八八吧 :: 88 Bar Interview with our CVO Marco

The following is the full informal email conversation between Jason Li (editor at http://www.88-bar.com) and Marco Sparmberg. Originally posted at: http://www.88-bar.com/2012/06/interview-with-marco-sparmberg-hong-kong-based-trans-media-filmmaker/
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JL: I noticed that  neither Squattertown and Haexagon is a feature film. Why?
MS: Two reasons: Firstly – this is the basic problem of all productions – money. It’s simply impossible to tackle a feature film under HK$1 million, even for a low-budget film. Despite the current industry trend, my belief is everyone on the production should be paid. No-budget projects are an illusion and straight-up money scams. Quality always comes with a price. If I can’t ensure a certain quality standard, then I’m not willing to start on a project.
Secondly, the feature film is about to become a niche format. In a world of mobile devices where people barely have more time to spend on a film than an MTR ride, it’s simply not reasonable to offer a two-hour story for an audience you want to reach. On top of that, audience engagement with feature films is nearly impossible these days. Squattertown was created as web series with six to seven-minute episodes, primarily for mobile consumption. In previous test projects, we found out that this is essentially the average time of a single MTR ride.  Haexagon, on the other hand, is a 20-minute short film which serves as prototype for a micro film series that will extend its narrative universe. Micro films is currently a very popular genre on the Chinese internet world, and many major Chinese video platforms have started commissioning their own micro film productions. Hence, the form of short film is about to find a profitable and competitive edge within the entertainment industry.
JL: What brought you to Hong Kong?
MS: I grew up with the 80s and 90s HK films running at the midnight slots of German TV. At a certain age, I grabbed everything that remotely looked Asian from video rental stores, and most of it happened to be from HK. I love HK movies and their limitless exploitation of everything that’s sacred in other cinematic cultures.  When it came to where to go to film school, there was only one real choice for me. I began my HK adventure back in 2007 among the video, music and exhibition artist community while interning at Videotage before starting my masters studies in film production a year later.
JL: How do you see the rift between the international and local filmmaker communities in Hong Kong?
MS: Indeed, there appears to be a certain separation within HK’s filmmaking landscape. In order for outsiders to gain an understanding of this situation, I need to generalize a bit, which may simplify things too much for insiders.
On the one hand, there are the local filmmakers who grew up in HK and produce content for its cinema and/or television stations. On the other hand, there are expats and “returnees” who bring in their own overseas network and go into more experimental directions by producing short films, music videos, Internet video content. Feature film productions are rather rare here.
I reckon this separation has a number of reasons, such as language, cultural background or business orientation. From my point of view, the reason why the international filmmakers community is barely involved in local feature film productions is mainly the involvement of Mainland China – both direct or indirect. HK features are simply no longer profitable enough, which means they need the boost that Mainland China ticket sales can provide. For most local filmmakers, it’s still more profitable to produce a film targeted for the Mainland market to begin with. On top of that, money from the north to get your film made means creative involvement from the investor. Eventually the question becomes, to what extend are you willing to allow such influence on your film?
For filmmakers starting out in HK, there are all kinds of online and offline resources such as weekly film group meetings, activities and niche communities. To get an understanding what’s going on in contemporary Chinese film industry, I recommend all to follow the folks involved with LoveHKFilm.com. There are also plenty of local filmmakers, producers and critics on Twitter and Sina Weibo that offer first-hand intel on a daily basis.
For production matters, the Film Services Office, as well as other support and funding schemes by CreateHK are always worthwhile. Ultimately, the best filmmaking resources are production offices or film sets. Get onto productions and you will soon know your way around.
When it comes to transmedia, I recommend people to get into touch with the local startup community. It is important to know what kind
of tech and web companies are out there offering new solutions and approaches that can be useful for projects.  Transmedia has no defined production framework and no formula. The means of storytelling and how to approach and engage audiences are changing with every project. It is important to track and analyze other territories’ trends in order to get a feeling for what might work here.
JL: Lastly, where we can find out more about you and your work?
MS: You will find a summary of my work on my personal webpage http://m-sp.net. Most updated, however, is probably my Twitter @MarcoSparmberg and the web channels of Hæxagon Concepts (http://haexagon.org), a trans-media production house I co-founded earlier this year.
As for the projects mentioned, all major link connections to the Squattertown web universe are on http://squattertown.com. And Hæxagon short film universe is just about to unfold on http://00c6.org.

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