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


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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.


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