The number of local production houses are increasing in China to meet the rising demand of video content. One such local production company, START Films, is an example of how local talent and knowledge helps them compete with the biggest names in China’s advertising arena.
I’m ‘young’ and I know it 年轻无敌
“Clients walk into our office and see how young we look or hear how loud we are and often doubt we can produce high quality films”. This is what Kingsley Chen (陈学礼）, one of the two founders of START Films openly shares with me as we discuss the company’s position in China’s film production market. We are sitting in a shared meeting room attached to the open-floor office set up, a swinging chair with a plush red cushion hangs in a covered outdoor area. No one looks a year much over thirty. He continues, “when we enter the meeting room though, we are all business”.
“客户走进我们办公室，看到大家都很年轻，嗓门都很大，总会怀疑我们是否真能做出高质量的片子” ，陈学礼如是说，他是START Films两位创始人之一，我们一起讨论了公司在国内影视制作市场的位置。我们坐在一个公用会议室里，会议室连着开放办公区，外面的区域铺着地毯，上面有一把摇椅，摇椅上有一个毛茸茸的红色垫子。这里每一个人看起来都还不到三十岁。陈学礼说，“但我们每个人一走进会议室，就都开始认真谈事情了”。
Kingsley’s tone and demeanor errs on the side of over-confidence but perhaps for good reason. START Films produces work for China’s biggest tech giants, including Alibaba and Tencent, among other brands. The team recently came back from a shoot in Japan with Chinese mega star Fan Bing Bing.
Client | 客户：Swisse
Agency | 广告公司 : Goodzilla 意类
Director | 导演 : Jess Zou
Kingsley’s first job was at a casting agency. After a few years he entered the world of production, landing an entry level job at WE Productions before becoming a freelance producer in 2011. He reached out to his good friend AJ Li (李文俊), who was freelancing as an assistant director at the time, to join him. Eventually their team of freelancers swelled to four, with an assistant producer, Allen Lan (蓝佳俊), and a location manager who goes by Mr. Yu.
In 2013 Zero Lin came on board and started working as the team’s in-house director. Kingsley recalls Zero was originally skeptical of the production team’s capabilities because they looked so young. Zero was only in his late twenties then himself when he was first introduced, but he had shot with top international productions since an early age. There is now great mutual respect between the young producers and Zero.
Breaking Traditions 打破常规
While they were receiving a steady flow of work, the team became frustrated producing for 4A agencies. They were disenchanted by the inefficiencies in the traditional creative process; they felt the system could be simplified; and most importantly they wanted production to be given more respect in the creative process. They wanted to weigh in during the early stages of the creative planning and not simply be shown a storyboard to execute.
公司一直有稳定的业务来源，逐渐对为4A 广告公司的工作渐渐麻木. 原因是他们认为传统流程上有太多能够优化的步骤以加快效率。 最重要的是，他们希望创意过程能对制作给予更多支持。他们希望能在创意策划的初期就参与讨论，而不是不加思考的按照创意脚本来执行。
Client | 客户：New Balance & Volkswagen 纽巴伦&一汽大众
Director | 导演 : Zero Lin
By 2014 it only made sense to establish a production company. It was not only easier to issue receipts and comply with Chinese tax policy, but for the founders it was about more respect give to production.
At that same time smaller creative agencies were developing their place in China’s creative industry. These so called “creative hot shops”（创意热店) were the perfect match for a production company like STARTFilms. In these partnerships the creative agency and the production company would work together closely from start to finish. The partnership formed out of necessity because both were small and understaffed but also with the intention to foster a more collaborative environment with greater respect for each individuals’ particular skills and input.
START Films now shares an office with UM Shanghai, one of these ‘creative hot shops’. Their relationship started before START Films officially launched, when Kingsley would step in as a freelance producer. While the two companies frequently still pair for projects today, Start Films also works selectively with other smaller creative agencies or even bids for projects with 4A agencies if they feel the project fits their skill set.
START Films现在跟UM上海共用一部分办公空间，后者就是一家“创意热店”。早在START Films成立之前，双方的合作就已经开始了，当时陈学礼会经常以自由制片的身份参与UM的一些项目。现在，两家公司依然有着密切的合作。另外，START Films也会挑选合适的脚本与小型创意热店合作, 也根据能发挥自身特色的脚本与国际大型4A 参与比稿和合作。
Client | 客户：Taobao
Agency | 广告公司 : UM上海
Night Warriors | 《夜操场》
The team more recently is approached directly by clients. This is why despite being a production house, three of its fourteen staff are fully dedicated to creative. Forming their own creative team, Kingsley finds puts them on equal footing before the first PPM. He twists slightly the large skull ring on his right middle finger while firmly reiterating to me his belief that “all sides – client, agency, and production – should be treated equal in the creative process”.
现在，一般都是客户直接找到START Films团队。正因如此，虽然他们是一家制作公司，但是十四位团队成员中有三位可以全身心专注创意。陈学礼觉得，有了自己的创意团队，在第一次做项目之前，就可以有一个很平等的立足点。他一边慢慢扭动右手中指上造型浮夸的骷髅戒指，一边坚定地再次重申了他的信念：“所有各方 – 客户、广告公司、制作公司，在创意过程中都应得到平等的对待”。
Forever young 活力常在
In the future START Films wants to do more than produce videos for the advertising market. Next year they plan to register an IP so they can create feature films. Proud of the freedom to only pursue projects that interest them, Kingsley is convinced producing feature films is the best direction for the company.
“We always want to be a company that stays fresh and is open to new ideas. If you have twenty years experience it doesn’t mean you deserve to be the manager, for us it’s more about what you can deliver”. He stops our conversation briefly for a smoke break and then returns to delve back into the complicated topic of ‘relationships’ (guanxi) and ‘connections’ (renqing) in China. He wants the company success not to be based on insider relationships or policies that exist because of tradition.
START Films Team | START Films 团队
It’s Friday late afternoon by the time we finish chatting and the team is still at work. They pause to let me snap some photos of them. It’s hard to find the best angle with the afternoon light flooding the office and a clutter of desks taking up most of the open space. In the end they work together to move the black office couch into the middle and crowd around it, giggling.
Before our interview ended, Kingsley reminded me one more time, “it’s not about the money, we are a team passionate about producing the most creative work, that’s it”. Part of START Films success may be because they care so little about conforming to the conventions and traditions of the advertising industry. Their naivety, for the time being, is perhaps a blessing.