Meet Tan Siok Siok – Singaporean filmmaker and entrepreneur who has a deep passion for great storytelling in the age of real time web. Siok’s journey with the rise of social media is one peppered with adventure, excitement and great inspiration. Having recently completed three well-received screenings of her latest film, Twittamentary (documentary on microblogging service Twitter), we chat with Siok about her recent accomplishments of being an acclaimed filmmaker and founder and CEO of online video network Kinetic ONE.
Siok Siok’s personal interest in the culture and history of China led her to Beijing. She lectured at the Beijing Film Academy and completed her first independent film about the 2008 Olympics – Boomtown Beijing. What she least expected was to get onto social media.
“I had just finished the film and was screening it in China” she recalls, “At the time, people on social media seem like aliens from another planet to me. It is a world I do not understand. Then I started to get a lot of help from people who were on Twitter and Facebook, some of whom were influential in the Chinese digital space. Starting with one or two social media influencers, I soon got to know entire ‘village’ of them”. It wasn’t long before Siok was introduced to her current business partner by a mutual friend on Facebook. ” I was plugged into this online community of entrepreneurs, bloggers and VCs. Things led naturally to a startup. There were not many filmmakers and TV producers in this circle and I stood out as a result.”
When opportunity comes knocking
Armed with her curiosity for how people interacted with content online, Siok saw an online market that had lots of commercial potential and decided to explore it. This gave birth to Kinetic ONE’s first video channel – NiuRenKu, which produces original short form content for the smart, hip and web savvy China youth.
“When many of my friends heard that the content was going to be focused on action sports and youth culture, they were shocked. But I was more concerned about getting a model that works. It was an entry point to the market and a clear niche that was being under-served.”
For China’s gigantic Internet population which has over 50% of netizens being 25 years and below, this was an important market segment for brands to reach out to.
A video still from NiuRenKu.
Using her experience to her advantage
It’s hard to see what similarities there are to making a film and starting a company. But Siok explains, “Every movie is a start-up, you always go from zero to something. In broad terms, the skills you need are similar, from getting your team to the actual execution. What you really need is the ability to have stamina and execute. Some people have ideas for a movie but may not act on their ideas. It’s the same for starting up. The discipline and the ability to think clearly and make good decisions are required for both. ”
For Siok it was always about having the courage, conviction and passion. “ I love what an entrepreneur I know says, ” you can do anything, you just to have ‘titanium balls’.” That is absolutely true for all things creative and entrepreneurial.”
Two aspects of the same quest
Siok’s insights from running NiuRenKu and her commercial acumen for knowing what people wanted to watch led her to start filming Twittamentary. She crowdsourced her stories and the core idea of making a film about Twitter through using Twitter worked well. “They were both an extension of my curiosity.” She was fascinated by how this online world changes the relationship of the creator and the audience. “In a way, the two (the the start-up and Twittamentary) complement each other in terms of my own wandering and how the content creation business has changed.”
As a result, the film was so well-received that it helped her to gain a lot of support and avoid the problems that indie filmmakers usually faced. People who helped were those who attended screenings and connected to her through Twitter. They would voluntarily help to arrange more screenings for her and gave their own creative input.
“The relationship between creator and the audience has changed profoundly. The audience is no longer the passive recipient instead they take part in the content creation process. In the case of Twittamentary, people on Twitter have not only contributed story ideas and helped with the shoot, now they are helping to organize grassroots screenings. This spontaneous outpouring of support really moves me. I am in an unusual position for an independent filmmaker. Instead of having to canvas for attention, I have people pitching proposals for screenings at me and volunteering to help with marketing and distribution.”
The road ahead and making revenues
Moving forward, Siok Siok sees that the film will take off by itself and will focus more on building up the business, aggregating good content, the inventory, increasing revenue and building a strong team. Kinetic ONE now has four channels producing and redistributing branded content: one channel on extreme sports, one on fashion, one on business and one on parenting. All of them will continue to be promoted through social media. “We trust that more and more brands will want to promote themselves through online video and Kinetic ONE will be able to help them do so imaginatively and cost-effectively.
How she does it all
Between managing the business and filming Twittamentary, we ask Siok how she manages to balance everything out.
“I always find that as an entrepreneur you have to hold contradictory values together. For example, you have to have a big picture and be a visionary and yet concentrate on the short term goals of the start-up. You are impatient because of the time pressure, but yet patient because you know you have to build one thing at a time. What helps for me is that I mainly do things that I am passionate about, so its not like I’m being forced to do it. I’m focused and narrow things down to specific targets to make sure that I always make it something I can work on.”
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