Let’s face it – today’s film industry is still very much dominated by males, so it is no surprise that Tan Fong Cheng was the first woman to give a seminar this semester at Week 9. I was thrilled when I first received the e-flyer that I was going to be writing about Fong Cheng, a producer and a recent writer!
Her humble beginnings started out with studying in Temasek Polytechnic. This was where she was posted to a production house doing TV commercials for an internship. Similarly, before David Fincher became famous, he too, started out doing mtvs and TV commercials where it is a platform to hone skills and develop story telling. According to Fong Cheng this was also where she learnt the ropes for production at a young age.
Fong Cheng has been in this industry for more than 10 years and still thriving. She has worked with many notable Singaporean directors such as Eric Khoo and Royston Tan. Be with me, Tatsumi and 15 are a few of the many award-wining films she has produced. As she mentions, being a producer is more just organising stuff. You have to be a sales person, a counsellor, a nanny, a driver, and even sometimes a travel agent. She said that it is important to be open minded and have a good general knowledge as a producer, because production covers such a wide scope.
The turning point in her career was when a Taiwanese director she was working with asked her a really simple question that left her tongue-tied. “ Do you know what it takes to be a production manager?” She was dumbfounded. Through the conversation they had that day, she realised that even though she is not one of the creatives, but being part of the team, she is entitled to contribute ideas to further enhance the film. “You don’t wait until you have a production to think about the elements that will help you become a better producer, but rather through daily living”, she says. Building relationships can be tough, but are key to survival in the film industry. Relationships are not built based on the merry times but also through the tough moments. “Relationship” is not just a word but also a commitment that many people are afraid of. It is important to establish a good relationship with your directors and crew. Be it if they’re a guy, girl, or a friend, getting to know them better will definitely make your job easier.
Fong Cheng showed us a film she produced called No Day Off. The film was inspired by the growing trend of abused domestic helpers in Singapore. It portrays Singaporean homes (of different social classes) through the helper’s working experiences. Being part of a similar social class, I instinctively reacted with slight anger towards some of the families the protagonist worked for. However, knowing people like those portrayed by the actors made me ashamed, but at the same time, I was able to connect and was drawn to the story even more. Another amazing aspect of No Day Off was that the protagonist had no previous acting experience and was actually talent spotted accidentally on a location recce. Despite this, the strong acting from the lead actress brings out the story and draws empathy from the audience.
Fong Cheng reminded us that being a producer is a physically and mentally exhausting job. The amount of frustration one has to deal with on a daily basis will drive a perfectly sane person insane. It is a job that will never be credited enough for all the hard work put in. However she is quick to add that it all boils down to passion and motivations of what you truly love in the long run. I feel that it is a blessing to do the job that you truly enjoy and what better way make a living than through working in your dream job.
Tang Wan Xin is currently doing her first year in Puttnam School of Film. Apart from being a full time student ,she is also a backpacker, a gastronome and a passionate music lover but is told by many that she is tone-deaf.