Short films were never unheard-of in Mainland China. However, it was not until late 2010 that they suddenly found a large audience. The watershed film is Old Boys, a 42-minute short about unfulfilled dreams and aspirations as people grow old in life. It was produced by China Film Group with Chevrolet as a general production partner and subsequently distributed on the Chinese video-streaming site Youku.
Since Old Boys became an internet sleeper hit, it has inspired a wave of micro-length and micro-budget productions, and general practices of funding, making, and distributing shorts have emerged to accommodate their growing numbers and popularity.
On the financing side, media companies big and small are investing in in-house short film productions. The Chinese Internet company NetEase has not only been holding a short film festival named the “NetEase Micro-Film Festival” but also funding 30 short film productions a year since 2011. Zhang Zhao’s LeTV, a fast growing video portal, set up a RMB20 million ($3.16 million) fund for short films in 2011 too. Just last month, China’s Internet and mobile services giant Tencent Holdings Limited announced the plan to produce 100 short films in 2013, which would become content for its newly launched video channel Tencent Video.
Besides corporate money, funds from other sources for short film productions also exist. China’s Got Talent offered a RMB1 million fund for this category of films at the 15th Shanghai International Film Festival last year. Several other film festivals give monetary awards to winning screenplays to go into production as well. Driven by the need to raise awareness on certain social issues, quite a few NGOs and NPOs now sponsor selected short films with small amounts of capital.
On the distribution side, a wealth of platforms spanning from television to mobile networks has appeared on the market since 2010. Three large video-streaming portals, Tencent, LeTV, and iQiyi, all have a channel for shorts on their websites now. A few television broadcasters, such as Qinghai Satellite TV, have allocated specific slots for short films on their member channels. In June 2012, BesTV, a subsidiary of Shanghai Media Group, made news by contracting with China’s Warner Brothers, Huayi Brothers, to build the biggest TV broadcast platform for short films and mini-dramas.
As we can see, in just two to three years, a previously non-existent sector of China’s film and video industry has taken shape. Such growth excites many, including me.
However, markets saturate. No matter how aggressive it may be, growth will eventually stagnate, leaving innovation to turn over a new leaf. This brings me to the New York City Film and Finance Forum that I attended on Wednesday, April 10. Many topics piqued my interest at the forum, but crowdfunding and audience development in the cloud truly astounded me.
Like most people, I had heard of Kickstarter.com before. I understand that websites like it provide a safe environment for creative people to put their projects online to gain exposure and gather support in the form of donations. At the forum, creators and representatives of three other such crowdfunding platforms, namely IndieGoGo, Pave, and Seed & Spark, spoke as panelists. They all had something to offer to independent filmmakers.
Pave famously connect young people with dreams with older people who are already successful in their careers for peer support and investment. One of their prospects is a female filmmaker. IndieGoGo supports independent filmmakers worldwide by providing its platform and some counseling services free. Lastly, Seed and Spark builds a virtual film community that mirrors a real-world film industry chain from financing to distribution.
Innovative platforms like these are absent in China. Their existence there could dramatically change the modes of financing and distribution in short film production in China, for crowdfunding lives and breathes in social media.
There are 570 million Chinese web users, 420 million of which use at least one mobile network. We Are Social calculated the total number of years that Chinese spent online in 2012. It was 19 million years! The potential for a large number of crowdfunding projects including short film productions is unmistakable.
Currently, to get funding for a short film project in China, filmmakers collaborate with companies or organizations that act like commissioners. This kind of arrangement may foster creativity to a certain extent, but it ultimately limits the range of topics and subjects for exploration. Branding and celebrity appearances, among other things, inevitably set the tone for such projects. Ideally speaking, if crowdfunding becomes an option, these restrictions will no longer apply; instead, stories will be told with input from a community that cares.
In the U.S., the full Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act is painstakingly being passed and implemented to facilitate and regulate crowdfunding, whose democratic spirit has won over many hearts since its inception. Now it has caught my imagination. I could not wait another moment to share it with the rest of you.