The Long and Short of It
Why Viddsee co-founders Mr Ho Jia Jian (Engineering ’10) and Mr Derek Tan (Engineering ’09) are betting on short films.
Films like The Social Network
have portrayed the relationships between co-founders of successful start-ups as fraught and toxic. But for Mr Ho Jia Jian (Engineering ’10) and Mr Derek Tan (Engineering ’09) — the two men behind short film platform Viddsee — the truth is anything but. Their collegial working relationship shines through during our interview, and as Mr Ho puts it, might be a result of their shared history at the University. “We both studied engineering but we didn’t actually meet in the Faculty. We crossed paths at nuSTUDIOS, an NUS film CCA that brings together film buffs from across the University,” shares Mr Ho, 34. Mr Tan chimes in, adding, “We managed a lot of projects in the CCA together, from film masterclasses to screenings. So we got a sense of how the other worked quite early on.” Being heavily involved in nuSTUDIOS also allowed the pair to appreciate the passion each had for film, a passion that still burns today.
It is this passion that brought Viddsee to life eight years ago. The platform hosts and distributes short films from Singapore and the region and has become a lifeline for many filmmakers looking to reach more audiences. More than 3,000 storytellers use the platform and have uploaded over 4,500 films on it to date. The platform serves as a launching pad for many of these films and filmmakers, with Viddsee profiling the creatives, matching opportunities and funding for them. And their efforts have borne fruit: the films on the platform have amassed more than two billion views — a testament to the power of short films, says Mr Tan. “You don’t need to invest an hour; just 15 minutes is enough to get a story that someone is trying to tell.”
This community is more than just those who went through professional film school. You also have people like us, who are passionate about films but who may do it on the side, and short films allow us to do that. And we wanted to showcase these.
Mr Derek Tan
Tell us about your passion for films.
Derek Tan (DT):
I dabbled in film in secondary school and Junior College. Being in Electrical and Computer Engineering allowed me to see the exciting developments taking place in computer animation and videography. I had an unofficial Minor in Film; I enrolled in film modules from the Arts Faculty, like Japanese and South Asian film
— which were technically for fourth-years, but I took them in my first year!
Ho Jia Jian (JJ):
Prior to NUS, I was helping out on production shoots in my hometown of Kuala Lumpur. Like Derek, I was also interested in engineering and how things worked. So when I got to NUS, I tried to align my passion for both, which was how I became so actively involved in nuSTUDIOS.
What are your earliest memories of film?
TV was my gateway to film. When I was five or six, I used a videocassette recorder (VCR) to record movies that were being aired on TV and had my own “video rental” store, which I shared with family and friends. My collection was basically a curation of movies that I thought were worth watching.
My background was a lot more about visuals and creatives. At 11, I remember doing graphic drawings and creating logos on Photoshop. I was very intrigued with the idea of creation. Later on, I got into photography and videos. I then stumbled upon film in a professional setting.
What happened in the three years between graduation and the starting of Viddsee?
Both Jian and I ended up working in the product teams of a major cable network provider, although at different times (Jian joined after I had left). In that role, we got to see first-hand the developments in Internet TV and got an inkling of how that would change the way people consumed content.
After our stints there, we got to thinking that this might be the right time to branch out and work on something that we were passionate about, which is creating a community centred on short films. So we leaned on our new professional experience and existing passion to build Viddsee.
Why the focus on short films?
We feel that short films are the heart for local stories. If you ask people what they know about Singaporean films, they might throw out a big director’s name or a recent mainstream movie. But there are a vast number of stories being told through short films that remain undiscovered. From our experience, we also saw that attention spans were getting shorter and predicted that there might be an increased demand for short films — especially with the rise of mobile streaming.
It builds on our own journeys. We’ve made short films in the past and we know very well the challenges of finding an audience for them, so we wanted to serve that community of filmmakers. This community is more than just those who went through professional film school. You also have people like us, who are passionate about films but who may do it on the side, and short films allow us to do that. And we wanted to showcase these.
Do you have much time for filmmaking these days?
JJ: At times, but we also derive a lot of satisfaction from being able to empower filmmakers who are, frankly, much better than we ever were (laughs).
DT: I work quite closely with brands and help them tell their stories. So we do more behind-the-camera ideation now.
THROUGH THEIR LENS
The duo’s must-see short films, available on Viddsee:
(2008, Singapore): “The impact of this shows you how powerful short films are. I got an email from a Brazilian kid who was really enthralled by the film and Singaporean culture. Very touching stuff.”
Watch at viddsee.com/video/gift
JJ: Final Exam
(2019, Singapore): “It tells the story we all know too well: the stress of a final examination and how that affects our compassion and empathy for others.”
Watch at viddsee.com/video/final-exam