The Moneymaker: Dasmond Koh, 44. The radio deejay-turned-TV host started talent agency NoonTalk Media four years ago to “help budding young actors fulfil their dreams”, with Xu Bin and Aloysius Pang among the seven artistes under his care.
HOME IS: A three-storey terrace house near Caldecott Hill, where he lives with his mum, elder sister and one of his newer artistes, 20-year-old Zong Zijie, who’s starred in supporting roles in Tiger Mum and C.L.I.F 4.
HIS RIDE IS: An SUV. “I don’t want to reveal the make of the car, but generally, I like an SUV as it’s spacious. I can buy groceries and still fit three to four people in my car. It’s very convenient,” he says.
IN HIS WALLET: He keeps two credit cards, an ATM card, his identity card, and his Krisflyer card in a Montblanc wallet. “I don’t believe in having too many credit cards. I have two, in case one goes over the limit (laughs). I also prefer to spend using cards as I know better where all my expenses are. When you use cash, you tend to spend too much without realising it.”
8 DAYS: Six out of seven NoonTalk Media artistes are male (Kimberly Chia is the sole female artiste). Why the preference for guys?
DASMOND KOH: When a male artiste makes an appearance, he only needs some concealer and loose powder on his face. Throw on a nice jacket and he’s ready to go. It’s very simple. For a female artiste, she needs two hours for hair and make-up. What she wears will also be scrutinised more closely as compared to guys, so she can’t recycle the clothes and wear them again. The costs add up. I estimate that I save up to five times more by focusing on male artistes. Emotionally, girls are weaker so there’ll be more occasions when I have to step in personally to counsel them. That’s income loss for me too. I could’ve used that time to do more lucrative things. Girls might cry if I scold them, so sometimes I need to hold back a little.
What do you look out for in a budding actor? I don’t deny the fact that looks are important, but a lot of it boils down to the chemistry between the talent and me. I also take note of the person’s character. If he’s very strong-headed and someone that I can’t control, I’d rather not work with him. Sometimes, I wonder if I’m too much of a micro-manager (laughs).
You do seem like a very strict boss. What kind of restrictions do you impose on your artistes? I don’t allow Xu Bin and Aloysius to dye their hair. If you observe the local market, you’d realise that it’s still quite prim and proper. Having black hair makes it easier for them to be cast in family dramas. So no matter how many times they try to persuade me to let them change their hair colour, my answer is always a straight ‘No’. (Laughs) I’ve also told them right from the beginning that they’re not allowed to date. I strongly believe that dating will affect their focus at work. If they’re dating secretly, then I won’t know ’cos they won’t tell me. You also won’t find Xu Bin and Aloysius clubbing or drinking in pubs. They are so busy that they hardly have time to do that. But it’s also ’cos I believe in making a good impression in public. I don’t want them to be caught in compromising photos that’d affect their careers.
(Above) The men do get it: (from left) Aloysius Pang, Zong Zijie, Timothee Yap and Xu Bin
You’ve mentioned you first started the talent agency ’cos you wanted to help Aloysius and Xu Bin. That sounds almost too altruistic. (Laughs) It’s true. I feel that a lot of local artistes don’t have enough opportunities. I only have a few artistes to take care of, so I can really focus on boosting their profiles. When I first started, I only spent a few thousand dollars on the business. We worked from a home office, so we didn’t need a lot of money to begin with. Over the last four years, I’ve invested about $200,000 to $300,000 in my business. I’m now at that stage where I no longer have to pump in more money every month. The business is self-sustaining, but I’ve yet to recoup the six-figure amount I’ve invested.
How difficult is it to set up your own talent agency in a small market like Singapore?
Very. Difficult. (Laughs) A talent agency earns from the commission of the artistes’ jobs, and it’s like a 20 to 40 per cent cut. And that itself is never enough to pay for my office rental, or to feed my employees. Hopefully in the long run, I’ll start making some money.
How much business sense comes into play when you decide what endorsements they should take up? Quite a major part of it is about business sense. I could be offered a rather lucrative deal for my artistes, but I might reject it if I think that there’s an even better deal down the road. I’ve rejected $20,000 to $30,000 deals in the past for Aloysius and Xu Bin because I know that they have the potential to get something bigger.
Enough about business. What kind of person are you when it comes to personal spending? I don’t shop (guffaws). It’s true. I also don’t wear or carry branded stuff. To me, those are luxury goods that I don’t need. I’d rather invest my money in a business such as NoonTalk, which has potential to make more money in the future.
You live with one of your artistes, Zijie. Xu Bin used to live in your house too. When Xu Bin was just starting out, he lived in Woodlands with his aunt, and it was quite out of the way. So I thought it’d be easier for him to stay with me as it’s nearer to [Caldecott Hill]. I also believe that when he’s within my [line of] vision, he can’t do anything crazy (laughs). He stayed with me for three years before he shifted out, so Zijie, who’s also from China, took over [the room]. I don’t charge them rent or anything. They are not earning that much anyway, so there’s no need to ask them for money for such small stuff (laughs).