In Conversation With Writer Suffian

You guys might have known Suffian Hakim, a Singaporean media professional and author known for his novels, Harris bin Potter and The Stoned Philosopher and The Minorities. Suffian started writing at a young age, as early as 10 years old and has written over 100 hours of content over a few programs. In this article, we have interviewed Suffian to know more about his life as a Writer.

Introduction

Hey everyone. I’m Suffian Hakim, and I am in Vicinity Studio’s writing team.

What are your responsibilities?

From a functional perspective, I am involved in pitches, and I lead conceptualization, writing, script editing, and direct as well. On my name card, it says Head Writer & Director.

From a leadership perspective, I lead a team of four very talented writers, who also serve as junior directors. On top of managing (in the corporate sense of the word) them, I am also tasked to help them realize their potential as creatives, and that requires me to toe the line between providing structure and liberating them to explore the boundaries of their creativity.

What have you written?

I’ve always been a writer throughout my career. I started as a writer for men’s lifestyle magazine August Man, served as a copywriter for a couple of agencies, and have contributed to Esquire Singapore, TimeOut Singapore, and CNN Travel. I’m also an author and have published three novels and co-authored a manga with the wonderful people at NUS’ Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.

I first broke into screenwriting in 2011 when I asked an Assistant Producer friend at Mediacorp if I could contribute scripts to Channel 5 comedies The Noose and Random Island. My friend linked me to the Director and Executive Producer, they loved my scripts, and they got made into skits for those shows.

Since then, I’ve served as a screenwriter for several really awesome projects including Mr. Kiasu 2.0, which I co-wrote with the team at MM2 Entertainment, and Johnny Lau (creator of the Mr. Kiasu comic series), The Minorities, a horror-comedy based on my second novel which I developed for now-defunct streaming service HOOQ and Amaranthine, an adventure-mystery that’s showing on Mediacorp’s MeWatch platform.

All in all, I’ve written over 30 hours of published and broadcasted content for brands, organizations, and entertainment platforms.

What does it take to become a screenwriter?

In Singapore? Of course, a diploma or degree in Mass Communication, Journalism Film, or related fields, will open many doors for you in your path towards becoming a screenwriter. But honestly, on top of that, you need to have an imagination. I value a coruscating imagination more than I value a shiny degree.

I’ve met lots of writers in Singapore who wouldn’t make good screenwriters. I think the problem with writers in Singapore is that we are taught to write correctly, and hardly taught to write creatively or imaginatively.

I can say from firsthand experience that approaching a screenplay or script is different from writing an article or copy for a website or advertisement. It is different from writing a book. Thinking visually is one thing. Thinking about how a scene can be shot and produced is another.

How do you come up with ideas?

Ideas are everywhere if you know where to look. I think one of the things I love most about the complexity of existence is that you can always find new stories worth telling because of the infinite permutations of characters, objects, locations, and actions that can arise around us.

Throw an active imagination into the mix and those infinite permutations grow exponentially. A great idea is simply the right combination of those things, in the right circumstances, at the right time. This is something everyone can do – you don’t need to be a turtle-neck-wearing former CEO of a fruit-themed electronics company to be a visionary.

Who is your inspiration?

Taika Freakin’ Waititi. He’s my role model. The man’s a genius both as a writer and as a director – and as a human being in general. What We Do In The Shadows (both mockumentary film and series), Hunt for The Wilderpeople, and Jojo Rabbit have been transformative experiences for me both as a media consumer and as a writer. They expanded my horizons in terms of what a script can achieve.

 

What’s an average day like for you?

I split my day between leadership, writing, and directing functions. As Head of the Writing team, I help control the flow of work traffic into my team, provide quality control checks to our scripts and pitches, and make sure that my writers have the support they require.

At any given time, I will have at least one project whose script I’m writing, and at least one project which I’m directing. In most cases, those projects are one and the same. As a writer, I convert the client’s brief into a script, ensuring that key messages are communicated clearly in a creative manner.

As a director, I will come up with a shot list that converts the script into an audiovisual experience, as well as a director’s deck (usually for larger-scale projects) that lays out things such as wardrobe, art design, and everything else that shapes mise-en-scene.

In any case, there is a lot of collaboration, a lot of discussion with producers, tech crew, and editors. It’s my favorite part of the job – to be able to draw on the expertise of other departments within Vicinity Studio.

Is it difficult to juggle so many roles?

It’s actually a really wonderful kind of challenge. I’ve never believed in staying in your comfort zone, and I’ve never believed in experiencing your job (or life in general) only through a single lens, so the more, the merrier for me. You won’t grow if you stick to just one function in your entire career. Life is too beautiful and wonderfully complex to be lived only one way.

My role is not easy, but the most rewarding things in life never are.

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Hafiz
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