The Secret Little Agency and director Johnny Green talk to LBB's Laura Swinton about a tale of grit and determination
Two hundred years ago, a small island in Southeast Asia embarked upon a journey that would see it grow from a speck of green in the Strait of Malacca to a pioneering global hub for business, science and innovation. This year Singapore is celebrating its bicentennial; in 1819, Sir Stamford Raffles established a trading post, kickstarting a dizzying ride that would see the island become a global hub.
To mark the anniversary, a new campaign from The Secret Little Agency (TSLA) depicts the story of a nation striving to beat the odds. ‘Singapore: The Impossible Story’ charts Singapore’s journey from an overgrown trading post through its fight for true independence and its current-day innovators and world-beaters. And while it showcases some of the city-state’s historical moments and incredible achievements, at its heart it’s a universal tale of grit and resilience.
For the team at Singapore-based indie TSLA, the project has taken on extra meaning. “This is one of the few times when the professional becomes personal. It is both an honour and a huge responsibility to rebrand the country you come from,” they say. “We’re a little country with huge global ambitions which mirrors our size as an agency, and our desire to make our mark globally. So yes, this was a very personal and rewarding project for us.”
The campaign was created for the Economic Development Board of Singapore with the dual aim of attracting international investors and inspiring local audiences. To do so they zeroed in on traits like grit and determination that would attract like-minded individuals and organisations while filtering out those who don’t share the spirit of tenacity.
“We wanted create international desirability for businesses looking to expand beyond their existing shores – and most importantly, to think of Singapore when doing so. As a result, the campaign was designed specifically for global businesses, investors and entrepreneurs,” explain the team. “Domestically, it was important to us that we fuel national pride and strike an emotional chord in Singaporeans. The Singapore Story is what I can safely say is a story that all Singaporeans are proud of, and we wanted to retell our familiar coming-of-age story in a way that has never been done before.”
The campaign revolves around a hero film directed by Johnny Green. While the film spotlights some of the most cutting-edge Singaporean achievements, the story it tells is human and had to be imbued with a sense of warmth, texture and beauty.
“This is a story about human tenacity," explain the TSLA team. "We needed that warmth to shine through and connect in every scene, with many of the companies, products, people and services being featured being unfamiliar to a global audience. The art direction had to show the most beautiful visions of aviation, manufacturing, e-sports and even MMA fighting so that it could evoke this exacting human spirit."
Johnny’s direction was key. “The work had to exude a quiet brilliance which Johnny most definitely nailed,” say TSLA. “In Johnny we met a director who took scripts and boards to a whole new level. He mastered a pace that kept the entire piece exciting, with no compromise to the human warmth, and emotional moments, grit and rawness of the human, Singaporean spirit.”
For Johnny, the project held immediate attraction. Though he initially only knew a little about Singapore’s story, he soon got stuck in, motivated by the tale of grit and ambition. “Everything is based on far and wide research before I start a project,” he says. “It did not take long to become historically accurate.
“I love an underdog. A fighter.”
The scope of the project presented some interesting production and art directing challenges and, together with Johnny and his production team from Gang Films in Paris, TSLA were keenly aware of the importance of getting the details rights.
“The biggest challenges were trying to authentically recreate portions of our nation’s history. A vision of Asia and of Singapore that has never been seen or made before. We are a young nation, only 54 years independent – many people today still recall Lee Kuan Yew’s speech on national television, for example, and we needed to ensure that we perfectly captured the emotion of the moment,” says TSLA. “We worked closely with Johnny’s team to create this – particularly because we needed for the international audience to empathise with the climate of uncertainty that we faced as a nation.”
But while there are great period details in this journey through time it doesn't feel like a 'period piece', they don't overwhelm the theme of determination and spirit; instead it all flows quite cohesively. How did they strike that balance? Simple, says Johnny, who is full of praise for the agency’s collaborative spirit. “Through hard graft and a brilliant team of creative collaborators - and a love of GRIT!”
The campaign will be running globally across print, social, digital, in-flight and select broadcast channels such as the BBC and Channel News Asia across Asia, Europe and America. British Airways or Singapore Airways fliers will also catch it in the coming month.
Turning their attention from the whole of Singapore, towards the rest of the local creative industry, the team at TSLA are excited to see more and more of that ‘impossible’ spirit come to the fore. While the state is known for its position as a regional hub for global networks they reckon the local indie scene is becoming gutsier and grittier than ever.
“The last few years in Singapore has seen independents with a distinct perspective rise to the surface. There impossible challenge here is staying confidently in this discomfort zone. Treating every problem with fresh eyes like its day one. Singapore is a safe country. Exactly why the agencies here shouldn’t be!”