Mark Lee - From production assistant to film producer

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Mark Lee at work.
Mark Lee at work.

Few can open a production house and start on a movie project in less than a month. But that’s exactly what Singaporean personality Mark Lee did.

The 49-year-old actor-producer opened King Kong Media Production, partnering with Malaysian oil and gas company Yinson Marine Services, on 9 March, 2017. Before two weeks had passed, he already found himself working on a film project for 2018.

“We’re doing a Chinese New Year movie,” Lee told Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore in Mandarin. “Right now we’re in script discussions.”

“It’s a story about not taking everyday things for granted,” Lee said. “For example, let’s say you want to call Mark Lee today. All you need to do is search for his name on your mobile phone. You won’t use your brain to memorise the number. Not like in the 70’s or 80’s.”

“What if, suddenly, everything went down one day? Yeah, sure, you will know the phone number starts with 8 or 9, but what about the rest of the numbers?” Lee said of his script.

“So when we lose all this support, what would it feel like? There are a lot of things like this that we take for granted, and we should really start treasuring them.”

King Kong Media Productions office. (King Kong Media Productions)
King Kong Media Production office. (King Kong Media Production)

From production assistant to film producer

Lee started his media career by enrolling in Jack Neo’s acting class in 1987, having just completed his National Service at that point.

However, he went on to become a production assistant in 1988, and it was only when he was picked to be a extra for Channel 8’s “Comedy Night” that his acting career truly began.

He went on to do his first major English role in 2001, a character on Channel 5’s “Phua Chu Kang”, eventually landed a lead role on “Police and Thief” in 2004.

“Having understood how difficult it is to be a production assistant, you will never find me or Henry Thia scolding them. Both of us started out as production assistants,” Lee revealed.

“We were in charge of wardrobe for ‘Comedy Night’, and we would always get scolded for getting eggs and cake on the costumes. But the mess was part of the comedy act,” he said. “We were only production assistants then, we couldn’t ask Jack or Moses [Lim] not to throw eggs and cake at each other right?”

King Kong Media Productions office. (King Kong Media Productions)
King Kong Media Production office. (King Kong Media Production)

On both sides of the camera

But does Lee prefer being in front or behind the camera?

“To be very frank, being an artiste is more senang (Malay word for “easy”). Everyone takes care of everything for you. But when you are a director, there are many things you have to take care of,” Lee said.

What are some of these things that a director needs to be ready to handle?

“[Things] Like lighting, rehearsals, scripts, running lines, and when the art department tells you that they have no radio prop for you today, and you have to find a random Bluetooth device to stand in as a radio,” Lee explained.

“As an actor, I can go home once my job is done. But a director still has to worry about the next day’s shoot.”

With his almost 30 years of experience in the industry, Lee also had a few simple words of advice for aspiring actors.

“If you think that you want to step into the entertainment line to earn a lot money, don’t come in. There are only five actors in the industry who can earn money solely from acting, without any other side businesses: Zoe [Tay], Fann [Wong], [Li] Nanxing, Jack Neo, and Christopher Lee.”

Mark Lee and King Kong.
Mark Lee and King Kong.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Lee’s favourite director is Jack Neo.

“I’m not just trying to flatter him because he is my mentor. He knows the range and capability of his actors very well. You might hate him during the shoot, but when you see the end result, you will be moved by your own performance on screen.”

And when it comes to actors, Lee likes working with Christopher Lee. The two recently starred in the Chinese New Year film “The Fortune Handbook”, directed by Kelvin Sng.

“He will provide feedback to you, and show you alternative ways of delivering a performance. I believe that when someone provides feedback to you, it might be painful, but it helps you to improve,” he said of the actor.

As for script writers, Lee’s favourite is Boris Boo.

“He always sees things from a different perspective. He’s also very talented at incorporating current trends into the script. And he’s open to collaboration.”

King Kong Media Productions office. (King Kong Media Productions)
King Kong Media Production office. (King Kong Media Production)

Focus on social media productions

While Lee company already has a film project on the cards, that’s not all King Kong Media Production is eyeing.

“Our focus is on productions for social media,” said Lee. “For a start, we’ll use our available artistes for talk shows, ghost stories, singing, and comedy pieces.”

Other artists on board are Michelle Tay, Henry Thia, Nono (a Taiwanese comedian), Jeremy Chan, and Marcus Chin.

“For example, we might do a video, like five methods for getting a girl. But we’ll slant it towards a more comedic angle,” Lee explained. “We also create advertisements for corporate clients, and films.”

Artistes. (King Kong Media Productions)
Artistes. (King Kong Media Production)

Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter, having written for Police & Thief, Incredible Tales, Crimewatch, and Point of Entry. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.

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