Star of Singapore Social Paul Foster Reveals How They Really Filmed The Netflix Show
The first time I saw Paul Foster on TV was on another reality show, called The Big Unknown. He was a Singaporean university student with dreadlocks, studying at Deakin University. The show went on in 2002, but I caught it a couple of years later when I interviewed him at another magazine for an annual round-up called 50 Most Eligible Bachelors.
Perhaps it’s come full circle. Almost 15 years later, we’re sitting at a café in his neighbourhood of Siglap, talking about how far we’ve come and of course, his latest Netflix reality show Singapore Social. Compared to the rest of his cast members, Paul Foster has been vocal in response to detractors since the series debuted almost a month ago.
He’s called them out; he’s asked them out for kopi, and it’s clearly because he stands by everything that he has opened his life up to, for the world to see. He tells us why:
What did you do the day that Singapore Social debuted?
I hadn’t seen the show in its totality, but each of us had watched our cuts [the scenes with everyone’s individual parts] and our journey in the eight episodes of the season. Because of that, I didn’t rush to watch it that Friday that the show launched on Netflix. I was busy with work that day and was also scheduled for a ligament reconstruction surgery on the coming Monday, so I wanted to focus on myself.
When I finally got to sit down and watch it with my girlfriend, Joey, it was the following Wednesday and Thursday. We watched it over two days, and I took notes for each one…
Share some of them with me, please.
For episode one, at Tanjong Beach Club, I was glad they used the shot of me catching the frisbee while running into the water with my beer in my hand, ha!
The final episode: I loved Tabitha [Nauser]’s performance—it was so cool. Oh Tabitha, she can really perform.
How did you find the last scene?
I personally didn’t like the closing. Felt a bit loose; a bit stagnant. But it was genuinely the wrap scene. I was going around wrapping it up with everyone, saying “good luck with your studies, Mae”, “good performance, Tabitha”. If you watch the last scene again, you can see that they all left me hanging a little. I just thought it wasn’t as powerful as it could have been.
I also know the final episode ended where Sukki looked like she wasn’t enjoying herself [at Tabitha’s show]. I didn't notice it during filming but saw that later when I watched it. I wonder if it might have been a suggestion put in by the producers to behave that way? I don’t know. I haven’t yet caught up with Sukki to ask her that.
How much direction came from the producers?
The show isn’t scripted. There aren’t lines for us to memorise. But there was a narrative that the directors formed for us and with us, based on our actual lives. For me, it was about moving out of my family home and working on my plastic clean-up initiative. In fact, even though I wasn’t ready to do an event during the filming period, it was the production team that helped me put the event together, so that we could include it in the show.
So yes, there were events that were created that way so it could be part of our narrative. I know for Sukki, they wanted her to perform. At first the only place she was comfortable with was 1880, but she felt like she wasn’t prepared enough after that performance was done; so she wanted to do a better, bigger one with Yung Raja and Fariz Jabba at Capitol Theatre. She is detail-oriented that way and doesn't like letting people down as well.
What exactly was that Capitol Theatre performance about actually?
PF It was her finale, to show her journey from the earlier performance at 1880.
We were there for about three hours—granted that they wanted to film the pre-performance action with the rest of the cast members—but it was a long wait before Sukki actually performed. When Cristina said those things about Sukki [“The talent… is not… there”, in episode eight], I don’t think she was prompted to, she was just being her true self.
I know it’s not scripted but how much were the producers involved in nudging you guys in the direction they wanted the narrative to go?
When we shoot a scene, we aren’t allowed to talk to each other until the cameras start rolling. So the director will set the topics that they want you to chat about. They weren’t ridiculous; they mostly made sense. For me, it was always a genuine conversation, where I wanted to find out more about their lives.
During this conversation though, the producers will nudge us to ask more about certain topics, by blaring a word or two (like “mother?” or “future?”) on their phones in our eye line, but out of sight of the cameras or the person we were speaking to. For me, I wouldn’t change a topic immediately just because I was asked to, but when it made sense, I would segue into it.
Sukki is lovely and sometimes eager to please—and that’s just her character. Sometimes, I see that she tries her best to give the producers what they want. I think at the start, she was being a little kaypoh, and perhaps the producers decided that they wanted to spotlight that character trait of hers, and unfortunately, she just went with it. I told people who were involved in this series: If you don’t like the way that a conversation is going, just break the fourth wall. Look at the camera and say, “nope that doesn’t work”. They won’t be able to use that clip.
Tell me more about the confession booth scenes.
So we filmed from January to March of 2019, and in June, after some edits, the Netflix team returned to Singapore to film those scenes. You’re solo and in a booth for hours. The camera is right in front, while the producer is behind a wall asking you questions—but you don’t see them. It’s like talking to a priest in a confession booth. They remind you of the scene and ask for your reaction. That was intense: they’re asking us question after question. It’s very emotional, there were people crying in there. It’s quite powerful.
Do you think the show portrayed you accurately?
They did. They got my story quite on point: my relationship with my mother and Joey, and eventually moving out. That was going to happen whether or not I did Singapore Social.
We’re all on our lives' journeys; we are trying to find ourselves. I just unfortunately or fortunately found myself very early due to circumstances, while the rest of the cast members are still young. None of them is over 30, except me.
I have four sisters, and I’m the only son. By default, I’m the mama’s boy. By default, I became the man of the house. [His father passed away when Paul was 18.] By default, that was my life’s path; my duty as a son. That’s it.
See also: What Are The Cast Of Netflix’s Singapore Social Up To Now?
What’s your biggest gripe about misconceptions on the show?
PF Gripe. That’s a good word to describe it. My gripe is when people choose to criticise the show without watching all eight episodes. It’s like not tasting the meal but giving a critique of the food. Experience the whole thing, then give me your review.
Were there any criticisms that you felt were justified?
PF To a certain extent. Some people said it was too flashy, too clean, too modern, too futuristic, too surface-level Singapore. Justified, if they’ve watched it. But they probably don’t understand production. There was a big budget for this, bigger than any local show would ever get. The transitions, graphics—I thought they were very nicely done. But I might be biased because I’m in production.
Most of the comments were: this doesn’t represent Singapore; this is not even Singapore; these people aren’t Singaporeans, or not Singaporean enough. My answer to them would be: If this isn’t Singapore, where were we filming? Three-and-a-half months of filming—what—we built a bar? Did we go to a restaurant in Malaysia? It was 100 per cent shot in Singapore.
And then, claiming that we’re not Singaporeans? That’s blatantly racist. Just because I’m half-ang moh? Just because two of the cast members are Indians, two Chinese, and another who is Eurasian [in reference to Tabitha]. It’s faster to Google facts about us, rather than write a comment like that.
For every negative comment out there, we get many more positive DMs, that say things like 'Thank you for letting us into your lives'; from Canada, South America, North America, and Europe, and some in Asia. It’s nice to see that people can connect with these Asian and Singaporean values of taking care of their parents.
But you know what? People can bash me all they want, as long as they don’t do that to my mother. And the great thing is she has been getting a lot of love.
A lot of people didn’t sign up for the show, a lot of them are by-products of us, they are our supporting characters. Technically, only five of us signed the contract. Not six. Five.
So Tabitha didn’t sign? But she is portrayed like she is part of the main cast.
PF Yes she was. But in the end, she didn’t sign the contract. I don’t know what the reason is, as there were a lot of things that were in motion for her. All of us were supposed to sign the contract, but Tabitha was one of the later cast members to come onto the show.
The contract was thick—we had to send it to our individual lawyers to go through the complex legal jargon, which turned a lot of people off. They reached out to many others to be part of the cast but several knocked it back because of the contract. But back to Tabitha, she didn’t sign the contract but she probably signed the waiver.
And now back to you, what are you up to these days?
PF I’ve been producing a show, What The Hype. We filmed season one and just pushed out the first episode, to get sponsors. It's self-funded, with Jeremy Chan who is my co-executive producer and co-host. Because the show is bilingual, it allows us to hit a big market segment.
There’s also All Clear, the plastics clean-up initiative—which we saw a bit of in Singapore Social. We are looking at Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam, and will build momentum from there. We've had to make it a business; if it's sustainable as a business, it means it can be sustainable to do sustainable work! We have a lot of verticals: tree planting, sustainable fashion, eco-tourism, and of course, plastics clean-up in oceans, rivers, coastal areas. I’m excited!
See also: Why Singapore Social's Sukki Singapora Hasn't Watched The Reality Series on Netflix Yet