SHOW AND TELL
"Creating original content is the driving force at Hoods Inc. Productions"
A creative producer with numerous iconic projects under her belt, Bratina Tay has made her name in the local film and production scene. The 42-year-old is the co-founder, managing director and creative producer at Hoods Inc. Productions, a company she founded with Esan Sivalingam.
“In a nutshell, we are a content provider and production house, meaning that we produce our own original content,” Tay explains, adding that Hoods focuses predominantly on broadcast, with genres that include comedy, drama, documentaries and lifestyle.
Tay says that the founding of the company 16 years ago stemmed not only from the desire to produce original content, but also to protect freelancers. “Esan and I were freelancers after we left Mediacorp 17 years ago,” she says. “Often, people in production are treated like manual labourers, and that should not be the case. Many of them are specialists in various fields, such as lighting, styling, sound and camera, but they aren’t always appropriately treated. And freelancers often have to chase for payment, which sometimes can take months. These were our main concerns, and when we started Hoods, we wanted to be sure that those who work with us are paid on time, so they don’t worry about administrative matters and can concentrate on their jobs and craft.”
Running a production company was not Tay’s first choice as a career option. She had briefly considered going into the fine arts or advertising. After finishing advertising college, however, it became clear to her that she was more interested in being on-set and in actual production in its longer form. “I wanted to try to do more storytelling and sharing, whether in the form of documentaries or narratives,” Tay says.
Starting out was not easy — there was no clear direction as to where Tay was headed but she knew that she first needed to understand the entire scope of production. No task was too small or menial, it was all a learning experience, so she happily assumed various roles — including being coffee runner, set painter, wardrobe/ production assistant — all of which helped her learn the ropes on the set. The experience turned out to be extremely rewarding as it gave Tay an insight into the real world of production. Before long, she found her calling.
After Hoods Inc. Productions was set up in 2001, Tay directed and produced work targeted at different audiences. “I particularly enjoy doing programmes with educational value, where the audience can take something away with them. And in the production process, we learn as well. When we learn something during production, we know that the audience will be learning too,” she adds.
Hoods prides itself on being hierarchy-free. “Everyone is an equal as everyone plays an important role, and production is a team effort. There is a strict communication chain when it comes to production but other than that, we’re very even,” she notes. “Half of the people in our office are in our 40s and half are under 30. We are very strict with how we work, but we like to laugh together and create content that is different and exciting, especially things that have never been done before. Feedback and input from the team is crucial, and there are no stupid ideas.”
To allow everyone at Hoods to understand what it takes to put together a production, Tay moves people across various departments so they are exposed to different specialised fields of work. This, she asserts, also helps team members develop mutual respect for each other’s jobs.
Communication is of great importance as every department plays an indispensable role, and Tay takes measures to ensure that everyone is on the same page. “Every department is involved in the content of a production and everyone is given a chance to voice out issues he or she might potentially face. We then discuss and explore solutions,” she says. “What we try to foster here is cross-exposure. Our writers and post-production team go on-set, take on active roles and give their input. This is a way of working smart and saving time as it allows us to solve problems on-set, rather than have someone bring up problems during post-production, which in the worst case could involve a reshoot.”
Some of the more notable works that Hoods has produced include Double Trouble starring Kumar and Mark Lee; 2015 Singapore International Festival of Arts’ Living Together Live Heartland Shows; Knockout which was Mediacorp Okto’s longest running and highest rated arts magazine programme; Pulau Hantu, one of the highest rated local English telemovies; Channel NewsAsia’s ANGeLs series; and Front, an arts entertainment programme for the general audience.
Front was particularly memorable for Tay and Sivalingam. “It was a programme where we could share information with people who don’t know anything about the arts, and it was done in 2006 at a time when other arts shows were formal and proper. We brought in people like Eunice Olsen, Debbie Wong, Phin Wong, Kumar and Hossan Leong, and made it very fun and approachable. We wanted people to know that it’s OK to laugh at yourself, and it’s OK to walk into an art exhibition not being able to understand it. It was our favourite show and actually our most affordable production to date. It’s not always about the budget, but the opportunity to do shows that are different, shows that we can be proud of,” says Bratina.
The duo has also partnered artistes to produce works for charity. “Last year, Beyond Social Services wondered if we could do something similar to SIFA’s Living Together as a fundraiser. SIFA was happy to waive their rights, we contacted actors to ask if they were happy to do the show for free for charity, and it all just came together. Similarly, a few years ago, we were approached by Nadya Hutagalung for Let Elephants Be Elephants, a documentary on the ivory trade, as well as for Plight of the Orangutan.”
For all the offers from potential clients, Hoods stays true to its commitment of creating distinctive productions. As for Bratina, she still stands by the very same values she held dear the first day she showed up for work. “Be humble and learn from the bottom up. When you have a firm foundation and strong pair of legs, no matter how people push you, you would still be standing tall.”