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Spotlight: A Rising Singapore Film Producer Who Supports Women Filmmakers

Does anyone really know what a film producer do? Rising Singapore film producer Tan Si En, who produced Anthony Chen's newest film Wet Season, schools us.

It’s open season for art and film lovers – the latter have been anticpating, among other things, acclaimed Singapore director Anthony Chen’s sophomore feature, Wet Season, which opens officially next week. And of course, there was the special sold-out screening of Wet Season with Chen in-attendance last night to kick off SGIFF 2019 –  the Singapore International Film Festival.

Wet Season by Anthony Chen

But behind the glitz and glamour of the red carpet and award season, film is notably a manpower-intensive discipline – it takes a village to realise one. A crucial behind-the-scenes member is the film producer, whose role (compared to say, a screenwriter or costume designer), remains rather amorphous to the layman. What does a film producer do exactly?

Film producer Tan Si En

“A film producer oversees the making of a film, and is there from the very beginning of the project till the end. I develop the script with the director, raise funds for the film, organise the budget, and also arrange distribution for the film. A film producer’s role is ever changing, and the way I see it, I’m always adapting according to each project’s needs,” explains independent film producer Tan Si En, who served as one of three producers on Wet Season.

In other words, the film producer’s job is to make a film happen, be it in terms of logistics, finances or creative development – that’s a lot to juggle and oftentimes, it’s a thankless process the audience doesn’t get to see.

Tan served as assistant producer on Kirsten Tan’s Sundance-winning film, Pop Aye

At 26, Tan is one of the youngest producers on the film scene. Other than Wet Season, Tan has previously helped crystallised the visions of other high-profile directors such as Kirsten Tan (Pop Aye), where she served as an assistant producer. She’s also made working with emerging names something of a calling card – Tan started her own boutique film production company, Momo Film Co, alongside Singaporean director-screenwriter Kris Ong last year.

Momo Film Co aims to support emerging talents in the Singapore and Southeast Asian film industries – especially women. Female filmmakers they’re working with currently include first time Vietnamese filmmaker Anh La’s short film, as well as the development of Singaporean writer-director Nelicia Low’s debut feature film, God Sister.

Here, we speak to Tan on how her company differs from existing options, problems faced by women in the film industry and where she sees things going:

On how Momo Film Co provides support to filmmakers:

What Momo cares about is vision. Not every director wants to make a blockbuster film. We appreciate and want to encourage original narratives. When we have a new project we usually sit down and ask “where should we come in? So that this project can become the best version of itself?”

Sometimes this means coming in right at the beginning, spending time on development work. A good film usually begins with a sound script, so we like to develop the script with the director until the story is ready to fly. Sometimes we come in at a later stage, providing production or distribution support. Basically we tailor our support to the needs of the project, and I think that’s what we’re doing differently from other production companies, who typically want absolute control over a film from beginning till end.

On what she looks out for in a film:

There isn’t a list. Deciding to work with a director, or choosing to produce a film, is like entering a relationship or a marriage. There has to be chemistry, and a lot of love for the script/project.

On hurdles that women in the industry face:

The attitudes and conversations around female filmmakers and female industry players has changed a lot since the #MeToo movement. We’re still in a period of transition. What I’m really looking forward to is what the landscape is going to be like 5 or 10 years down the road. Right now we’re getting a lot of women filmmakers coming forth with female-centric stories. These stories have been a minority in our cinematic history, and I’m excited to see how the conversation will continue to evolve. Women are humans, we’re not perfect, many stories exist within us. I’d like to see more nuanced female-centric stories like Fleabag  and Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

On past and upcoming projects she’s working on:

I work closely with a number of Singaporean indie directors. I’ve produced a number of short films including Sunday by Kris Ong, which premiered at Palm Springs International Shortfest this year. I also had the opportunity to be assistant producer on Pop Aye by Kirsten Tan, which premiered at Sundance a few years ago.

Sunday by Kris Ong

My latest film is Wet Season, directed by Anthony Chen. In October the film clinched three awards at the prestigious Pingyao International Film Festival and has been nominated for six Golden Horse awards. I’m looking forward to local reception when the film opens in Singapore on November 22. We’ve been receiving a lot of love from audiences so far.

I’m currently developing a few shorts and two feature films – Ajoomma by Singaporean debut feature filmmaker He Shuming and Arnold is a Model Student by Thai filmmaker Sorayos Prapapan.

Arnold is a Model Student by Sorayos Prapapan

On the state of the Singapore film scene right now:

The industry is growing for sure. We’ve been seeing a rise in co-productions, where two or more countries produce a film together. Global content creators like Netflix and HBO have set up their bases here. In the past ten years we’ve had Yeo Siew Hua’s A Land Imagined, Kirsten Tan’s Pop Aye, Sandi Tan’s Shirkers and Anthony Chen’s Ilo Ilo, which made people sit up and notice when they won big at Locarno, Sundance and Cannes. I think people are starting to realise that we have talent here, and it’s rare and great that the authorities have also been supportive.

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