Ser En Low: Winning BAFTA, East vs. West Representation & Founder Uncertaint - E184

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It was actually when I was a child. There were things that happened around me. And then I was just thinking “Oh, if I can close my eyes and remember that moment forever, that will be great”. So later on, when I grew up because I was like five years old at the time, so when I grew up I realised that thing is a camera. So I asked my dad whether I can get a camera. So that's when I started just filming random moments around me, of my friends, of my family. It was always at the back of my mind that I wanted to go into filmmaking, but the timeline back then was not perfect for all filmmakers. There were very few filmmakers in Singapore, parents are of course very worried, like, what was the future of filmmaking like? - Ser En Low

Ser En is a film producer, and also the co-founder of Sendjoy, a Singapore-based startup that allows consumers to book content creators to make video messages for their loved ones.

As a film and TV producer over the past 10 years, her live action and animated short films have been screened and won awards at over 100 international film festivals, and one of her animated short films, "Poles Apart" has won the BAFTA (dubbed as the "British Oscars") in 2018, and she is the first Singaporean to win the award.

She has completed an MA in Producing at the National Film and Television School, with a scholarship from the Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore and mm2 Entertainment. In 2018, she was also conferred the Outstanding Young Alumni Award by Nanyang Technological University.

Ser En was named as one of the Prestige 40 under 40 in 2020, and have been profiled in the Straits Times, Yahoo! Lifestyle and Women's Weekly.

A passionate storyteller, Ser En is concerned with social impact, building communities, and creating meaningful relationships through innovative ways, whether it's film, TV, or a tech product. She believes that the medium doesn't matter, the message does.

Jeremy Au: (00:30)

Hi Ser En, good to see you. So excited to have you because you're building out this creative start up in the content and creative space, but also because you've been such an accomplished person in the arts and space. So I'd love to hear your story. So, Ser En, could you just introduce yourself to everybody?

Ser En Low: (00:47)

Hey. Hi, everybody. Ser En here. So I've been a filmmaker for the past more than ten years. And three years ago, I decided to take the plunge and go into entrepreneurship. So I first started with joining Entrepreneur First but did not form a Start-Up when I was there. So a couple of months later, my friend and ex-colleague decided to leave his company.

So we decided to start a company together. Yeah, the first company did not really work out because it was about employer branding and then COVID hit. So, no one was hiring. So we had to pivot at the time. And so in April last year, we decided to work on Send Joy, which is what our current Start-Up is. It’s a marketplace where consumers can book content creators to make video greetings for their loved ones. That's where I am now.

Jeremy Au: (01:35)

You know, Ser En, I think you've also done quite a lot more than that as well. You have been BAFTA award winning Singaporean producer who has published and made lots and lots of live action and animated short films as well, and won so many awards. So I got to ask, how did you first get started and how did this film thing first bite you?

Ser En Low: (01:55)

It was actually when I was a child. There were things that happened around me. And then I was just like thinking, oh, if I can close my eyes and remember that moment forever, that will be great. So later on, when I grew up because I was like five years old at the time, so when I grew up I realised that thing is a camera.

So I asked my dad whether I can get a camera. So that's when I started just filming random moments around me of my friends, of my family. It was always at the back of my mind that I want to go into filmmaking, but the timeline back then was not perfect for all filmmakers. There were very few filmmakers in Singapore, parents are of course very worried, like, what was the future of filmmaking like?

Who knows whether we can survive or make money from it? Yeah. So I did not dare to have the idea that, okay, I want to go into filmmaking because I come from a quite humble family. It was only when I realised that Nanyang Technological University, they offer a course in filmmaking. So that's when I was like, okay, if I go to NTU and I graduate, I still have an NTU degree.

I can be a teacher or something, and this is something I can teach to my dad about. So that's when I decided to take that degree at NYU. That's when my filmmaking career started.

Jeremy Au: (03:11)

Yeah. A kind of eyeballing your profile here as well. You know, what's interesting is that you start out of that eye for film initially, but you chose to deepen your craft and keep going at it. So what explains, you know, the difference between, you know, people who want to explore the creative industry versus you actually choosing to make it actually something that you want to deepen your craft and master it?

Ser En Low: (03:33)

Actually, the landscape has changed quite a bit since then because back then it was not possible to shoot something with the iPhone or like not everyone has a camera that is good enough in order to like get a screening at the cinema. But nowadays we hear things like, Oh, people shot a movie on the iPhone. These tools have become accessible.

When I first joined filmmaking, we were even using tapes. Yeah, so it was not digital at all. That's why my course is actually digital filmmaking because we were trying to learn the new ways of filmmaking. Back then, you really have to be in it. You have to learn all the traditional tools in cinematography, the right thing and all of that in order to produce a film.

But right now, the tools have been democratised, and a lot people have access to it. And actually, to me, that is really exciting.

Jeremy Au: (04:25)

When you were taking those initial courses in digital filmmaking and that's interesting you noticed which is these tools have become easier and easier over time. How have you seen the industry shift, because you've been part of that shift as well, right? I mean, you're part of that new wave of filmmakers who have been taking on these new tools and catalysing them as well.

So, talk us through, how have you seen the industry shift?

Ser En Low: (04:49)

Yeah. So back then, when I was in school, like, all my friends or even me, we aspire to be Wong Kar Wai or Quentin Tarantino or like Tsai Ming Liang. But I recently heard from my ex lecturer that the students who come into the filmmaking course, some of them, they want to be YouTubers and TikTokers. So we have quite different pathways now because I think they see how the YouTubers or TikTokers of the day that have been generating a lot of income like they are the new stars of today.

That's why the mindset of the idea of filmmaking has shifted a little bit. But of course there's still a big group of people in the traditional craft of filmmaking. They put in the hours and years of craft to get something beautiful to go on to the cinema. It has become like a different genre of its own now.

Jeremy Au: (05:40)

Interesting. So you wouldn't look at it as a conflict between creators versus filmmakers, but you actually look at creators as a genre of film.

Ser En Low: (05:49)

Yeah, yeah. I really believe that with the tools that we have nowadays. That's why I like it gave birth to a big group of different people who have access to filmmaking to be able to create different types of content.

Jeremy Au: (06:02)

What's interesting, of course, is that you just now you mentioned of role models, right, Wong Kar Wai and Quentin Tarantino. And so there's this interesting dynamic of east versus west, right? Which is, I think, a quite interesting microcosm for Southeast Asia and I like that we had a melting pot for the different cultures. So how do you see that blend or conflict between East versus West? How do you navigate that?

Ser En Low: (06:28)

That’s an interesting question because actually I was educated in film in Singapore then I went to the UK where I did my master's there. I received the education from the West as well. So I think throughout my career I've always been thinking like, how do we blend the East and the West and create a product that people today can understand?

Young people like us in Singapore, we’re actually very westernised like we, we actually absorb more Western content than Eastern content. Yeah. So we're thinking like, okay, what is the voice for us, for our generation, we don't really speak Chinese to our friends anymore, but the movies that we see coming out of this region, they're all very Mandarin based, they're like at one point there was even a conversation like, okay, if you see a Singaporean faces speaking English, that film is not accurate.

Like it feels weird, but actually interestingly, in Crazy Rich Asians, they found a voice for the Asian faces to be able to speak English. Of course, it’s a very niche area, a very niche aspect of our culture. Like not everyone is as rich as them and all that. But I found that at least there's now access to the West.

There is actually one film that both East and West can relate to. I think that is a great start and that gives birth to a lot more film makers and people like us to be able to have a representation on screen.

Jeremy Au: (07:57)

Yeah, when you think about that representation, obviously East versus West creators with the film, what was that like winning a BAFTA? Representing Singapore. How did that feel for you as part of that experience?

Ser En Low: (08:12)

It was actually quite unbelievable. I got to meet a lot of the big stars like I saw Jennifer Lawrence and Daniel Craig about 50 metres away from me. I did not get to shake their hands, but it was quite a magical evening. In fact, one of the best moments of the night was when I was on the on the winner's stage.

So everybody has to queue up to shake Prince William's hand and take a photo together. After the photo taking session. There was this lady. She's a black woman. She came up to me and she said to me, I'm really glad that you're here with me tonight. There are so few of us. So I look around me and say that we were the only two non-white and non male people there on the stage.

So, I was glad that we could share that moment together. Yeah, I wouldn't have noticed that if she didn't tell me about it.

Jeremy Au: (09:04)

That's a really interesting observation actually. What was that like for you to realise that you were one of the few non-white, non male folks on stage?

Ser En Low: (09:19)

It was an interesting journey for me because in Singapore we are like the Chinese is the majority population. So I never really felt like I was underrepresented or I'm at the lower end of the stick. So when I moved to the UK I never felt like I was different from my classmates, that my skin colour is different.

I didn't notice. It took me around six months to nine months before I really felt that like I'm different from the rest of them. It was when people were saying, Oh, your English is so good, even if you're not a white person. Or like, like when I was walking on the streets, like people in front of me and try to scare me and try to say like, KONICHIWA really loudly.

They would deliberately try to scare me. And that's when I realised, okay, I'm actually different. I need to be careful in this place.

Jeremy Au: (10:11)

I've done on a similar note, I think I've done quite a bit of improv, so similar to you in your journey. I got to learn improv because I was in the States, so it's very Western art form in that sense, a comedy and I enjoyed a lot and I always remember that. It took me a while, but I realised that I was often the only Asian person.

I would be like, because I studied all that courses, it was like, you know, like about ten to 15 to 20 people. I'll be like the one Asian person in all the classes. I mean, it'll be two sometimes. I think that's one time that was quite interesting was there’s a scene and basically I was doing an archetype of like a Gandalf reference.

And then halfway through the scene I realised that everybody around me thought I was Confucius.

And I never felt so, so much dissonance all of a sudden because I was like, well that’s the typing right? And so I mean, obviously I had to learn that I had to like use more Gandalf quotes as well. But interesting to see that typing as me, as Confucius as well. But also they also didn't know how to handle that as well because they also didn't want to like, you know, directly as Confucius as well.

So anyway, so we had an interesting dynamic for that scene. So a lot of people running around in that scene, you have this voice dynamic which is like East vs West, there's a film dynamic, you're representing it at BAFTA, you think, how do you choose to represent that voice from your perspective now? Because, you know, obviously at a start you're feeling the insider versus the outsider.

So in Singapore, you are an insider in many ways, but in the West, you know, on a stage at the BAFTA, you're the outsider right? Now, obviously, we're both more mature, more professionals now. So how have you matured in terms of representing that? Matured in terms of integrating both of that, the inside of voice and the outside of voice in your art in terms of how you think about the art form?

Ser En Low: (12:05)

Oh, that's interesting. In fact, when I came back from the UK, I had like a reverse culture shock again because actually throughout my teenage years, I'm very Chinese. Like I speak Mandarin to all my friends. In fact, my mum said, Oh, you have to learn English, so you had to go to an English JC. So I went to Victoria JC.

So actually the first week of my class it was the first time that I spend one whole week speaking in English and I had Indian friends and Malay friends for the first time in my life. So but after I went to the UK, I came back to Singapore. People suddenly thought that I'm very like English educated.

So I work at this office that is very Chinese based. So like my boss thought like, oh, I'm very English educated. So everybody spoke to me in English. Then suddenly one day they realised that, Oh, I can speak Chinese. So there was a bit of a reverse culture shock for me. Then I realised, okay, I have to readapt back to Singapore.

And I think like this, I try to like take these experiences that I have and in fact I don't think I have found that voice yet. I'm still searching. Yeah. Even in my, in my works like I think. Okay, should I make a film in Mandarin or English? Like what is more real to the people here? I sometimes receive scripts from directors and they ask me, okay, like is this film suitable for the American market or the Singapore market?

So I read it like the way it is being written is very Americanised because the director has spent time in the US, but the whole film is set in Singapore. So we are all thinking like, okay, how, how do we integrate this? If we make something that is too Singaporean like we have Singlish then it's only suitable for the Singaporean market.

The film will never travel outside of Singapore, but if we Americanised it, people think like it’s another Crazy Rich Asians, it’s not relatable. So I think we are still searching for the voice that really represents us and other people in the world would be interested in.

Jeremy Au: (14:09)

It's actually an interesting dynamic, right, because we talked a little bit about East versus West or Singapore and America because there's so much centre of gravity really honestly around Hollywood. I mean, there's the indisputably one giant mass capital, right, of the talent, one pool of the world. And then I think I think there's question of like, where's the Southeast Asia voice?

Because it's such a fragmented in terms of like different geographies, different languages, different audiences in terms of their preferences for content, but also in terms of the understanding of what exact movie language and styles are. So how do you think about that? Do you feel like there's an ASEAN artform out there or a Southeast Asian voice for Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand. Malaysia, Philippines?

Ser En Low: (15:04)

Yeah, for sure. I think to really find that voice, we first have to appreciate what we have in Singapore that is truly unique to us because a lot of times we are like, okay, we don’t want to speak Singlish because we think it’s like low class or something, but in fact to Westerners, that is very interesting, you know, the way we speak and how we reduce the sentences so that we speak in very precise words.

I think that is interesting. I think we have to first like observe around us and find things that is actually very Singaporean. Like, for example, outside of Singapore, you don't see it anywhere else because we are right inside the culture. We are very embedded in it. So we don't really appreciate it so much. In fact, we kind of look down on it and it takes like a person from elsewhere, like a foreigner to tell us that this is interesting.

I was thinking about Anthony Chen's film Ilo Ilo, one about the little boy and the maid. So I was speaking to my Western friends about it like all of them say that this is really, really interesting to them because in the West, if you are in a family like this lower middle class family, you would never have a maid.

Yeah, so, but, but in Singapore, like a lot of people in that family have maids. So I never thought that this would be interesting to Westerners. So I think we have to first look around us and start appreciating and be positive about our environment.

Jeremy Au: (16:30)

I like that. Instead of a lack of something, like being appreciative for what we already have and saying that there's actually value in that fundamental right. And so one interesting aspect about that, of course, is that we also chose to really, you know, choose to kind of act as a producer.

A lot of people are confused about what a producer does. I feel like that's something a lot of people are going to ask me about eating. My first introduction to producer would be CONAN O'Brien. I think there's a famous producer called Jordan Schlansky and CONAN O'Brien always like to ask his producers say what you do right and Jordan says that he performs various duties and it’s undefined, right?

And that's the kind of a recurring gag. Could you share a little bit more about, you know, for those who don't know yet, I mean, over, you know, so many years, over like, you know, ten years of winning awards and mastering the craft of being a producer. What exactly have you mastered in the subset of being a producer actually means?

Ser En Low: (17:35)

We really do everything, do everything from looking for funding, like managing the project, looking for crew, people to work together like all the way through marketing and distribution. In fact, I remember when I was at the Masters course in the UK, the teacher told us, Can you write on the board what a producer does?

So all my classmates, we wrote on the boards and we ended up with like 50 over duties. But there's only one thing that a producer really has to do. So he made us think of like all the 50 things on the board. He said, okay, which ones can you outsource to other people? So for example, looking of location, you can hire someone if you don't know how to find funding.

You engage someone as an executive producer. If you don't know how to do distribution, you hire a marketing expert like a distribution expert. So we streamlined and then we realised, okay, that's really one thing that only you have to do as a producer, which is to look for the project. No one else can do that for you.

You are the only one who can decide whether you are going to take up this project. Then I realised that oh yeah, that's true. Okay. So now we really make it a mission to source for projects. Find something that I can really connect to and then I form a team around it all, sometimes directors or writers, they pitch stories to me and I think to myself, okay, is this something that I want to spend the next 3 to 5 years on?

Yeah, I spend five years trying to make a short film happen. So the filmmaking is really like a very lengthy journey. So you really do want to pick projects that you can relate to?

Jeremy Au: (19:13)

How do you find that fit between X to Y? Is it just like intuition? You just look at a project and this will fit. We talk about it later to some extent, but they call it the founder problem fit, which is like when you're doing a start up, you know, do you resonate with the problem. Do you actually want to spend 7 to 10 years on it?

So how does a producer find a script or a concept that resonates with them?

Ser En Low: (19:36)

Yeah, I would say this is really not an easy process and I definitely made mistakes along the way. I was thinking there are some people that I've let down as well. So my friend told me, there are four reasons you can take up a project. One is for friendship, one is for money, one is for sex, one is for glory.

So there are four reasons you can take a project. So I've done it for friends. Like some friends say that, oh, I really love these projects, can you help me? There are some that I would say for glory like the director is someone famous. So I was like, okay, someone that I really want to work with.

These reasons have actually brought me to unpleasant places because I felt that, you know, I did not really think through very much. I spent too long with the director on it. In fact, I felt bad because I wasted both of our time. It was only after two years then I realised that, okay, maybe this is not the project that I want to carry five years of my life on.

That's why now I'm very cautious about thinking up new projects. I don't want to let people down. I really want to ensure that, okay, this is something that I want to do. I want to be with you through this journey. Then I take it up.

Jeremy Au: (20:45)

Interesting. So it's more like what has really changed for you is really like the threshold about which you care about something that has really changed over time. That's really interesting. And so what's interesting is that over time, you know, you've had all of this and you've solely made a transition towards not just being a producer, but also experimenting more the technology side and from an entrepreneurial side as well.

What was the driver behind that transition instead of being a continuing to be a producer?

Ser En Low: (21:24)

It was actually inspired by my co-founder like he was the trigger. I remember we were ex-colleagues, so we were sitting in the office pantry one day and he asked me that question you asked me - what does a producer do? So I told him everything that I said to you just now.

And he said, Oh, so you're an entrepreneur. So I'm like, Oh, I'm an entrepreneur. What was an entrepreneur? So he gave me some books to read. I was like, interesting, but okay, I'm still going to make films, so I did not jump on the wagon immediately. It took me about 18 months like I was observing the, the things around me.

Like I was looking at how YouTubers are on the rise and like how people can take out a phone and start shooting things and realised this craft has been really democratised. Like a lot people can do it now it’s not this group of people who went through four years of film school who can make a film.

That's when I realised, okay, I need to really look into this. So in fact I even went to take up courses to learn to be a YouTuber just to try and see what the journey is like. I went through a few like I'm in the trend trying to see what new coming up. Yeah. And also there were a lot of questions in my mind at the time like why are people getting paid late?

Like in the film industry, sometimes people get paid 6 to 8 months late. And why are people still bringing pen and paper on set when we can use a computer like there are some software that you use, but I feel that there were a lot of things that I really want to change, and the only way to do that is to actually start something of my own.

That's when I decided to take the plunge.

Jeremy Au: (23:13)

Really interesting. How has that set of learnings changed? You know, because you said that that lens that you said was really the lens from where you were, a producer looking at what you would learn or how you thought becoming a founder, you would learn from trying something new. But now that you're on the founder side of it, looking back right, and you've gone through two iterations or one giant pivot as well.

Right, as well. Yeah. A career now and just, you know, doing all kinds of different things now. How has that set of lessons changed or matured for you from your perspective?

Ser En Low: (23:47)

Definitely less innocent now. I was telling my co-founder we have aged so much these two years but okay maybe we can blame COVID. Just looking at the pictures from two years and go okay like you were a bit hotter back then. What happened to us? I think for sure. Like we were less idealistic than before.

I think we learnt a lot of practical things along the way, like setting up a company, being on our own. We often say like, okay, back then we were not happy with certain systems, but now we are unhappy with like not having the certainty. Yeah. So what is painful now is actually the uncertainty. We really don't know what is going to happen next month or like in the year.

So it's really hard to plan for things. And I would say that part is the most painful in the founder’s journey because when you're an employee, at least you know that, okay, no matter how you do like next month you would get your salary. But now it is very hard.

Jeremy Au: (24:50)

What's interesting is that do you feel like the scope of what you shared, right? Like the producer, the 50 things that you had to write down, do you feel like that was a good encapsulation or good preparation for you to also become a founder?

Ser En Low: (25:06)

Yeah, I think for sure there are some skillsets that I think I managed to bring over from producing. I think project management for sure. I think we managed to set up like a good infrastructure to manage our Start-Up, even though I honestly did not have business school training, but I felt that the things that I'm learning now, I've learnt that in producing like for example, accounting, financial management and even fundraising things like how to make the pitch deck, like what might attract people to invest in the Start-Up.

I think some, some of those skill sets are I managed to bring over to the entrepreneurship.

Jeremy Au: (25:46)

I'm sure a lot of people ask you about what's it like to become a founder now, right? What advice do you give them now? I mean, before they become a founder, any advice you give them?

Ser En Low: (25:57)

It’s probably the biggest lesson that I learnt is that you have to be okay with uncertainty. Like I said just now, there is so far my biggest pain point in my personal life. I think they have to be okay with uncertainty and go with the flow and just always be optimistic and hopeful that things will be solved.

I always tell my co-founder, if the start up fails, it’s most likely a human reason, like maybe one of us has stopped believing in the idea and one of us decide to give up. It’s most likely human reason rather than other things that happen around you.

Jeremy Au: (26:33)

Isn’t being a producer also having an uncertainty. How’s the taste or the flavour of uncertainty different from a producer where the script or the project could go sideways or nowhere different from that being a founder, from your perspective?

Ser En Low: (26:49)

Yeah, really good question. I think as a producer, the uncertainty can be quite painful as well. But I think in the film world, what most people do is they have commercial jobs at the site. So they spend maybe 70% of the time working on commercial projects like adverts make some money and they spend 30% of the time doing what they love, like raising funding for the movie.

Yeah, but I think in the start up world, I don't think I have the luxury to go and take up commercial projects because I feel like I have to be 100% in it because for a very long time there were only two of us, me and my co-founder. We didn't have employees. We do have to be 100% dedicated to the Start-Up.

So I think that that's the difference.

Jeremy Au: (27:35)

Yeah, really interesting. Yeah. So that's interesting. There's a focus dynamic as well, right, which is that as a founder you're 100% focused versus at least, as a producer, to some extent, you can actually diversify your career a little bit to bridge your lifestyle as well. One interesting thing that you mentioned as well was really the aspect about also choosing to build a start up in the creative space, right? Which is good, right? Because now you're building something that you roughly know, but it’s also not the same, right? Because it's a different flavour, a different approach. How has it changed your view of the industry?

Because at the start of it, you mentioned the creators are a subset of film and now I guess you're looking at the creative industry is a subset of technology or at least a different approach. So how are you thinking about it now?

Ser En Low: (28:26)

Yeah, I think I have definitely matured a lot of my thought process on how the industry works. I think for the longest time I avoid YouTube and like TikTok and all the social media because in my mind I was like okay, this is not film. So I rejected it. If I do watch it, I would watch some music videos or something that is like in a different head space for me.

But I think right now I kind of integrate those together as one big ecosystem because I think that the YouTubers, the TikTokers, they are the new content creators of today, like with these new technology, they manage to generate this type of content and a lot of young people are actually interested in this kind of content.

And one part of me that wanted to be a filmmaker was like, I want to make things that influence people. For example, that's why I made Poles Apart, something about climate change. And later on, I made Let Me Kill My Mother First. It's a short film about child abuse. Yeah. So I don't want to make content that affect people so that people care about that subject.

Actually, what disappointed me was that a film that I spent five years working on, I feel that less than 1000 people in the world have seen it. Yeah. And I looked at a YouTube video and upload overnight they get 1 million views. So that really triggered something in me. I was like, okay, how do I get in that space?

Like, how do I make something that influence people that people care about? Because all these eyeballs that they have generated from the young generation is something that I'm kind of envious of. So I told myself, okay, I need to understand how this works. I may never be a YouTuber or a TikToker, but I want to understand this market.

Yeah, that’s when it caught my interest and I studied it.

Jeremy Au: (30:24)

Yeah, that's interesting. I mean, you're basically suggesting that the next Wong Kar Wai, the next Quentin Tarantino, will have started by shooting on the iPhone or on a mobile phone and would have started on TikTok and started their craft there instead of having to work their way up a production house.

Ser En Low: (30:45)

Actually, I think it could be two different groups of people because filmmaking is like a craft on its own like to achieve something of that level still requires years of craft and knowledge. So people who want to go down that path, they can still do that path. But I think there is another group of people who are creating different types of content and we should not discount them.

Jeremy Au: (31:09)

You also saying there's a stylistic or a genre difference as well. The Wong Kar Wai of Tik Tok is different from the Wong Kar Wai of film like of course they may have started using their phones, actually, instead of you're using your camera slash camcorder back in the day, right?

Ser En Low: (31:27)

That's true.

Jeremy Au: (31:29)

Interesting. And so could you share with us a time that you have been BRAVE?

Ser En Low: (31:34)

I would think it would be the time I went to the UK to study without a scholarship because I applied for this scholarship, I didn't receive it. And so I was in this like seven days hell hole. I'm happy I got into the film school where only 8 students get accepted each year, but on the other hand, I’m like, okay, where am I going to come up with 80,000 all of a sudden?

So that few days was really, really stressful. But I was like, okay, let’s just go for it. Like, I can borrow money from somewhere. And luckily I had some savings from the two years of working. Yeah, I'm really glad that I made the plunge. I think sometimes my friends would tell me, Hey Ser, you don't invest. You are not a big gambler, but like something that you did is quite scary that you gamble 50,000 of your savings on this and you don't even know what's going to happen.

Yeah, I'm glad I made that choice.

Jeremy Au: (32:30)

I am also glad that you made that choice as well. This is a common problem for so many folks, right? Because I think in Singapore, you know, it's one of the rare countries where actually people get scholarships from the government to go to a good university. So that's actually a privilege, I think, in Southeast Asia. Right, because lots of people in other Southeast Asian countries, they may not necessarily have the knowledge to be able to apply. Let's say even if they do, they don't have access. But let's just say I think as a common story in Singapore and I think across in other countries like in Indonesia or Vietnam, where they can go to good universities like yourself, but they can't. Is this non-conventional? Right?

Either there's no government scholarship, etc. How would you recommend them to weigh the problem of whether to go versus stay at a local school? That's one. And secondarily, I guess if they were to go, how would you recommend them to think about putting together the capital, I guess, to get there?

Ser En Low: (33:31)

Great question. So I think I was quite lucky like the first year I didn't get the scholarship. So every day I just eat like porridge. But the second year I managed to receive the IMDA scholarship, so that really helped my life there. And I think back on that experience, if I hadn’t received that second year of scholarship.

What I have done so I think I would have probably continue my part time job because back then I work at the bars during the weekends and also in the evenings to get some savings. Yeah. So I would probably continue to have done it. And the school was actually very helpful like saying, okay, if you can't afford it right now, you can slowly pay us back.

So they were very helpful to some international students. Yeah, but often the fear really drives people away from taking a plunge. My advice is that you probably need to have like a few plans like ABCDE in your mind. I wouldn't want anyone to get into a bad financial debt or anything like I think it is about weighing, okay, what is the worst case scenario that can happen to you? Even in the Start-Up life right now, I feel that we often compare ourselves to our friends and we feel bad about it because our friends are making enough money to buy a condo or like a car. And there's no way we could have done that. I think it’s really about, okay, what's the worst case scenario? Okay. Currently, my parents are I'm lucky that they are well and I'm okay.

Like I make enough to at least feed myself. I don't have to depend on them to give me money. I think those are the things that I would think about. And if you can accept this, you can take this plunge. Yeah. So, I think, firstly, don't get into debt. Secondly, weigh the options around you and see the worst scenario that you can get into and see if you can accept it.

Jeremy Au: (35:31)

I know this sounds crazy because you said that you're happy with how your life has turned out since you taking on that decision to go to school. Yet I wonder and I'm sure you've thought about this, how do you think your life would have turned out if you chose not to go, you know, what would that lens be?

Do you think you would be where you are today? Have you watched that movie or play that movie ahead. Would you still be the same person? And you know, I guess you're hungry, you're driven, you're hardworking. I mean, it's kind of curious because to you it’s a pivotal moment that you chose this, the moment you chose as your brave moment.

I'm just curious how you think about it.

Ser En Low: (36:11)

Yeah. Like all the time to be honest, I was thinking, okay, if I had kept the job back then, I didn't go to film school, I didn't take the entrepreneur path. What would I have right now? I probably have enough savings to buy a house and all that. I would have been in a corporate role and probably a high level manager or directorial level.

But I was thinking that, you know, I can’t put my mind in all those pieces because what I have now is actually like the freedom to do what I actually love to do and also like the living in no regrets. So, at least, when I'm 40, I was like, okay, I took that plunge when I was 25/30.

Yeah, I think that that part is actually quite priceless. Yeah, I think those decisions can be quite priceless. I don't know yet, but I think I appreciate myself taking this plunge when I'm 40 or 50.

Jeremy Au: (37:10)

Awesome. Thank you so much for sharing all of that, Ser En. I’ll love to wrap things up by paraphrasing the three big themes that I got from this conversation. The first, of course, is thank you so much for sharing your journey about your creative start, about how you recorded the moments around you as a child, to how that eventually led to your decisions that led you to school, to be a producer, to eventually winning BAFTA and how that felt to be hanging out with all the celebrities. So I loved that journey, an inspirational one for that representation and for that sharing that insight right about what journey looks like from a skills and chronological perspective.

I think the second, of course, is actually that very interesting discussion about representation from two angles. The first being east versus west, from the idols being and role models being Wong Kar Wai vs Quentin Tarantino to looking at scripts representing, for example, Singapore versus America to you studying in the UK to working here across Southeast Asia and what it was like to be on stage speaking with the other lady and being one of the few non-white non-male folks on stage which is an interesting thing to realise. And also I think being frank about what it means to be in an insider in Singapore growing up, but to be an outsider in the UK as a student, but to again have that reverse culture shock coming back again in Singapore, that's interesting as well. And I think like second angle of causes that angle about was it needs to find itself is Asia voice right so I can get angle of representations really interesting.

And lastly thank you so much for sharing about the uncertainty of being a founder, which is about how the 50 things you learnt as a producer, the various responsibilities, has helped prepared you to be a founder in many ways, yet, it's also been interesting to learn about the uncertainty because you have had to be a lot more focused and you can’t be as diversified. And I think there's also a lot of learnings we've had around how much of your understanding of the creative industry and how you see creators as not just a genre difference but also a starting and technological difference for the industry as well.

So lots of different learnings that's there for everybody and especially for myself. So thank you so much for sharing, Ser En.

Ser En Low: (39:35)

So yeah, thanks for having me and the great questions.