ISSUE Magazine

Getting the light right for Asian filmmakers: An interview with Viddsee founders Derek Tan and Ho Jia Jian by Lutfi Hakim

One day a box appears from the ether, full of goodies. Your creative mind looks at it and connections begin to form. The colours work against that backdrop, that shape looks better in a specific angle.

From what begins as a random collection of detritus, you’ve put together something that looks like it makes sense. There is a passing resemblance to its jumbled origins but you’ve shaped and sanded them together until you think to yourself, “Hey, it actually looks half-decent.”

Now all it needs is oxygen and sunlight. You lug it out of your cramped, dark bedroom and install it on your lawn for everyone in the neighbourhood to see.

Suddenly, under the bright sun, this idea that you have lovingly obsessed over appears odd, out of place, even ugly, next to the line of mailboxes and patches of green that line your street.

Context Matters

It is of course highly possible that you really have made something that looks like an unfortunate haircut, but it could also be that you’ve placed your work in an unflattering environment. Surrounded by carbon-copy houses along a narrow road noisy with constant congestion, and evergreen shrubbery that never challenges the eye nor the pavements, the detail and thought you’ve painstakingly etched into the sides of your work goes away unnoticed.

Today’s insta-access world of words, images and sounds have allowed a never-before experienced ease in making your thoughts and work accessible to a worldwide audience. However this privilege is something that you share with billions of others: an hour of video is uploaded every second on Youtube, six billions photos a month on Facebook. More data was created in the past two years than in any other point in recorded history, and that amount is only set to multiply as technology progresses.

At any point in time, putting your hand up to be noticed on these popular platforms — you are only a drop in the ocean of hands (and paws) also vying for the audience’s attention. Progressively shortening attention spans also mean that these aren’t necessarily homes for anything that demand one sit silently with a cup of tea contemplating meanings.

Alternative Channels

Enough people are now aware of the quick-trigger nature of the bigger sites and have started to create options for cutting through the noise.

It was in this vein that here in our own part of the world a website was set up to focus on Southeast Asian short films.

Viddsee, a video-sharing site, founded by Derek Tan and Ho Jia Jian in Singapore, offers an outlet for filmmakers within the region to showcase their content to an audience interested in stories from around the region, in the different languages that are spoken in these areas.

Recounting the site’s origins, Derek explained that it all began with a short film.

“The pain that we saw as filmmakers was that we had a film that was going round festivals, and right after the festival we were thinking, how can we distribute it out to a larger audience apart from just the festival circuits?”

“What we realised is if we put it on Youtube or Vimeo, there are billions of videos out there, so how does a film stand out among the rest? We were put alongside cat videos and Harlem Shakes, which are entertaining in itself but ultimately a different type of content altogether.”

Viddsee's clean design places the focus on the short films on show

Viddsee’s clean design places the focus on the short films on show

The two partners saw the need for a new way of watching videos like theirs and life began for Viddsee.

Local Fantasies

The Viddsee boys also realise that for these stories to capture the imagination of viewers, they have to go beyond curation.

Ho Jian jia (L) and Derek Tan

Cine-preneurs: Ho Jia Jian (L) and Derek Tan

Call it a result of globalisation if you want, but since the widespread introduction of affordable satellite TV and the appeal of Top 40 radio, a generation of Southeast Asians have grown up consuming slick big-budget productions, while its own indigenous cinemas have progressed little. For filmmakers who want to tell their own homegrown stories, the sticky appeal of Hollywood is tough to go up against.

“I grew up with local television,” Derek said. “Unfortunately kids today are not watching local television a lot. They’re using Youtube as a way to access content from outside. What I fear is ten years later, after growing up with content that’s not local — the appreciation, the development of an audience for local content is not there, you’re just getting further and further away from locally produced stuff.”

“I think what we wanted to bring forth are films that are close to your everyday life, [the] cultures, stories, language from your country,” Jian added.

“It may not even be from your country, it can also be from your neighbouring countries — Thai films, Thai culture, Filipino way of life — I don’t think we see that a lot in mass media.”

“Sadly while the internet has created accessibility, we’re not actively looking out for such content and, vice versa, we’ve not pushed that content as well.”


It is not difficult to see the possibilities that exist for a website like Viddsee. Parallels to similar services like Netflix are clear enough that it begs the question, can Viddsee replicate the Netflix model for Southeast Asia?

“Again it’s [about] accessibility, Asian films lack that accessibility to the Asian audience and I think once that audience is created, once that community is honed and developed — just like Netflix, they started going into Netflix originals. They know who their audience is, they can start creating content. We know how we should distribute and market the film based on past experiences,” Derek said.

“So I think that Viddsee is really a platform end-to-end for filmmakers. And I think that is how we want to create a sustainable model also as a platform that helps filmmakers.” is the online screening partner of Tropfest SEA.  The screening and judging of the finalists will happen on January 25, 2014 in Penang. Each submission in this inaugural Tropfest SEA is no longer than seven minutes and includes the Tropfest Signature Item (TSI): “Rice”. You can find out more about the competition by checking out their website or following them on Facebook or Twitter. Find out more about other international Tropfests and check out finalist films here

Tropfest 2014 Prize Poster

Featured art by Kim Khaira for ISSUE #16: OTHER.

This entry was written by issuemagonline and published on 15/12/2013 at 00:17. It’s filed under Interview, ISSUE16, Lutfi Hakim and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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