"Acting is the ability to live truthfully under imaginary circumstances." -- Sanford Meisner


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Thursday, December 31, 2015

有情常在 BFF

Amid our daily haste and speed, it is easy to lose focus of the present moment and the people around us. So this short film is a reminder of the importance to cherish the people close and dear to us, and that life is after all, beautiful.

Though I have played the role of a dying father many times (and getting better at it), it is still an emotionally draining experience. In this case, it is the getting into character, believing that I am dying and will not see my daughter ever again, then holding that energy for multiple takes until it is done. It took about an hour. An hour that draws quite a lot from within.

The shoot went fairly well, apart from a few quirks, like the rain getting in the way and the change in the location for the hospital scene. Thanks to everyone who had worked so hard to make this film possible.

This is the third time that I have worked with Kelvin Sng. The other two are "Fairytales" (click here) and the feature film "Taxi Taxi" with Gurmit Singh and Mark Lee.

Have a happy 2016.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Future of Cinema and TV

Note: Just sharing what I have learned in media forums like SGIFF, ATF and All-That-Matters; and from what I have read and experienced. Hope you find this article useful.

The Internet.
The future is in the Internet. That is the mother of all motherhood statements! We all know that, but how is that going to happen? The Internet has changed most businesses, from banking to how crops are picked. Likewise, it has a major influence in the film industry from content creation, casting, production, marketing to distribution. The current revolution concentrates at the distribution end, which until very recently, has been dominated by those with the financial capabilities. Big production studios make films and own theatres, leaving very little room for upstarts and independents. However, the change has begun and more of it is in the horizon.

There are now successful film distribution models via the Internet, like Netflix. In 2015, Netflix video traffic forms an impressive 37% of all Internet traffic during peak hours in the US. It is a subscription video-on-demand service and now also produces tele-movies like "House of Cards" and "Marco Polo"; with some of them, like "Marco Polo", shot at Pinewood Studios Malaysia with some of the cast from Singapore and Malaysia. Netflix is offering its services to Singapore in 2016, which I think will cause a major shake up in the local market.

There are now other giants in the bandwagon, like Google/Yahoo!, Amazon, Ali Baba and Vimeo. All of them, except Vimeo, produces content. Vimeo offers a very attractive option for film makers to screen movies and keep 90% of the takings.

Meanwhile home theatres and TV sets are getting more and more advance and affordable.

Apart from that, going on the Internet allows lots of data to be collected and analysed, to determine exactly when to show what type of content in which countries.  "Content is King" has shifted to "Content in Context is King", and now finally rests with data analytics as, "Content in Context in Immaculate Timing, is King".

However, despite the strength of big data analytics, the conception of the nature and type of content to produce is still based on human judgment and inspiration, virtually plugged out from thin air. After that, these concepts are verified and optimised by analytics.

For more about "Data Analytics and How We Think", click here.

Youtube Stars
Youtube stars that garner millions of subscribers and hits per day are great influencers in their spheres of interests. They are wooed by TV stations to appear in their programmes and to act in feature films. Ironically, the lure of new media stars to old media broadcast and screening still has its seductive aura at the time of writing. In five years time when on-line markets dwarf traditional broadcast ratings or box-offices, then these Youtube stars will finally sober up to the reality that they are already sitting on an enviable golden throne.

Some mainstream TV actors are now contractually required to maintain a presence in social media and answer to fan mails directly. TV drama plots are also rapidly tweaked and synchronised closer to real time events.

These days, youth below 21 years old rarely watches TV. If they do, they watch it via the Internet and prefer content that is closer to reality. Traditional TV ads talking down to them will not work, as they buy through peer recommendations in real life or via the web. Prevailing trends point to a risk among TV stations to continue to produce content that are no longer relevant, oblivious to the harsh reality that there will be lesser and lesser people watching TV.

Online trends are forming to solve problems and satisfy hobby group interest every few months. "Play-It" has emerged as a form of expression for gamers. "UnBox" a new trend barely imaginable just 18 months ago is now all a rage for new product launches.

There is also a trend towards short form videos, as their average duration has shortened to a mere 3.8 minutes, as of September 2015,  from 5.1 minutes two years ago. The Vine 6-Second video competition hosted by Tribeca, now brings shortness to a challenging new threshold.

Traditional film studios and TV stations are slower to leverage on the Internet, as they are burdened by their 'brick-and-mortar' legacy systems. Much akin to how 'brick-and-mortar' bookshops struggled against Amazon online bookstore during the go-go dotcom days. However, they are doing something about it and have now adopted "OTT " (Over-The-Top) broadcasts over the Internet.

Traditional TV
During the early days of TV in the 1960s, there was only one business model. Then, businesses pay to advertise on TV, the station gets the money and used it to create or acquire content to be broadcast. Fast forward to 2015, we now have at least 49 TV business models and growing. It grew from free-to-air, to paid cable, premium cable, subscription video-on-demand, pay-per-view, branded-TV,...etc.

Inevitably content are now influenced not only by the business models that they are to be sold in, but also the display screen - whether it is going to be on a theatre projected screen, a large 90 inch HD TV, a 10 inch tablet or a 4 inch mobile phone. Cinematography and screen play styles will have to adapt accordingly.

For instance, content creators may like to consider more facial closeups and shorter episodes, as more and more people are viewing videos on devices and smart phones during their daily commute on public transport. Actors will have to deliver subtle and precise actions and emotions (as they are now more often on extreme closeups) within tight time frames, such that they are editable into short episodes.

There are examples of successful TV stations making the transition to the Internet, among them the Jiangsu Broadcasting Corporation (JSBC), which grew its revenue from an already high GBP 90 million in 2004 to a staggering GBP 1.5 billion in 2014. The latter achieved partly by going OTT. The revenue of this one station is more than the entire Singapore media market. Much of JSBC viewers are still domestic and JSBC is now looking at creating content that can travel internationally. I had the good fortune of meeting the president of JSBC and suggested to her that she may like to look at making international content in Singapore, since it is a natural multi-system system. Such content can be shaped to be international, but yet retaining the Chinese language and look-and-feel. In other words, it is akin to a cuisine retaining its unique flavours as a Fusion food, instead of slipping into the blandness of International food.

And indeed everyone wants to enter the Chinese market, as it is huge and growing at a breathtaking pace. However, the Chinese Government limits the number of imported movies down to thirty-four movies a year and so co-production is almost inevitable to enter the market. From Hollywood's direction, we can already see more Eastern content weaved into their movies.

The other gigantic market India is relatively open, but to date, foreign films barely make 10% of their market. This may be due to the natives' preference for stories that are culturally close to their heart. In India, there are Hindi films and Tamil films, but there are also films produced in regional languages having a captive audience as small as 5 million people.

The Indian film market is so attractive that Western born Indians, and even some Caucasians, have flocked to Bollywood to boost their career. Most of them cannot speak the language and have to rely on dubbing. I was told that non-resident female Indians have the advantage of being more daring when performing intimate scenes or skin flicks, compared to the more conservative natives.

Bollywood has gone international while retaining their character of over the top exaggerated acting, slapstick comedy and energetic dancing - the so-called 'masala films', that make lots of money. Many of these films have snippets of shots in foreign locations with stunning views to add to the fantasy that mesmerises the working class audience in India.

However, there is a growing group of directors that have started making more realistic films catering to the more sophisticated and intellectual crowd. However at the moment, this is still a niche.

South East Asia 
(Data from Wikipedia, click here.)
South East Asia has 11 sovereign states and 2 dependent territories (of Australia and India). It has a population of about 618 million people and an average per capita income of only USD3,538. Each South East Asian nation has its distinct native languages and cultures, some of which has more than one major language.  The largest country Indonesia, has 252 million people, occupies 1.9 million square kilometres of land and a per-capita income of US$4,323. The smallest one is Singapore. It has 5.6 million people, occupies 724 square kilometres and a per-capita income of US$52,049. Though the smallest nation in terms of population is Brunei with 453,000 people.

Most of the nations are governed by a constitutional government elected through the ballot box by the people, with the exception of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos that are one-party governments and Brunei, which is still an absolute monarchy. Myanmar has just had its first fair general elections. Some of the countries were also at war with each other up till the 1970s. This is less than two generations ago and war stories are still within the lifetime of the older generations. Some nations are independent only since the 1970s, with  East Timor's independence happening as recent as March 2011.

South East Asia is geographically, politically, economically, culturally and linguistically diverse. Religious practices ranges from the mainstream of Islam, Taoism, Buddhism and Christianity, to native folk religions and animism.

It is difficult to produce content that is native to any one country and acceptable by the other South East Asian audiences. South East Asian co-production is therefore difficult from the point of view of content, bar those genres depicting fantasy cross-border crime thrillers, just like the Cleopatra Wong movies in the 1970s.

Singapore and Malaysia have some successful co-productions in the Mandarin language. Some Jack Neo productions, like the "I Not Stupid" series sold well in Malaysia, Singapore, China and Taiwan.

In the year 2008, a Singapore TV series called "The Little Nyonya" (dubbed in Bahasa Indonesia), managed to cross over to Indonesia. It is a popular series about the early Chinese settlers in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, and the culture and fusion cuisines that had resulted. It was also broadcast in China.

There are also Malaysian Malay language productions that have crossed over to Indonesia, and vice versa.

For more about movies and language use,  go to section 5a of the blog post "200 gigs 200 lessons", click here.

However, successful co-productions or productions with native content, that gain popularity outside their native lands are few and far between.

The economic and infrastructure development of some countries are also lacking. Some are also not well developed with sufficient Internet connectivity. Indonesia for instance, do not have Internet bandwidth high enough to sustain video-on-demand outside their big cities. Budgets to purchase programmes in South East Asia are also much lower. For instance, it was mentioned in one of the forums that a 40 minute animation programme may fetch US$250k in Western developed countries, but only about US$500 in South East Asia.

So, the South East Asian market is a tough one and tougher yet to be considered as one market. Though ironically, it ought to be fertile ground to create interesting and unique content, precisely because of its diversity. The producers that crack the above challenges will set the trailblazer.

Singapore is naturally a crossroad of East and West, not only in commerce but in the natural environment. The tiny land size of 724 square kilometers has a diversity that is not sufficiently leveraged in films and TV. In nature, Singapore has more species of plants and trees than the entire North America. Its tiny territorial waters is home to 200 over species of corals, about half that of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, which is at least 2,000 times the size of Singapore. Also, its short coastline is home to 40 out of the 60 known species of mangrove in the world. So diversity is natural to Singapore. There is even a nature documentary made about it:

Further, Singapore has imported 8,000 plus species of foreign hardwood trees of which 5,000 plus species have survived the local humidity to support the City in the Garden. What the government has done for trees and plants, it has also replicated it in commerce, resulting in Singapore hosting 40.8 percent of Asia Pacific headquarters among 319 global Fortune 500 companies.  The labour policy is also open to foreign talent to supplement its local skilled workforce.

The result is an interesting mosaic of cultures and languages that Singaporeans are now second nature to. The average Singaporean speaks two languages, and can code switch between the two effortlessly. Among themselves, they speak a unique mix called Singlish.  Singapore is in a constant flux of adjustments to fit into the international arena. Just getting into a taxi in the city, requires the reflex to choose the right language to to speak to the driver. Therefore, adaptability is a norm in Singapore.

Going International
Hollywood movies are the biggest successes in the international market. Now 60% of their revenue comes from outside the United States. Less European movies have gone international. I suspect that it is because they are not in the English language and that they exhibit a different script structure that is less catchy, less tensed, less hurried and less formulaic. In short, more art, less science and and less commercialised. 

Generally, I find non-Hollywood movies to be less cookie-cutter like and less predictable, and therefore more inspiring. So there is place for movies outside Hollywood, we just have to find our niche.

Asia International
There are a few common questions discussed in film forums. Namely:

1. Can Asians produce content that can be sold internationally?

There are successful Asian movies, such as the series of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan movies. Jackie Chan has also moved into Hollywood and acted successfully in English, albeit usually being the only Asian in the main cast. Also, Jackie Chan's movies could well be popular in whichever language  as audiences buy tickets to watch him fight.


K-Pop is also successful internationally, though Korean dramas successes are more limited to East Asia. Both adopt luxury, styles and beats that the West can relate to, and retain the use of the Korean language.

2. Will the West buy movies with an Asian cast, speaking in accent neutral and intelligible English?

Some Asian distributors and producers have told me that English language movies with an Asian cast may work in Asia, but will not be accepted by the Americans and Europeans. The Western audiences are said to be more used to seeing Caucasians speaking English, than Asians speaking English. Or is it? If it is, then it doesn't make sense as there are millions of Asians, in Europe, America, Australia and other parts of the world that speaks English as their first language.  I suspect it has to do with the lack of fluency in the language and acting style (or standards), than mere ethnicity.

Asian actors in London and Australia, find it difficult to get enough gigs as an Asian. It is hard to convince the casting director to accept them as actors that happen to be Asian, rather than an Asian actor. To add insult to injury, Hollywood had on several occasions, literally taped up Caucasian eyes to look slit-eyed, in order to cast them as a Chinese.

Somehow there is such an insatiable appetite to cast Caucasians that even those of Southern European origins are less preferred to white Anglo-Saxons, in Western English speaking countries. So where does it put Asians actors in international movies? So far, they are stereotyped as scientists, nerds and kungfu fighters.

Wong Fu Productions, a video production company with a cast and crew of largely ethnic East Asians, are tremendously popular with 2.4 million subscribers online and have recently distributed their feature film (in American English) via Vimeo. Once again, the Internet enables niche players to gather numbers and be profitable. However, I heard that most of their viewers are Asians. For a sneak peek of the film, click here.


In the late 1970s to early 1980s, there was the Cleopatra Wong movie series that sold very well in the international market. They cast English speaking Asian actors and were able to have their films sold not only in Western countries, but also the former Eastern European countries, Africa states and the Middle East.

So now we are talking. We do have English language films with Asian cast that sold internationally. This has been done.


If that worked in the 1970s to 1980s, then it ought to work better today with the popularity of social networks and cities getting more racially diverse. Diversity is more interesting than mono-culture. Imagine how boring Facebook would  be if it is only about one-country or one-culture/race. Producers and distributors ought to recognise this opportunity quickly.

More recently in 2013, the seven-minute English short film called "Gift", which I acted in with a Singaporean cast and crew, garnered more than 20 million hits online, and is still growing as we speak. This proves that an engaging script with a strong message and actors that can connect with the audience emotionally, will travel. For more about "Gift", click here.


Format counts too. Format is a growing market in the TV space. It gains momentum with the popularity of reality shows. Besides the successful talent shows like X-Factor, Voice and Britain Got Talent, there are cooking shows, dare devil shows, education shows, parenting shows...etc. Think of a unique idea that can sell to large audiences, have it prototype and sell it to a large network like ITV and you have it made. Leave the legal aspects and IP protection nightmares to them, they have an army of lawyers to deal with that. Even that, I heard  that it is often very difficult to protect a format. However, more often, the copycat succumbs to a lack of know-how to deliver the show to its desired results. So it is not just an idea, but the know-how to nail it down to a fine art.


In summary, the Internet has changed the way TV shows and movies are made and it is now changing the way they are distributed. This will cause major upheavals and upset some market players among the incumbents, while creating new opportunities for newer and nimbler players. Some traditional TV companies have made the transition quickly and have succeeded in increasing their bottom line handsomely.  Those that succeed have mastered the art of applying technology to keep up with new trends, behaviour and content development.

There is a quest among all producers to create content that can travel internationally.

The Chinese market is the most attractive at the time of writing with many parties interested in co-production. This in part to by-pass the official limit of 34 foreign movies allowed into the country per year, with that limit to be re-negotiated in 2017.

Conversely, the Chinese are also interested in extending their products to the international market and with international content. So we may well see the genesis of Asian content with international appeal in the coming years.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

I Could Have Been Happy

This film is about a man and his fling with a woman and the twist that comes towards the end. The shoot took two days, with the second day stretching over late into the night. Even that, there were smiles all round, thanks to their boundless energy and enthusiasm of the team. I won't spoil your fun watching the film, so go ahead below...

I Could've Been Happy by Goh Ansen from Goh Ansen on Vimeo.

Just in case you wonder,... it was quite safe of me crying and looking away in despair while driving in the scene. In reality, the car was stationary and we shook the camera instead to give the impression of a moving car. The flashes of passing streetlights were LED light manually operated by a gaffer on the passenger seat. The rest of them mounted themselves on the bonnet to capture me on the driver's seat. :)

Monday, November 16, 2015


I only got to know that this film "Change", is uploaded on Youtube, after a Malay boy told me about it. We met by chance. He recognised me at a bus stop near my home. He was very shy in the beginning, stealing a gaze at me, then followed by a quick smile. However, after I had returned his smile, he rushed into asking if I acted in the film. It is surprising how even a relatively obscure film like this one is being watched and remembered by some people. And somehow, some sharp-eyed ones will remember you for acting in it. Therein lies another good reason not to pick my nose in public. :)

This film was made some three years ago with Leon Tai and his team from Temasek Polytechnic. The story is about the unlikely friendship between a little boy and the local tissue-paper selling vagrant. A friendship that is developed with the boy's generosity, to the dismay of his mother.

Here is the short film:

We shot many of the scenes again as their lecturer felt that I was not tattered and dirty enough in the first round. So in the reshoot, they made sure I look really bad. :)  It was quite an experience in itself hanging around the busy parts of Chinatown dressed dirtily. Some passer-bys that didn't know we were in a shoot gave me some uneasy stares.

Vagrancy isn't that common in Singapore anymore, though we do find quite a few old folks and disabled people going around selling tissue paper pads - 3 for a dollar. Isn't there something wrong when this happens in one of the richest country in the world?  One local politician even said that old folks who collect cardboard boxes to sell for whatever meagre returns, are doing it for some (physical) exercise. haha.

The boy actor's name is "Horsey". It is his nickname because he loves horses. He speaks immaculate
English, unusual for a boy his age, in a country where Singlish has almost taken over. For those that are unaware, Singlish is English mixed with all the other languages and dialects spoken in Singapore.

Crowd control and clean sound was a problem, as it was a busy location. So, we had many retakes. The director told me that he chose Chinatown for its 'ambience'. But what is 'ambience' when he shot the scenes amid modern looking background in Chinatown? It would not be much of a difference had he done it in the suburban centres of Tampines, saving us lots of  time and effort.

As a result, the shoot overran and we all got tired. Horsey, for all his immaculate English and good diction slipped into 'child-mode' of short attention spans.

That is why it is always prudent to shoot it quick when there are children in the cast, even when you have good actors.

Lastly, did you enjoy the film? :)

What do you think is the moral of the story?

Mine is that: "Everyone is important in the society and no one is more important than others."

What is yours?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


Directed and scripted by Reuben Foong.
Starring: Kong Ling Jing Sherry Tao Michael Chua

It will be screened at the Singapore International Film Festival on: 
Come and support local indie film makers.

For tickets, click here.

For more information about the film, click here

Here is some of the floating feeling during the shoot...

This film is shot a la  Reuben Foong's style - wide and medium shots with long takes, and lots of retakes till the director's heart's content. In a good sense, as concern for details is a definite quality of a successful director in the making. 

Long take films are piece-wise smooth and continuous, allowing the audience to immerse more easily. For the actor, it is closer to real life, not having his scenes fragmented by short takes and editing inserts.

You will enjoy the film. Go watch it.

Friday, October 16, 2015

17th LTA Singapore's Annual Safety Award Convention.

I performed this with the staff of SK Construction, as part of the 17th LTA Singapore's Annual Safety Award Convention (ASAC) at the Singapore Polytechnic Convention Hall on the 15th of September 2015. It was also the first time that I am singing on stage. The script and rehearsals are organised and supervised by Sundance-Sahara, an events company in Singapore.

In this gig, I am a civil engineering project manager for the SMRT Downtown Line tunneling project, what I actually studied for in real-life during my university and polytechnic days. During those good old days, I was also part of the Singapore Polytechnic Welfare Services Club which served welfare homes every weekend. It was also the time when I started performing several sobbing stories on stage to recruit student volunteers. That was thirty-seven years ago! Yes, you read it right.  Time flies.

This looks so last century isn't it? lol

This is an old sketch performed in 1978. It opens with the song, "Now the story starts with a family: father, mother and their five children...". We composed the lyrics to tell the story of broken homes, broken families and social issues. :)

During those days, facilities were not as brilliant, so we had to improvise and stack tables up in a tiny lecture theatre to build a stage. Now, fast forward four decades and we have  a full fledged glamorous convention hall built on the same spot we used to have our makeshift concerts.

The worksite dining room as the rehearsal hall.

Now back to the present....

All the actors in this gig are real construction workers and a very enthusiastic bunch. For them, it was a pleasant break from their daily routine. We had many rehearsals together, and that was by itself, very different from my usual gigs elsewhere.

Backstage - waiting for our turn.
On the day of the performance, civil engineering and acting came and met one full circle for me. It was a surreal and nostalgic experience. I am thankful for the experience.

The rehearsals...

PS 1: I have also performed in other community gigs, like the SAMH Charity Dinner 2014, but I do not have the video. Will search them up...

PS 2: A Hokkien Rap for Safe Sex Education. Click here.

Monday, July 27, 2015

200 gigs 200 lessons

For completeness, read  "100 gigs, 100 lessons" first, click here.

This post is about what I have learnt in my recent 200 gigs. It is long but I believe it will be worthy of your time, as you may in the process avoid some of my mistakes. 
There will be no post for  "300 gigs, 300 lessons" two years from now, as it will  take too long to write. As it is, this post has already taken a lot of time, including time squeezed in between takes on set. It is getting more difficult to find time to post here, as I am getting busier. So, you may find fewer posts in this blog here on.

Two hundred gigs in four years is quite a handful, and once again, a big "thank you" to the 200 casting directors who have placed their trust in me to flesh out the characters in their scripts, including one who has cast me as the lead character in a feature film. Click here.

Since my previous post "100 gigs, 100 lessons", another five short films I have acted in have won international awards and prizes, and I have also won the Best Performance Award at the 5th Singapore Short Film Awards (2014) again, together with two talented kids in the film "Detour", click here

"Ilo Ilo", directed by Anthony Chen, which I played a minor character in, won famously in Cannes and The Golden Horse Awards, amongst several other film festivals in 2014. Click here

I have also made my debut as a director and won a Merit Award in a video competition. For more, click here.

This post is to share my experiences as they are - the good, the bad, the ugly, warts and all. Take what you agree, or believe in, and leave those that do not resonate with you. There is no compulsion. Some of you who are more experienced may already know much of what is written in this article, others may know it subconsciously, but were unable to put a finger on them and bring them to forth. 

Feedback, comments, criticisms and suggestions are most welcome. The objective is to learn and grow together. Some of the lessons are also universally applicable - such as those pertaining to the need for stillness and concentration to achieve our goals.

And thank you all those who have taught me so much, both in front and behind the camera.

1. Be The Good Actor You Want to Be
What kind of actor do you want to be? There are several actors that I have worked with that have inspired me. They exhibit the following character traits:

Good actors are humble. I remember one, an A-lister and veteran in Singapore, who walked over to me to apologise for not acknowledging me when I entered the room, as he was in the middle of a camera blocking. 

Good actors are committed to their character. There is one who would analyse the back story of the character to the detail of the horoscope, its cultural and family background and research on similar real life characters. The result is that he always fleshes out the character very convincingly.

Good actors do not 'kiss-and-tell', about unnecessary details in a shoot. For instance, I have not heard of good actors humouring over script relationships, they once had. For what is so funny? Once it is over, it is over. I don't find anything amusing talking about screen relationships, especially intimate ones, once they are done. Besides, it is crucial to get out of character.

Good actors speak properly on and off-reel. When required, they are able to adapt to poor pronunciation, bad grammar, slangs and accents. It is easier to speak properly habitually, then water it down when required, than the other way round.

2.Getting into Character 
I think I can get into character faster than usual. I thought that was normal. I thought that being a late starter into the profession, and having lived in many countries, cultures, languages and held several professions before, had help. I think they probably do, but in addition to that, I think meditation has also helped. When I meditate, I relax, clear my mind and let go. Metaphorically, it is only when the cup is empty that more tea can be poured in. Then, I realised that some acting schools actually teach meditation, without mentioning the word itself, but using the same rudimentary steps. 

On set, there are barriers to getting into character. So, I try to get most of the technicalities out of the way before going in front of the camera, such as: memorising the lines, visualising the back-story of the character, familiarising with my co-actors (if opportunity permits),....etc. This is because there will be so many other issues to iron out later on, like camera blocking relative to movements, physical constraints, lights and shadows,...etc. Sometimes, the location is so small that I have to jump over cables, duck lights and reflector boards, while remaining in character. 

A lot about getting in character is about letting go.  I can get into character emotionally easily. I can cry on demand, or even cry to specifications like, "don't tear, but just leave the tears in your eyes welling..." or "to smile faster, but naturally".

Some actors practise method acting to get into character, but I prefer to get directly into character without any intermediary emotional memory. Somehow, it is easier for me. Getting into character starts when I read the script. I will empathise with the character immediately and  experience his journey.

But when it comes to intimate scenes, I feel a barrier. The barrier of letting go totally,  the fear of inadvertently going overboard crossing boundaries, unwittingly upsetting the other party and risking wild and arbitrary accusations. Such fears are not unfounded, as the scene, the act and the emotional stability of the actors, may lead to unexpected and subjective results. Besides, women are very well protected in our society (for good reasons) and men will find themselves in weak positions to defend themselves. Men will find it hard to garner support in sexual harassment allegations, even when accusations are based entirely on the women's word.

So when there are intimate scenes in a production, I would ask to meet the director, the co-actress and one other female member, to agree and establish the limits, the rules of engagement and proper channels for complaints/fair hearings. This will preempt any malicious attacks, rumour mongering, and yet protects the actresses concerned.

It can be complicated in a multi-religious and multi-cultural society, to be certain of what is physically acceptable or not. For instance, of knowing when a hug is just a hug, and when hugs are not practised or acceptable at all.

Misunderstandings do happen and a systematic and fair process must be in place, to avoid situations spiraling into a free-for-all.  Most actresses I have worked with are very professional and I did not have any problems working with them, but arbitrarily, just an insane one is enough to get one into a rut. So be careful and protect your reputation. One careless move can ruin years of hard work. It can also ruin the movie that everyone has persevered for months to realise.

The rule of thumb is not to get involved emotionally with anybody on set. This is the Ying and Yang of acting. Vulnerable on-reel, cold off-reel. Otherwise, you may end up as a really busy person, since there are so many good lookers on set. So, get your priorities right. :)

It is said that an actor is like an athlete. He has to endure long hours of hard work memorising lines and staying in character. In a long drawn production, particularly as the lead, he needs endurance, stamina, and enough sleep and rest.

Situations on set can be exhausting at times. On a bad day, everything goes wrong. Especially when you had not slept properly for days and had to deal with unreasonable authorities  on location, after multiple repeated takes with the newbie co-actor who fumbled on his simple one-liner, while the feisty director screamed at everyone for the smallest mistakes, except his own. Whatever happened, remember to keep cool. I have lost mine before, and I swear I wouldn't want to again. Getting angry does not help. Unfortunately, unhappy and disorganised productions do exist and shit happens. We just have to make the best out of them. So stay cool.

Lastly, stay in character in between takes, don't monkey around. You may be able to switch on and off character at will, but your co-actor may not be able to, so team work is important.

3.The Master

I learned acting on stage when I was a student. Then, we acted out sobbing stories of broken families in unjust and exploited societies to recruit freshmen to volunteer in welfare homes.

Many years later, I was scouted by Tisch Asia and was coached by several of their graduate students. I even sat in some of their lessons, as I acted in their class exercises, and had benefited from their class discussions and their professors' insights.

I have learned a lot from online acting classes and have also watched many good movies and TV dramas and observed how they deliver. Besides acting, I started observing camera movements and focus, how they light up the subject, the props, background...etc. I even learn from bad movies, though they are more painful to endure for the overacting, flat dialogues and sterile set props/costumes. Since I started acting, watching a movie has never been the same again.

It is also possible to learn from related arts. Surprisingly, I learned a lot of acting from a voice class - of how to resonate, how to get back into neutral character/emotions, how to relax...etc;  and by performing in stand-up comedies. 

Last, but not least, we all can learn from real life.  A famous director once encouraged budding actors and film makers to take up as many unrelated jobs as they can to experience different facets of life. Reel has to somewhat reflect real life. It is from real life that the audience can relate to the film. Even experimental arts are but abstract attempts to symbolise real life.


Dialogues must not be too complete and too literal. People don't talk like that. Hang out at cafes, restaurant, bus stops and public places and eavesdrop. Conversations are often inefficient, repetitive, unstructured, fragmented, sometimes evasive, contradicting real intentions,...etc. There are also gaps in conversations,... leaving the listener to guess.

While the listener fill in the gaps, they get involved and immersed.

Dialogues need subtext - the meta-information behind the words. And subtext need not be cleverly crafted with twisted logic either. Subtext can be delivered with varied emotions, body language, physical action, or even accents.

Consider the simple line, "You bastard."
Try delivering it in five or more different ways. Each of them will have different effects.

It is important for directors to test dialogues out with the actors to see if the lines suits the actor's persona, the plot and the required nuances.

Our voice, as I have learned from class, resonates. When it resonates, we attract the attention of the audience, which is part of stage presence and charisma. Speaking properly everyday on and off-reel will help with getting the tongue twisting fumbles out of the way, to focus on our voice.

I remember lines by repeating them when I am doing safe chores at home or cycling in the park. The physical activity takes the conscious mind off and get the words right into the subconscious. It works. 

Lately, I have also learned to remember lines of different genres differently. I have observed some dialogue patterns in different film genres. For instance, it was easier to remember  a sci-fi anime dialogue by visualising the comic frames and picturesque fantasy. Similarly, spy films tend to speak in plots; comedy in ridicule and exaggeration,...etc.


Performances are fantasies. Films, with the aid of cinematography and increasingly post-production CGIs are bigger fantasies. So, there will be fantasies, and you will have to decide how much you want or limit.

In film, realism is essentially captured by the camera. So relative position to camera is prime. Given that we are mapping a multi-dimensional world to a (usually) 2D camera, means that there are several optical illusions that we can lead the audience on. Then post-production can alter and exaggerate the illusions further.

From an actor's perspective, how do we want him to deliver the scene? How much aesthetics do we want? Lead actors need above average looks for the film to sell. Even if the character is insane, he must look aesthetically insane. Fights, accidents, deaths...etc, all have to look good. But alas, some of these requirements may stymie the actor's delivery. For instance, for the actor to be tearing but not cringing, tired but not slouching, loud but kind,...etc. The quest for aesthetics will compromise the realism. It is a fine balance.

Of course, there are dogmatic films that disregard all aesthetics. They are ugly, repulsive and literally make the audience sick in their stomach. Naturally, they don't sell well to the mass market and tend to lose their investments.

When I started as an actor, I refused to do gore, as I felt that the media should not be used to encourage violence. Then, I realised that there are different types of gore. There are some that are so exaggerated that they are more fantasies than reality. It remains a debate whether we should tolerate such fantasies, but that can be another blog post altogether. (With your feedback and valuable input here, may be we will have such a post in the future.)

I did an anime gory scene with some students last year. It is about a kid slashing his parents with a piece of broken glass, resulting in bright red fake blood gushing out virtually from my throat. We hid a tube on my neck, connected it to a reservoir of red syrup mock blood and pumped it up when the time came. It was good fun. :)  

I have also acted in characters with special make-up to look like a zombie, an injured person and an old man. In a TV ad recently, I acted as a 30something, 40something and 50something, as I ducked in and out of the make up room through the shoot. Click here.

Traditionally, TV ads are not considered as real acting. They are usually just models selling products. However, they too are moving towards storytelling, within their 30 to 60 second air time. TV ad acting has to be quick, but natural, and the footages have to be easily editable into small bites. Precision is key. 

Curiously, while TV ads are  becoming micro-short films, feature films are becoming more like commercials with their many product placements. Click here.

5a. Language

The next question is one of language. In an increasingly globalised market, which language do we make the film in? There are some discussions in another post in this blog, click here.

On the outset, English being most widely spoken seems to be the best choice. However, the fastest growing market, and soon the biggest one, is Mandarin. Tucked in between these language worlds is Singapore and Malaysia, where Mandarin (and a host of dialects), English and Malay are spoken. It sounds like an ideal world to cover the main language markets, but with a combined population of only about 26 million and a highly fragmented market, the difficulty remains.  

Probably 20 million people in Malaysia and Singapore understands English, but many may not choose to watch English movies as they do not usually speak or think in that language. And when they do decide on an English language movie, they will compare the locally produced shoestring budget indie films with multi-million dollar blockbuster budget Hollywood movies. 

Malay language movies have a market of 10 million customers in Malaysia and Singapore, but when extended to Indonesia, it culminates to a market of 260 million customers; and so there is a healthy Bahasa Malaysia/Indonesia film market that spans Malaysia and Indonesia. But do be prepared to up your budgets to compete with the big boys.

Mandarin movies have a market of 8 million customers, and Cantonese movies have probably a market of 3 million customers in Malaysia and Singapore, though it must be noted that Singapore bans all Chinese dialect films, while ironically allows Japanese and Korean language films to screen and broadcast.

Then it gets more complicated when we try to extend Chinese movies beyond Malaysia and Singapore,  as the natives don't express the same way as the people from Hong Kong, China and Taiwan do. This due to the different lifestyles, accents, slangs, borrowed vocabulary from other native languages,...etc. The different geography and climate also result in different social activities, costumes and makeup. Thus breaking away from the colossal Mandarin market.

Though, there are some local successes. Jack Neo's "Ah Boyz to Men" mixes English and Mandarin, broke box offices of all times in Singapore (but not much beyond).

In Malaysia "The Journey", directed by Keng Guan Chiu, mixes Malaysian accented Mandarin, dialects and British English, managed to break the Malaysian box-office record in 2014, attracting the Chinese, Malays and Indians alike, to watch it.

If we examine both films deeper, they share the common thread of being totally honest and sincere with the audience in being local.

"Ilo Ilo", directed by Anthony Chen, is mostly in colloquial Mandarin and some English. It won famously in many prestigious international awards and is sold in many countries, beyond Singapore, Malaysia, and East Asia.

All these mean that while language matters, at the core of it, it is still the script! Scripts that are so sincerely local that they are irresistible to the audience.  And even better if they hold universal values that anyone anywhere, including a caveman, can understand.

"Gift", a Community Chest short film,  succeeded in doing that. It is acted by Singaporeans in standard English, but has been watched by more than 20 million viewers around the world; with many viewers even volunteering to translate it into their native language. Click here.

Mixing languages is probably essential in films with multi-racial backgrounds. Recently, I have acted in a character that speaks Japanese, Malay and English with a Japanese accent. The story is about a Malay women who falls in love with a Japanese man in Tokyo. Delivering three languages in a dialogue was tiring, but fun. For more, click here.

6. The Script

After several frustrating attempts, I have managed to complete a feature length script that has been peer reviewed. I will be extracting the first three scenes to be produced as a six-minute short film, to be sent to compete in film festivals thereafter.  More about that later.

I have learned the following:
  • For your first script, write the story in one genre.
  • A ninety-minute script is not equals to the work of nine ten-minute film. It is a lot more.
  • One of the main challenge is to structure the screenplay to keep the audience engaged for ninety minutes or more. Literally, there must be something interesting to make the reader turn the page.
  • The lack of plot and character arcs is more pronounced in a feature film.
  • Scripts have to be tight. Scenes with not much changing from start to end, is not a scene and should be taken out. Scenes that do not contribute to the story should be taken out. Redundant locations, casts and shots, are to be taken out. Remember, every time you have cast and crew on set, they cost money and time. It will also tire your team needlessly.
  • Voice-overs, flashbacks and montages are to be avoided, as they slow down the pace of the screenplay.
  • My preference is for dialogues to be short, if possible to have the emotions expressed visually without dialogue.
  • Sketching out the scenes helps. It is a check to see if you can work the audience's emotions from the visuals alone. 

For more about script writing, click here.

When I am choosing scripts to act in, I choose characters that give me opportunities to impress the audience. That may include roles that are totally contrary from my usual self. They may be ugly, or worse, be poorly paid. Or, I may have to change from my usual persona as a fighter to a charmer, or vice versa. But taking on challenging roles make us grow as an actor. It takes us out of our comfort zone, stretches our emotional range and imaginations.


Fight scenes are not the only action scenes. There are also dance scenes, bed scenes and any movements that are sensitive to telling the story. Research on the natural movements. For instance, how would one fall, drown, faint...etc., and choreograph accordingly.

Choreography dictates the quality of the delivery. Action continuity is crucial. All movements must look good relative to the camera and may not reflect how it would look like in the real world. Therefore, certain move sequences have to be slowed down or exaggerated.

I endeavour to keep myself fit, for I don't know what my next gig will be. I exercise regularly and keep a healthy diet. Where possible, I request for the diet I want on set. If they are not able to provide me with what I want, I will prepare my own.

But while an actor with a stunning body will help him to get gigs (it does, yes it is that shallow sometimes), do remember that it remains a stunt. Having a beautiful body itself does not mean that he has become a better actor.

Sometimes, actions and stunts involve equipment and machines, which I had the luck to do some, like stunt driving. It was a simple stunt. In the scene, I am the character that drives a car that is pursued by the police. The police car eventually catches up from behind, overtakes me, cuts into my lane and jams its brakes in front of me to force a stop. We did it slow first, then increased the speed gradually with each take. The final speed was reasonably fast as we could only increase the frames/second a little bit without it looking cartoonic. The rule is that I must drive keeping strictly to the  predetermined speed for the police car to overtake and force a stop, and stopping before a certain point marked by a lamp pole. Discipline and coordination is key. Drive past the pole and I will smash the police car, too fast and I cannot stop at the right spot; too slow and it looks fake.

8.Children and Animals

Recently, I have worked with a 12-month old child. Surprisingly, she was able to take instructions and got on well with me. However, we learned later that she prefers boys or men, and so when it came to interacting with the screen mother, she threw a tantrum. So when you cast toddlers, remember to check out such little quirks. :)

In another production, I worked with a four year old girl who has the most unusual span of concentration for a child. She held her concentration even when the shoot stretched from the afternoon to ten o'clock at night. She needed some persuasions towards the end, but she delivered.

However, there was once when she refused to cooperate and allow me to carry her in my arms in a scene. This was unusual as she is usually fine and easy to get along with. Then I realised that it was because of the mock wound on my right cheek. She was afraid of it. I then carried her on my left side, and it was all fine.  The lesson learned is that even an intelligent kid may not able to express her fears, and it is pertinent for the adult to find out.

I have worked with pigs, dogs and cats - they were relatively easy, since the animal trainers, or owners were around. But recently, I had a slippery time working with fly maggots. It was for a scene that shows my character's maggot infested decomposing torso. As maggots like only rotten flesh, we had to stuff some tiny pieces of rotten ham into the mock wound hole to keep them there. Even that, it was hard as they kept wriggling away from the lights on set. I could also feel some trying to borrow into my skin. It was very uncomfortable to say the least, but the show had to go on. That one scene alone took the whole morning.


It is so important for actors to get enough rest. When I am on set, when there is a chair, I sit. When there is a bed, I sleep. When there is an early morning shoot the next day, I would sleep early. "Duh!" you might say, but you may be surprised when you start counting the number of young actors with fresh young face but brown rings under their blood-shot eyes.

With the lack of sleep, the body is too tense to flesh out the character and deliver the lines well. You can even tell it in the actor's voice.

10. Rehearsals
Rehearsals are absolutely necessary. Everything else being equal, the more rehearsals, the better the result. Good productions are often those with lots of rehearsals. Surprise, surprise! Rehearsals should be broken down to stages of cold read, stretching the emotional range with improvisation, practising and testing and trying out the framing with a pocket camera, in that order. 

Some directors do not follow this structure and so they stress their actors out unnecessarily. For instance, for the director to frequently intervene and comment on the emotions while the actors are still trying out the lines, can be tiring.

11. Auditions
Be confident, but not cocky during auditions. The casting director wants the candidate to succeed and we have to show that we are confident enough to carry that role. I usually memorise my lines before the audition, if scripts are given a few days before. After delivering the standard act, I usually suggest what I can do further to flesh out the character.

Often, there will be improvised acting, so it is important to be fluent in the language. If you are not, practise speaking the language properly everyday, as if you are on set. Be ever ready. If you find that you cannot do well unprepared, take up improv acting classes. It has helped me. I love improv so much that I decided to do standup comedy. That compelled me to progress faster. For more of my standup comedy gig, click here.

I have also been on the other side of the camera, casting actors. Apart from requiring the candidates to act with scripts or improvisations, I have also asked candidates to respond to dialogues or music, to test their vulnerability and openness.

Some directors cast actors that have been through similar stories in their life, as those in the script. Sometimes it works, as the actor will be able to relate from his own story, but sometimes it doesn't. We once cast a real life single mum to play a single mum character. It didn't quite work out, as she demonstrated signs of trauma and appeared to release it by over acting.

How about student productions? Do professional actors need to be auditioned? Sometimes, we don't need auditions in professional productions. So, some actors feel insulted when they  are asked to go through a test and selection process by a bunch of kids that they feel are not up to scratch. I do empathise with these actors, but I also think that it is important to respect students the same way we respect professional productions. That is a way of support and encouragement. The auditions may also be part of their class assessments.

12. Directors

I have made my foray into producing and directing in the last two years. I have co-directed a short film (Rene) and my first solo production was a humble forty second video that won a merit award  in a competition. Click here.

The role of the director is to guide and coach the cast and crew to flesh out his visualisation and capture it on camera. So, he has to communicate well.

Some directors act out the scenes and ask the actors to copy. When that happens, the director turns the actors from vehicles of the story to tools of the director. Then, the director becomes the puppet master and the actor the puppet, contrary to a good performance.  The actors will then second guess the director for the packaged look or performance.

It is easier to be directed by words and not actions. The latter takes too long and destroys the actor. While waiting for the director to act the scene out, the actor has to struggle longer to hold on to his emotions and character - that drains the actor.

Any delays on set drains the actor. That is why an actor goes home exhausted. There should be minimum delays on set. "Duh", you say, but we do witness excessive discussions in between takes frequently. These discussions should instead be sorted out in production meetings and rehearsals.

Directors must also make the environment easy for actors to play their characters. The crew has to be still during the takes, so that the actors are not distracted. If needed, the set has to be emptied out to a minimum crew for the actors to be effective. And this is not only for intimate scenes, or those that involve nudity, but it also applies to situations when pointed concentration is needed. Kids, for instance, may refuse to cry in the act in the presence of a big crew.

Plot and character arcs must be captured with more shots. In order to find time to do that, omit the unnecessary and mundane shots. Every shot costs time and money. So plan your screenplay to be precise and tight. That includes the minimal use of locations, cast and shots.

In commercialised films, actors have to look good to sell. This may require adjustments in camera angles, lights, movements and postures. In the process and under such peripheral burdens, the actor may forget to listen to the co-actors and respond spontaneously. As a result, the very fundamental of a good act and the innocence of a natural delivery is lost.

The good directors that I have worked with know the script at the back of their hand and are able to focus on monumental details in the frame. They are calm, as they know that shouting on set will be counter-productive. I would say that any word that does not serve to improve the performance tends to be detrimental to the performance. And the director must stay in charge.  A director can listen to feedback from the cast and crew, but must not allow anyone else, including his assistant directors, to direct. 

Directors who fail to stay in-charged lose control over the cast and crew.That's when some other persons on set start to think they know better. So directors must work hard to know their stuff very well.

13. Cinematography
Knowing the reason for the camera angles is crucial. Quite often, film makers copy the styles of famous cinematographers without fully understanding why they were done the way they are.

Thankfully, I have worked with some directors, who despite being rather arty-farty, do know what they want and why. One of them I have worked with, used mostly wide and mid shots, with very beautiful and interesting backgrounds to tell the story. Among them, one of them has the leading character move across an intimidatingly colossal structure, and another has the lead actress sitting on the floor of a floating platform oscillating over the sinking and swelling of the sea in the background.

Generally, there must be continuity of style, so that the various shots can be edited together without jump cuts. Always shoot with a camera with a higher resolution than required. That means if 2k resolution is the minimum requirement, shoot with a 4k camera. This is so that you can crop out some images when necessary during post-production - such as getting rid of the 'boom in shot'!!!! :)

And try not to say "fix it in post(production)". It will take time and money, so unless you have a hefty budget to burn, try not to 'fix it in post'. Capture the visuals and sound perfectly on set, there and then. Going back to do it is always expensive.

Aerial shots are beautiful, but they must be appropriate. Don't do them just because you have bought a drone.:)

14. The reason to perform
Why am I an actor? I question myself every now and then, to check if my reasons change over time. The day I do not find a good reason, will be the day I will stop.

Certainly, it is not for the money, as acting is certainly one of the least efficient in making money, particularly in Singapore, where the  market is small and that there is no union to protect our rights. The majority of actors around the world live in the brink of poverty. It is the passion that keeps us going.

Acting is an activity that compels me to the magic of living in the moment, in full immersion. It offers opportunities for me to live sincerely under imaginary circumstances, exercising the power of visualisation and expressing myself.

One of my reasons for acting is to tell stories - of messages that are worth telling - that will make a difference to the audience and the community. The majority of people lives a hurried life in urban cities and often have no time to reflect what goes on with themselves as the clock ticks by. Film and stage plays offers them opportunities to pause, reflect, relax and enjoy the moments. 

15. Opportunities

With the advent and affordability of digital videography, LED lights and equipment, and the convenience of smart phones and the Internet, more artiste collaborating groups are emerging. The standards vary. Some have a sprinkling of professional cast and crew, whilst others are fully amateurs and hobbyists. So if you join one, do adjust your expectations accordingly. They tend to move slowly, and at best, have to accommodate to participants of mixed abilities, and/or the lowest common denominator.

There are now many burgeoning online video channels dealing with practical daily life hacks, humour and social experiments. Some of them are doing well, garnering millions of hits and making money with advertising revenues. If you are thinking of embarking on any of them, check if you still want to stay in the mainstream industry, for if you are not careful, you may ruin both.

In Singapore, there are near ten collaborative film maker groups that are fairly active. Two of them have produced several short films and completed a feature film each. Yet another one of them has ambition of producing a feature film.

In my opinion, hobby groups are good for learning, experimentation, creating high quality short films to your ideals, and creating opportunities and showreels. 

Different actors approach opportunities differently. Most will grab whatever that is given to them, others will pick and choose. I think that in the beginning, the actor would have to take anything given to them, since he probably wouldn't know any better and needed the practice and exposure. Subsequently, he should pick and choose. Choose the script, role and director, to move on to the next stage.

As it is always very competitive to be cast in good roles and scripts, especially in commercialised productions, this has led some actors to focus on getting themselves famous.  Sometimes, they endeavour to get famous at all costs - with a disproportionate amount of time spent promoting themselves while they see their core skills and craft going down the slippery slope of vanity and self-indulgence.

It is easy to be distracted, so I keep a close check on how I spend my time. I strongly believe that ultimately, it is the quality of performance that will make the sale, as it is counter-productive drawing  attention to a lousy performance.  

And since most actors want to be famous, have you thought what will happen when you finally become famous?

16. What fame does to you
A famous actress told me that when she hit international stardom, she could no longer laugh aloud in public, and frequently, rumours brewed around her. TV artistes in Singapore are not allowed by their bosses to take public buses and trains, though taxis are accepted. This, probably to avoid getting too close to the public and also to support scarcity marketing, a tactic which I wonder would still work in this day and age.

In the age of the Internet, actors may soon find that they need to interact with their fans more directly and closely. This is evident with some TV series contracts compelling actors to communicate with their fans in social media.

After the short films "Hentak Kaki" and  "Gift" had gone viral (with the latter hitting over 20 million views now), I get fan mails and sometimes approached by strangers who speak to me as if I am the character in the film. Most are lovely, (oddly) thanking me for making the films (that I acted in but not make). Sometimes the encounters occur at the most unexpected moments and places. Some are tourists from Japan, Indonesia, India...etc. Some asked for photos together, whilst others aren't too sure where they have seen me before. Some could be sitting right opposite me while I f
inish my bowl of noodles, and then come over to say hello before departing.

In short, when you are much in the public eye, you lose privacy. So why aim for the fame?  Rather, aim to tell stories better and entertain, inspire your audience and enjoy the act. With that focus, the rest will take care of itself. The Light will cast away the Shadows.

17. Multiple Roles

By this, I don't mean playing a multi-character character, but being in front and behind the camera in a production. I often marvel those who can be director and lead actor at the same time. I have taken the role of casting director, lead actor and co-producers concurrently  in some productions. I find them tiring because one role is pragmatic and the other highly imaginative. Doing both together affected my acting.

So ideally, don't take on too many roles. Actors should just act. Ideally, an actor should have a manager. Then his mind is free to perform.

18. Distributors
I have not been in a distribution company, so the following are based on my observations and analysis.

The big distributors and theatre owners in Singapore and Malaysia are one and the same people. In Singapore, there are three big ones that are theatre owners. This is a oglipoly and is not allowed in the US. Given that they are in such a enviable commanding position, they are an important group to satisfy to have your film screened. If the distributor prejudge your film to be not profitable, it means that he will not screen your film.

Locally produced English language films in Singapore and Malaysia stand the risks of not being distributed. An English language feature film I played a supporting role in, did not get screened, even though it has some veteran big names in it. However, another feature film I acted in was not accepted by the mainstream cinemas, even though it is in Mandarin.

Some producers co-produce with distributors, and some others create content with strong national agendas and lobby for government support to get their films screened in mainstream cinemas.

And there are shady distributors - lots of them - so I have heard. Those that ask for money upfront, promise alot but delivered nothing, or run away with the money.

I think it is a matter of time that film distribution will move online. Netflix is an obvious example and Amazon is moving in. So is Google (Youtube) and Vimeo. Perhaps a new business model will emerge. Maybe one that is funded by commercial sponsorships, ads and donations; or subscriptions. Maybe some will be specialised, like channels for spiritual genre, documentaries, action genre,..etc.

In short...

It is easier to excel as a full-time actor. So, if you dare, take the plunge, but be ready to experience poverty for a time. Poverty without knowing when it will end. That is stressful and may affect your performance and choice of directors, scripts and roles. So, you may like to have a part-time income to pay the bills. This income can come from jobs as: a salesman of sorts, selling insurance, real estate, used vehicles; as a private home tutor; as a restaurant waiter; or as a tour guide. The more talented ones sing, emcee and dance for a more steady income. Sounds like a tough life, but these myriad of jobs will add experience to you as an actor.

To get into character, have enough rest, practise your lines over and over again, and meditate to help you relax and visualise. No matter how, a film will always be a fantasy. Decide which level of fantasy you want, as an actor, director or producer. It is a fine balance to get your tickets sold. 

Opportunities abound as an actor, at a time when equipment and communications are getting cheaper and easily available. Take on opportunities but be mindful where each of them will take you.

Focus on your purpose. The purpose of the script, the camera angles, the scene, the character and why you are an actor in the first place. In an industry with fast fleeting bright lights, it is easy to be distracted and focused on all the wrong things. Eventually it is your craft that sells and gives you the satisfaction. Fame triggers the adrenaline rush and the lost of privacy. It also powers the ego.