Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Making television history … on a wing and a prayer

When I first suggested coming up with Heritage TV (HTV) for the National heritage Board’s revamped Internet portal (, the idea sounded simple enough.

Produce three-minute video clips focusing on different aspects of Singapore’s art, history, culture and heritage. We would keep it very YouTube-like – raw, edgy and well… home-made (not to mention cheap). Now how hard could that be, right?

But the devil as they say is in the details. ..

The first trial run on the Singapore Stone at the National Museum of Singapore was to be done on the fly without a script and just a vague idea of how we envisioned it to flow.

And since we had no equipment at all, we had to rely on ourselves to pull it off. I contributed an old, dusty camera and some blank tapes I remembered I had lying around the home. Kimberly Shen (pictured above), the conscripted host and my co-conspirator in crime, gamely offered her well-worn tripod and swiped the family’s sole surviving karaoke microphone when no one was looking. The cable was ridiculously short but we had to make do.

Our paper microphone cone proudly proclaiming HTV to the world was made at home by Kim who has a background in the fine arts which I assumed meant she’s quite deft with a blunt pair of scissors. The cone which it looks professional enough on TV, is actually clinging to life with love and a lot of sticky tape, but it has served us well.

As a test, the Singapore Stone episode was uploaded onto YouTube and in a couple of weeks, it chalked up a few hundred views (cool!) but garnered just one miserable comment – “Very Hot Host!” said someone who signed off as ZuluDelta217. Sigh … isn’t that always the case – it’s always the pretty faces in front of the camera that get all the applause. Everyone tends to forget guys like me – the sweaty geniuses behind the lens.

Looking back at the raw footage, I was actually quite impressed that we could pull it off. There was of course, much room for improvement. We were amateurs after all, and this was our first foray into the brave new world of Internet television.

I learnt many things about Kim – most of them good. But she had some unusual Idiosyncrasies. For instance, she loves to preface her sentences with “Actually …” or more intriguingly, “In actual fact …” even though these were not in the script. But personal quirks aside, she’s been a great sport taking all my ribbing and nagging in her stride.

And to be fair, I’ve had my share of goof-ups as well. Like the time I discovered the joys of playing with the zoom function and the end result was something out of the Blair Witch Project which gave us all a headache watching the raw footage. Then there was the incident when I forgot to test that the microphone was connected properly and we ended up with closing scene offering nothing but deafening silence.

In the weeks that followed, filming of HTV got better with each new episode. We had learnt our lessons well. We realized the importance of having a proper script complete with large fonts as it can also double up as our off-camera cue card. We planned camera angles, cut-aways, reverse shots, fillers and voice-overs. Yeah we were even starting to throw in some TV jargon just to get into the spirit of things!

Filming just one episode takes about two hours or more even with a careful preparation.

Said Kim: “Having to remember to stand up straight, smile on cue, speak slowly, gesture at the right time, move my head ever so slightly so no one realizes I’m really trying to squint and read the script held beside the camera … and doing all this with my producer’s eyes bearing down on me … that’s a lot to ask.

“But all things considered, being part of the HTV team – just a two-person team at that – is fun ‘cos we each contribute ideas and suggestions to making it all happen.”

Our trusty paper bag of equipment now included a new High Definition camera, spare batteries and tapes, Kim’s super heavy-duty eye-liner pencil (plus a spare for emergencies), a bottle of water (filming is hot work), tissue paper and the official HTV fan made up of old scripts (to keep the host cool ‘cos she’s forbidden to sweat on camera).

The post-production editing like everything else associated with HTV, is done in-house by Kim and her trusty Mac which has seen many better days.

“When I’m editing, it’s really weird seeing yourself in just about every clip. Then it’s David’s voice in the background encouraging me along: ‘Great job Kim but let’s do it one more time!’ Sigh.

“Splicing each scene together with music, voice-overs and what not takes a lot of patience and practice and I’m still getting into the hang of things.”

The idea behind HTV is to motive Singaporeans to take a greater interest in our museums and heritage. We’ll seek out interesting places, people and exhibitions. In just three minutes or so, we hope to provide just a little peek of what’s on offer and present it in a light-hearted and unassuming manner which we hope will resonate with the general public.

Along the way, Kim and I learnt a lot about Singapore’s heritage. I didn’t know that the tombstone of Agnes Joaquim the woman who created our national flower Vanda Miss Jocquim, lay in the ground of the Armenian Church just a stone’s throw away from NHB’s office in Hill Street.

Before we visited the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research located within the grounds of the National University of Singapore, I had never heard that Singapore was once home to the Indo-Chinese leopard and some of its smaller cousins could still be around today lurking in the shadows of our forested reserves. Wow – talk about rediscovering our natural heritage!

And that is really the whole point of Heritage TV – to educate, inform, inspire and intrigue Singaporeans on all things heritage-related.

To view HTV log on to Please be kind with your comments now that you know most of it was all put together by just two people, still amateurs but brimming with a whole lot of passion!

1 comment:

Sonicstarburst said...

Hey...I enjoy watching HTV! Would find it a valuable teaching resource in the classroom if I were back in a classroom! Keep it up!

I volunteer my services if it's ever needed...water supplier...research....