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From entertainer to technopreneur

Audrey Simon
Audrey Simon • 11 min read
From entertainer to technopreneur
The IAmCasting app links Asian talents to worldwide opportunities.
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Irene Ang has a diverse entertainment background: Stage, TV, and movies. She is recognised for her role as Rosie Phua in the comedy TV series Chua Chu Kang. As someone deeply entrenched in the industry, Ang empathises with the challenges faced by performers during the onset of the pandemic in 2020. 
That was one of the biggest push factors for her to start IAmCasting, an online platform linking industry talents — models, actors, celebrities, singers, content creators, sports stars, and performers — with clients and opportunities worldwide, free from physical, geographical, and time constraints. It fosters a dynamic community where talents can flourish and learn from international experiences. Ang has had many experiences in the industry for the last 25 years, such as organising concerts, producing movies, and even a musical.
Ang recalls: “About a decade ago, I realised there were limited resources to help everyone. Many talented individuals, especially those in theatre, inspired me, but I saw them struggle to make ends meet. Some even left the industry altogether. I felt a strong desire to help more people but didn’t know where to start. Then Covid-19 hit, prompting me to revisit an idea I had years ago about creating a casting platform.”
Recently Harry Yew, her assistant, reminded her of her idea of setting up IAmCasting, which had been brewing for years. Ang recalls: “In 2017, we experienced success with Henry Golding in Crazy Rich Asians, fuelling the dream of expanding beyond our original goals. However, I went through a period of uncertainty, feeling lost and unsure of what to do next. I’ve explored various avenues — music, movies, theatre, festivals — but nothing seemed to ignite my passion. Then Covid-19 forced everyone to pause and rethink their priorities.”
The onset of the pandemic forced Ang to stay put, which was not easy for someone as restless as her. She tapped into her restlessness and began exploring options to enhance productivity, including utilising grants and encouraging staff to engage in SkillsFuture programmes. Technically speaking, SkillsFuture is about sending staff to attend upskilling courses and cannot be used for flexible work arrangements. There are many grants, such as productivity grants like those given to IAmCasting which Ang stumbled upon and saw an opportunity to address a long-standing challenge in the industry: Casting talent for overseas projects.

Addressing a challenge
Ang explains: “In the past, casting involved significant travel and logistics, which was both time-consuming and costly. However, with the rise of video-conferencing platforms like Zoom and Skype during the pandemic, I revisited the idea of remote casting. I conducted research online and discovered that many agencies, like mine, were leveraging their websites and social media platforms to scout talent. Despite challenges in determining the exact market size, I recognised the potential for streamlining the casting process and providing a platform for talent to showcase themselves.”
Inspired by the growth of similar businesses in the industry, Ang decided to pursue this idea further. With the support of consultants and investors, she transformed the concept into a tech-driven venture. After several rounds of grant applications and diligent work, she successfully launched the platform at the Singapore Media Festival in December 2023 with the backing of the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA).

Technology and entertainment
Ang firmly believes that technology will likely play a bigger role in the industry. As she sees it, technology is echoed across every industry. While she is glad for the progress, she admits that the journey has been exhausting. She recalls: “The past four years, especially since securing the grant, have been a whirlwind. From navigating the intricacies of the hiring process to grappling with tech jargon, it’s been a steep learning curve.”
She adds that she found herself in unfamiliar territory for someone who is regarded as an expert in the entertainment industry. Before the pandemic, she recalls always needing help with her laptop to figure out how to use video calls and more. She says it has been a humbling experience, adding: “I’m still learning every day. Adapting to the backend intricacies of technology has been particularly challenging, but it’s all part of the journey. Nowadays, I refer to my younger, more tech-savvy team members for guidance.”
Today, Ang discusses the app as if she were a tech expert. She elaborates on its functions, emphasising that while the platform focuses on Asian talent, it is not racially exclusive but caters to a specific need. Ang provides an example: “Just as you would search for plumbers on a platform dedicated to skilled workers, I wanted to create a space where people could easily find Asian talent. It’s about efficiency and meeting the demands of an evolving industry.”

Asian representation
She highlights the surge in Asian representation in mainstream media, citing projects like The Brothers Sun, a Netflix hit series with an all-Asian cast featuring Michelle Yeoh. The series portrays the story of a Taiwanese triad leader who falls victim to an assassin’s bullet. His eldest son, Charles “Chairleg” Sun, hurriedly heads to Los Angeles to protect his mother and his brother, who has been shielded from the dark realities of their family’s legacy until now.
One special feature of the IAmCasting app that Ang wants to highlight is what she calls the “traffic light system”. With this feature, she can easily sort through the list of applicants, a simple yet effective tool. Ang explains, “For instance, let’s say I’m looking for someone who resembles you, speaks like you, and speaks Mandarin. Maybe they lack writing skills, but if I have a project filming in October, I could potentially train them. So that’s a red light.”
Ang adds that if there are two candidates — X who is busy with a long-term project and does not have time to learn Mandarin, and Y who has the time — Ang could facilitate a conversation between X and Y to discuss the possibility of language training. It is about creating opportunities and facilitating communication. And this would be a green light. A red light would mean a complete halt to that project until a more suitable opportunity becomes available later.
Ang admits there are still some kinks to iron out, like providing constructive feedback, such as suggesting someone gain a few pounds for a particular role. But overall, it’s about finding solutions and making connections.

See also: The local experience

IAmCasting is an online platform linking industry talents with clients and opportunities worldwide, free from physical, geographical, and time constraints

 

Ang wants the app to be fair by allowing both sides to rate each other, similar to how ride-hailing apps operate. Ang explains that only directors had the power to set the terms in the past, often resulting in unfair treatment and exploitation. Some directors in Singapore were notorious for their lack of consideration and reluctance to pay overtime. For instance, they might promise to finish work by 7pm but expect talents to continue working until 10pm without extra compensation. This created an environment where talents felt undervalued and unappreciated.
“With our platform, talents can leave reviews and ratings for directors, just like customers can review owners of rental properties on platforms like Airbnb. This ensures accountability and transparency in the industry. For instance, if a director consistently fails to honour contracts or pay overtime, talents can warn others by leaving a review.” Conversely, directors who uphold their commitments and treat talents respectfully can also receive positive feedback, creating a fair and balanced ecosystem for all involved. Ang aims to level the playing field and empower talents to make informed decisions about their career opportunities.
The approach to her new business venture is visionary, and Ang acknowledges that she could not have done it without the unwavering support of her team and their shared belief in the mission. She remains committed to pushing boundaries and positively impacting the industry.  

See also: Oppenheimer wins seven Oscars

‘Rosie is my anchor’ 
Irene Ang’s portrayal of the mahjong-playing, slimming-wrap enthusiast Rosie Phua has left a mark on audiences. While some actors seek to distance themselves from their long-standing roles, Ang embraces her iconic character with pride and fondness.  
Ang says: “We’re always taught to be grateful. Mother Teresa was likened to the pencil of God. Sometimes, I feel like I’m the pencil; other times, I’m the coloured pencil. Even to this day, my most lucrative gigs are all thanks to my portrayal of Rosie. Whether it’s an appearance, government messaging, interviews, or hosting in Malaysia, Rosie is my anchor.”
Ang says that everything flows naturally when she steps into Rosie’s shoes, especially improvisation. It is ingrained in her; she says it is almost like second nature. “I’m forever indebted to the show, its creators, and Rosie herself. I never imagined this role would become so defining in my career, but it’s been a saving grace.”
Before this, Ang was doing sales, but entering the industry ignited a passion she did not know existed. The possibilities in this field are endless, and founding Fly Entertainment was a thrilling journey for her that was filled with big dreams and achievements.
Motivated by her entrepreneurial spirit and perceiving an opportunity in talent management, Irene established Fly Entertainment in 1999 with her humble savings of $2,000. Despite encountering challenges such as the 2003 Sars outbreak and the 2009 Financial Crisis, she guided Fly Entertainment to become Singapore’s leading talent agency, featuring over 60 local and regional artists and successful event management and marketing divisions.
Beyond her business success, Irene is passionate about sharing her journey as an entrepreneur and overcoming life’s obstacles. As a motivational speaker, she has inspired audiences at universities, banking corporations, and government boards, including a notable talk at TEDxSingaporeWomen 2013, where she discussed the power of nurturing talents and personal growth.
With a career that has lasted for decades, Ang continues to be a strong presence in the Singapore entertainment industry, motivating others with her resilience and determination. 

From left: Irene Ang, founder of IAmCasting and CEO of FLY Entertainment; Tan Kiat How, Senior Minister-of-State for Communications and Information & National Development; and Ng Say Yong, chief content officer at mm2 Entertainment

 

From left: Jean Yeo, CEO & creative director of Ochre Pictures; Toong Soo Wei, general manager at mm2 Singapore; Chris Tan, director of media industry development at IMDA; Irene Ang; Pang Yu Ting, talent manager & casting director; and Alaric Tay, actor, producer & director

 

What others say about IAmCasting
IAmCasting made its debut at the Singapore Media Festival, supported by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA). Tan Kiat How, Senior Minister-of-State for Communications and Information and National Development, was the guest of honour at the launch event.  
The occasion included signing memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with major media and production companies, such as mm2 Entertainment, Ochre Pictures, Hong Pictures, and Hollywood Thailand. These agreements mark collaborations, indicating that the companies will use IAmCasting for casting in their upcoming productions.
“Congratulations to Irene and her team on the launch of this innovative platform! IMDA is excited to see IAmCasting bridge media talent and projects, and we are happy to support this partnership that will present both producers and talents with more opportunities to collaborate. It is an important showcase for an industry which has been proactive in keeping up with digital technologies and global trends,” said Chris Tan, director of media industry development at IMDA.
“IAmCasting is set to redefine the way talents, actors, content creators, production houses, casting directors, and brand owners — among others, interact in the media and entertainment industry, providing a dynamic space for talent discovery, job opportunities, and creative collaborations on a global scale,” said Jack Lim, CEO of IAmCasting.
Ng Say Yong, chief content officer at mm2 Entertainment, observed: “There is an increasing demand for Asian talents on international platforms, with more diverse and challenging roles beyond racial stereotypes. The IAmCasting app will make it more accessible and convenient for casting agents here and worldwide to find and uncover Asian and Singaporean artists for the global stage.”
“With Singapore’s push towards digital transformation in an increasingly digitalised and connected world, IAmCasting couldn’t have landed at a more apt time, democratising the casting process and enabling talents to connect worldwide. We look forward to seeing how this platform can revolutionise casting processes,” said Jean Yeo, CEO and creative director, Ochre Pictures.
Kenneth Shih, CEO of Hong Pictures, added: “IAmCasting heralds a new era for casting, seamlessly connecting local talents with opportunities, potentially reshaping the landscape of our industry. Embracing IAmCasting for our film Baby Hero simplifies talent discovery, offering a swift and inclusive alternative to traditional casting methods.” 

Picture of Irene Ang by Albert Chua

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