With two channels to run and big plans for Asian-themed action movies, Jef Lim has little time these days to sit back and relax in front of his TV. Instead, the head of programming and production for Tiger Gate Entertainment is out planning, buying or adapting programmes for the firm’s Thrill and KIX pay channels, and initiating projects for the big screen.
Previously in charge of content development for Mark Burnett Productions Asia, Lim was behind the regional adaptations of shows like The Contender and The Apprentice, helping to pioneer high budget, high-calibre reality television with new formats and expanding audiences.
How did you first get into the media sector? It started from very humble beginnings, with four of us, all very young and inexperienced, trying to break into the business in Singapore. We had angel investors and put in some of our own money, with an initial plan to make TV commercials and music videos. At first, it was a matter of making contacts, knocking on doors and, literally, getting out the phone book to make cold calls. But a combination of passion, preparation, enthusiasm and naivety helped us win a first contract for a series of commercials shown in India, which gave us enough capital to be viable and go into long-form content creation.
What were you doing before that? I had grown up in Singapore and Canada and, after a year of pre-med and economics classes at Queen’s University in Ontario, switched to take a law degree at King’s College, London, graduating in 1997. Part of the reason was that I’d met a good group of friends who were all studying in London at the time. I was then hired straight out of college to work as legal counsel for a company in Singapore. It was lucky break, but after a while, I wanted to find something a bit more creative, so took the leap of faith with the start-up.
What did you gain from the experience? In a young team, you have to do everything and face up to constant rejection, but you learn the importance of hard work and taking opportunities. As a company, we went through every difficulty you can imagine and made a ton of mistakes along the way. We had our successes like selling Planet Ex, featuring extreme sports and travel, to the AXN network. But we probably overextended ourselves – one of the follies of youth – and wound things up in 2001.
Where did you turn next? I spent a couple of years with a private equity firm pursuing media ventures before being introduced to group in Indonesia who wanted to launch their own youth and lifestyle channel. During two years in Jakarta, I built and managed the station, handling everything from production and marketing to sales, training, operations and programming. For experience, there is nothing like building a business in another country where the language and culture are different. I had to immerse myself very quickly, watching a lot of TV, doing focus groups and finding trend leaders in fashion, music and entertainment to feel the pulse of the country and formulate ideas in a way everybody could understand.
At present, what are your major projects? We are just wrapping up production on Supermodel Me, a 12-part reality show that will probably premiere next February on the KIX channel. The basic concept is a “boot camp” for aspiring supermodels from Asia, taking them through challenges like martial arts training and tightrope walking. The company will also announce a first slate of feature films for next year in the action/ horror/suspense genres. The goal is to use ideas originating in Asia with a combination of established actors and new faces.
What are the pros and cons of your current role? It is great fun and you get to work with some of the best in the business. What is especially fulfilling is to see an idea move from something on paper to having your name on the credits of a completed production. However, it is also a highly stressful job with a lot of expectations. Executive producers can earn an excellent living in the US and Europe because there is a constant pipeline of high-calibre shows. In Asia, though, it is more difficult to get a flow of projects to keep yourself consistently busy, which is a problem for every producer in the region.
In general, what do you see as the key to career success? If you do something you feel excited about every morning, you tend to work better and will find that money and success then follow. You should never be afraid to take a chance, especially when you’re young, even if that means changing direction four or five times. Also, I think everybody needs to work with great mentors. I’ve been lucky in that way, being able to meet and learn from some of the iconic people in the film and TV industries. Tracks to the top
As a hobby has DJ–ed in London and Singapore and produced music for a number of friends
Hopes at some point to write and direct his own scripts but admits that creative writing is hard work
A personal favourite movie is The Million Dollar Hotel for its storyline, soundtrack, and because it is beautifully shot