National Day Parade producer Benjamin Tan reveals what goes on behind the scenes

Teng Yong Ping
Lifestyle Editor
Benjamin Tan, the producer of National Day Parade in 2018 and 2019, at the Padang in Singapore. (Photo: Benjamin Tan)

SINGAPORE — You always hear about the creative director of the National Day Parade (this year, it’s Dick Lee), but did you know that there is also an NDP producer hard at work creating the spectacular show?

Benjamin Tan has been the NDP producer for two years, having assisted last year’s NDP creative director, Boo Junfeng, and is also helping to put together this year’s show. The 29-year-old, who also happened to be featured in our fitspo series, is the founder of B Events Network, a company which mostly produces corporate events.

Ben told Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore that the creative director has many members on the team, which includes the music director, art director, film and multimedia director, and technical director. But as the NDP show segment has become more elaborate and complex over the years, the producer has played an important role in recent years. He coordinates all the different aspects – performers, music, film, etc. – and makes sure that the show gels as a whole.

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Ben first worked with Dick and Junfeng for the 2017 Home Team Show, where Dick was the creative director, Junfeng was film and multimedia director, and Ben was show director. Then, in 2018, after Junfeng was appointed as NDP’s creative director, he asked Ben to help him as the overall producer. Ben then stayed on as producer for NDP 2019.

Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore sat down with Ben, who answered our questions about the job of the NDP producer, how each NDP is different because of the creative director, and what we can look forward to in this year’s celebrations.

This six-metre tall lion float is the largest prop ever created for a National Day Parade. (PHOTO: Benjamin Tan)

What does the job of the NDP producer entail?

At the start, you’ll be assisting the creative director to formulate his ideas, to explore new possibilities, and to get the creative team to come on board. Then we have to get multiple levels of clearance with committees to get the ideas approved for what we're going to put up on National Day. After we get the approval of the National Day Celebrations Committee, we move into the next stage of preparing the show: that would be doing things like choreography, rehearsals, working on the music and costumes. And then the last part is where we put everything together. And then we see where the cracks are and we fix them. We receive more comments from various people. And we do tweaks over the eight rehearsals that we have – three combined rehearsals, three National Education shows (for primary school pupils), and two preview shows (for the public).

Within each of the directors’ own teams, they have their own producers. My role as the overall producer is to ensure that we are moving in the same direction. For example, multimedia might be creating something, and they may not know what, say, choreography is doing, but I do. So if I see something's not going right, then I have to make arrangements and tweak things. I handle this thing which we call the show matrix. It goes down to every second of the show and what's happening across all the departments.

What is the rehearsal schedule like?

We call it the “battle cycle”, and it’s pretty intense. Over eight Saturdays we run the full rehearsal, Sunday we review the footage, Monday we have the AAR (after-action review), and then we meet in our various departments to sort out what needs to be done. Tuesday, we continue to work on the changes. By Wednesday, they need to upload the new content into the system. On Thursday we'll do a tech run to make sure everything is in place. We’ll make more tweaks, then on Friday, we do a more elaborate tech run where we get army boys pretending to be performers.

Producer Benjamin Tan with creative director Dick Lee in Sydney, May 2018, where they attended the Vivid Sydney festival to get ideas for National Day Parade 2019.

How does a particular creative director leave a mark on the NDP show?

I think a lot of it depends on the creative director’s background and discipline and the different art forms that influence them. Dick, through writing music, created a Singaporean identity with his songs. Junfeng puts the spotlight on different issues in society through his films.

Junfeng just had to create a film for his NDP, so it was really heavy on storytelling. For the first time, in 2018, we focused the entire NDP on five personal stories that could reflect the values of us as a people, which was interesting and different. The response that we got from the audience was very positive. The cameras caught many people tearing during the show.

And then Dick is a musician. He’s a showbiz kind of guy. He always tells me that he hears a show first before he sees it, and he structures a show through the music. For each act this year, we anchored it with a familiar NDP song and developed each act’s narrative through that song. Dick focuses a lot on the wow moments. So you have the biggest lion coming down on the Padang, you've got the LED wristbands.

SINGAPORE - JULY 06: Fireworks light up the sky during the National Day Parade preview at Marina Bay on July 6, 2019 in Singapore. (Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images)

What highlights can we look forward to in NDP 2019?

This year, we have LED (light-emitting diodes) wristbands for the audience, which create an immersive experience. You can see the whole Padang light up and people feel connected with them. The technology was created by a company called PixMob. They’re the ones behind Taylor Swift’s concerts. They create patterns and waves of coloured lights using the LED wristbands.

We have a lion, which is the largest prop ever manufactured for an NDP. It’s six metres tall, eight metres long, four metres in width, and weighs one tonne. It’s sort of a puppet that’s pushed by six guys, and each leg is controlled by one guy. Two guys move the head.

For the first time we are launching fireworks along the Singapore River. They usually put the fireworks barge in Marina Bay. This year’s barge is the longest one ever at 450 metres. The fireworks display will last for five minutes.

This year, the national anthem during NDP will be sung by Ramli Sarip, who is appearing at the parade for the first time, despite him being one of the pioneers and a rock legend in the local music scene.

They’re doing one of the most elaborate mobile columns this year. The last mobile column was five years ago in 2014, because you can only have it at the Padang. They’ve managed to put in a lot more vehicles. For example, the Hunter Armoured Fighting Vehicle, which is the first fully digital tank. There’s the new Aster-30 missile system. And there’s the Airbus A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport, which is basically a flying petrol station.

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