From Grunt Work to Glamour Walk

The inaugural ScreenSingapore film event in June attracted celebrities, producers, industry buyers and creative talent to gather in Singapore to trade ideas, discuss opportunities and showcase their products. Media Development Authority Officer Dillon Tan tells Challenge what it took him and his colleagues to make this pipedream a reality. - by A Makwana
Dillion Tan

May 2010 Cannes, France: Red carpet premieres, celebrities, flashbulbs popping.

For a young public officer not even a year into his job, it was a Kodak moment in the spotlight. Or, at least, with a good view of it from the sidelines.

That was the setting when Singapore announced at the glamorous French coastal city that it would host the inaugural ScreenSingapore, a show that could one day prove to be a worthy Asian counterpart.

A year later on June 5, 2011, Dillon Tan, 27, Communications Executive with the Media Development Authority (MDA) was once again at the sidelines of a red carpet event. This time, it was for the world premiere of the Chinese film The Devil Inside Me, the opening event for ScreenSingapore.


For Dillon, ScreenSingapore caps a thrilling journey from that first press briefing in Cannes when he was flung into the deep end. “It was so memorable because until the last minute, nobody knew if this project was going ahead.”

He recalls how the green light for ScreenSingapore came just a few days before he boarded the flight to Cannes – and it was a mad scramble after that.

“We set up the press briefing in a couple of days onsite, which meant we had to come up with the backdrop and make sure all the ScreenSingapore board members were there – booking their timings at the last minute.”


The board members included luminaries such as filmmaker Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth) and film financier Greg Coote of Avatar fame.

Not being able to speak French did not help either when it came to dealing with local contractors but having a European public relations agency helped.

“It was really, really amazing to see it come through,” he reflects, on their daunting task.

What followed was a year of long, hard hours of work, meeting different parties’ interests while keeping an eye on the schedule.

There were rewards, though. In April 2011, they scored the coup of securing Tom Hanks to attend his film’s premiere on June 11. Once again, it was touch-and-go, with confirmation coming only at the very last hour.

Dillon recalls that “up to the day we were supposed to announce the Tom Hanks premiere, we were unable to confirm him. All our board members were trying to get him to confirm.”

Then, on the morning of the scheduled announcement, Tom Hanks gave a call to one of them and said “Yes, it’s on”. All of us were celebrating and we immediately had a press briefing. Such is the nature of the film industry, that things get confirmed at the last minute.

This was the first time a film event of such a scale was to be organised and time was not on their side. But the team quickly found support from MDA colleagues who had organised events on a similar scale, like the 3DX Festival in 2008, the world’s first event dedicated to showcasing 3D technology and content.

With so many parties involved – from international partners to stakeholders such as the Economic Development Board and Singapore Tourism Board – Dillon had to maintain a delicate balancing act.

“There’re all sorts of people telling you different things to do, based on past experiences, limited resources. You need to be able to cut through all the noise and sieve out the information that is relevant. Then give an informed suggestion to your boss and for your boss to execute the decision based on your justification. This is part and parcel of every job.”


For Dillon, it was a steep learning curve with certain sensitivities to be managed and a couple of unpopular decisions along the way, such as scheduling a common speaking timeslot for industry stalwarts with jampacked schedules.

Still, the experience has helped him pick up some essential people management skills along the way.

“The biggest challenge is where you learn how to stand firm and you are able to talk to people way beyond your level. I think it’s important – when communicating to people at higher levels – to show respect and yet, at the same time, convey your thoughts very clearly.”

Nicknamed “Mr Handyman” for handling logistics and making sure the programmes run smoothly, Dillon says they were no doomsday scenario nightmares.

“What I’ve learnt from this one year at ScreenSingapore is that there are a lot of tough decisions to make. But, as long as you stand firm and go through the proper processes to make sure things are justified to a good end, things will be resolved because there are no unsolvable issues,” he enthuses.

And this is true also when he is unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight – such as for this interview.

“I’m used to being the liaison person for the spokesperson, not the spokesperson myself. But it’s all good,” he laughs.

For more info:

    Jul 18, 2011
    A Makwana
  • link facebook
  • link twitter
  • link whatsapp
  • link email