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NOC Staff Break Silence On Alleged Mistreatment, Seek Accountability From CEO Sylvia

NOC Staff Speak Up Against Employee Abuse In The Workplace

A host of individuals – managers, video editors, producers, and well-known faces on YouTube – stepped into the interview room apprehensively, their fear masked by polite smiles.

All of them were once in the employ of Night Owl Cinematics (NOC). Some of them still are.

They had gathered today to break their silence on the allegations surrounding NOC’s co-founder Sylvia.

NOC Co-Founder Sylvia Allegedly Caught Using Abusive Language Towards Staff In Leaked Audio

Amidst rife speculations on social media over the last few weeks, these employees had been fighting an internal battle—whether to put themselves on the line to tell their stories or remain silent due to the looming threat of legal action.

NOC staff receive email demanding compliance

On 11 Oct – a week after allegations against Sylvia surfaced – present and former NOC artistes and employees were issued a letter signed by her.

MS News has seen the letter, which contained orders for compliance and the need to obtain NOC’s written consent before any external communication.

For these young individuals starting out in their careers, the fear of legal repercussions was almost enough to silence them for good.

Excerpt from Page 1 of the letter dated 11 Oct 2021

Most felt legal action was a real possibility, as they knew Sylvia had earlier served legal letters to her co-founder and ex-husband Ryan after their apparently amicable divorce video.

But along with their stories, the staff also brought receipts.

A leaked message from 2018 expressing intentions after the divorce. The divorce did not happen until 2020.

Speaking to us, the staff harboured hope that the company they had once given their all for, would be able to do better by their employees, once these revelations surfaced.

Immense pressure & abusive language in the workplace

It’s difficult to wrap one’s head around what would trigger a mass resignation in a company once known for its fun-loving, candid culture.

But MS News was shown documents dating from Oct 2020 to Oct 2021, detailing that a total of 54 staff have resigned. As each story was shared, the reason for this became clearer.

Some of us may have already seen the screenshots leaked on @sgcickenrice. Through the night, staff shared account after account of young employees getting singled out, yelled at, or insulted, all while trying to learn the ropes of a demanding, fast-paced industry.

Image from sgcickenrice

The audio leak sgcickenrice posted had abusive comments about Samantha.

 

Image from sgcickenrice

Another leaked audio recording revealed how one of NOC’s lead videographers, Bryant Lee, was sent this message when told to hit a deadline. The transcribed audio reads “Bryant, you have 30 mins before the whole world crashes on you and you f*cking die”.

The video Bryant was working on was to be used for NOC’s charitable #SGPAYSITFORWARD campaign. But unfortunately, Covid-19 regulations caused filming delays.

Former lead executive producer Felicia described an immense amount of pressure in the workplace to deliver.

“We wore so many hats all at once. But at the same time, we were expected to be everywhere all at once. Just an example of what we face daily… We need to reply to her within the first few minutes.”

Image courtesy of Felicia

In a separate incident, one employee claimed Sylvia had called out a young girl on her team, asking her to “stop giving me that face” as she was writing her script.

Self-conscious, the girl then propped a mirror up at her desk & left a post-it note with the words, “Don’t give that face”.

Each story was unique to each individual, yet the commonalities were easy to spot.

Image courtesy of Isabelle

After all, it’s not often that in a professional setting, one gets described as being “f*cking ugly” or a “f*cking shitty actress”. Or, for that matter, submitting your work to your boss, only to be asked, “What the f*ck kind of garbage f*ckshit is this?”.

When there are high standards to be met in the workplace, one would expect most bosses to lead by example. According to several employee accounts, this did not appear to be true, with many mentions of punctuality issues around NOC’s CEO.

They cited their co-founder’s late arrivals at shoots – sometimes by up to 2-3 hours – and multiple missed rehearsals.

As a result, clients were left waiting, and the staff found themselves in a position where they needed to come up with excuses for her absence. This also resulted in filming delays and resulted in staff extending their working hours.

Escalation of employee abuse during filming

Our interviewees outlined anecdotes detailing their interactions when Sylvia was on set with talents and staff.

A NOC talent, Nicole, recalled meeting Sylvia during kNOCk Out, a talent scouting show produced by NOC. During the main cast’s introduction, they were allegedly screamed at on set, “Is this the energy you want to give us?”

In the 4th episode, Nicole’s performance wasn’t up to par with Sylvia’s standards. Hence, she was apparently singled out as the “screaming” continued.

Nicole vividly recalled trembling anxiously and not being able to eat even after they had wrapped up for the day. Another NOC talent, Samantha, confirmed the account in a separate sitting.

Things escalated to the point where Nicole and producer Isabelle recalled that Sylvia once shouted at a group who was making too much noise, asking them to “shut the f*ck up”. A water bottle was then hurled in the direction of the group.

Ex-employee Preston Yeo added he was sitting next to Sylvia when he witnessed her throw the bottle. It allegedly ended up hitting one of the crew members.

He was later instructed during the event to help the crew when he was free. But when Sylvia needed tissue paper, he was told, “Where the f*ck are you? You are my PA. Why are you helping the crew?”

After eventually taking on the job of a project manager at NOC, he alleged that abusive language, such as “f*cking useless” and “f*cking retard”, was used on him.

Alleged favouritism in the company

Young, bright-eyed employees often enter the workplace with the aim of succeeding and achieving their ambitions. At NOC, the interviewees reflected that the common goal was to get on Sylvia’s good side because only then, they would gain her respect and be treated well.

There would allegedly be consequences if one wasn’t in her good books.

Felicia shared that talents fell out of favour for many reasons. “Perhaps they questioned transparency. Perhaps they spoke up for themselves too directly. Perhaps she stopped liking how they were. You never know why, you never know when. There was no discussion. You don’t stand a chance to rectify things”.

She added that it was not a “safe environment to express themselves in a creative and responsible manner”, nor was there “equal access to the tools for success.”

Signed talents who “lost favour” or were supposedly “blacklisted” observed they would not get cast in videos or shoots, despite ongoing contracts.

Others were “left out” of their company’s advertising kits.

In the Sep 2021 version of NOC’s media kit seen by MS News, active talents such as Samantha, Isabelle, Nicole, Grace and Chantelle were no longer being featured.

Image courtesy of Isabelle

We learnt that Isabelle only realised her profile was omitted from the media kit after a client reached out to her. She initially directed the client to NOC, but then the client informed her she was not included in the media kit.

Insensitivity in dealing with mental health in the workplace

For many of the staff we interviewed, the favouritism, pressure, and lack of care in dealing with difficult issues in the company became hard to grapple with and took a toll on their mental health.

Felicia related, “Bullying – or whatever you call this – is many times more than just in-your-face vulgarities like ‘f*ck, f*cking sh*t, f*cking extra, f*cking stupid.”

“You don’t always need someone to punch you or jeer at you to understand you’re bullied. It’s a contextual, repetitive accumulation of situations and events causing emotional and psychological duress.”

“My teammates questioned their self-worth. I’ve stayed up so many nights with crying teammates, doubting their sanity, their purpose, wondering if they are being ‘over-sensitive’, are they actually being humiliated or is this just…normal? Whether she (Sylvia) is right, whether they are useless,” she said.

Another incident saw Sylvia calling an employee, who sent what seemed like a cry for help to a group chat at 1am, “unreliable”.

Image courtesy of employee

This was apparently because they had a livestream the next day.

Image courtesy of employee

Long work hours stretching into the wee hours of the morning added to an atmosphere some felt was detrimental to their mental health.

Work conversations happen past midnight during ‘Circuit Breaker’
Image courtesy of Isabelle

This led to the perception that Sylvia’s advocacy for mental health was “hypocritical” due to the lack of support within her own company.

Bryant spoke of the almost unachievable demands of shooting the main video as well as 10 short-form videos in a single day. He recalled not being able to leave the office until they finished their tasks. Almost every day, he related, they’d stay till 5am to edit a video, especially during the ‘Circuit Breaker’ period.

There was an overwhelming sense that the content being put out was more important than the humans behind it.

An ex-talent’s need for medication & mood stabilisers

4 years after leaving NOC, ex-talent Michelle describes that she’s still on medication and mood stabilisers. She attributes this to the anxiety she developed while working at the company.

On one occasion, she had confided in Sylvia about getting diagnosed with depression. Instead of sympathy, Michelle felt that she was met with apathy. She said she was simply told to “eat more medicine”.

Michelle also recalled this being said to her, “Do you think you’re the only one depressed in the company? Ryan is also depressed, Ryan wants to kill himself. Everyone who’s diagnosed wants to kill themselves, you’re not the only one.”

In a separate incident, Michelle related that she made a small mistake during a shoot for Contour & Highlight. She was then asked to write an apology letter addressed to Sylvia.

Stressed out, she confided in her colleagues. When Sylvia found out, however, Michelle shared that she was made to endure a scolding.

Contractual terms for her channel Contour & Highlight were also allegedly reneged on, with payment for work apparently withheld for a year.

Unfortunately, the accumulation of incidents eventually took its toll on Michelle and she grappled with suicide ideation on multiple occasions.

In contrast to the challenges that Michelle faced in her stint at NOC, CEO Sylvia outlined that the company aimed to set “further industry standards” in the realm of employees’ mental wellness and health, according to the letter dated 11 Oct 2021.

Excerpt from Page 2 of the letter dated 11 Oct 2021

No official HR department

The culture of fear that was forged – coupled with the lack of welfare – took its toll. Employees shared that Ryan was “NOC’s unofficial HR department”, as he took time to listen and tried his best to help his employees.

Felicia described Ryan as their mediator and barrier between Sylvia and employees until “things turned nasty post-divorce”.

Felicia said, “At some point, he couldn’t do more than he already did because whatever he tried to defend, or whoever he tried to speak for, just got marked further with a bull’s eye.”

“There was a kind thing Ryan practised. He’d buy meals for the team during shoots, especially when it was really hot and tiring. To keep morale up, y’know.”

She related that he’d apologised to them one day, sharing that Sylvia “wouldn’t allow this” as part of managing the finances.

The shift in management, however, did not deter the rest of the employees from fighting to instigate change in NOC’s work culture.

In Dec 2020, employees shared there was an attempt to help their CEO understand the impact of her actions within the company.

A ground-up staff initiative resulted in the creation of an anonymous feedback form. In it, employees rated the CEO Sylvia, COO Ryan and team leaders such as Virus and Aiken.

They were hoping to communicate their grievances so things that were overlooked might be improved. Sadly, things didn’t go as planned, and the form ended up being dismissed.

NOC staff forced to take sides

These challenges within NOC seemed to escalate after Ryan and Sylvia’s public divorce.

The promise to remain close business partners in their YouTube divorce announcement video and the rosy picture it painted was a far cry from what played out in reality.

Felicia shared that after the divorce, nobody wanted to take sides. However, it felt like they were eventually forced to be either “for or against her”.

A running joke within NOC involved being in the “冷宫 (Cold Palace)”. If you got on the “bad side, into it you’ll go”, described Felicia on her experience of becoming a “target”.

She recalled being called for an appraisal out of the blue with Sylvia and another employee. Ryan – her direct supervisor – was not present at the meeting. It was hard to refute what was said as there was “no logic” to the feedback shared in the appraisal, she shared.

Given a choice between a demotion & pay cut with more responsibilities or a resignation, the staff eventually resigned.

She later found out the appraisal was allegedly “pre-planned” to remove her after she supposedly took Ryan’s side in an earlier meeting.

Employees’ pay allegedly delayed for up to a year

Problems were rife within the company, and this went beyond the way employees were treated as individuals. Sylvia was allegedly not upfront about the amount or percentage cut that was paid out to talents.

Image courtesy of Grace

Talents’ contracts usually state a percentage cut to the company for their work. We heard multiple accounts of talents finding out that NOC had taken anywhere from double to almost all of their perceived cuts.

Image courtesy of Grace

When they sought explanations for this, they were often given vague reasons for the discrepancies, including things like a “loading fee”.

One employee later pointed out that the contract actually stated a minimal percentage, a fact easily overlooked and not discussed with them.

For one job with a client, NOC talent Rachel shared that she had only received 10% of the full amount.

Besides the issues of transparency, Rachel and other talents like Grace, Gabriel, Nicole, and Samantha also spoke about their payments being withheld for long periods of time.

Image courtesy of Grace

MS News has also seen message receipts of employees repeatedly chasing NOC for their salaries.

Image courtesy of Grace

In some accounts, employees had walked away from the company without receiving their dues. Others described “giving up” on chasing the sums owed.

Breaking their silence to seek closure

Closing this chapter of their lives in silence may have been the safer way out for the staff. One employee shared they had no reason to speak up. Most had already left or tendered their resignations.

But the inaccuracies in Sylvia’s latest statement and usage of phrases like “alleged to be rude” and “perceived me to be unkind” did not go down well with netizens or the NOC staff.

The staff wanted the assurance that NOC will one day be safer for all employees. To stand united in their demand for closure—for an individual to take responsibility for her actions.

And for society to echo that such behaviour will not be condoned in any industry or workplace.

A clarion call for a safer workplace & accountability

No words can do justice to what these employees have purportedly experienced over the years. But one unified message rang true among the multitude of stories told today.

A chance to heal from the impact of an individual’s actions, long suppressed due to the circumstances. Healing for themselves, and for the company they still love.

And as they each spoke their truth, the healing might have begun in that very room.

We watched them leave the interview, shoulders a little lighter. There was laughter where there was once fear. Tension dissipated with each word that carried the weight of every story – buried for far too long – finally being told.

Editor’s Note:

According to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), all employees have the right to resign at any time, by serving notice or by compensating the employer with salary in lieu.

If employees feel they are subjected to an unreasonable employment clause in their contract, they should approach the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) or MOM for assistance as soon as possible.

Featured image adapted from Night Owl Cinematics on YouTube.

The Must Share News Team

Teamwork makes the dream work.

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