SINGAPORE - Popular children's entertainment programme Hi-5 is filming its latest season in Singapore, the first time the 14-year-old show is being produced outside of Australia.
Its executive creative director and executive producer, Ms Julie Greene, notes that it was a natural progression as Singapore-listed private equity firm Asiasons Group acquired Hi-5 in July last year from Nine Network Australia and Southern Star Entertainment for an undisclosed amount.
The 100-per-cent acquisition gives Asiasons ownership of the TV show - which is seen by more than one million children in around 80 countries - including production, licensing and merchandising rights.
Vietnamese, Mandarin and Mexican versions of the show are in the pipeline; these would be the first non-English-language editions to be produced.
According to Ms Greene, 44, the decision to film the current show in Singapore was an easy one to make. "Singapore's been a massive loyal fanbase that really loves the brand and they love the characters.
Singapore has always been a second home for the cast," says Ms Greene, who has been with the show since 2004.
In fact, Singapore was the first overseas stop Hi-5 came to, adds cast member Stevie Nicholson.
The 29-year-old Australian says of filming the show away from Australia: "For us, it's like taking Hi-5 on the road. With Hi-5, we spend threequarters of the year touring with our live stage shows. And it felt quite natural to take that experience on the road with the filming team."
He has been with Hi-5 since 2007.
Asiasons' Hi-5 offices are mainly located here.
The entire production of the show is taking place at Infinite Studios' brand new soundstage facilities at One North @ Mediapolis.
On a Life! visit to the set, this reporter finds himself seated in a vibrantly coloured kitchen on the set of the show which debuted in Australia in 1999.
To be more accurate, it is the set of Hi-5 House, the new name of the long-running edutainment show, which uses pop music as a learning tool. Each of the five cast members has his or her own room and space in the house; together, the shape of the five pods resembles the shape of the Hi-5 hand logo.
Filming for the main segments started on Friday and the new series of 25 episodes is slated to air in Australia from Oct 15 and in Singapore, on okto channel and Disney Junior (StarHub TV Channel 311), from Nov 1.
Asiasons bought Hi-5 because the brand "fits nicely into the company's investment theme of domestic consumption", says Mr Chiang Kwok Shong, director of Asiasons Capital Limited.
He adds: "We figured that it was a brand we could grow regionally and ultimately, internationally." Asiasons' portfolio includes EMS Exhibits, a producer of exhibitions, and Chaswood Resources, which owns F&B brands such as the T.G.I.F. franchise in Asia.
Ms Jaenani Netra, Hi-5's director of TV sales, says: "In recent times, we had many knocks on our door for format adaptation in some Asian countries. Licensing and merchandising opportunities to co-brand with Hi-5 brand is a big fascination and interest in Asia as well."
Hi-5 has recently been appointed Friends of Scoot and is currently developing an app to entertain children while they are on board flights with the Singapore- based low-cost carrier. The production team is also shooting a junior flight safety video. The programme will run for 12 months.
One might think that cost considerations could be another reason for shooting in Singapore, but Ms Greene says: "When you're looking at bringing in people who are at the top of their area of expertise, it is the same cost to shoot here as it is to shoot at home, there is no cost differentiation at all."
What mattered more to the production team was the quality and longevity of the show.
As supervising producer Neal Kingston, 51, puts it: "It was about making sure that wherever we went, we were going to get the product that we needed that was branded Hi-5."
He certainly seems pleased with the set-up at Infinite Studios. Spread out over two floors was everything a TV series needs, from an art department to rooms packed with brightly hued costumes and shoes to green rooms for the cast to rest in.
Over the next five weeks, the cast and crew will be filming 25 episodes for the new series and Ms Greene adds that they are committed to shooting another 25 episodes within 12 months.
The current team of writers and choreographers are all from Australia, many of whom have been on the show since it began.
Could the cast of Hi-5 feature Asians in the future?
Ms Greene says: "That is a definite possibility. Currently, we have Dayen, an Australian who was born in South Korea. And many of our cast members past and present have had diverse cultural heritage."
Plenty of care goes into making the Hi-5 shows. Nicholson says: "What surprised me most when I joined was the care that went into all those little details. We try on an outfit 10 times before it gets to be seen by the kids."
Director Jonathan Geraghty, 44, adds: "Right from the scripting stage, we have early childhood advisers who come in and every segment is targeted at a specific development skill for children."
Which means that even the choreography has to be carefully designed so that children can dance along with the cast.
Filming the series here also means that "there'll be a little Singaporean flavour in there", says Ms Greene.
For starters, Hi-5 Operations is working with local company Oak3 Films to produce the show.
Also, there are little segments in the show where kids are shown playing and those are being shot with local children on location in places such as the zoo and Sentosa.
Ms Greene notes: "So Singapore is definitely there in essence in the show."
You wonder if they might let some Singlish slip in as well. Right on cue, Nicholson says: "Can lah."
Ms Greene adds: "I promise you if you watch every episode, you may find it. Let's make a note of that, 'can lah' is in."
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