AN INTERVIEW WITH ESAN SIVALINGAM & BRATINA TAY, EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS OF "SCOOP!"
Multi-Award Winner - July 2021 Edition
. Best Web/TV Series
. Best Family/Children Film
. Best Editing
. Best Sound Design
ESAN SIVALINGAM BRATINA TAY
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
Welcome Bratina and Esan. Thank you for your exciting SCOOP! series. We don't often get the opportunity to interview two of our Awardees together, so let's start with this: How did you two meet?
Esan: We met in 1999 while we were working for the national broadcaster (Mediacorp). We found a synergy in our working styles, even though we were in different departments (Bratina: production & Esan: writing/content). Also, Bratina’s focus was on lifestyle/info-ed/documentaries/current affairs, while Esan’s focus was on narrative/comedies. With our different skillsets and working styles, we found it was a perfect bridge that covered all aspects of entertainment. We formed Hoods Inc. Productions two years later and have been constantly evolving ever since.
Bratina, as a filmmaker what made you focus on Children & Education?
Bratina: I have always been very curious by nature. When I was growing up, I wish I had the opportunity to access the information to feed my curiosity. You can say that I was that annoying kid who would always ask “but why?” Even if I didn’t ask out loud, I’d be wondering…
An opportunity presented itself in 2008 for Hoods Inc. to work on a Children’s programme. At the time, we weren’t sure if we should do it, considering we’d never done it before. But through that experience, we found great joy and purpose in working on a series for children. We then went on to work on Singapore’s longest running arts entertainment programme for kids (Knockout – ran for 8 years with almost 300 episodes and just under 200 webisodes).
The idea behind our children & educational programmes is that it can’t appeal to just kids, but to adults/parents as well. Using entertainment as a learning device has garnered high ratings and positive feedback for our Children’s programmes. That, coupled with having child psychologists and educators as consultants on our programmes, gave us an edge for content creation.
So in a selfish way, I’m working on programmes where I’m constantly learning new things and getting complicated topics decoded into a simple and engaging format for anyone to understand. Being informed and aware is the first step towards making the world a better place.
What can you tell your audiences about your education, what you studied, how you started your career in film?
Bratina: I had a rather complicated educational experience whilst growing up. Started my primary and early secondary education in Singapore, finished my secondary and tertiary education in Sydney, Australia. I was also fortunate that I was exposed to a few unorthodox educators who really knew how to share information and transform History, Geography, Science, Literature and Classical Music into something visual. It connected with disengaged teen minds (like myself) and made us to want to discover more, not just treat it like lessons in school.
I owe my flair for the arts to my mother who would sneak me off to organ, piano and ballet lessons, visual arts, speech and drama (with the Trinity College London). This love of the arts stayed with me, and I ended up studying Graphic Design and Advertising in College.
My lecturer was an award-winning Creative Director (Boyd Anderson) who encouraged me to explore the different aspects of the creative industry. “Learn from the bottom, be the best gofer in all areas until I find my calling.” During that time, all I wanted was to learn everything I could to find what I’m good at. No job was too small and any position with an “assistant” in the title, I applied for.
He was right, and I did find my calling - I realised that I wanted to work on and be part of a long form media, be it a feature film or TV series.
So I worked as a freelance P.A., wardrobe assistant, photography assistant, backstage fashion assistant, sound assistant, studio assistant, assistant to the Director, assistant to the 1st A.D., then an A.D. and assistant producer.
I’ve been involved in advertising, feature films, fashion shows, photography, recording studios, the music industry, comedy for TV, current affairs and documentaries.
I feel that I’m still learning today with every new project we undertake, and that’s a good thing.
The program has universal qualities to it, in terms of topics, aesthetics… It also conveys a sense of relaxed open-mindedness… Which in turn hints that Singapore must be a cultural crossroads. What do these impressions inspire you?
Bratina & Esan: Singapore is known as a cultural melting pot (where else in the world can you find an Indian Temple, a Chinese Temple, a Church and a Mosque within walking distance of each other). We are also a relatively young nation, so we are ever-evolving.
Being Singaporean, and spending some of our years overseas, diversity and openness are the things we have always strongly advocated for. It also helps that our ideals are in line with the broadcaster (Mediacorp) and governing body (Infocomm Media Development Authority). This makes it easier to cover a broader range of topics (with regional/international appeal) yet handle it in a trademark Singaporean way.
As a collective, if you may, we used to produce educational TV programs before the pandemic; we were urged to suddenly come up with a lot of new content, worldwide, as lockdowns kept sweeping across the globe. Many "kinks" were reported from many different countries, which brought to light many-a-government's shortcomings and lack of preparation. What now? Has everything changed? What lessons and what vision did this global adventure come with as relating to your field of choice (and expertise)?
Bratina & Esan: Safety first. That’s something we’ve always maintained even before the pandemic. Gaining trust from parents that we will care for their children’s safety as we would care for ourselves when they are on set with us.
The lesson here is to not be complacent and to be open to different possibilities. See each challenge as another way to ignite your creativity, to pivot and deliver the content. Create a new style of working, using challenges to become an industry trend setter and most importantly, keep exploring and learning.
We won’t lie, the pandemic did make it more difficult to produce the series exactly the way we would have liked to. But the creative way the entire team (cast included) worked collaboratively through it to complete Scoop! was a thing of beauty.
Scoop! would not have been possible without the efforts of every single person you see in the end credits. And we are eternally grateful to each and every one of them.
Art as Education, or Education as Art? SCOOP! is a creative explosion, with numerous credits in the Art departments. Can you share a little about the process in creating such programs, in terms of writing, conception, coordinating teams, editorial lines and the like?
Bratina & Esan: Fun and engaging would be the key to for us. Art is exploration. So is Education. They go hand-in-hand in every way. Questions we constantly ask ourselves as we work on any project: If we are not engaged by it, why would the audience watch this?
And if we are not learning or seeing something new through our show, why would the audience care about it?
The above informs all aspects of our series – from cinematography to art direction, scripting, costume design, performance, post-production etc. We must always push the boundaries to create a seamless mesh of art and education.
Do you have a message for the Youths of the world, that you would like to share here and now?
Bratina: Whilst at University, I was told I was not intellectual enough to make it into the film faculty from visual communications. Whilst working for a broadcaster, I was denied training, as the executives felt I was too unorthodox to be trained. At various stages of my life, I was told I will not make it in this industry.
What I have to say to the youths of today is: Always believe in yourself. Once you know what you want to do and have a passion for it, do not let anyone tell you what you cannot do. Anything is possible if you put your mind to it. And of course, work hard for it, because nobody owes you anything. You have to fight for what you want.
The most important life lesson is, there is no task too small or too menial. Life is a learning process, it’s all about the journey and self-discovery. Every challenge you face and every negative feedback you receive is an opportunity to grow and improve.
Thank you for your time!