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Singapore Sees Rise in Co-productions, Competes for Foreign Projects

Pavan Shamdasani

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As Singapore’s stature continues to grow in the entertainment world, and with international producers forever on the lookout for exotic but affordable locations, the Asian country is once again in global sights as a major production hub.

Singapore’s distinctive topography of cityscapes and countryside, coupled with its unique cultural blend of East and West, has led some to consider it the ideal Asian environment — especially given the unsettled recent politics of mainland China, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Manila.

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“The concept of ‘hubbing’ is a natural fit for Singapore, given the country’s post-independence history and livelihood as an international trading center and the multicultural, multilingual nature of its workforce,” says Kenneth Tan, head of the Singapore Film Society.

Indeed, the international success of “Crazy Rich Asians” last year, alongside the Singaporean government’s various initiatives promising subsidies to major productions, has caused a spike in interest over the past few years. Hollywood movies “Independence Day: Resurgence,” “Equals” and “Hitman: Agent 47” filmed in Singapore. Major TV shows are now getting into the mix, with hit HBO show “Westworld” filming in the city for the series’ third season, in conjunction with local production company Infinite Studios.

“Although Singapore is a small country with a small market, the increasing number of co-productions and festival achievements have steadily shone the spotlight on Singapore as a location and partner of choice,” says Joachim Ng, head of the Singapore Film Commission.

Essential to its revival as an Asian hub has been a number of newly launched grants, schemes and incentives, led by the government-backed Info-communications Media Development Authority. In December, it launched an incentives program offering productions up to S$250,000 ($183,000) per film.

“IMDA has to take most of the credit for the growth in their investments in the industry as well as their heavy promotion of the island as an Asian location hub,” says Chang Long Jong, CEO of production company mm2 Asia.

In order to tap into the incentives, foreign producers must team up with a local shingle or producer.
“Understandably, any country’s public funding programs will give priority to local companies, as this is taxpayers’ money,” says Tan. “So, for IMDA schemes, applicants have to be Singapore-registered companies. These are specifically designed to encourage content projects with more than one country partner.”

As with similar programs around the world, the incentives are meant to stimulate Singapore’s role as a hub.

“Where filming in Singapore is concerned, the SFC does not offer financial incentives or rebates for filming/production activities in Singapore,” Ng says. “The SFC offers the Production Assistance Grant that supports companies for the production of ‘made by’ and ‘made with’ Singapore feature films.

“We welcome content creators from around the world to participate in Singapore’s vibrant media ecosystem, draw inspiration from our cityscape and create innovative content for global audiences.”
With the landscape quickly evolving into one that is digitally dominated, location isn’t of utmost important anymore, giving producers the flexibility to hub-hop.

“Content is becoming increasingly borderless, and so is the global workforce in terms of mobility,” Tan says.

But Mike Wiluan, CEO of Infinite Studios, says the hype surrounding Singapore’s hub status isn’t anything new. Grants and incentives are introduced every few years, quickly followed by frenzied publicity for a field that’s seen little in the way of true advancements. Instead, he adds there are a number of “challenges the industry is going through.”

Wiluan notes that while Singapore is natural hub for companies that want to set up shop in the region, the government needs to provide more solid developments to grow the entertainment-technology sector.

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