Written by Rowena Carr-Allison on Dec 13, 2010. Posted in On Location

On location in Singapore

An island country off the Malay Peninsula just 85 miles north of the equator in Southeast Asia, there’s no doubt Singapore is something special.

Any visitor can see within seconds that this thriving cosmopolitan city state is abuzz with life. If Dubai is still hogging most of the world’s cranes, it looks like Singapore has the rest of them! Blink and another building goes up. Offices, shops, hotels, restaurants… building sites are a dime a dozen in sultry Singapore.

Following its independence from the British in 1965, Singapore has become the world's fourth leading financial centre, with one of the planet’s busiest ports. Apparently recession-proof, it was the fastest-growing economy in the first half of 2010, and it shows!

The world’s second most densely populated country, it is home to 4.5 million people of Chinese, Malay, Indian and other mixed Asian descent, as well as European expatriates.

The film industry may not be the most obvious here, but it’s alive and well. Back in the 1930s, with a strong influence from India, the movie success stories were the Malay culturally biased horror films. Today, the industry has an English and Mandarin bias. Recent local productions include Sandcastle, My Magic and HERE, all selected at Cannes, while the Western market is also present with the Martha Stewart Show, Top Chef USA and The Contender.

A Southeast Asia base for big names like BBC, HBO or MTV, among others, Singapore prides itself on its technical expertise and media services. From cost-effective production and post–production services to HD and stereoscopic 3D content creation, Singapore is happy to host live action, animated or features films, as well as commercials or promotional shoots.

There’s no doubt that the highly efficient infrastructure and cutting-edge technology is a huge bonus, while the fluency in English, the multicultural mix and unique locations are also attractive.

Rebecca Chee, an executive at Singapore’s Media Development Authority (set up to facilitate filming in Singapore), says: “You’ll find modern skyscrapers on one street and colonial-style buildings on another. The rustic shop houses in Chinatown and Little India lend an old-world, rustic charm and the ornate architecture offers perfect vignettes of early Asia. From urbane to nostalgic, suburban or unspoiled nature, Singapore brings together a myriad of settings.” Even vacant state-owned properties can be rented.

Some of the favourite locations are Changi International Airport, Clarke Quay, Clifford Pier, the esplanade and the museums.

For Colonial heritage sites try the famous Black & White houses, the legendary Raffles Hotel and the Palladian one-time post office: the impressive Fullerton. New areas are constantly being created, like the new waterfront complex at One Fullerton and the Marina Bay Sands with its extraordinary towers and sky gardens.

A country reputed for its strict rules and regulations, Singapore is surprisingly relaxed about permits and visas. Ms Chee adds: “While filming permits are not required, foreign filmmakers need to submit relevant documents to the Ministry of Manpower (MoM) and the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA), but our Locations Desk can help with that.” As for visas, they are not needed for shoots of less than 60 days.

For funding support, a number of schemes exist. The Film in Singapore Scheme (FSS) reviews grants on a case-by-case basis. Successful subsidises cover up to 50% of expenses incurred while filming, such as hiring of professional services, equipment, airfares and accommodation.

So what’s the only obvious downside? The knockout humidity, which can be hard to handle... Thankfully, there’s always air-conditioning!


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