“How can you be gay?”
This question often rings true for many in the LGBTQ+ community when they come out to friends – parents in particular.
And that is the exact question when Getaway, a five-episode web series opens with Singapore boy Sam coming out to his conservative father.
This inaugural web drama, produced by LGBTQ+ media platform Dear Straight People, aims to raise visibility, understanding and acceptance of Singapore’s LGBTQ+ community.
“The aim of Getaway is really to shine the spotlight on the gay community through the popular medium of the BL genre. I wanted Sam’s experience to be an insight of sorts for the audience into the gay experience,” says founder of Dear Straight People Sean Foo, who not only plays the lead in the series but also wrote the script.
Founded in 2015, Dear Straight People first made a name for itself by conducting interviews with notable profiles such as Paralympic medalist Theresa Goh, the world’s top gay Asian influencer Edison Fan and Asia’s most famous drag queen Pangina Heals. It has over 40,000 highly engaged social media followers, Dear Straight People is one of Asia’s leading English LGBTQ+ media platforms.
Mr Foo says Getaway “is not autobiographical by any means, but many parts of the story were drawn from my personal experiences, as well as those of my friends”.
“Producing a scripted series has been on my bucket list for the longest time. Many things aligned for me in 2022 for me to be in a place where I was finally able to make it happen,” he adds.
BL: Umbrella term for any Asian drama centering on a gay love story
In many parts of Asia where LGBTQ+ rights are lacking, Boys Love dramas or BL dramas have emerged as the primary form of gay media representation. In 2020 alone, Thailand and Taiwan produced over 80 BL dramas. In that same year, South Korea jumped on the bandwagon by producing its first gay BL drama series, which was subsequently picked up by Netflix.
However, BL dramas are typically geared towards a heterosexual female audience and as such, they generally miss out on the nuances of what it really means to be gay in Asia. “Getaway sets itself apart from other BL dramas by tailoring towards a gay audience. It is based on an original story from a gay creator, featuring a gay director alongside an openly queer cast from Singapore and Thailand,” Mr Foo says.
He tells TheHomeGround Asia that acting was probably the part he was least confident in.
“When I first wrote the original draft, Sam was pretty much just me so that I wouldn’t have to do much acting,” Mr Foo says, laughing. “But after James (Thoo) came on board, he helped me develop the characters properly and Sam became a character that was no longer just a reflection of myself.”
Writer James Thoo, who sold multiple feature screenplays to large Hollywood production companies, was the script consultant for this production.
“Sean had a very clear idea about the story that he wanted to tell, and the characters that he wanted to tell it through and he was already pretty deep into the drafts when I got involved. So I tried my best just to help him sharpen the structure, and workshop ideas for scene construction so that I could help him say everything that he wanted to say, just in as compelling a way as possible,” Mr Thoo says.
“Sean is a very impressive, very passionate person, who was serious about his reasons for making this series – to tell his story, and the stories of people like him, whose struggles have consistently been marginalised, and to do so in a totally authentic, nuanced way and in a genre that spoke to people. There’s no one better to do that than him. Certainly not me. … Sean had never made anything before, had never written anything before, had never acted before. And he did this. It’s a staggering achievement. I think his work is a strong, inspiring contribution to the rapidly burgeoning genre. And I think he should be very proud of what he’s accomplished,” he adds.
Mr Foo is thankful the general reception to his performance has been positive so far, judging from the comments and reaction videos, crediting veteran actor Steven David Lim and co-star Thai actor Paween “Snooker” Nalieng for that. Mr Lim plays his father while Snooker plays Top, his love interest.
“They are both such natural actors that they made it easy for me to just feed off them to deliver a decent performance. Kudos also to our director Ark Saroj, who was very patient with the entire cast, especially first-time actors like myself, and was able to direct everyone to deliver a natural performance,” Mr Foo says, adding that the general praise for Getaway so far has been that it is hilarious, authentic and relatable “so I’m glad that Getaway set out to achieve what I wanted it to”.
The many firsts of Getaway
Mr Lim, who is a well-known face in Singapore TV scene and who played one of the sons in the 1990s series Growing Up, tells TheHomeGround Asia part of his passion for acting is that “it forces me to step out of myself into another’s shoes and see the world through their eyes, understanding their motivation or circumstances leading them to do what they do”.
“(Lim) Kay Tong in Growing Up was a strict but somewhat gentler and he had (Wee) Soon Hui as a ‘foil’ – the father and mother duo. In Getaway, the absence of a mum leaves the relationship between father and son a bit more complicated. The inspiration for my role is pretty much most fathers of my generation, I’d say. I think that’s changed a lot now,” he says.
Apart from being the first Singapore LGBTQ+ web BL drama series, Getaway also saw many firsts. It was the first time the founder of Dear Straight People wrote and acted in the series. It was also former teacher Otto Fong’s debut film.
He plays the gay uncle who was disowned by the family.
“I loved the lines ‘I didn’t do anything wrong, so I refused to apologise’ and I wanted viewers to get that being gay is nothing to apologise for, so I was eager to get that across on camera,” he says.
“I had promoted my science comic series on CNA, done a Pink Dot video in 2019 and shot promo videos for my television series “Totally Totto” in 2020, so I was not too nervous. Getaway is different since I am not playing myself. So I memorised my lines thoroughly so I could focus on my facial expressions and body language,” he says.
Being a teacher and science communicator for more than 20 years, Mr Fong is confident in why and how he wants to deliver his ideas – but playing a role is different, he says.
“Acting is being someone else, reining in parts of me that doesn’t fit the role and amplifying the parts that serve the role. I have to trust my fellow actors, the crew and director to bring the role to life. I am a part of a team,” he says.
“Being humble and listening to everyone on set helped a lot, but I had to make sure I am doing my part and deliver what was expected of me when the ball fell into my hands. The pressure is different too: as a teacher and speaker, I immediately knew when the lesson or talk worked well. For Getaway, I had to wait for a couple more episodes to be released before I know how I did,” he adds.
To help the young and first-time actors, several workshops were held prior to production.
“We were careful not to over-rehearse them so that they retain their natural self. The workshops were to help them learn lines, understand and be at ease with the filming process, and also exercises to help enable them to tap into deeper emotions needed in certain scenes. Mostly, it was to get them to bond, support each other and to have fun so that a sense of play can be achieved,” Mr Lim says.
Challenges of getting the series done and online
The whole series was shot entirely in Bangkok, Thailand for practical reasons as home for Mr Foo is there.
He says everything was a challenge when it came to Getaway and “Covid certainly made the experience more difficult”.
“I had last minute cast replacements due to Covid and other reasons. Travel restrictions also made it complicated (and expensive) to fly Hirzi Zulkiflie over for the shoot. But all in all, the biggest challenge I faced with producing Getaway is the inexperience. Almost everything from producing to script-writing to fundraising to acting was new for me. I knew going into it that it was going to be challenging but I grossly underestimated just how stressful it would get. Thankfully, everything panned out in the end,” he says.
Episode One was uploaded to Youtube on 25 May and it garnered over 100,000 views in less than a week.
“I’m very happy with the viewing figures so far and the impact it is already making. But more importantly, reception to the series has been very positive and I’m heartened to see all the positive reviews. If we get the opportunity to do a second season, it will definitely be a much smoother process because I now know where to focus my efforts,” Mr Foo says.
Another helpful strategy has been the addition of subtitles to make Getaway as accessible as possible.
“I want Getaway to provide an insight into the gay experience in Southeast Asia and it has been heartening to see a very international audience. The Spanish community in particular, has been super supportive. I love reading their comments via Google translate! At the end of the day, Getaway can only grow through positive word of mouth,” he says.