Making the Most of the Singapore Media Festival

John Woo and Juliette Binoche Singapore H 2014
Singapore Media Festival

The city-state's annual industry event -- shrewdly rebranded as a can't-miss TV and film showcase -- kicked off Thursday night with John Woo, Zhang Ziyi and Juliette Binoche on the red carpet

Since the splashy 2011 debut of the film market and conference ScreenSingapore, which drew such attendees as Tom Hanks and Oliver Stone, the wildly wealthy city-state regularly has been recalibrating its flagship film and TV events in an ongoing bid to become the industry's premier destination in Southeast Asia. This year, it finally may have hit upon the winning formula.

The newly rebranded Singapore Media Festival (SMF) pulls together the fourth ScreenSingapore, the 15th annual Asian Television Forum and Market (ATF), the 19th Asian Television Awards and a newly revitalized incarnation of the Singapore International Film Festival -- all under one banner and held in the stunning Marina Bay Sands casino and convention complex Dec. 4 to 14.

"The SMF brings together four constituent events into one unique positioning," says Robert Gilby, managing director of the Walt Disney Co. in Southeast Asia. "Singapore is placed at the heart of the region and has fantastic infrastructural support for developing talent and intellectual property."

The 25th Singapore International Film Festival kicked off Thursday night with a glitzy red carpet walked by director John Woo, actresses Zhang Ziyi, Juliette Binoche and Cheng Pei-pei, along with a cross-section of the local Singaporean star system. Naturally, the Singapore Slings were flowing at the after-parties. 

Organizers say they expect about 4,440 execs from more than 60 countries to attend SMF's various events and activities. Here's how to get the most out of the deluge of screenings, red carpets, panels and parties.


ScreenSingapore and ATF, running Dec. 9 to 12, are expecting the Chinese contingent to arrive on the sales floor in force this year, offering visiting dealmakers myriad opportunities to score face time with some of the top tycoons driving the world's fastest-growing major entertainment market. James Wang Zhonglei, president of leading Chinese studio Huayi Brothers Media Corp. -- which recently announced plans to set up a $130 million U.S. subsidiary and forged a strategic alliance with tech behemoths Alibaba and Tencent to raise $588 million -- will deliver the opening event's keynote. Ma Dong, chief content officer of iQiyi, which often is described as China's version of Hulu, is set to give a talk on the Chinese streaming video landscape, while Liu Xichen, CEO of top Sino-format producer 3C Media, will present insights on the tastes of the Chinese TV audience. Yu Dong, chairman and CEO of Bona Film Group, also is said to be taking meetings in Singapore.


After a two-year hiatus, the Singapore International Film Festival is relaunching at SMF under an all-new management team with big ambitions. Yuni Hadi, the festival's executive director, says she hopes to elevate the event to the level of the more established Tokyo and Busan festivals. "In the future, we believe that we will continue to play the role of a catalyst in the development of the film industry in Singapore and the Asia region," she notes. The festival will feature 11 sections, including 147 movies from 50 countries, with various public discussions featuring Woo, Binoche and the various directors battling it out in the festival's official competition. Egyptian auteur Ahmad Abdalla is this year's Filmmaker in Focus, while Korean master Im Kwan-taek will receive the festival's honorary award for lifetime achievement. SGIFF culminates with the Silver Screen awards Dec. 13.


The Asian TV Awards are returning at SMF for their 19th edition this year with an awards ceremony Dec. 11, but it wouldn't be inaccurate to say Hollywood hasn't always been paying close attention. That's starting to change. As Hollywood studios continue to seek growth in localized content and tentpole projects with bankable Asian appeal, cultivating and casting the hottest Asian faces is becoming a more pressing priority. The ATAs -- honoring 239 nominees in 38 TV categories from 13 countries across the region -- present an invaluable, one-stop opportunity to survey and network with a broad swath of the Asian industry's established and emerging stars.


Although most of the industry activity at SMF skews toward exhibition and sales, production opportunities also abound. Thanks to aggressive government investment and subsidy, Singapore suddenly is becoming a major production hub. George Lucas and Kathleen Kennedy visited Singapore earlier this year for the opening of Lucasfilm's new Singapore HQ, part of the 242,190-square-foot "Sandcrawler" building, where a chunk of visual effects for The Avengers 2 and the new Star Wars is being done. The ease of doing business in Singapore -- buttressed by supportive intellectual property law and a cash rebate of up to 50 percent of qualifying expenses incurred during filming in the territory -- has started luring large-scale movies, including Equals, starring Kristen Stewart, which recently wrapped shooting at Infinite Studios. Says Infinite CEO Mike Wiluan, "Our approach has always been about utilizing the best assets of Singapore, whether it be technology, management, law or as a hub."


As if you needed another eastward market indicator, Alon Shtruzman, CEO of Israel's innovative format creator Keshet International (creators of the original Homeland, Rising Star and Boom!), will be giving a talk at ATF titled, "Keshet International Looks East." After getting the inside scoop on the powerhouse's pivot towards Asia, pick up creative tips from the region's reining TV juggernaut, Korea. For the past decade Korean formats have consistently been among the hottest properties in the diverse markets and cultures of Japan, China and Southeast Asia. Learn how they achieve such pan-Asian saturation at an ATF panel discussion featuring four of Korea's top format producers.  


After a film festival, a movie and TV market, two awards shows and dozens of talks, seminars and business meetings, some attendees might be ready to blow off a little steam. They're in luck. Asia's biggest electronic dance music festival, Zouk Out, runs Dec. 12 to 13 on Siloso Beach, with overnight sets from techno great Richie Hawtin, electro star Steve Aoki, EDM favorites Skrillex and Martin Garrix and many more DJs. Get a taste of the expat scene's renowned hedonism for a sleepless night or two. You can always rest on the long flight home.