The micro film movement taking China's online entertainment by storm [Photo: globaltimes.cn]
China's rapid urbanization has seen more and more villages turn into cities, while hordes of people have left the countryside to become city dwellers. In sharp contrast to the simpler, quieter experience of country living, life in the city can be, in turns, exciting and stressful. Seeking to explore the complex relationships between cities and city dwellers amid such staggering changes, iqiyi.com, a newly founded video website, has launched a project called I the City, which uses a series of micro films to tell the stories of China's city dwellers.
The term "micro film," while fairly new, has been appearing all over the Internet in the past few months. There are some widely acknowledged characteristics of this new type of film, such as micro time length (usually between 5 minutes and a half hour), micro production period (usually within couple of weeks), micro capital investment (between several thousand yuan and tens of thousands of yuan), and the use of the Internet to reach audiences. Still, few people are able to give an exact definition of a micro film, "as it is a nascent genre that is still developing," said Yu Xin, a film critic and playwright.
Micro films began to grab the attention of Chinese netizens at the end of 2010, and many regard "Touch and Go", a short commercial video clip released by Cadillac, as the first micro film. Since then, individuals and companies alike have been rushing to make their own micro films, among which "The Bright Eleven: Old Boys", "iPhone Age", and "Paradise Lost" are the most popular.
Ever since micro films arrived on the scene, they have had a noticeable grassroots flavor.
Compared with traditional films that are released in cinemas, micro films have a wider, younger audience representing all social backgrounds. Because they are spread through the Internet and are free to view, even those who cannot afford a ticket to the cinema can watch micro films, creating a broader, more diverse audience than that of traditional movies.
The actors we see in many micro films are unknown, ordinary people, and the characters they play are common people as well. Take the eight installments of "I the City" for example. The main characters in the eight films have common occupations, such as lounge singer, postman, and undergraduate student. One of the goals of "I the City" is to reflect the lives of the general public.
Another grassroots characteristic of micro films is that anyone with a simple video camera, or even a cellphone, can participate in the genre, regardless of experience. In addition, the Internet provides access to a mass audience with varying tastes and interests, increasing the likelihood of finding a fan base.
Good independent directors thin on the ground
Though micro films are an open forum to anyone who wants to make a movie, there are only a few successful directors within the genre. He Ye, producer of "I the City", said the project targeted directors who belong to the younger generation but are already famous in film circles. "We prefer inviting people who have already had certain achievements in this special field," said He. "Professional directors are more likely to make good films that will influence the audience."
That is true: micro films made by non-professionals usually have a lower click rate compared with those made by professionals. "Professional directors know how to tell a story in an attractive way," said Wang Zhi, director of Wei Ruan, one of the micro films in "I the City".
However, Yu Xin is very optimistic about the future. "Even though at the moment, many non-professionals are not making popular films, I believe they will be able to do so in the future," he said. "Just as years ago, only professional photographers had single-lens reflex cameras and could take truly impressive pictures. Now, almost anyone can do that."
Advertising through micro films
The discussion of whether a commercial video clip can be regarded as a micro film is ongoing. In Yu's opinion, only films with a story line can be called micro films. "A micro film is still a film, and a film should at least have a narrative," he said.
"With the label 'film,' some companies can also make their commercial advertisements less repellent to the audience, which can be a good method for promoting a product."
However, most of the time, it is not easy to distinguish a film from an advertisement, because the story and the commercial promotion are often blended together. Due to lack of funds, some micro films seek sponsors, like "The Bright Eleven: Old Boys", which was sponsored by Chevrolet, while others, like "Touch and Go", receive their entire budget from a company.
Yet, audiences seem to be more tolerant of advertising being inserted into micro films. "We do not pay anything to see these films," said Xing Hang, a micro film lover. "Furthermore, some advertisements are woven into the films in a very natural way, which is less nauseating than the alternative."
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