MAKING ALL THE RIGHT MOVES

As the post-production industry in Singapore reacts to the Media Development Authority’s stronger lead role, a new set of challenges and dynamics have emerged. Asia Image looks through the cutting room floor to find how the sector is adapting.

The Media Development Authority’s (MDA) move to create a stronger and more vibrant media industry sent ripples across Singapore’s creative waters. But with the rise of online and 3D programming, is the flow-on effect enough to shake up Singapore’s post-production market? The MDA, in conjunction with the Economic Development Board (EDB), is out to make Singapore a world capital of digital and interactive media, where homegrown creations are made for worldwide consumption. So far the move has been met with some success. According to the EDB Singapore’s media sector recorded an annual growth rate of 9% between 1995 and 2005. However, technological advances such as the rise of high-defi nition (HD) and 3D content, not to mention trends favoring digital and online mediums in the advertising industry, has left the postproduction sector facing a whole new set of challenges. And for the industry in Singapore to grow and survive, it must evolve into a very different beast. James Brooks, owner and director of post production house 9V, has been involved in the local industry for 15 years and he believes it’s in “good shape”. While the company’s specialty is the online arena, 9V also handles offline editing, subtitling, voiceover/narration recording, tape transfer and duplication services. “We’re seeing a very healthy level of programs [made],” he said. “There seems to be work going on. There are problems, like any other industry.” Brooks said that Singapore remains behind in the creative stakes, and has suffered from the decline of the heady days of TV advertising. “Creatively we are in a different league from places like New York, London or Sydney,” he said. “Singapore is a much younger market, creatively. TV advertising has completely changed since 1995. Big budgets have changed dramatically. There’s not millions of dollars going into local TVCs anymore.” That’s a view shared by Song Zu’s creative director Gerard Fitzgerald. Song Zu is a music and sound design company that has worked extensively in television, radio, advertising, film and album production. Fitzgerald believes post-production in Singapore is in a state of transition. “If I make a comparison to 1996 and earlier, the TVC business was on fire,” he said. “The television was still the most effective way to communicate with a consumer because that was where they would spend most of their evenings, watching TV programs and subsequently absorbing more TVCs. Now, the digital age has really arrived. People are getting their entertainment and advertisements from more mediums than ever before. Post-production companies are now doing more work outside the traditional norms whilst the market works itself out.” However, Fitzgerald feels overall that the industry is in good shape. “When change happens, some companies struggle whilst others move ahead… in general though, it’s very good,” he said. “The Singapore government is very keen to develop the industry and as such they are investing in infrastructure projects, talent and have set targets to entice foreign work and to boost Singapore creative output to help sell it overseas.” The big players Generally, post-production in the Lion City is dominated by several companies. Outfits like VHQ Post, 9V, Frameworks, Editlounge, Blackmagic Design and DigiPost lead the way in video while players such as Yellowbox, The Gunnery, Song Zu and AMX are among the top sound players. There are also smaller boutique post houses compared to the fully capable onestop shops. Industry experts say as more post production companies set up in Singapore the quality of the work has steadily improved. “Of course, technical capability and competence are not the only thing producers are looking for in a post house; creativity, experience, and flexibility are all essential characteristics of a good partner,” Christopher Slaughter, managing director of APV, said. APV is a regional multi-media and communications company that specializes in video production and consultancy. In Singapore APV outsources its post-production work to the likes of Editlounge and 9V. Slaughter believes since the number of post houses has been growing the sector has become much more competitive in recent years. “So even as the total market grows, it’s likely that individual market share has not grown accordingly,” he said. A fierce competitive spirit means that even as the sector grows, there is not a huge opportunity for new players to move in. VHQ Post has been operating in Singapore for nearly 30 years, and its network extends across Asia. William Woo, VHQ Post’s head of production, said the Singapore market may be active and highly competitive, but there is not necessarily enough work to sustain companies in Singapore alone. “This market alone cannot sustain a profitable business model for high-end post facilities so much time, effort and expense is required to bring in regional work from Southeast Asia and beyond,” he said. Brooks’ 9V dispels the notion that the local post-production market is growing. He feels it is stable, but the volume of work is certainly growing. “The volume of work is growing,” Brooks said. “The competitor level is stable. There’s plenty of work to go round. There’s not a desperate need for more postproduction houses in Singapore.” Talent is another issue that is continually a problem in a small city-state like Singapore, and the post production industry is no different. As new challenges are being thrown at post houses, new and better-trained talent is not automatically being attracted. Brooks believes that there is a lack of ability amongst the wider industry, as local universities and polytechnics aren’t turning out enough people trained in this area. “There’s a non-existent broadcast engineering culture in Singapore,” he said. “You have to have a lot of skills [in post-production]. We could use more people… whether it’s imported or from the new generation. I believe the MDA realizes it’s a problem area.” Song Zu’s Fitzgerald agrees. “The demands of clients are getting greater than ever before and more often than not, creative talent have to push out more work at a higher quality for less money,” Fitzgerald said. “Unfortunately, no one can teach these skills at a school. You learn them on the job, so quality experienced people are in short supply.” Rates are another area that polarises the post-production community. Some analysts are of the opinion that as the market has changed rates have not grown, even decreasing in some areas. The emergence of HD programming, 3D and digital content means companies are being asked to do more for less then ever before. “New technologies drive up both the time and cost of operations to post production companies,” VHQ’s Woo said. “But there is often little understanding of the time and cost factors that technologies like high definition and stereoscopy add to the timeline and budget for each project. It remains a considerable challenge to get clients to understand that higher quality should mean a higher budget.” 9V’s Brooks believes rates in Singapore have generally been very stable. “If anything they have dropped,” he said. “Perhaps this model of rates and payment needs to be reworked.” To APV’s Slaughter, a change in the rate model for post production may be the answer for the future. He talks of seeing a move towards flat rates per job as opposed to the usual per-hour rate card pricing. “This is interesting to us as clients, and quite appealing, since it allows us a much greater degree of flexibility, and really does make the post house more of a partner than simply a supplier,” Slaughter said. “It also reflects a growing maturity among the operators – since they’ve done a particular type of job with a particular client a number of times, they have the experience to be able to more accurately estimate the amount of time and resources it will take to complete, and can thus offer a flat rate.” Rates and talent aside, the postproduction sector is changing as the media industry advances. What was once a fairly rudimentary process for film and TV productions is now much more involved and detailed. “Post production has evolved from basic cuts and edits to a sophisticated array of deliverables targeted for different forms and formats of media,” VHQ’s Woo said. “This development has injected life into the post production industry, allowing young visual enthusiasts to capture and tell stories, not just with television commercials, but across different platforms. With 3D stereoscopic and web-sharing as the new buzzwords, the post scene will definitely see many different types of work rolled out to serve these formats.” Despite the industry’s evolution the ability to tell a story remains pivotal. ScreenBox is a Singaporebased company that specializes in short-animation, documentary and info-tainment. Sujimy Mohamad, executive producer and director at ScreenBox, believes that while “everybody is going for that great motion graphics and/or visual effects, the current and future trend is still in storytelling”. “You can put all the visual effects on a video, but if the basic story fl ow doesn’t fi t, viewers won’t remember it,” he said. “Great visual effects get re-done. Great stories get retold.” Looking to 3D The global success of James Cameron’s Avatar, which some are calling the feature film event of the past decade, has been followed by a big rise in 3D programming. Since its arrival more films and TV programs are being shot in 3D, advertisers are starting to experiment with 3D TVCs, and more live sport is being shown in 3D. The recent FIFA World Cup was just one event that had a large 3D presence, with many matches shot and broadcast in 3D. Major electronics brands like Sony and Panasonic are all pushing sales of their 3D TV products. But is 3D having an impact on local post production players? Not just yet, the industry said. “There isn’t a great demand locally for full 3D work, perhaps because of the time and money required to produce it,” VHQ’s Woo said. “This is the case even though the Singapore government is offering considerable support to locally-produced animation projects. Generally we have to rely on external markets for the bulk of high level VFX and 3D projects.” 9V’s Brooks agrees that at the moment there is little demand for 3D post production. He said the demand for 3D animation has grown, but standard defi nition (SD) work is still the industry’s “bread and butter” when it comes to local programming. “Less than 10% of international programming is in SD,” Brooks said. “90% of international programming is in HD. Local programming is mostly still in SD.” But on a positive note, one massive change in recent years in Singapore is that the TV programming industry has blossomed. “Singapore is now a regional hub for satellite programming and content creation, both local and regional,” Brooks said. But while 3D work may not be abundant in Singapore right now, Song Zu’s Fitzgerald is convinced of its role in the future – and he is confident that the post-production industry will be ready for it when the demand for 3D becomes stronger. “Speaking personally, I’m a gadget-head, yet I am not enticed to purchase a 3D TV and certainly not sitting at home wearing glasses to see programming and the ad breaks,” Fitzgerald said. “This one will be market driven. I think we need to see a lot more movies and high-end entertainment in 3D to really embrace it but I am confi dent that the Post industry will take it on here if that were to happen. Having said that, however, if Singapore is to lure work from the American film industry then embracing 3D is certainly on the cards.” Considering the future of 3D programming, and the rise in HD and online work combined with the decline of big budget TVCs and the demand for more talent, it begs the question – Where will the Singapore post-production industry’s next challenge lay? And how can the sector improve its current position? Fitzgerald believes collaboration is the way forward. “If Singapore companies are to be successful in luring foreign long-form work, then a greater acceptance of collaboration between competing houses is required while it develops,” he said. “The Hollywood movie machine is a formidable force of exceptional people and they don’t all work for the same company. The work needs to be shared otherwise it won’t get done or it won’t be very good… either way is unacceptable of course.” To 9V’s Brooks, positive change should come from the government’s regulatory and funding body, the MDA. He feels that while the MDA has done a great job in growing the industry, it also needs to make sure it provides enough guidance and support to the content-makers it gives money to. “Their goal is to make it a very viable, self-sustaining industry in Singapore,” Brooks said. “To give a leg up to production companies, to give funding. Many local production companies have cash-flow problems. They are not always able to make ends meet. They need more guidance. The MDA needs to monitor it [the funding]. Bottom-line, we’re [the post production industry] doing fi ne. The MDA has succeeded in that regard, and you have to tip your hat to them. They’ve created a vibrant broadcasting industry.”



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