big screen – but it’s a task that requires much finesse in execution.
For example, it has to keep the right balance of cinematic production values, have a proper script and direction – and yet retain the refreshing appeal of Youtuber content.
In the works is also a film adaptation of award-winning, New York Times and Amazon bestseller ‘The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye’.
Yun is currently in conversation with its creator Sonny Liew on the film adaptation process, but admits that it is definitely challenging to find the right director for a faithful adaptation.
But more than just feature films, Yun’s Blue3Asia also encompasses the application of filmmaking to branded content, because let’s face it – branded content can feel like a ‘dirty word’ to consumers, especially the younger online audience.
In a time when the new age consumer has the option to skip an advertisement after 5 seconds, brands are finding it even more challenging to create cleverly crafted messages that consumers would not just accept, but love as well.
Ones that won’t be turned off, and won’t be a turn off too.
As compared to specific products, brands now look to sell experiences – ones that simply cannot be translated into a 2-minute-long jingle.
All that’s easier said than done, though.
Thus, Yun is using his expertise to formulate creative concepts that not just reinforce the brand image, but would also be interesting enough as a film to pull in directors, talents and even influencers.
He brings up how branded content in this day and age aren’t just advertorials and hard-sell advertisements anymore – it has evolved to the point that the brands themselves are creating their own form of media and media content.
It has become branded entertainment instead.
Yun talks about how the trend of branded entertainment began as early as 2001, when BMW released ‘The Hire’, an action-thriller short film anthology starting Clive Owen, and featuring directions like John Frankenheimer, Ang Lee, Wong Kar Wai, and John Woo.
Locally, there is DBS’ ‘Sparks’ series, Boo Junfeng’s ‘Goodbye Hello’ for Singtel, and NTUC Income’s ‘Last Day of School’ – all of which have received positive responses from digital audiences.
“I want to give clients branded content that has a strong narrative – it has a beginning, middle and an end. It is an extension of the brand, but it is also entertainment in itself. So in a way, it is entertainment organic to the brand.”
Here’s where the expertise on writing a good script comes in – the significance of telling a good story.
This is especially important, because as accessible and efficient posting content online can be, Yun feels like the quality has greatly suffered due to the lowered barriers to entry.
Using his years of filmmaking experience, Yun is, through Blue3Asia, thus aiming to raise the bar of storytelling in the digital age.
A New Brand Of Content
Yun admits that the concept of branded entertainment is still new.
“For some, it is very elementary, for others it is too technical to grasp. When I talk to a client, within minutes, I know if I need to make a presentation explaining the basics or I can cut to the chase.”
“Older clients are like “Wah these young people, very hard to understand”. I can be a bridge between these 2 groups – because I’m not young as well, haha!”
Thus, by combining the expertise of both generations of filmmakers, and his treasure chest of experience as a producer and director, Yun is ready to take on the world of branded entertainment.
“It’s still evolving. But as long as I’m part of the evolution, I’m okay.”