We used to say that the storytelling business is all about the people. Talents from different fields – writing, producing, editing, the list goes on – come together to craft amazing video content that go on to inform, inspire and entertain people through their television sets.
These days, technological innovation plays a huge role in not only democratizing the filmmaking process; making it more affordable to tell stories at a professional quality. It is also transforming what kind of stories we tell, where people can get it and how they consume it. And it’s not just about the television anymore, it’s the second screen, wait no, it’s also the virtual screen. Technology is reshaping the very face and fate of the content business and those who can grasp its true potential early and make the brave leap forward, could reap the rewards.
The factors are simply too compelling to ignore. In the following paragraphs, I hope to give you a snapshot of how embracing the convergence of storytelling and technology, changed our business dramatically.
Jocelyn and I set up Beach House Pictures 12 years ago to create content that we are passionate about. Sure, it was also important that there was a gap in the Asian marketplace for great international quality programs, and that Singapore supported the media in a myriad of ways, but from the very beginning, it has always been about the storytelling.
We learned quickly that running the company is like running a marathon. You keep one eye on the future, while you build on what you’ve got. So, while we were a two-man team moving our own furniture, we kept investing in diversification and scaling up. We learnt to remain steadfast to our vision (great stories, globally), but to stay flexible to adapt. Good thing too, because in the last 12 years, technology threw us curveball after curveball.
Within the first two years, a co-production for Discovery Channel called Man Made Marvels challenged us to upgrade from Standard Definition (SD) program deliveries to High Definition (HD) deliveries, to keep up with international benchmarks. For a small outfit with limited resources, it was a tough learning curve. You can either turn it into an opportunity to grow. Or fail and be viewed as inadequate to compete with the rest of the world. The choice was simple.
That transition paved the way for our next technological leap – 3D filmmaking. Not too long ago, the world was going ga-ga over Avatar and the latest 3D TV sets. Manufacturers saw an opportunity to make a lot of money, but making the content that would keep people glued to the device was no easy task. The main problem was making it fast enough, good enough, affordable enough, and at volume. We couldn’t compete with the larger companies throwing millions at mega-productions, but we could develop cost effective methods of filming 3D that achieved a documentary aesthetic (most 3D footage were slaves to a tripod, we made ours handheld) and passed QC at the highest levels. More importantly, they had to be good stories. We made over 15 hours of content in just two years, which was a great measure of success.
However, 3D TV eventually faded away due to a lack of demand, with another video format rising through the ranks – Ultra-High Definition (UHD), commonly known as 4K. Within a space of a few years, we had to innovate again to stay ahead of the curve. By this point, we had grown as a company from a two to twenty-man team. We had a growing business to feed, yet we could not ignore the opportunities of UHD. A lot of effort and time was put into multi-tasking in both growth areas. Culminating in successful early UHD deliveries to Nat Geo Wild (Otter Town) and Channel News Asia (Aerial India). With Otter Town getting the nod as finalists at the 2017 New York Festivals for Best Nature & Wildlife and Best Sound Design.
As UHD looks set for explosive growth, another exciting new area of story-tech convergence came to our attention. And the timing was too good to ignore.
By this time, we were a 70-man company with more resources to invest in the potential new revenue stream – Virtual Reality. We believe that the ‘experiential’ content have come and gone and that VR (especially 360 video) need to be enhanced by great storytelling and directed towards definitive user groups, like education. BHP soon became the first company that the Ministry of Education allowed to pilot VR in Singapore schools and, in addition to the MOE we also worked with Samsung for hardware. This single experience has led to even more opportunities, which could fundamentally change our business yet again.
You could say that the moral of the story, is to well, stick to telling a great story, your story, while embracing change. Less simply put, never ignore how seemingly divergent ideas could converge to transform your business. We live in a rapidly evolving status quo. And while it can be very scary, it is also full of hope.
About the Author
Donovan is a founding partner of Beach House Pictures and spearheads strategy and content development. He also executive produces, writes and directs many of the company’s international productions, and is overseeing BHP’s expansion into online content with the integration of new technologies. One of Asia’s most experienced factual filmmakers, Donovan has worked on award winning shows including Lonely Planet Six Degrees for TLC (Best Entertainment & Best Editing – Asian TV Awards) and Megastructures: Singapore’s Vegas for Nat Geo International (Silver World Medal – New York Festivals).