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Micro-Movie Business

Vincent Ho 

Microfilm producer Vincent Ho says the emergence of the genre has opened up opportunities for business and new talent

Vincent Ho thought that he might be on to a good thing about six years ago. The filmmaker entrepreneur saw that people in Hong Kong were increasingly using their mobile phones to watch television series and movies.

Mr Ho set about producing the series Love 123, which is now widely recognised as Asia’s first "mobile drama" – 10 episodes of three-minute shorts made specifically for mobile phone users. The series received an excellence award from the Wireless Technology Industry Association (Hong Kong) in 2006.

"Such short productions, or microfilms as they have become known, have really opened up the industry and what can be made and by whom," says Mr Ho, who now produces microfilms and works as a creative director in new media.

Mr Ho says interest in the microfilm phenomenon has reached fever pitch across Asia, as filmmakers and would-be filmmakers realise the potential of the medium.

"For the younger generation, it is a great way to get noticed," says Mr Ho. "They invest the energy into the production and people can recognise their talent.

"But it is also a great medium for commercial purposes. It is a way to reach the market, in a way like bloggers were a decade ago. You can get direct access to your audience and engage with them through their devices."

He adds that it is a medium with few restrictions. "It is an open force that anyone can tap, and the audience potential is enormous."

 Dive In
 The 3G mobile drama series, Love 123, was produced by Vincent Ho and helped spark the development of new mobile content in Asia

Access to the Masses

In recent years, that much has certainly been proven. Microfilms – productions usually between three and 30 minutes in length and shot on digital or mobile devices – have been seized upon by a generation raised on digital technology, making film production accessible to the masses.

Major film festivals, including the Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF), have been quick to pick up on the genre’s popularity. Last year, the HKIFF and  Chinese mainland Internet portal Youku produced the microfilm omnibus Beautiful 2012, which went on to screen to much acclaim at festivals across the world.

This year, the HKIFF is putting together another collection of microfilms for next month’s event, as part of Entertainment Expo.

Mr Ho says that major corporations are also starting to use the medium to connect with modern consumers. "It’s a line into the YouTube generation," he says. "And companies are even looking into how they can make microfilms work for them."

Microfilm Movement

Youku, which in international media is often referred to as "China’s YouTube," first became aware of the microfilm movement, and the massive audience it can reach, when it sponsored the 11 Degrees series of 10 microfilms in 2010.

Overall, those microfilms have now been seen by more than 120 million viewers, but it was the success of one film in particular – Old Boys – that raised eyebrows. It became an Internet sensation across the mainland, attracting some 50 million views.

The Walker 
The Walker, by Tsai Ming-liang, was part of the Beautiful 2012 microfilm omnibus that screened at film festivals around the world


It helps that the mainland, and Asia in general, is in the throes of a passionate affair with the smart device technology that offers immediate access to microfilms. Last year, the mainland overtook the United States to become the world’s largest smartphone market by volume.  In the third quarter of 2012 alone, shipments of devices to the mainland alone topped 60 million units.

For Jean Shao, Director of Communications at Youku, the microfilm movement has come at the perfect moment for a nation that is almost constantly online – and connected.

"For young movie talent in China, the most important thing is to realise their dream, and what they need most is a platform," she says. "The microfilm format is particularly popular among them because it’s short and requires less budget. It’s easier to manage and execute.

"Additionally, online microfilm has no barrier to new entrants. What matters will be the quality alone. Success stories of web microfilm-makers, such as Chopsticks Brothers [the people behind Old Boys], has also encouraged many more aspiring talent.

"We also feel that the web-specific culture has played a role in attracting young people to the online platform. They more easily find resonance in stories online."

Overseas Interest



This year’s FILMART, 18-21 March, will host a programme promoting local microfilm production

Youku has been actively promoting the genre, with the portal screening the work of about 2,000 microfilm projects. Ms Shao says that in 2012, there were more than 3,000 microfilms produced on the mainland – five times the number of traditional movies.

It’s little wonder that young filmmakers are so keen to join the trend. The Youku Original channel produced eight microfilms in 2011, which have been seen by 140 million viewers to date, while the 34 microfilms it produced in 2012 have been viewed more than 300 million times, according to Ms Shao.

The international community is taking notice. Youku’s production screens at such prestigious festivals as Cannes and Sundance. For creative types, the medium seems to hold no bounds either, according to Ms Shao.

Dream Maker

"Love stories, sci-fi, horror, mystery all can find their audiences online," she says. "We are very pleased to see many stories, which otherwise wouldn’t find a traditional, big-screen outlet, gaining phenomenal attention online, and that many young movie talent are launching their career on our platform. It’s very exciting to help creative talent succeed and to help them fulfill their dreams."

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