By Jean Yeo | 12 Dec 2022
As the CEO and Creative Director of Ochre Pictures, I often get asked, “What do you do, exactly?” and I always say, “Everything, basically”. On top of managing the company, my day-to-day production role is that of a showrunner – my responsibilities include allocating budgets and making the final creative decisions for all our projects. Perhaps it might be easier to ask me what I don’t do!
With 22 full-timers on our team, Ochre Pictures has always competed with international production houses several times bigger and with immense budgets that dwarf ours. Despite this, we’re proud to have continually pushed the envelope and produced award-winning work such as our period drama series Last Madame, which clinched Best Asian Drama at the Asia Contents Awards in 2020, edging out crowd favourites such as Crash Landing On You and Kingdom 2.
A rare, whirlwind opportunity
During a 2021 CNBC interview, I mentioned that I was a long-time admirer of famed Korean production company Studio Dragon. So, you can imagine how delighted I was when the opportunity to work with them on Little Women came along just months later.
Everything happened so fast, and this project was so different compared to Ochre’s previous endeavours. For a Korean drama of this scale and budget, the production team had more than 100 people, whereas our usual crew size hovers between 25 and 50.
Over the course of the two-week shoot earlier this year, there were several exciting and memorable firsts that we helped to achieve.
Most thrilling was the car chase and crash scene on Robinson Road. Robinson Road is situated in the heart of Singapore’s Central Business District, so securing the authorities’ permission to close off the entire road, plus the adjacent McCallum Street, was no easy feat.
In the past, at least one lane was required to be left open for vehicles to pass through. This time round however, we were allowed to seal off all five lanes for a massive sequence involving a 40-tonne truck, five hero cars, several stunt cars, and 14 extra prop cars.
All five lanes of Robinson Road were closed for a car chase shoot.
For the Gardens by the Bay shoot, we were the first to be allowed to fly a drone inside the Cloud Forest. As this is a paid-entry venue, it took tons of persuasion for us to convince the management to allow us to stretch part of our filming into their opening hours. I would say our efforts paid off, because the shots in the finale looked amazing!
Little Women was also the first international drama series to feature the iconic Fullerton and Fullerton Bay hotels. We were delighted when we got the permission to film at these beautiful heritage buildings and showcase a piece of our culture and history to global audiences. Fun fact: The team had to conduct the Fullerton lobby shoot in near-silence so that the hotel’s sleeping guests were not disturbed!
Overcoming cultural barriers
As with all productions, challenges and obstacles are unavoidable. When Studio Dragon approached us in May, our manpower had already been deployed to two other sizeable dramas and some smaller projects we were in the middle of producing. But I’ve been around long enough to know that there is never a perfect time. With our contacts cultivated over the years, we managed to assemble a team for Little Women.
In July, we hosted 100 Korean team members, most of whom did not speak English and had never filmed in Singapore before. Our team overcame language and cultural barriers to cater to their filming requirements, cultural practices, unique working styles – including their love for iced Americanos!
In Singapore, diversity in the workplace is common and organisational structures are generally flatter. Members are often treated equally regardless of seniority and encouraged to speak up and voice their opinions. Korean culture, however, deeply values respect for seniority and strict adherence to hierarchy. Throughout filming, I found myself having to speak on behalf of my team members to convey certain information to Studio Dragon’s senior producers or directors.
In the end, our efforts to accommodate our Korean colleagues did not go unnoticed. I still fondly remember how one of the younger Korean line producers approached me at the end of the shoot to say how well we looked after everyone. She called me her “Singapore Mummy” (I am that old lol).
I was also glad to hear that both the director and writer were very pleased with the result of the shoot in Singapore. As a director myself, I know that I would only consider a shoot a success if my vision is considerably achieved – so this feedback was very uplifting for my team and me.
Bringing S-culture to the world
In recent years, Ochre’s content has been acquired by streaming services such as Netflix, HBO Go, and Amazon Prime, and we are constantly in talks with platforms to create engaging original content for their audiences.
Our latest offering, Third Rail, is a train hostage drama featuring authentic Asian characters and issues, and it was shot on one of the largest sets ever built in Singapore. The series has garnered much interest from global platforms and premium inflight entertainment, so please look forward to it!
I believe that Singapore has lots of stories and perspectives to share with the world. Our rich heritage, our cultural diversity, even our strong work ethic – all these can be showcased via creative content.
My hope is for the local entertainment industry to garner more support and to be able to develop content that shines a spotlight on our unique stories, bringing S-culture and S-drama to global audiences!
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Jean is the CEO and Creative Director of Ochre Pictures, which has produced more than 600 hours of television screened in more than 20 countries. She wrote and directed the drama series Last Madame, which won Best Asian Drama at the Busan International Film Festival’s Asia Contents Awards 2020.