Last updated: 13 March 2023
Published on: 04 January 2017
5 MINS READ
Can local stories appeal internationally? How can producers of niche content overcome the challenges in their way?
Oscar winner Nicholas Reed was at Singapore's Pixel Studios for Discovery Networks' JumpCut Asia Bootcamp. Photo credit: Discovery Networks Asia Pacific
By Jennifer Dhanaraj
Many have tried but few have succeeded in winning an Oscar in their lifetime, much less on their maiden attempt. Nicholas Reed is one of the few to defy the odds. The acclaimed Hollywood agent and producer received an Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject with his first film The Lady in Number 6.
This 40-minute documentary about Alice, a holocaust survivor, took Reed three long years to make. And for him, this story was as much about Alice as it was about his own passion and steadfast belief. Unlike commercial Hollywood blockbusters, documentary producers face a more uphill battle with getting financial backing for their productions. The Lady in Number 6 was no different. Convinced this was a story worth sharing with the world, Reed shouldered the cost of making the film himself when he could not find other backers. His eventual Oscar win was both reward and vindication.
These days, besides producing films, Reed also runs Shareability, a full-service marketing agency which he co-founded. The company specialises in creating, producing and marketing viral YouTube videos.
IMpact caught up with him in Singapore last month when he was in town to speak at Discovery Networks' JumpCut Asia Bootcamp.
What makes a good story and movie?
Put simply, a good story creates conversations. Essentially, filmmakers have to be able to tell a great story without being boring or unnecessary long. Sometimes, they get too caught up with a story and do not think about their audience, and end up making a film only they would watch.
What should filmmakers take note of when making a film?
It is important to know who you are making a film for. Choose your audience and don’t make a film for everybody. Filmmakers also have to ask themselves whether they’re making a movie to screen at prestigious film festivals or a commercially successful studio film. Movies often go wrong because filmmakers don’t think about this.
Is it possible for filmmakers to tell honest, impactful stories that are also local and expect them to reach a mass audience?
It has become a little bit more difficult reaching an audience in the past few years as today’s viewers have a far greater number of media and entertainment choices than ever before, like video games and social media. Fewer people are going to the movies these days – and that is a fact. However, that being said, there has been an increasing appetite for smaller, independent films from various countries. So I would say to filmmakers in Singapore that the secret to making local movies that transcend borders is really to just focus on making a good film that tells a good, solid story.
What are some of the challenges that filmmakers face and how can they overcome it?
The language of storytelling has changed as people have shorter attention spans. Independent filmmakers do not have the resources to conduct extensive testing with their audience. But the lesson to be drawn from this is that it is important to get input on your film from your target demographic. Show your film to friends, family – even strangers – to get their opinions and find out how your film can be improved. Essentially, filmmakers need to listen to their target audience.
Tell us how you used social media to market your film and how other filmmakers can do the same.
The beauty of the Internet is that there is something for everyone. When I finished my documentary, I had trouble selling it. It was then that I realised the power of social media. I used Facebook and YouTube to spread the message of this amazing woman – the subject of my documentary – and managed to get people excited. She was a classical pianist, so I reached out to classical piano fans. She was also a holocaust survivor, so I reached out to people who would be interested in hearing such stories. That helped drum up attention for the documentary. It was eventually acquired by Netflix, who were impressed by the social media numbers of the documentary.
In the same way, Singapore filmmakers should harness the power of social media to get their stories out there. Cut a good two-minute trailer of your film and put it on YouTube and use Facebook as this kind of marketing will draw attention to and help people discover and share your work.