Battle against Orchard Road birds on film

Orchard Road Business Association's executive director Steven Goh recounts his avian woes in Man Vs Birds.
Orchard Road Business Association's executive director Steven Goh recounts his avian woes in Man Vs Birds.PHOTO: DISCOVERY CHANNEL

Mr Steven Goh, executive director of the Orchard Road Business Association, says he wages a daily battle against the birds of Orchard Road.

Birds are often a problem in Orchard Road as the loud chirping of starlings in the evening disrupts open-air music performances and bird droppings tend to end up all over the streets, creating a huge headache for cleaners.

Mr Goh says: "People often don't think the birds on Orchard Road are a big problem, but that's because they don't have to deal with it every day. A lot of effort is taken to keep the 2km tree-lined shopping boulevard clean.

"We use 3,000 litres of high-pressured water to clean the streets each night and it's a lot of hard work to maintain Singapore's image of a clean and green country."

  • VIEW IT/SINGAPORE STORIES: URBAN SCREENING

  • WHEN: Tomorrow, 4 to 9pm

    WHERE: Lepark, People's Park Complex, Level 6

    ADMISSION: Free Singapore Stories premieres on July 16 at 9pm on Discovery Channel (StarHub TV Channel 422).

His avian woes are told in Man Vs Birds, one of five local documentaries in the Discovery Channel series Singapore Stories, which will be screened tomorrow at People's Park Complex and premieres on TV on July 16.

The other four documentaries are about Dakota Crescent, urban farming, a group of card-flourishing enthusiasts, and an upcoming marine park on Sisters' Island.

Man Vs Birds was directed by Ms Kylie Tan and Ms Priscilla Goh. For the six-month shoot, they trailed Mr Goh, as well as encountered various experts, such as avian researchers and arborists.

In the end, they discovered that the key to "winning the war" was not to destroy the birds, but to co-exist in peace with the creatures.

The project is the directorial debut of the two 25-year-olds, who were working in the local film industry in behind-the-scenes roles (Ms Goh is in editing and Ms Tan is in marketing and post-production).

They met while working at Oak3 Films and bonded when they discovered that they were both participating in last year's instalment of Discovery's First Time Filmmakers programme, which started in 2001.

After attending a one-day workshop, they were among five sets of film-makers selected to produce a 30-minute documentary each - with full funding and production guidance, based on the suitability, feasibility, creativity and quality of their pitch.

Ms Goh says the idea to make Man Vs Birds fell on her " like a wetter version of Newton's apple".

"I literally got struck by inspiration," says Ms Goh, recalling how a bird defecated on her.

This incident was eventually combined with Ms Tan's idea to make a film about Singapore's growth from a small fishing villlage to the metropolitan city it is today, and how mall culture has taken over the country.

Ms Tan says: "Fun fact: Priscilla was born on World Toilet Day. So we wanted to do something related to Singapore maintaining its cleanliness. We decided to focus on Orchard Road, a Singapore icon, as opposed to a more suburban setting, as we were considering its relatability and recognisability for a global audience."

For the duration of their shoot from last November to April this year, a typical day of filming for the two involved waking up at 4am to buy breakfast for their crew of three. The team would then take a cab to film in places such as Lorong Halus, to get shots of birds just waking up and taking flight.

Ms Goh, who had worked as a video editor on episodes of MasterChef China and The Amazing Race: China Rush, says: "Most of the time, we didn't use the crew, though. As we had them for only a limited part of the day, we ended up doing most of the camera work ourselves.

"The birds aren't going to do what you want, so you have to stand around and wait for them to catch the perfect take. That way, we picked up a lot of practical camera skills along the way and it gave us a good overview of the whole shoot from start to end."

On what they hoped viewers would learn from the show, Ms Tan says: "Hopefully, people's perceptions of documentaries will change after watching our film because we tried to inject a bit of humour into it, so people won't just think, 'Oh, it's another boring documentary.'"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 10, 2015, with the headline 'Battle against Orchard Road birds on film'. Print Edition | Subscribe