Being Hands-On With Their Filmmaking Passion – An Interview with Showing Films
Driven by their passion to make films – and because they had some time on their hands – three film students from Taipei National University of the Arts started Showing Films 手映映像 in 2019, a YouTube channel dedicated to showcasing mini-series with a new episode premiering weekly.
Self-funded and almost exclusively made with a group of friends and classmates, a strong DIY feel exudes from the works of Showing Films as they charmingly dive into the supernatural and science fiction genres. The energetic trio behind the channel consists of Ping Lin 林秉宥, Walt Zheng 鄭詠中, and Singaporean Colin Huang 黃若賓.
Sinema had the opportunity to sit down with these young filmmakers to discuss the start of Showing Films, their process behind their weekly episodic schedule, and the multiple challenges they faced in their DIY approach.
So how did Showing Films come about?
Ping Lin: We were bored back then and thought of creating an online series. We started talking about it and it was Colin who pushed us to get to work with the project.
Colin Huang: When we were in our second year of our master’s degree, there was a module that required us to shoot a film every week. That was how we got used to shooting, editing and releasing a film with relative haste. The end products might not be as polished but they are still watchable!
So we were thinking, since we have become more technically proficient, we should give [Showing Films] a try. Ping Lin also mentioned that this year we have more time as we don’t have as many lessons with everybody getting ready for graduation. We tried vlogs in the past but we felt that that medium wasn’t what we liked; we’re still ‘film people’.
We had some support at the start and we finished shooting our first episode in about a month, with plans to finish up post-production by that September. We were doing these films for ourselves. We agreed amongst ourselves that we will continuously upload content onto our channel for a year. The momentum hasn’t stopped, we have been producing content since last September.
林秉宥：那時候無聊，只是想說可以拍一個影集，放在網路上。當時就只是講講而已。後來 Colin 就說那不如就現在做。
黃若賓：大概是這樣。因為我們碩二的時候有一堂課是每週要拍一部片，當時已經算是有練出能快速拍片而且能後期完成，就能放上去，雖然它可能沒有那麼 polished，但是它能見人。反正我們覺得已經過了兩年，我們蠻懷念那個時間，我們也覺得我們現在的技術應該都比較成熟了，我們就可以試試看。然後就秉宥有提出說因為我們今年幾乎是沒有課，大家都在準備畢業就沒事做，所以他提出了這個，我們之前有嘗試拍過 vlog，但是覺得那不是我們喜歡的創作 medium。我們還是電影人，所以當他提出這一點，我就說那就來試試看。不到一個月我們就開始拍了，九月開始 post，當時是拍給自己。我們答應彼此，就是說維持一年一直會有東西放上去。我們从九月到現在沒斷到。
What kind of films do you make with Showing Films?
PL: [The answer] has to do with why we started Showing Films. When we were in school, there were specific kinds of films that we had to make and they required a lot of mental work; it felt like you had to constantly judge yourself and have others judge you. Just making one film would be a long and painful experience. We wanted filmmaking to be a fun process again and not just a stressful one. With Showing Films, it isn’t as stressful. Plus, the possibility for content isn’t as limited.
CH: At the start, we wanted to veer towards fantasy and science fiction content. However, towards the end we realised that [these kinds of content] might not be what the audience want to watch, and also not a genre that we would want to continue making. Initially, we also discussed how we wanted each series, each story to only consist of three episodes. But we realised that some stories wouldn’t need to be stretched out for so long, and that if we split each series into three episodes, the episodes would each be too short. Plus, it’s not like our viewers will remember that there will be a continuation of the series the following week.
For now, we’ve settled on not having a set length for our videos, with each series having three episodes each, and the series having to do with fantasy or science fiction.
林秉宥：是跟一開始拍的有關係，因為我們特別在研究所要拍一個片子，就有特別多要思考的東西，可能你要一直 judge 自己，或被別人 judge 你。經歷過一段很痛苦、很漫長的時間才能拍出一個片。然後就覺得好像拍片可以有好玩的感覺，我們就覺得拍【手映映像】就不要那麼有壓力，就想到什麼趕快拍什麼這樣，大概這種感覺。內容什麼，其實沒有太侷限。
Why the name ‘Showing Films’?
CH: Right from the start we liked the idea of being hands-on with our films. When we post our films for the first time, it’s a premiere (首映 – a homophone of ‘Showing’ when said in Mandarin). We also realised that how we made our films really had the ‘DIY’ spirit, and that’s how we settled on the name. Plus, 手映 happens to sound like ‘Showing’ in English. When we were coming up with the English title, we already created some [website] domains – I think that after this interview comes out, we should buy some of them right away. Some of those domains were already taken, but for some reason ‘Showing Films’ wasn’t. I think the name sounds good. That’s how we settled on it.
黃若賓：手映映像很像手工業。一開始是我們都蠻喜歡手映的概念，因為反正這些東西放出去就是第一次 premiere首映嘛。後來就有想說我們真的很 DIY 的做的，就感覺可以用，把首映的「首」替代成「手」，英文名的部分是諧音聽起來很像showing，因為當時在想英文名的時候，我們就有做一些 domain。我覺得這個 interview 出去之後要快點去買那個 domain。就有一些英文名已經被人家用了，但是 for some reason “Showing Films” 就沒有人用。而且它聽起來就好聽啊。
Usually how big is the crew for these productions?
WZ: The largest we had was 15. We might have a film series coming up set in Kenting over the summer; that should be our biggest yet.
CH: But that is because it is for corporate purposes, we have some films that have investors. With them, we would have to shoot more. When it comes to our self-funded works, at most there will only be the five of us – not more than six. Not a lot recently because we felt that a large crew wasn’t necessary since we’re able to do it on our own.
After so many films, which one of them is your favourite?
PL: When it comes to which one I liked to film the most, I think it should be our first one because I felt there was a sense of completion that came with it. I was happy while we were shooting the film too. And since it was our first, I have fond memories of it.
CH: I feel like the one with the biggest sense of accomplishment for me was our latest. It is an epilogue of a previous story where two characters swapped bodies. There was about a year and a half between those two stories. The former had about a crew of 30, while the latter only had two. To write those characters again after such a long period of time, and to see how I have improved between those two films felt good.
WZ: Mine is also our first. Ping Lin was already preparing for this first film when we were in directing class and I was already participating in that film early on so I had a strong impression of it. I thought the concept of a cute vampire wanting to drink good blood was great for a short story. I thought the filming process was fun too.
Could you tell us how much money on average goes into each episode?
WZ: Most of the budget goes to the actors and transport.
CH: The average is about NT$3000 (roughly SGD135). But it’s difficult to estimate. For example, the film about souls swapping bodies used a lot of the footage I shot a long time ago, plus there was crowdfunding back then. These elements aren’t factored in since we can’t really say that our team exclusively worked on it. That was an old film.
What is the main viewership of the channel?
CH: A lot of our viewers are from Malaysia, specifically Sabah and Sarawak. Surprisingly, our second biggest viewership is from the US; maybe because our videos have English subtitles. Taiwan comes in third.
Right at the start, we decided not to only focus on Taiwan. That is why I wanted to shoot our third film in Singapore so that our audience knows that we’re not only going to be Taiwan-focused. We also hope that people overseas – especially in Malaysia and Singapore – who love Taiwan programmes will like our content.
黃若賓：我们其实马来西亚很多。薩巴島和砂拉越 都在看我们的頻道。然后第二个是美国, 可能是因為我們有英文字幕吧. 台湾才是第三。
What are the biggest obstacles for you as content creators? How did you overcome it?
PL: I feel that this goes all the way back to why we started Showing Films. I hope that our short films will move others and get them thinking – even if it’s for just a little. Unfortunately in the end, I think students are all used to only making films for schoolwork and for judging purposes. If their film doesn’t do well in this front, it is as if [the film] has disappeared – especially if there are only a handful of people who watched the film. We might feel that there will not be anyone paying attention to what we do or will do. I think in Taiwan, even when the teachers are good and we’re proficient enough, we tend to expect too much out of ourselves and want everything to be perfect. Eventually, this will tire anyone out when we tell ourselves that no matter what we do, we will never be as good as what we expect ourselves to be.
I think the three of us encouraging each other did help. Since the goal is to keep making films, I will force myself to soldier on and to create a ‘space’ for myself where I have to make films.
CH: I’m a bit similar. A while ago, I realised that my style of filmmaking is not favoured by film festivals. A lot of students feel that they have to enter film festivals to be seen. But for me personally, I am happy as long as anyone watches my films. Even if I enter film festivals, my films are usually only accepted by comparatively smaller film festivals. If there is a bigger audience, it would be from film festivals organised by film schools. If I were to estimate, I think some of my films have only been viewed by about – at most – a hundred to two hundred people. So I thought, why not put them on the Internet where it will always be. At first there might only be one or two watching them but over time, the viewership might grow – even if it’s at a slow pace. When films are only screened at film festivals, they will disappear eventually. Some might even like the films and can go back to the channel to watch them again – this, to me, is the greatest encouragement to continue making films
The other point is that I found some of our film’s titles to be a bit lacking, which led to a smaller audience. We will have some videos with one to two thousand viewers, while others with less than a hundred. We will ask ourselves why some films are more liked than others – sometimes it’s not whether others liked them or not but because the title was not good enough. Nevertheless, I will tell myself that at least there are a hundred or so viewers; at least there was somebody to watch them even if it’s just within our student body.
WZ: If we were to continue, I feel that the three of us already have a long-lasting blueprint, especially when other countries already have something similar to Showing Films. We expect to do the same. We’re still in the initial stages and I think what we currently need most is audience feedback, viewership, and shares. Since we’re still not sure about the audience’s appetite and we do want to find out, I think this is how we’ll be able to shoot better stories in the future. It’s really difficult to figure out their appetite when it comes to films. Especially when we have our own style of films we want to make, and not going for those comedic short films or new series.
CH: The other day a scriptwriting classmate and frequent collaborator of ours said something that stuck with me. The classmate said that the greatest fear for filmmakers nowadays is not if the audience likes the film, but if they are able to understand it. There are some of our films where people ‘dislike’ [on YouTube]. This to me means that these films actually caused an emotional reaction, and this is far better than any comment saying that they don’t understand what they’ve seen – the latter of which is far more disheartening. So I very much agree with that classmate.
林秉宥 : 我的想法是這也跟我們一開始拍這個東西有關。我希望我們拍片可以影響到其他人。但是就會發現好像習慣現在拍片是要給評審看。那如果這部片沒有得到評審的青睞這部片就消失了。可能看過的人也就幾個而已。也不會有多少個人注意你拍這個東西。在台灣學電影有一個很大的問題，我們會覺得電影一定要這樣子，或者一直批評自己，搞得自己失去力氣和動力。還好有彼此的鼓勵就覺得，目標是要拍下去。
黃若賓：其實我們有一個也常跟我們合作的編劇同學他那一天有說一句話就一直在我的腦海里。他就說：現在拍電影最怕的不是人家喜歡還是不喜歡，是人家看不懂。我覺得對我來說真的即使有觀眾不喜歡。。很像我們有一些片子有人點倒讚 (dislike)。但對我來說如果有人 dislike 就表示有人真的對這個片有一種反應。這遠遠好過如果有人在comment裡面說我看不懂，如果裡面有人說我看不懂對我來說才是最大的打擊。所以我很認同那一個同學說的話。
What does the future hold for the three of you in 2020? Is there anything that you can share with us at the moment?
WZ: One of them is a series called 拍片俱樂部 (Filmmakers’ Club). It could be a narrative or documentary style. We want to do what’s interesting.
PL: I would love to do a series on something I like such as rock climbing.
CH: I think our most ambitious plan is to expand overseas. We have some films that are much more high budget and more time involvement. Some of them will be heading to various film festivals and will eventually be up on our YouTube channel afterwards.
林秉宥: 我們也有。。因為我自己很喜歡攀岩 . 我以前很害怕那種很講自已立即很近的故事。然後拍這個就想說就算了，就是近到不行。就是跟自己最有管的東西拿出來寫就攀岩。
Is there anything you want to say to the audiences in Singapore?
CH: If you want to make films, come to Taiwan.