The Secret to Creativity

The ‘secret formula’ for succeeding in the creative industries is out – and no, the key ingredient isn’t creativity. Two MICA scholars weigh in on the burgeoning fashion and media sectors.

By Kevin Lim

With a camera in hand and a twinkle in her eyes, one future MediaCorp producer was about to embark on her first shoot as an extra on the film set.

The then 16-year-old Priscilla Lim expected to be brimming with delight at the chance to get up close and personal with her favourite television celebrities, but instead found her attention drawn to the complex behind-the-scenes coordination involved in shooting that afternoon’s scene.

Elsewhere, young Wu Peirong stood in the middle of her father’s massive building construction projects. Fascinated by his attention to detail, Peirong’s mind spun vivid images of integrating his creative energy with her mother’s love for fabrics.

The Road to Today
Today, Priscilla relishes her career as a TV Producer in the Group Sales and Marketing Division of MediaCorp, while Peirong is a newly established London-based menswear fashion designer with her own label, the stylishly-christened Peir Wu.

The path they took to achieve their dream careers involved hard work, dedication, daring and excellence in their respective crafts – and it all started with the Creative Industries Scholarships (CIS) offered by agencies within Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts (MICA), namely the DesignSingapore Council, Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA), National Arts Council (NAC) and National Heritage Board (NHB).

Priscilla and Peirong were awarded the Media Education Scheme and DesignSingapore scholarships, branded under the CIS, respectively.

For Peirong, this meant the opportunity to study overseas at the prestigious Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design in London. There, she met a cast of firm friends under the DesignSingapore Council support network and encountered inspiring mentors, all of whom she still fondly remembers by name.

“My MA professor, Louise Wilson, was very inspiring to work for as she never compromised on her high standards,” Peirong recalls.

“She taught me to set my own standards and pushed me to take risks. With her, there was none of the petty details about technical drawings; it was more the bigger picture of the work speaking for itself. I produced one of my best works under her tutelage.”

In Priscilla’s case, the scholarship was truly a lifesaver. After a year of self-financed study in the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, unexpected circumstances arose, derailing the young lady’s budget and threatening to end her studies.

Seeing the Media Education Scheme as her last hope, Priscilla was overjoyed when MDA awarded her the scholarship.

She explains, “Till today, I’m eternally grateful for the Media Education Scheme scholarship. If it had not been for the scholarship, I would have been forced to give up my education and the chance to meet some of the media industry’s finest professionals. Having this scholarship gives you the confidence that your education and finances are assured, and that’s the best any overseas student could ask for.”

True Value
Just what does it mean to be in the creative industries? We question our two rising talents.

“We are not an industry of just dollars and cents,” Priscilla tells us.

“We are professionals driven by passion and dedication. In the short 1.5 years since I’ve joined MediaCorp, I’ve learnt more than I imagine I would have in any other career. I’ve discovered I enjoy screenplay writing; I’ve learnt to work around tight situations; I’ve also learnt how to manage both creative directors and clients such that their visions are translated onto the screen! Such personal and professional growth invigorates me to do even better.”

Peirong adds her thoughts, “The creative industries push you outside your comfort zone, challenging you to constantly expand the boundaries of what you think you’re capable of. We don’t play by the rules. We take risks, learn from peers and mentors, and through trial and error. It’s a challenging but rewarding lifestyle.”

Highlighting her point with an anecdote from her university days, Peirong relates how she was determined to work with an exclusive European designer, Raf Simons. With no personal contacts to work from, Peirong followed her only lead – a phone number listed on the design studio’s website.

Within the week, this spunky designer was on a train to Antwerp, where she landed a dream internship that would craft the next year of her life.

From the experience, she coined a personal motto: “Don’t ask, don’t get” – an attitude that continues to drive her even today.

More than Just Creativity
For the benefit of aspiring CIS scholars, we ask both Priscilla and Peirong whether creativity is the most important trait to succeed in the television and fashion industries.

The question receives a resounding “No”.

“Humility. That’s the one trait any newcomer must possess.”

Priscilla explains her stance. “Everyone starts from ground zero and learns on their way up. Every project and every opportunity should be treated as a learning experience, even if it’s something as mundane as observing the communication style of experts and watching how they make successful pitches. So go in with an open mind and be prepared to accept criticism.”

Both professionals concur that what’s most needed in Singapore’s current creative scene is an increased exposure and awareness of the endless growth opportunities available.

“Singapore is still very much a buy-and-throw society; most consumers aren’t concerned about the craft or integrity of a product,” explains Peirong. “I’m glad there are now initiatives like the Overseas Promotion Partnership Programme that fund emergent Singapore-based designers to market themselves in the global arena.”

Adds Priscilla, “Right now I think we’re still stuck in the idea of ‘what sells’ versus ‘what could sell’. With a little more education and understanding of the arts, I believe the younger generation will be more receptive to thinking outside the box and conceptualising new ideas.”

“I also wish people would stop asking me to design mere copies of branded suits!” jests Peirong, who takes pride in her clients’ satisfaction when adoring her original designs.

Moving ahead
Since establishing the Creative Industries Scholarships in 2006, MICA agencies have revised the scholarship benefits in recent years to better meet the needs of aspiring creative professionals in Singapore. For instance, MDA is currently partnering leading industry partners such as MediaCorp and Singapore Press Holdings to offer more opportunities to media talents.

Under the newly updated Media Education Scheme, students select their preferred sponsoring company on the onset, receive a living allowance during their studies, and can look forward to leadership grooming opportunities upon joining the company after graduation.

To succeed in the creative industries isn’t easy, but if our two interviewees are any indication, it’s a career that the dedicated will love, and the passionate can truly call their own.

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