Film & TV

Bryan Seah on the local documentary industry

What the common people would perceive documentaries are as factual films with narrations by British voice-overs and long shots of the natural environment or the occasional expert of interviews with the locals. Bryan Seah is the Head of Original Content at Southeast Asia Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific and he has been in the documentary filmmaking industry for years and have overseen many productions including titles such as Korea Style, Nanjing Calling and Singapore Stories. Here he discussed on the usage of new technologies in filmmaking such as VR 360 and the background of the documentary industry in South East Asia.


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1) How has VR 360 changed the filmmaking scene? Wouldn’t viewers be sceptical as to the quality of the production when it is made into a VR format?

VR360 is a very different kind of storytelling technique from classic 2D experiences like TV or film. It is the one technology that is truly immersive for any viewer. While the technology is relatively young and still in development, viewers I’ve had experiences with are usually too blown away and taken by this medium to be sceptical!

Today’s audiences expect dynamic and engaging content – whether through their TV or through their mobile devices. VR360 has transformed fans and viewers in exciting stories and experiences, immersing them in places and situations they may not be able to experience otherwise.

Discovery has a long history of bringing together emerging technology with the quality content and storytelling that we are known for, and VR is the latest way for us to create thrilling content for our audiences.


2) Are there any particular wildlife stories that you’d like to shed light on that other productions have yet to cover?

There’s such a huge volume of wildlife content that I would really struggle to find a story that’s been yet to be filmed! But if I had to choose one, then it would be the chance to capture the snow leopards of Siberia in VR360. Due to habitat loss, they’re some of rarest big cats in the world and it would be amazing to share what it’s like to see these majestic hunters using VR360.


3) How best would you describe the local documentary filmmaking scene?

Over the years, the Malaysian production industry has grown by leaps and bounds. As one of our key markets in Southeast Asia, Discovery Channel has happily been a witness to that growth for both emerging as well as established filmmakers in Malaysia.

An example of this growth is evident through our collaborations with FINAS, our long-time partner and supporter of the development and growth of Malaysian talent. We have worked together for multiple seasons of First-Time Filmmakers Malaysia, as well as Eye on Malaysia series. We have also partnered with FINAS and more established local producers on bigger, more ambitious shows such as Frontier Borneo, which follows scientists, rangers, and wildlife warriors through the tropical jungle of Borneo. 


4) In order to present true stories, facts cannot be filtered and sometimes the truth is not favourable or desirable for the viewers. How do you deal with the controversies surrounding documentaries that tell-all?

In this present era we live in of ‘fake news’ and easy access to all sorts of unverified information on social media, documentarians have a greater responsibility than ever before to present all the accurate facts about key issues.

When the aptly named documentary An Inconvenient Truth came out in 2006, there were controversy and some scientists even came out to dismiss it; fast forward 10 years and the truth of global warming has become accepted scientific fact, one which we all will have to deal with as a planet for generations to come. I always believe that no truth can be too inconvenient if presented in a well-researched, unbiased and entertaining manner. 


5) What is your opinion on young filmmakers using iPhones and apps to record and edit their work? Does it make them less of a professional filmmaker?

I think any technology that enables a new generation to tell and share their stories with a wider audience is an awesome one, there should not be any distinction based on the size of the camera lenses used. In our latest film Surviving Borneo, our main protagonist Henry Golding uses a small handheld camera a lot as he journeys deep into Borneo’s jungles – the shots were not as spectacular as it would have been on a 4K camera, but what we got was a much more personal account of his struggles and joys of revisiting his father’s homeland. Technology is simply a means to an end and not an end in itself in filmmaking.


6) Understand that your team was nominated for an International Emmy for Wild but True; is it difficult being an Asian in such a revered industry especially when one’s work is being presented globally?

Discovery has always been about sharing amazing stories across the world because curiosity knows no borders. While systemic problems do remain in parts of the industry (as with any industry), I’ve thankfully never felt that how I look or where I was born influenced how my peers treated me or my work. My other Emmy nominees that year were from across the world. Wild but True in fact was a co-production between Discovery in Singapore and producers from Australia and we had a blast making this series a truly Asia-Pacific effort. Personally being from Singapore which is at the cross-roads of East and West has also broadened the depth and breath of stories that I am able to share with the rest of the world.  


7) In all the locations you’ve visited and documented, where would you go and experience again? Is there anywhere you would want to go that you haven’t been?

Having spent quite a long time filming there, Taiwan is always very close to my heart, with its rich culture, natural history and delicious food! I would love to spend more time filming there. I’ve never visited Brazil and as a big football and natural history fan, that country is certainly top of my list as the next country I want to work in.

Featured image; excerpt from the documentary, Frontier Borneo.

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