Movie director, her documentary I’m Here won the Jury Award at the 2012 Macao International Film and Video Festival and was subsequently invited to various festivals in Asia and Europe. Choi received her MFA degree in Cinema Production from the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. Her graduation film Sometimes Naive was short-listed in the 2013 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival. The Farming on the Wasteland won the The Jury’s Commendation Award of the 2014 Macao International Film and Video Festival. Her latest production Sisterhood was selected in the competition section at the 1st International Film Festival & Awards‧Macao and won the Macao Audience Choice Award at the festival. In addition, Sisterhood got two nominations at the 36th Hong Kong Film Awards.
I have been staying at home for most of the time in the past two months, which gave me the time to finish watching movies and TV shows that were on my view list. I even occasionally found time to take some online courses to learn more. My families and I had more opportunities to dine with each other and spend some time together. However, my work has been completely halted. All of my projects have been postponed by the pandemic. I haven’t received final payments of some gaming companies’ projects that were completed before the COVID-19 outbreak. Freelancers in Macao that are in the line of filmmaking business must have been considering whether to look for other jobs this spring.
Macao’s economy is buttressed by tourism and the gaming industry, which means the film business is never a mainstream sector in the city. But why we have been hit hard nonetheless by the COVID-19 pandemic? To answer this question, we first need to discuss how the film industry operates in Macao before the coronavirus outbreak. Before the year 2000, there were very few filmmaking freelancers in the city. For the majority, making movies or filming short clips was merely a hobby. Most of the professional talents in the filmmaking business already had a fulltime job. If you were lucky, you might get business opportunities like shooting a commercial or design, which were relevant to filmmaking. But such opportunities were rare. You could only film some clips with your friends who shared common interests on weekends or during a vacation to get closer to your filmmaking dream. After the year 2010, business opportunities grew for freelancers in the film industry as more filmmaking talents came back to Macao. On the other hand, local emerging filmmaking talents also started to think about how to find new directions instead of finding a stable fulltime job.
Where does the financial income for filmmaking freelancers and companies come from in a small city like Macao? From my observation, there are two main sources of income: jobs like making commercials or shooting short films and jobs that are related to filmmaking. Many might immediately think that gaming companies must be the main clients of the filmmaking teams in Macao. But the truth is they will only work with local teams on small commercials. As for making major commercials, it is very rare for them to turn to local teams. I think this is understandable since gaming companies might believe the teams in Macao are not as experienced as teams from other regions and therefore cannot take on large scale production tasks. But given the fact that production teams from other places might not be familiar with the local environment, they would also hire local professionals to provide support. This means that professional talents in Macao would get the opportunity to earn some cash. Sometimes the production teams from other regions would outsource the production to local teams and earn some commission, which results in a smaller budget and subsequently less profit for local production crews. In addition, local teams are not getting a boost of reputation in the business from it neither.
Besides gaming companies, other commercial-making contracts come from the government and civic associations. Macao has a robust civic association culture. There are a lot of associations that need to make some introductory videos or documentaries. Making these films could help freelancers sustain a modest living. As for making movies, there are a very limited number of movie projects that are set in Macao, with less than three every year. There is also an absence of movie projects that are completely produced by a local production crew. This makes it impossible for filmmakers in Macao to rely on making movies to make a living. But when film production teams from other places come to Macao to film, they would hire a certain number of local personnel to help the production process. This is similar to the case of the production teams hired by gaming companies outsourcing their work to local teams. Besides, they would also occasionally hire local actors for filming, which generates quite some jobs as well. After the pandemic hit Macao, gaming businesses have been having a hard time and are trying very hard to survive. Promotion is not much of a priority during a pandemic. That’s why every production project of the gaming industry had been halted. As for the government and civic associations, promotional videos are not a priority neither. The government is investing all of its energy in containing the pandemic and planning the resumption of work afterwards. Other things are now less important when compared with fighting the pandemic, including promotions. As for the film industry, it is experiencing a mass business closure across the world as major production projects had all been halted. Under these circumstances, it is impossible to have any production going on in Macao, be it productions of local teams or teams from other places.
The film industry in Macao has entered into a difficult situation during the pandemic. But as more people are self-quarantine at home, there is also a growing demand for video entertainment. We really need to give more thoughts into how to turn this crisis into an opportunity.