Tom Hanks' 'Larry Crowne' Closes Out Inaugural ScreenSingapore

11:38 AM PST 06/14/2011 by Karen Chu
Ray Tamarra/Getty Images
Tom Hanks

Organizers have announced that the film business event will take place again next year.

The gods smiled on Tom Hanks and ScreenSingapore as the inaugural multi-purpose film business event drew to a close. A historical downpour that flooded parts of the city marked the opening of the event, and morning thunderstorm threatened the closing premiere of Hanks’ Larry Crowne, but all was well as the curtains closed on ScreenSingapore.

Organizers have announced a repeat for next year, but the dates are not settled on yet.

Billed as a celebration of filmed entertainment, with aspirations of becoming Asia’s Festival de Cannes, the seven-day event hosted business forums, a market, studio presentations for regional exhibitors, red carpet premieres and general networking opportunities.

The general consensus branded the event a success. “As we’re winding down, I didn’t ask everyone I meet what they think, I just asked them ‘are you coming back next year?’ and there was not one person that said no,” said ScreenSingapore chairman Greg Coote.

“We set out to make it an international event,” Coote said. “It’s not a festival, because we’re not judging. We set out to make sure it was Asian. We got Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Singaporean films, so we really succeeded in that regard. And we’ve got the big American, Tom Hanks.”

All the major Hollywood studios also played a part at ScreenSingapore, except for Sony, but it was 20th Century Fox that had the biggest presence, led by Fox chairman Jim Gianopulos, and 30 Fox executives such as Fox International president Sanford Panitch, who spoke and attended a regional conference. The company has already committed to coming again next year.

Both industry insiders and newcomers agreed that the highlight of the weeklong meet was the Film Financing Forum, where top industry players discussed access to capital, finance trends, co-production partnerships and distribution. The speakers were all boldfaced names in the industry. The forum particularly served as an eye-opener for local Singaporean filmmakers as to the business side of the filmmaking process.

“Many Asian filmmakers are still uneducated in terms of film finance,” said local producer Edgar Tong, whose short film Acid was selected for Cannes’ Short Film Corner this year. “Without this event, a lot of us are still in a bubble. It’s a reality you can’t ignore. Before, you just want to tell a story, but now you have to think about who to know, how a film’s going to travel, how to put it in the public domain.”

Participants also praised the opportunity to meet or reconnect with Singaporean filmmakers, especially for overseas producers such as Screen NSW’s Paul de Carvalho, who worked on the 3D project Bait, a partnership between Screen Australia, Singapore’s Blackmagic Design and Widescreen Media, with the support of Singapore’s Media Development Authority (MDA). “The best was the opportunity for connecting with Singaporean producers, facilitated by the MDA,” said de Carvalho.

The MDA put around SG$4 million of the total SG$8 million price tag to sponsor the first ScreenSingapore, but MDA CEO Aubeck Kam said over time the authority plans to support less of the budget. 

However, some local filmmakers felt the event was a little too Hollywood centric — indeed, Hanks’ visit and red carpet gala put the whole town in a state of giddiness, while talks by captains of the film industry, like Fox chairmanGianopulos, and Avatar producer Jon Landau and China’s Bona chairman Yu Dong, were hailed as great success — and China centric, with the constant talk of co-productions treaties and opportunities. 

“The knowledge we received from this event had been valuable, but I think the organizers should focus on drawing in the local community,” said Juan Foo of Singapore’s The Shooting Co. “But some of these things are just growing pains for a first-time event.”

To the local community, Kam responded “it comes back to the premise that ScreenSingapore is a business event, it serves as a platform in the same way that most business conferences are. We have a close connection to the local industry, but it’s never just about the local industry, because Singapore’s role as an international city means we are able to support and engage a global audience.”

But those local filmmakers who participated at the event were also given the opportunity to network with the big international players. Coote said, for example, that he was “hounded” by local filmmakers.  “They’ve been on me like glue,” he said. “The local filmmakers were handed a smorgasbord of talent. Everybody else in the worldwide film business was equally available. I’ve had people standing outside of my hotel door in the morning when I came out, not that I minded it.” Coote, who oversaw the event as chairman, carried out his ScreenSingapore duties at the expense of his work as a film producer and Latitude Entertainment chairman. He missed the first cut of the company’s Eva Mendes vehicle See If I Care. 

MDA also agreed that there were teething problems, but mostly in the range of what’s expected, Kam said. 

So expect some of the less successful elements to be eliminated next year. One of them was the market, Expo@ScreenSingapore that only had booths from fewer than a dozen companies. Coote labeled it as “underwhelming” and “a little thin.”

Apart from the closing night premiere attended by Hanks, some of the red carpet premieres, supposedly a big part of engaging the Singaporean public, were not as glitzy as the organizers would have liked when boldfaced names such as Oliver Stone pulled out at the last minute. “We had some broken promises on talent, talent that promised to come but didn’t come, but they’re movie stars, what are you going to do about that?,” Coote said

“We’ll look at all the moving parts and judge them individually,” Coote said.

For the next edition, the organizers had not yet locked down dates.  The 2011 ScreenSingapore was held two weeks after Cannes closes, which led to some very exhausted market exhibitors and overseas attendees. The organizers admitted finding a suitable date was “problematic,” when they had to cater for the international participants in a territory where the majority of the population are of Chinese descent.

Kam said, “After we’ve taken out the Chinese holidays — any time Chinese celebrates the New Year, all the Chinese would be out. Then you got the West and the Asia-Pacific, they have Christmas, so that time was out, too. Then you have the summer, not a good idea, because it’d get in the way of people planning their summer vacation.  That left us very few windows.

“But as a new event, there are many festivals and markets out there.  There’s really no easy way for us to start, so we took the practical approach. Anywhere we started, we’d have to figure it out.”

After all, the overall reception for ScreenSingapore had been positive.  “It’s very ambitious but very successful,” said chairman and CEO of Hyde Park Entertainment Ashok Amritraj, who was also a ScreenSingapore board member. “It’s been a lot in one week, so one should consider it a real success that one can build on. As a starting point for a terrific event, I really hope Singaporean and regional filmmakers are going to embrace it. At the end of the day, that determines the success of the event. To have them come back and say, ‘give us more.’”

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