SMA Students Pitch their way to Success!

Jalan Ampas, a pitch that Mahfuz and Harni (Haryani Binte Othman) worked on with Ms Kathie Fong Yoneda, masterclass trainer and veteran entertainment specialist with over 30 years of experience in the film and TV industry, won the MDA (currently known as IMDA) Contestable Fund. Kathie was invited by the Singapore Media Academy to conduct a masterclass entitled Power of the Pitch. Kathie has assumed executive positions with Walt Disney, Touchstone, Paramount Television, Island Pictures and Walt Disney TV Animation.

Janet Liau, who also attended the masterclasses, shared that two of her works that have been “worked on” during classes conducted by Pamela Wallace, have since caught the attention of Suria! Pamela is an Academy Award winning screenwriter who was in town to conduct a masterclass for the Singapore Media Academy.

We caught up with Katie, Janet and Hani over email interviews!


Q1: What were your thoughts when you first heard the concept from Hani? Did you see potential?

Kathie: I loved the nostalgia of blending the past & the present, as the heroine's story is told -- Hani did a good job of briefly explaining about the colorful past of the movie studio which was a landmark decades ago, but is a pale shadow in present day.  It really helped to set the scene as we learn that an older woman in the present looks back on past regrets when she was younger and eager to make a name for herself as an actress...Past regrets is a theme that resonates with many of us who made mistakes in our youth and although it is set in Singapore many, many years ago, it is a familiar story that is playing out with many young actors nowadays -- so eager to make it  that they lose their way in an effort to become famous.


Q2: What do you think of the trainees at SMA compared to those you meet in the States? What are the differences and similarities in terms of quality?

Kathie: Most of the trainees, whether in the USA, Europe, Australia or Singapore, usually have the same goal -- to become proficient in their craft/profession in film and/or television & to see their work produced.

I find the Singapore trainees, however, take a more reserved approach compared to their peers in North America.  In the beginning of the class, some of the SG trainees seem a bit on the "shy" side, but once we have them work on their exercises & ask them to read them aloud, it's amazing how supportive the other trainees are of one another when we ask them for their opinions.  Usually by the end of the first day, the trainees in Singapore are more relaxed and eager to share their work. They will ask more questions or give more comments.

Interestingly enough, the quality of the written work is pretty much the same as many of the trainees in the US.  However, usually the verbal presentations (pitches) of the trainees in the US are a little stronger because many of them have attended writing conferences, film school and/or pitchfests which are held on a regular basis in the US.


Q3: How would you advise them if they wanted their works to be able to travel regionally or even internationally

Kathie: Usually the movies and television series that are most successful on a global basis are those that have a unique point-of-view that revolves around a universal theme.  In Hani's project, the story is told from the point-of-view of an older, long-forgotten actress, as she reflects on the mistakes she made in her attempt to be a star (past regrets being the universal theme).  The key is telling a story that plays on the emotional situations & reactions we all can relate to.


Q4: How was your experience learning from Katie and Pam at SMA?

Hani: It was a smooth and very enriching learning process. Not one minute went away without me and Janet learning something important and/or new. Thru their classes we learnt what makes a good script and story and what entails a 'bad' one. We also learnt to pick out what was wrong in our current bucket of stories/scripts and how to make those better. During the pitching class, it was so practical that it instantly helped in upgrading our presentation and pitching skills.


Q5: What were some of the most valuable lessons that you took away from the masterclass?

Janet: With Pam, her lessons gave me a clearer idea of the elements that make a good script. I attended her lessons twice and each time, I took away different things. But the “aha” moment for me is her lesson on emotional core and why each script must find its "heart". I started to have more success when I ask myself what the emotional core of my story is.  More than the specific lessons, Pam has encouraged me to have more belief in my own story telling ability.  So now I have greater confidence when I read and give feedback on scripts.

Learning to pitch helps us to increase our chances of winning. Katie helped Hani and me to improve our loglines and giving us pitching ideas. We rewrote the logline of "Jalan Ampas" in her class. Our classmates in Katie's class gave us new ideas and challenge some of our ideas to make the story better.  We also brought in a pitch postcard during the presentation (a tip we picked up in her class). Like Pam, Katie gave me positive feedback - "you have good instincts about stories" and that made a real difference to my confidence. I am more motivated to become a better story editor.

Hani:  There were so many... before the class I thought my pitching style was good enough. After learning in the masterclass, I now know there are some parts and info that i missed out or overdid. Before class i did not know what and how to write a logline. That is the spine of each story so now I am quite good in writing loglines. I also now know how to criticise my current works


Q6: How has the lessons helped you professionally?

Janet: As an executive producer and producer, I read scripts and am expected to provide constructive feedback to make the scripts better. The lessons have helped me to do this better - to ensure that there is enough conflict in the stories, better characterisation, tighter structure and that stories have an emotional core. More producers and directors should attend writing classes.

Hani: I write better proposals and pitched better. As a freelance writer, during pitching process, I usually get 30% success rates for my stories. Meaning, if I were to present and write 10 stories, only 3 gets chosen. After the masterclasses, my success rate increased to 50% success rate! That is a big jump in my professional fees!


Q7: Do you maintain contact with the trainers? Is the network important?

Janet: Yes, we are on email basis occasionally. Apart from the lessons, the network is the most important. Who knows, we might end up working in collaboration one day.

In fact, Pam was very kind to spend 2 hours (non-class time) with me and Hani, to tighten some of the stories we wanted to pitch. 

Hani: Of course I maintain - networking is VERY important in the media industry. In fact, I sometimes email Kathie and Pam to help when I get blockages and they help without any complains. Such great trainers!


Q8: What are your professional goals?

Janet: My professional goals, as the co-owner of my own production house, is to produce good quality TV programs and hopefully a feature film one day while keeping my company's finances healthy. Maintain a balance between my craft and the business so that we can continue to make good programme. I can't overemphasise the importance of quality scripts in making good TV.

Anyone can buy a good camera and editing software to produce good pictures but you need a good script, a good director and competent actors to make a good program. The craft goes beyond hardware and software, and rests still on people who believe in practicing their craft. Hence continual training and retraining is important - you are never too good to learn. 

Hani: As a story and script writer is to get regional scripting offers. Also to get 50% success rate for my pitched stories or more.


Q9: Will you attend more masterclasses at SMA? What kinds will you be looking out for?

Janet: Yes. I am interested in all aspects of production. I would attend most script writing courses whenever I can whether they are for dramas, movies, sitcoms, documentaries.

Hani: Of course! More writing and Transmedia-related classes.


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