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WhyItMatters

Filming our own Singapore story

Everybody wants to be in the film business, it seems.

Web retailer Amazon makes shows. Netflix used to only deliver content, but now makes its own series. One of the first things e-commerce giant Alibaba did after going public was to set up a film division.

The reason for the rush is, in a word, branding.

We humans don't relate to objects very well. We are wired to relate to other people. So we might not know what Shaw Organisation does, but we know Ip Man, and when we think of him, we see Donnie Yen's face.

We remember stories and characters. That kind of emotional association is why HBO makes Game Of Thrones, and why despite it being the most pirated show in history, it is not doing very much to stop it. On balance, the brand value the show creates is worth more than the money it loses to pirates. HBO is smart enough to know that stopping the leeching won't automatically turn leeches into subscribers.

It's decisions like these that underscore why Singapore has to be in the movie business, the news business, the book business, the comics business - any business that has to do with telling stories.

Not just for economic reasons, though they are crucial too. But because we cannot rely on others to tell our stories for us. When they do, they tend to get them wrong. The inability of Hollywood to reflect anything other than mainstream American culture is underscored by the #OscarsSoWhite campaign that lambasts the Academy Awards' lack of diversity.

 

Wednesday's Life feature on made-in-Singapore films due for release this year showed a large number of them have funding from the Media Development Authority; it would be safe to say that without public assistance, the list would be drastically shorter.

That kind of support is of course problematic, for reasons of cultural control by the authorities. But almost every developed nation has similar schemes.

The reason for doing so? So that a large enough body of work emerges, year after year. No industry is sustainable unless output reaches a certain size. If we are serious about a film industry, we need volume.

Our annual list takes stock of that volume. It's more than a schedule of what you can watch; it's a sonogram of an industry in its fetal stage.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 29, 2016, with the headline 'Filming our own Singapore story'. Print Edition | Subscribe