High quality commercial filmmaking in China doesn’t come cheap. World-class directors command enormous fees while the preference for internationalized content means production companies regularly blow vast chunks of budgets on flying the entire team to suitable locations overseas. The downside of this system is that brands with lower budgets must settle for second best, or no film at all. Relay, a creative video production agency, with a presence in Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen is seeking to change that by offering high-end, internationalized films for an affordable price.
Relaying | 接力模式
Relay creates promotional films and commercials for Chinese technology companies looking to market their products and services in the West. By keeping the production in China, agencies and production companies believe they are able to reign in costs and control, while doing their best to replicate an actual western location. Relay, however, does things a bit differently.
Greta Bradford and Jim Fields presenting at launch event for 10Fund
The Relay team is able to offer more value for money by working with international filmmaking partners to produce, shoot and post produce films overseas with only one or two members of its China team needing to physically travel on-site to supervise a project. “We realized that it didn’t make sense to shoot films in China that tried to emulate a Western look, but rather it would be better to actually shoot this type of content abroad . “For us, this was a game changer” explains Relay managing director Jim Fields. “It’s globalization. You look for places where resources are abundant – greater competition and relatively much lower prices – and figure out ways to make them available.”
Relay团队可以更合理地利用资金，提供更多的价值，跟国际电影制作人合作，前往海外开展制作、拍摄和后期，并且只需要派送一两名中国团队人员前往现场监督项目即可。“我们意识到，在中国拍摄，模拟西方的场景，其实没什么意义，相反我们更愿意去国外取景拍摄。在我们看来，我们改变了游戏规则”，Relay总经理Jim Fields如是说。“这是全球化的时代，我们会寻找一些资源丰富的地方 – 竞争更为激烈，但是成本低得多的地方 – 看看如何实现项目制作。”
This model would have been difficult to build before the rise of online platforms – like Behance and Vimeo – which have facilitated the democratization of production. Using these resources, Relay is able to select the most suitable partners from a vast pool already assembled online. There is more to it, however, than simply posting a project online, “Anyone can use a website”, Fields says, “The real value we add is that we’re finding the cream of the crop. It takes people with a lot of production skill, visual sense and production experience to identify people that can actually make stunning pieces of work.”
Fields calls the business model ‘relaying’, another term for professionally managed outsourcing. The company’s bilingual team acts as the creative lead and communication conduit from conception to completion, managing and aligning the expectations of the two parties, bridging the potentially treacherous cultural differences, “In China there’s this notion that everything is negotiable. The client pays and the vendor becomes their slave. For the western party, everything is very buttoned down and by the book, whereas in China everything is chaos. That’s why most co-productions usually have huge issues.”
The company has so far relayed projects to Australia, UK, USA and have plans to expand to Southeast Asia, along with broadening their network to other countries that boast a high concentration of production expertise.
Galaxy Zega Product Launch
How it all started | 创业之初
Relay’s original founding team previously formed the core of the Beijing branch of Studio Output, a London-based branding and design agency that opened shop in the Chinese capital in 2013. The company hired a team of local Chinese and expats, including Jim Fields, an experienced video content creator and Mandarin speaker.
最初，Relay初创团队在北京创立了一家公司，也就是伦敦品牌与设计广告公司Studio Output的核心力量，它于2013年北京公司成立。当时，公司在中国招聘了一些中国人和外国人，Jim Fields就是其中之一，他是一位经验丰富的视频内容创作者，也会讲中文。
Jim Fields presenting at China Accelerator in Beijing
A crowd funding film project for Jide, a start up formed by three former Google colleagues, changed everything. Flatter company structures meant working directly with the decision makers as clients granted them freedom to do what they did best, “That’s what’s so beautiful about tech” Fields believes, “they understand that if you want to get something done, you have to get the right person for the job.”
The second of their Jide films helped raise $1.6m, at that time the highest earning Kickstarter campaign by a Chinese hardware company. This was a defining moment for the core team which went on to found Relay after this success. “It opened our eyes to the fact that working with the right client, with the right flexibility, you can make really cool stuff that gets a lot of visibility.”
Less conventional, more creative
Relay opened its Beijing office in January 2016 and is quickly expanding. Since opening, Relay has set up operations in Beijing and Shenzhen, working primarily with technology companies in both cities, which is where most of the biggest IT and tech companies reside in China.
Relay team members proud of their work for Ecovacs (L – R: Damian, Sara, Sophia, Jim)
The company is increasingly getting called on by bigger players, and now boasts a client base of well known Chinese companies such as Tencent, Xiaomi, and a handful of medium sized tech firms. The company is also setting its sights further afield with goals of working with companies and brands expanding outside of China such as Qicycle and Ecovacs. Though their typical budgets are not on par with the swollen TVC sums that are commonplace in China, at around 80,000 USD, they are not as low as most assume. By taking on the role of creatives as well, Relay can save their clients the usual high agency fees, allowing them to reallocate resources to production.
Qicycle Product Launch Film | 骑记产品发布视频
On the basis of Relay’s recent success, they have raised a round of seed investment from 10Fund a Beijing-based VC firm with investments in AI, big data, and smart hardware. Relay originally connected with 10Fund while producing a launch film for one of its portfolio companies called Blue Halos. With 10Fund’s support, Relay is now able build up its client service team in Shenzhen, in addition to growing the creative and production team in Shanghai.
Relay近期取得的成功，也让它从10Fund筹集了一轮种子投资，10Fund是一家北京风投公司，投资领域包括AI、大数据和智能硬件。Relay最初接触到10Fund是源自于为Blue Halos打造的宣传片，Blue Halos是10Fund所投资的一家公司。在10Fund的支持下，Relay得以在深圳建立客户服务团队，与此同时，其上海创意团队和制作团队也在不断发展壮大。
The Shanghai office is going to be led and managed by Damian Velasco ,who was the creative leader for the original team at Studio Output and is now Relay’s creative partner in Shanghai.
上海公司由Damian Velasco领导管理，此前他是Studio Output原创团队的创意负责人，现在，他和别人一同负责上海团队的创意。
Relay’s co-founders, Jim Fields and Greta Bradford are both Americans who speak fluent Chinese. Combined, the two have twenty plus years of experience in China. Given their own cultural acumen and experience, both place a premium on recruiting team members who are able to communicate confidently across languages and cultures.
Relay联合创始人Jim Fields和Greta Bradford 都来自美国，中文都很流利。两个人在中国的经验加起来有20多年。二人对文化有着敏锐的洞察力，经验也非常丰富，且都非常注重团队招聘，他们要找的是能够跨越语言障碍和文化障碍，自信满满进行沟通的人。
Relay also boasts about its markedly different work culture. In China’s agency and production space where its common that employees are expected to work late into the night and on weekend, Relay keeps office hours from 10am to 6pm Monday to Friday. Although certain calls or meetings might fall outside these office hours, Relay endeavors to create balance between work and life. Working with worldwide talent means that projects can be produced internationally almost 24/7. Conversely, it also means that Relay’s team can work on a more relaxed schedule, as international partners can execute production tasks while Relay’s team is asleep or outside the office.
Challenging the Status Quo | 挑战现状
Fields believes that Relay’s business model represents a disruptive but positive development for the industry, “It’s a lot of value added for clients. We’re not charging them more than they would already be spending – and we’re giving them access to incredible resources they’d never be able to access otherwise. Given the massive desire for Chinese brands to internationalize themselves in the coming years – and programs like the new One Belt One Road initiative，we think that Chinese brands are going to be come global powerhouses in the future Being on the front lines of this transition is extremely exciting for us.”
Fields相信，Relay的商业模式会打破行业格局，但是这是一种积极地改变，“会给客户带来很多附加价值，我们不会多收费 – 却可以让他们享受非常优秀的资源，这是其他人绝对不会提供的。中国各大品牌在未来几年都非常想打入国际市场，在一带一路战略的引导下，我们认为中国企业将成为全球动力，我们能走在中国转型的前沿，也非常激动。”
Tencent | 腾讯
Nonetheless, it remains to be seen whether the model will be adopted by other domestic production players; it would require a major shift in attitude for established companies that place great importance on doing the work in-house. “In certain ways, our business model represents a surrender of control and some of our competitors don’t like the idea of running things from a distance,” explains Fields.
尽管如此，其他制作公司是否会采纳同样的模式还尚不可知。因为这意味着公司要极大改变现有态度 – 不能再专注于在公司开展项目。“一定程度上，我们的商业模式代表着放弃控制欲，但是很多竞争者不愿意远程开展项目。”Fields如是说。
Jim Fields is happy for Relay to remain one of the few for the time being. He does fear less diligent or capable companies following suit might ultimately damage the reputation of the outsourcing model. Relay’s business model itself, however, arose out of a response to the traditional ad agency model’s apparent inability to adapt to a changing market place. Particularly with the rise of tech clients and an increasingly digital ad world, which demands video content, and all content for that matter, at a much faster speed and cheaper price. The disruption of the traditional ad agency and production structure today almost feels inevitable.
Jim Fields非常高兴，看到Relay现在能够不走寻常路。确实，他也有些担忧，如果自己不够勤奋，或者是其他强大的公司效仿他们的模式，最终都可能有损这种外包模式的名声。但是，Relay的商业模式的出现，本身也是为了应对市场现状 – 传统的广告公司的模式似乎无法适应变化万千市场形势。尤其是一些科技公司的兴起，数字广告对视频内容的需求也越来越大，各种各样的内容需求都有所增加，变化速度迅速，价格越来越低廉。打破传统广告公司的模式，现如今的制作结构的出现几乎不可避免。
Rockrobo Smart Vacuum Robot | Rockrobo米家智能扫地机器人
Though Fields’ feels Relay currently undercharges for its unique service, he adds that unless the industry adopts the outsourcing en masse, there is little danger of market prices being affected, “if we got really big and did 20 to 50 jobs a month there’d be a risk we might be driving industry prices down, but right now we’re only doing 2-5 jobs per month.” Relay is still expanding though. They are openly recruiting for a new Executive Producer based in Shanghai.
For the moment, the old order remains intact. Budgets remain healthy and big brands still prefer to remain hands-on at every stage of production. However, with a growing movement towards more efficient spending, Relay’s cost-effective film production model represents an early warning to those working within the traditional production paradigm.