Interview with Media Industry Veteran Colin Smith

Get some great tips about the media industry, breaking in, and improving your writing and presentations skills.

by Margaret Tang

Colin Smith, PhD, lecturer, film producer, photographer, writer, scriptwriter, branding and marketing consultant, and more, is one of the directors of Funhouse Productions. After graduating from the London School of Journalism, he started his career as a lifestyle magazine writer and editor. A few years later, he became a multimedia director at Mediacorp, Singapore’s largest media conglomerate. There he gained his many business and creative skills. After more than thirteen years at Mediacorp, Colin went on to establish Funhouse Productions with his wife. Recently, I interviewed Colin to get a peek into his working life and to harvest some tips from his vast and varied experience in the media industry that could help newcomers get a foothold in the media industry.

Margaret: In your LinkedIn profile, it says that you consult on branding and marketing in addition to being fully involved in film production, photography, factual and fiction writing, information technology and academic work. That’s a lot. Which keeps you busiest? Which do you love most?

Colin: Academic and training work keeps me very busy now. I cannot complain as I have a family to support. However, I do love producing short films and editing. Unfortunately, the videos I script and produce now are mostly work for hire.

Margaret: I noticed that your specialities include: market research; corporate and public presentations; marketing consultancy; business strategies; operational streamlining; advertising and event concepts; content and story creation and development; web branding; and editorial planning and execution. Which area keeps you the busiest?

Colin: I plan, write and produce a number of commercial productions. Very often, I try to put myself in the minds of the client and their customers. I normally find myself working on multiple projects at a time. As a result, there is always a subprocess running at the back of my head, even on weekends.

Life as a Writer

Margaret: As a writer, you’ve written magazine articles, marketing copy, advertisement scripts, film scripts, factual and fiction writing. Are there any other types of writing that you have done?

Colin: During my stint at Mediacorp, I also wrote speeches and business proposals.

Margaret: Which type of writing do you like most?

Colin: I like writing fiction most of all because I am a storyteller at heart. I would love to just write stories for a living, but it is not a viable option for me right now.

Margaret: Which type of writing do you like least?

Colin: I do not enjoy writing business plans and proposals, but it is essential for setting out objectives and coming up with some form of strategy.

Margaret: What are the challenges of being a writer? What are the best parts of being a writer?

Colin: The challenges of being a writer are those you set out for yourself. Complacency is the worst enemy. Being able to challenge myself to do better is, for me, the best part of being a writer.

Advice to Industry Newcomers

Margaret: What advice would you give to someone who wants to make a living writing while living in Singapore?

Colin: I’d say it’s always good to know who you are writing for and to continually hone your craft. There are several ways to get started in writing for a living. With digital marketing being the way forward, companies are now looking to create content. For this, writers are needed. You can always start your own blog if you want to share your thoughts with the world. Again, it’s down to who you want to address. I’d also suggest learning all the vital skills of storytelling because storytelling is essentially what a writer does. This would include learning photography, videography as well as audio recording and editing, and also how to use your voice to best effect.

Margaret: As a producer and media content creator, what advice would you give to someone who wants to make a living as a voiceover or voice actor?

Colin: Building networks is essential even if it means doing some free or cheap work at first. Today, there are also multiple platforms for you to ply your trade. You can also try to get yourself listed at the various talent portals online.

The Art of the Interview

Margaret: You’ve interviewed lots of prominent people. Did you get nervous when speaking to them?

Colin: I never got nervous when interviewing celebrities and politicians. I think it’s because I got into a dreadful accident when I was young. I was 12 and was rushing home to watch Super Friends, a cartoon series. I rushed to cross the road from in between two buses. The next thing I knew, a blur went before my eyes, and I was down on the road. I tried to get up, and I saw my leg bending between my knee and foot. The bone had pierced through the flesh, so there I was, in a pool of my own blood. I’d come so close to losing a leg and my life. Nothing else frightened me after that.

Margaret: How do you prepare for those interviews? What tips would you offer to a new reporter interviewing prominent people?

Colin: I would tell new reporters that they are more important than whoever they are interviewing because the person is counting on them to create the right impression. The reporter isn’t powerless, and the interviewee may be just as nervous or even more nervous in some cases.

Margaret: Is there a difference between how you would prepare for and conduct a video vs a print interview?

Colin: Video interviews have added requirements. A respondent may be playing with the button on a pen. Although this may not matter in a written article, it would be terribly annoying on video because of the noise. Stripes on a shirt also cause moiré patterns that look bad on video. As such, I would tell the interviewees to dress accordingly, and I would also find a suitable location that does not have too much background noise. I think the interview for an article can be done with less preparation. Even the photograph can be prepared earlier or submitted later.

Margaret: Do C-suite clients get stage fright when you photograph or film them? What tips do you give to your business clients when they appear on a corporate video you are shooting?

Colin: The clients I produce the videos for are normally rather confident, but there are times when even CEOs get cold feet. I try to talk to them to reassure them that it’s alright if they mess up the first time. I also try to help them come up with phrases sometimes, and try to fix their script on the fly so that it seems more natural coming from them.

Margaret: Having observed so many people in your career, how does a person’s dressing style and public presentation skills affect others’ perception of them? What insights can you share with my corporate readers who are working on their public-speaking skills?

Colin: Sadly, people still judge by appearances. We tend to have first impressions of people based on their attire: whether it’s branded; new or old; and formal or informal. However, we often forget that appearances can also deceive us.

I normally tell people to think about the impression they want to create on others. I ask them if there is a person, real or fictional, who represents the ideal image of themselves. They can take steps to emulate this real person or fictional character.

Diction also plays a part in the impression we create. Our diction is a bit harder to change. We can’t change it like we can change clothes. The problem is that American entertainment and pop culture has become such a big part of our leisure and lifestyle that its influence is hard to escape. I’d suggest being a more discerning consumer and choosing what you want to watch as those language nuances tend to creep into our speech patterns.

However, diction is not the main issue affecting those who have to do public speaking. It is usually fear of crowds. It doesn’t matter if it’s four, forty or four thousand. If there is fear, it will still affect the delivery and eventual perception. I tell people to talk as if they are talking to friends. Forget the script, and just remember the essential points. Then talk to the crowd as if you are addressing only one or two friends in the audience. That has worked for me.

State of the Industry

Margaret: What are the differences, if any, between the TV, newspaper, magazine, and media production industries? Which do you like best?

Colin: The differences used to be quite big but it’s all becoming one amalgamated mess now with the Internet being the main distribution platform. I still buy magazines in spite of the technological advancements.

Margaret: How do you see the media industry evolving in the future?

Colin: Everyone now has the power of advocacy. The industry will be very fragmented, but corporations will still be able to dominate through their resources. All this gives audiences the power of choice, which could also lead to restricted world views among some people.

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