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.

Star treatment in Singapore?

In Singapore, actors (including A-list celebrities) don’t get star treatment like we hear about in Hollywood. Personal trailers, personal assistants, personal stylists, that sort of thing. If we want personal assistants, we have to employ them ourselves. If we want chairs to sit on at location shoots, we have to bring them ourselves.

So, let me illustrate what passes off as “star treatment” in Singapore.

This kid in the tree costume is our lead actress (for the kids’ drama I’m doing):

According to her, being a tree is very hard work and it’s too damn hot in there.

So, during a camera setup break, our sweet producer gave her some windy relief.

Yup. This is as much star treatment as you can get in Singapore.

Not only is star treatment a rarity, sometimes actors have to multi-task.

Here is a boy actor (one of the main characters), receiving instruction from the soundman on recording audio.

Because he has to be soundman for the coming scene!

Okay, I was kidding about that one. Our kids are not being tortured here. The soundman was actually very sweet to let the boy try out his job.

The kids on this drama are very happy kids, indeed, because although they are incorrigibly riotous, the crew takes care of them really well.

To be fair, kids can be really fun to work with… when they’re not being hyperactive.

When violence is fun

I love, love, love doing short films.

They’re most of the time experimental, usually intense and always very creative. You have to be very creative to tell a good story under 15 minutes.

I almost didn’t accept this particular job because of the script. It was a double-edged sword, actually. I love the script but my role is scary. It involves a lot of violence. And I was afraid I’d get hurt because I have a tendency to throw caution to the wind and neglect my own well-being when filming.

During a shoot, nothing is more important than performance. Injuries can be worried about later. Injuries can heal. Whatever’s captured on screen is forever. You get the picture.

But I decided to accept the role because:

  1. I wanted to be part of this amazing script.
  2. Two of my favourite actor buddies are in it.
  3. Louis (actor) wouldn’t stop raving about Josiah (director).

Josiah preps Louis for a shot:

I’m glad I accepted the role because the shoot was fun despite being very tiring (emotionally demanding) and a little painful (violent scenes). But such an exhilarating experience it gave me.

That’s Louis on picture left and Fish (mosaic-ed to keep the ladies from hyperventilating) on picture right. Looks like a horror film, huh? But it’s not.

To prove it, here’s a happy pose.

Notice how I’ve brightened up the picture to make it look even happier? I’m such a cheat, aren’t I?

Louis “plays cheat” by doing push-ups just before a take to induce panting.

Yes, showbiz is a cheating business. Then again, you probably already know by watching Making Of programmes.

And here’s me pretending again to be in a horror film.

I think I miss being in one. Horror films are so cool to make.

Here, the crew is setting up for the next shot, in which Louis throws me on the floor.

The person on the floor is supposed to be me but, at this moment, someone else is there to test the shot because I’m resting. (Being thrown on the floor is very hard work, you know.)

Actually, I lied. I wasn’t resting. I was busy being the (unofficial) set photographer.

It’s fun taking pictures of men in compromising positions.

The sad thing about short films is that… they’re short. All too soon, production ends and all you’re left with is a memory. A very sweet memory of a talented crew and talented co-actors who gave nothing but their best to bring a vision to life.

Unfortunately, Fish isn’t in this picture because he left early, the bastard.

But he’s a lovable bastard (so don’t kill me).

I’m gonna miss people (once again).