The ugly side of Singapore showbiz

I was really annoyed yesterday.

I was so annoyed that I put this in my Facebook:

Demands! Woo...

This is an old recurring peeve, but I was annoyed because there was a casting call for actors/models for a print advertisement that was paying a pittance.

It’s reasonable enough to expect commercial work to pay commercial rates. But these people are offering rates much lower than non-commercial work rates. I get more money posing for photographers who are just practising. (I don’t do that anymore, though.) I even get more money acting in some student films. Duh.

But what’s worse is that there are people willing to do the job and will answer that casting call.

This affects the overall quality of work produced in Singapore. You see sub-standard actors and models appearing all over the place because many companies now prefer to hire untrained or untalented people because they’re cheaper.

So the rates just keep going lower and lower.

And the quality of creative work gets worse and worse.

I mean, have you seen actors and models who are so bad, you just want to shoot them to end everyone’s misery?

Have you seen commercials or TV shows that are so bad, you feel ashamed to admit you share a country with the people who produced them?

That’s because people aren’t freaking willing to pay for quality work!

Sometimes, I have no choice but to propagate the atrocity that is happening. I take a job even if the pay is sub-standard because, if not, I’m sitting at home not earning any income.

I try my best not to, but, once in a while, I feel compelled to cave in.

If I don’t take the job, someone else will and the production house won’t lose any sleep over it.

They know this and they’re exploiting the hell out of us.

Singapore needs an actors’ union. A models’ union. But I doubt that’s gonna happen in my lifetime because Singapore only cares about money. Companies have to be protected and allowed to exploit the little people so they can make even more money for the country.

Very sad lah.

Today, I received a call from a production house that produced a drama series I acted in.

I started work on it May 2007 but I haven’t gotten paid yet.

The payment terms had been made verbally with the project manager. There was no contract. It’s a big and reputable company. I had worked with them before, so I trusted that they would hold to their words.

What I didn’t realise then was that the project manager and the producer weren’t even staff of the company. The whole drama series had been outsourced to freelancers.

During the negotiation, the freelance project manager, after getting verbal approval from the freelance producer, agreed to pay me an extra $400 allowance on top of my regular episodic rate.

Today, the boss of the production house called to say that my invoice has an extra amount quoted, can I explain it?

I explained about the $400 allowance.

“The producer didn’t submit that amount,” was the reply.

What’s worse, both producer and project manager have conveniently disappeared off the face of the earth. Attempts to contact them have failed for a month.

“I know it’s a very small amount,” said the boss. “But I’m sorry I can’t give it to you because we need the producer to sign the approval for that amount first. Otherwise, the auditors will start asking us questions.”

So I can’t get my $400 until the producer reappears and is willing to vouch that he did agree to give me that amount.

If he reappears and if he’s willing to vouch.

It’s very possible that, should either of them ever resurface, they will just conveniently forget that they’d made me that promise, just to make things easy and save on paperwork.

Yes, I have that much faith in the human condition right now.

No matter, you know. Just exploit the little people. It makes the economy grow.

Anyway, I’m taking a break from being exploited, for now. I’m not answering any casting calls and going for any auditions unless the terms are reasonable.

I guess I’d better start thinking about how to make money with my blog.

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38 thoughts on “The ugly side of Singapore showbiz

  1. Monster,

    There are always evil people out there. I understand what you mean. It’s sad sometimes that there are some that purposefully exploit people who they know that they can get away with it! Bastards!

  2. Hi gal,

    Never know that SG showbiz has such ugly side to it. Hang on…..I really feel that you will make your mark SOON!

    Stay cool and funky and continue updating your blog ‘cos you have one faithful reader, albeit silence most of the time :P……

    Cheers!

  3. Heh, I thought Singapore models/actors/actresses were paid well! Anything to save expenses… that’s so selfish… :D

  4. I think this is not unique to the showbiz sector. Anything that involves creative input in Singapore is not valued highly.

    Most freelance wedding photographers get paid a pittance in Singapore. (Granted that some deserve exactly what they get.) And sadly, as with some aspiring actors/actresses, they are willing to do this for next to nothing. Then they give away their intellectual property ‘cos everyone expects the CD with images as standard.

    It’s also reflected in the larger scheme of things, vis-a-vis piracy. Movies, music, computer games/software… Who cares about the people who put hard work into making them when we can get the end product for cheap or even free?

    On the other hand, I acknowledge that the price of software can be quite ridiculous… which is why I try to use free/open source alternatives and donate if I find the software really useful.

  5. Sounds like capitalism has finally made it’s way to the entertainment industry in Singapore. Which is a sad thing.

    I agree that unions need to be set up there to protect the workers. In fact, the Guilds here should extend themselves to the world, not just the US.

    In the meantime, don’t work without a written agreement, if promises are made, insure the make it into the contract and GET AN AGENT.

  6. and talking about the problem you facing :

    every sectors are the same :

    construction.
    renovation
    IT servicing.
    etc…

    For example :

    I am working in one of the world BIGGEST IT firm, we are providing IT services/solutions . Currently, our contract with one of the ISP is almost due.

    They are paying us almost $100,000(not actual figure) every month. The ISP is sourcing for a cheaper solution , if another vendor is offering $50,000 , we will loss the contract.

    it is about the money baby….

  7. actually… it’s the same in almost every industry, and in every country (not just SG). Let’s talk about the F&B… in the last 10 years, rates have not increased at all. In fact, it goes down. It’s a vicious cycle of underpaying, the staff not caring and so on and so forth. I have had very good staff leave because my boss says “if they are serious about working, they will stay. Those that will stay for pay, will only leave if you don’t increase their pay” even though that our staff were severely underpaid.

    It’s very sian. Until bosses wake up their idea…

  8. Always insist on black & white. When it comes to money, people can even murder so a verbal agreement ain’t worth nuts, reputable company or not.

  9. Ok, next time I will click on your blog, even if I know from the summarised feed the posts are about hamsters and I don’t like hamsters. Just so that you can earn some ad dollars.

  10. That is… bad. Well, its the same for singers/performers, the rates just go lower and lower, and it felt like you are not worthed the quality peformance. Argh, hateful.

    Cheers sweetie! =D

  11. It is sad but what’s worse is like you said, that there are desperate actors/actresses willing to spoil the market.

    Singapore’s film industry is still relatively young and as such, there are more talents than gigs which is why so many talents seek their fortunes overseas as a result.

    Have you considered that option?

  12. Just because the company is “big and reputable”, it should not mean that you can work without any contract. You sound more angry about the fact that you’re gullible once to be conned out of the extra allowance. Of course the project manager or the producer would conveniently forget about the promise. It’s additional paperwork after all.

    Consider the money loss as the tuition paid about how being gullible sucks.

  13. Good for you dear. The problem with the whole industry locally (including writing and photography) is that the emphasis is on price not quality. So the argument goes: “Why should I pay you $X when I can get a newbie who will do it for $Y.”
    It sucks, which is why I left professional writing…

  14. Every industry is facing this problem. But I supposed it’s more magnified in the entertainment industry as everyone is hoping they will be “The Next Big Thing” after one appearance.
    So many don’t realise that sweat, blood and tears account for most of the success stories they see today….

  15. Just go find the home address of the producer, then paint red color O$P$. wah lao…. all these local companies is liddat lar, inclusive of MEDIACOCK. Its time for all of u to take up many many jobs, and last minute dun attend. Then all these small little half fark media company get sued by the big MNC until all close down.

  16. sorry to hear what you had to go through, it’s terribly unfair. i hope you find the strength to continue doing what you feel passionate about!

    and that this unfairness can be settled as soon as possible.

    it’s true.. no union.. sometimes, only we have to learn to protect ourselves.. -)

  17. maybe they can try to “outsource” or try to find non-local instead. I find it very unfair that it’s always people at the bottom that gets the squeeze. think of the bright side, u will get ur day eventually

  18. Of all the comments here, I like The Goonfather’s best!

    Let’s do a tag team: Goonfather responds to ad and accepts offer. Then last-minute he fly aeroplane. Then QY approaches production house at the last-minute with sky-high rates!

  19. I think Miss Loi’s idea is good hahaha

    chak – well… if everyone flees overseas, Singapore’s markets will ALWAYS be small and sucky. I actually think we have pretty good talents here, just undervalued by locals. I think we have one of the best in the region, at least. The underlying root has to be cured. If we demand quality work, the producers and financiers will wake up their idea too.

    It’s a bit like F&B… you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. But if you pay gold and don’t train them properly, they will just be monkeys holding onto gold. It’s a whole package. So even if QY gets paid the right amount but they expect her to do shit stuff… no use right? Or so I think la.

  20. Miss Loi: nah… Why turn up? I wanna see all these media comapny go DOWN! Get sued by clients for failing to meet datelines.

  21. I’m just one of them who thinks the same. Taiwanese “modern pop” and S-Pop sucks so much I feel I’m a shame to be from Singapore. It’s supposed to be “Modern”, but it isn’t. Take some tune from a Latin/Spanish/English song from ’79, stick it with poorly done singing, poorly done CD cover, and that’s a Chinese album.

    Also, shows in Singapore sucks. Every show is about: Family, Family Family, Family, Family. Sitcoms are about Family. Drama serials are about Family. Action shows are about Family. EVEN HORROR SHOWS ARE ABOUT FAMILY VALUES! Boooorrriiiinnggg.

    *Sigh*

    I wanna live in the US right now! But then again, I can’t.

  22. Monster: Yeah, it makes me reallly angry thinking about people being bastards and taking advantage of other people. How can such evil exist?!

    Shire: Thank you very much! Appreciate the support! ;)

    modchip: I think Singapore actors are the lowest paid in the whole world. That’s why our industry still isn’t making much of a mark globally.

    acroamatic: Well, it’s very true that exploitation also happens in other industries. But what other industry can boast of cases when the worker doesn’t get paid?

    Sometimes actors are hired without pay because there is “no budget” for actors, because all the money has gone into paying for equipment, location, technical crew, everything. Except actors. It’s something I don’t understand. How come you have money to pay everyone else but you have no money to pay the actors?

    Mike M: Capitalism is in EVERYTHING in Singapore. Haha. Anyway, agents are a double-edged sword. You sign up with them, they don’t do shit for you, and you have to pay them commission for jobs that you get ON YOUR OWN.

    binary_0011: Haha. Pay for Facebook adds? Siao lah. :P But then I always welcome donations, lol.

    Yeah, undercutting happens in every industry. Sad thing, but that’s business.

    rn: That’s why the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. You really have to be up there and do the exploiting, or you get exploited. It’s one or the other. :(

    Derrick: There actually isn’t a culture of contracts in our industry. Most people work without contracts. And in some cases, if you insist on a contract, they will say, “We don’t do contracts. Take it or leave it.” So it’s either work without contract, or don’t work at all.

    kate: Aww, that’s really sweet of you. Thank you! :)

    Jeslene: Oh, are you a singer? :) I think freelance singers have a tougher time in Singapore right? I mean, there seems to be less demand for singers than actors, so the competition is really stiff. Anyway, all the best for your career!

    JayWalk: Overseas isn’t really much of an option unless you already know someone there who can help you get a foot in. If you go there all by yourself, you’ll be worse off than staying in Singapore because nobody will give a damn about some unknown foreigner.

    a_x: No, I’m not angry over being gullible. I’m gullible by nature, so when I get conned, I just slap my forehead, roll my eyes and forget about it and try not to get conned again next time.

    My case isn’t really about being conned. It’s more like being frustrated with irresponsible people. They weren’t purposely out to con me. They’re just… irresponsible. And like I mentioned to Derrick, contracts aren’t a norm in our industry. If you ask for a contract, they will look at you like you’re a purple-headed alien with tentacles for ears and ask you to go home.

    Jesta: Oh, have you left professional writing already? I didn’t realise. Well, just as well I left it too, eh? Heheh.

    Minou: I think there are some lucky ones who succeed without sweat, blood and tears. And there are some unlucky ones who don’t make it even after sweating, bleeding and tearing all their lives. Haha. Maybe one of them will be me. Zzzz…

    The Goonfather: I do have the address of the producer. But he’s not the one who O$. I just need his signature for my $400. So, how? change it to OSigPSig? Hahaha. You can go splash for me. I don’t want to get my hands bloodied.

    brian: Thanks for your encouraging words! Well, I’ve been enduring it for more than 4 years now. I can still go on. I’ll put up with it for the rest of my life if I have to, because I can’t deny my passion. But sometimes it makes me want to kill myself. Haha.

    Tianhong: Thanks for your words! Erm… but are you encouraging “foreign talent”? :P

    Miss Loi: Haiyo… don’t encourage his gangster behaviour!! Hahaha.

    chak: Another overseas suggestion, hehe. Ok, I’m going to copy-paste my answer to JayWalk:

    “Overseas isn’t really much of an option unless you already know someone there who can help you get a foot in. If you go there all by yourself, you’ll be worse off than staying in Singapore because nobody will give a damn about some unknown foreigner.”

    JokeDiary: LOL. The Goonfather is hardly rich. While he might buy me gadgets once in a while, he doesn’t give me money to spend lor. I still have to make my own money to support myself. Boohoo.

    JF: Jteam doesn’t want me. Haha. I think overseas won’t want me also lor. They want 15-year-olds nowadays. Gotta start really young.

    -=}{oT~dEv1L 666=-: Are you Singaporean? I thought you weren’t cos you’re using a .nr URL. Hahaa… it’s funny, your observation that every show made in Singapore is about family. I haven’t watched TV in years, so I wouldn’t know. But I believe you!

  23. just tell him you don’t have enough to buy food for yourself, I think he will also bo bian reach out his fat wallet. lol.

    But I think he’s already consider rich since he can own a Mazada RX-8

  24. Jesta: Ah, ok. Get what you mean. And you ask WHY I don’t make full use of my writing talent? Hehee…

    JokeDiary: Well, the most he can do is feed me three meals a day lor. (Actually less, cos I don’t eat much, only two meals enough. But big meals. haha.) I also need money for other things essential for survival, like clothes, makeup, skincare products, pretty things. Hahaha. Hey, I’m an actress, you know. :P

    -=}{oT~dEv1L 666=-: lol, ok. But sub-domains don’t normally start with www. Why don’t just get a .com? It’s cheap.

  25. qiaoyun wrote :

    -=}{oT~dEv1L 666=-:I haven’t watched TV in years, so I wouldn’t know. But I believe you.

    ha, i never watched local TV for more than 10 years.

  26. Hi Sheylara,

    I stumble upon your webpage and this subject caught my attention. It’s a age long problem even during my time in the late 90s.

    I did a job back then that promised a fee of $1,500 back then. But i was only paid $500 after months of calling the talent agency and after that, they shut down their business. Owned by an ex-TCS actor, i was wondering back then how that could have happened.

    I checked with a fellow actor friend and he too was stuck in that situation.

    I learned one thing from him though, that is to insist on a term even before i sign the contract.

    I regret that i was too nice a guy, i did not take everything that was prepared for me for the shoot. A full set, top of the line new formal suit, pants and shoes.

    i stopped acting after that. And strangely i am interested again now. kekeke

    I was in the same shoes and i understand what you are saying.

  27. Hey Sheylara,

    I was searching and stumble upon your blog.
    I very much agree to what you have said here and I totally can understand this frustration in us every single time someone or some company try to exploit us.

    Sometimes it really make us struggle between what we love to do and money. That suck max! :(

    I became more and more selective now or jobs and audition because I realize that this is going no where, unless everyone of us stand together and not lower our own value. We call these people who lower their own value and spoil the market a cheapo despo!

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