Daniel Yun is galvanising the Singapore film community with his latest venture — Homerun Pictures. He tell Liz Shackleton how he is setting up film funds with China and Australia and launching an international sales outfit
Taking pride of place on Daniel Yun’s mantelpiece is a framed copy of a magazine cover that encapsulates neatly the state of the Singapore film industry.
Under the headline “A Few Good Men”, the glossy cover pictures Yun with four directors — Eric Khoo, Royston Tan, Kelvin Tong and Jack Neo. The fact just five men represent the lion’s share of film production in the Lion City, as Singapore is known colloquially, shows the difficulty in creating a viable movie industry in a territory of just four million people.
Although production levels have risen in the past decade, Singapore’s output is fewer than 20 films a year. While more Singaporean films, such as Khoo’s Cannes 2008 Competition title My Magic, are now screened at festivals, few secure a wide international release.
But Yun, the only producer on the cover, is determined a few good men should eventually grow into a thriving film industry. After 11 years heading MediaCorp Raintree Pictures, the film production arm of state-owned broadcaster Media-Corp, Yun is launching a new venture, Homerun Pictures, which aims to address some of the industry’s weakest links. Its core business will be executive producing and packaging films in the $5m-$15m range, considered mid-budget in Asia, but it will also focus on areas such as international sales and the development process.
“If there is a proper development process, better scripts will attract better talent and more investors.”
“In Singapore, there’s no money for development. That’s why our scripts are not properly developed,” explains Yun. “If there is a proper development process, better scripts will attract better talent and more investors. This is key to raising the quality of our movies so they can travel better.”
With this in mind, Homerun is setting up a three-year matching fund to develop projects with Hengdian World Studios in China, and is looking at establishing a similar fund out of Australia. The tie-up with Hengdian is also part of a push into the mainland China market, where box office is expected to rise 40% this year, an impressive growth trajectory that is galvanising the entire region.
Homerun also aims to establish Singapore’s first international sales company to handle both its own and third-party product. As Singapore is a small box-office territory, grossing around $100m a year, local films need overseas distribution to recoup. But local producers usually rely on overseas sales agents to sell their movies. Yun is merging his new entity with local distributor Festive Films, founded by Low Yuen Ping, which will manage the international sales and distribution side of the business. “It follows that this will invariably help our own local titles sell to more markets,” Yun says.
On the production side, Yun is talking to several Singaporean and other Asian producers, including John Woo’s partner Terence Chang, Hong Kong’s Peter Ho-sun Chan and Korean production company Film Cook, about collaborating on projects. He hopes to team up with some of them on slates, rather than individual projects, which will be financed using a combination of private and soft money.
Although this funding model is the norm in Europe, it is still unusual in Asia where governments have only recently started to become active in film financing. However, Yun has a close working relationship with Singapore’s Media Development Authority (MDA) and several Australian funding bodies, and has brought in ex-Salon Films executive John Sim as a financial consultant. Among other projects, Sim recently set up a financing facility, SAPO Media Finance, in partnership with Australian producer Mario Andreacchio, to cashflow films using Australia’s 40% producer offset.
“In my discussions with Kenneth Tan [COO of MDA and head of the Singapore Film Commission], some of his observations of the local film industry, especially in what we lack and what we need, are in alignment with mine — basically the need for development funds, bigger budget movies and the need for a sales agent in Singapore,” says Yun.
If all his plans come to fruition, one benefit should be that Singapore will become more actively involved in generating pan-Asian and international projects. During his tenure at Raintree, Yun was involved in some notable local hits that managed to travel, including I Not Stupid and Homerun, a remake of the Iranian film Children Of Heaven from which his new company takes its name, and also invested in and co-produced some larger pan-Asian projects.
But Raintree’s bigger films, including Tony Ayres’ The Home Song Stories (pictured) and Chinese-language titles such as Painted Skin (pictured), Protégé and Infernal Affairs 2, were all generated outside Singapore, which lacks the development and financing infrastructure of film-making centres such as Hong Kong and Australia. Yun, who leans more towards the commercial than arthouse side of film-making — not surprising given his background in marketing — believes bigger budgets are one element that will help Singaporean films to travel.
“If we have enough good producers, the local industry will grow at a faster pace”
“We all know Slumdog Millionaire was a small-budget film which became a breakout hit. But it was made for $15m, which for us in Singapore is a budget totally out of our present range,” Yun says. “We need to produce movies within a decent budget range so we can attach the commercial elements needed in a movie for it to work beyond South-east Asia.”
Yun is not alone in these observations. The four film-makers with whom he shared the cover are also forging a path which is taking them towards overseas markets and bigger projects: Neo is working with partners in China and Malaysia to widen the market for his films; Khoo started the Gorylah label with Infinite Frameworks to produce genre movies for an international market; Tong is co-producing a sequel to hit Korean monster movie The Host with Korea’s Chungeorahm; and Tan, whose credits include 881 and 12 Lotus, is launching a new company and aiming to find a balance between commercial and arthouse elements in his projects.
All of them have the advantage of being based in a city state which has links to the West, mainland China and South-east Asia, a multilingual population and a strong, transparent banking sector. With the support of the MDA, Singapore is also emerging as a film-financing centre. The next step is for the local film industry to harness those advantages and start generating projects that can travel.
“Ultimately I hope to build a culture [in Singapore] where the film producer plays an important and integral part
in the film-making process,” says Yun. “Attention on the directors, scriptwriters and actors is warranted. Yet if
we have enough good producers, the local industry will grow at a faster pace, because it is the producers who make projects happen.”
- Yun started his career in 1979 in advertising, working in account management for agencies including Leo Burnett and Chuo Senko Advertising. In 1986, he became general manager of Craft Print and the following year set up a marketing communications company, Channels Marketing Pte.
- In 1991, he joined Television Corporation of Singapore (TCS), a forerunner of state-owned broadcaster MediaCorp, as vice-president, radio: marketing & sales/programming. He went on to establish and head the broadcaster’s marketing, communications and programming & acquisitions departments.
- In 1998, Yun became vice-president of Production 5 at TCS and became more involved in content development, supervising the production of English-language dramas and sitcoms. In the same year he was appointed CEO of the broadcaster’s new film production arm, MediaCorp Raintree Pictures.
- In 2009, Yun left Raintree to establish Homerun Pictures in partnership with Low Yuen Ping’s Festive Films