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Q&A with Night Owl Cinematics’ Ryan and Sylvia

SINGAPORE — TODAY sat down with local YouTube stars Ryan Tan and Sylvia Chan of Night Owl Cinematics (NOC) to learn more about their success, how they got into the business and how they became the “unofficial benchmark” of the local YouTube industry.

Local YouTube celebrities Ryan and Sylvia. Photo: Night Owl Cinematics

Local YouTube celebrities Ryan and Sylvia. Photo: Night Owl Cinematics

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SINGAPORE — TODAY sat down with local YouTube stars Ryan Tan and Sylvia Chan of Night Owl Cinematics (NOC) to learn more about their success, how they got into the business and how they became the “unofficial benchmark” of the local YouTube industry.

TODAY: Congratulations on being in the top 10 most trending (non-music) YouTube videos in Singapore again this year. How did you first begin in the industry?

Tan: It was really just for fun and then people started coming to us and saying “Eh can we put our brand inside, this is the amount we can offer”. Subsequently, we were doing wedding videos and YouTube. Wedding videos were for money, YouTube was for fun.

Gradually we had so much YouTube jobs that we gave the wedding aspect very little attention and eventually we had no more time for weddings. We originally said, “Ok let’s take a three-month break from wedding videos”, but YouTube, client videos got so much that the break is still ongoing and we haven’t gone back to doing weddings.

TODAY: What was like it when you first started?

Tan: To be frank, my friends told me I would not make it. My family asked “This one can make money meh?”... My parents were rather supportive, but my school friends ... they didn’t quite believe in me. How do they react now? Some never really talk to me anymore, while some are just very happy for me. But yes, a lot of people really didn’t believe in me, or believe that this business could last for more than six months or a year.

At the time when we first started, we also had no support from Government agencies because YouTube was, to be fair, a very unknown scene back then. But this year, they (agencies like the Media Development Authority) are starting to do something, which is good for the newer creators.

We also had a lot of experience running a few businesses last time, although they failed...Probably the biggest was starting a restaurant. I started off with a franchise and we made some money, but then I went to open my own brand, and that was our downfall. (Chan nudges Tan) Ok, actually Sylvia had nothing to with that business. I was very aggressive at that time. I have learnt to be a bit more careful, because for that business, we (Chan nudges Tan again), no, no, I got burned really hard.

Chan: He started off doing restaurants because he thought that his future was in food. But making food and eating food are two very different things. And I realised that he has always wanted to do things that he liked, so even while he was running the restaurant, he was making videos as a hobby, helping friends do freelance work. Then I realised that he really had the passion and talent for doing videos, so I pushed him in this direction and it seems to be working out.

TODAY: You speak a lot about your passion for videography. How do you balance that with sponsored content and client demands?

Tan: Sylvia has banned me from speaking to clients.

Chan: Yah, you see, Ryan is someone who’s very creative, but sometimes clients have branded objectives and things like that, and Ryan usually doesn’t want to compromise his art, so they argue. It’s ok when you have a negotiation, but it’s not ok if you have an argument with the client. So I started to take over that part of the business, because I’m a little bit better than him in PR skills and managing expectations, balancing the art and the branded content.

Tan: And at the end of the day, we have to put bread on the table. If not, we’ll have to take other jobs and there won’t be there much, or any videos at all.

If my dad taught me anything, it’s “never do anything you’re good at for free”.

TODAY: Speaking of clients, earlier this year, you did a video called “S*** clients say”, how did your clients respond to that?

Tan: Actually, our clients were very sporting about that. They were like “Ok, ok I’ll take note of what not to say”...haha. That video was actually a little bit out of frustration. We wanted that video to be our kind of “retirement video”, like we’d only upload it once we’re finally out of the scene because we were scared that we might offend our clients, but then we thought, “You know what, let’s just forget about it, let’s just do it”. And it actually did not turn out that bad.

TODAY: Last year, Tan Jian Hao (another YouTube celebrity) told us how much Ryan helped him develop his videography work...The two of you are also known to be very helpful to other local YouTubers, what kind of advice do you give to other YouTubers?

Chan: Ryan and I talk to them about very different things. The strange thing about NOC is that from the very beginning, we were always very associated with branded content and working with clients. That’s how I have actually spent the past three years, working according to what the clients’ campaigns are about. So it’s very natural or easy for me to tell what a client wants just from a meeting. So whenever the rest have client jobs and are facing difficulties, that’s where they find me. It’s not about teaching them the hard skills or anything, it’s also about learning more of the soft skills and building relations with clients. This is where some YouTubers can learn more.

Essentially when you meet clients, you are your own agency, your own PR agency, your own creative agency, there are so many things you want to bring across to the clients, but then you’re just one person. And I find some of them don’t really know how to deal with a client, they don’t really know what’s going on when they meet a client.... And even Ryan can’t meet with clients. It maybe takes a person with a marketing job ability to do something like that, and you just have to die die learn, if you want to be a YouTuber, to take some jobs.

Tan: You need a variety of skills to do well. Me and Sylvia, we’re wearing a lot of hats. We’re editors, producers, directors, marketers, sometime we give talks, and bring associates or clients out to entertain them. The range of the job scope is a lot and it’s not clearly defined, What the general public sees is “You just make videos lor”, but it doesn’t work that way.

TODAY: And how did you assume the role of being a mentor for other YouTubers?

Tan: I actually really didn’t know how we became like that. Maybe it started off with Jian Hao. We went for supper, then slowly it expanded to more people, and then it became a very frequent thing.

We were also the first here to work with Malaysian YouTubers. It was with this guy called Dan Khoo (a Malaysian YouTuber) ... he brought KL here and we brought Singapore there. As more Malaysian YouTubers came in, we kind of felt responsible for them, because they knew us first ... so we started to mingle more. And they brought the international YouTubers here too, and ... they will call us to come find us.

Chan: Plus we were one of the pioneers, so we did feel a bit of responsibility somehow to actually see this community grow. And since a lot of people are younger and a little bit more lost, it’s nice to help them out.

We’ve also always tried to reply to every fan question, regardless of whatever stupid question they ask us, and some are really really stupid. Because when we were starting out, we asked a lot of help from a lot of people, and nobody really replied to us, and we told ourselves, if one day we kind of make it, we’re not going to be ‘those people’, and we’re always going to try to help no matter how we can.

Tan: How I got to know Dan Khoo was that I messaged a lot of people and said I wanted to work for them, because my business failed already and I wanted to bounce back. I sent my resume to a few places, to wedding companies, and they all rejected me. Only Dan Khoo replied me. He actually helped me out and said “Okay, these are some resources”. He kind of guided us.

Chan: He not just guided us, he gave us a spark of hope.

Tan: Yes. A spark of hope. And it was so nice because I couldn’t offer him anything. And it was such a nice feeling that we want to replicate for others by trying to help. But of course, there are a lot of people who come to us asking for help and may not have the best of intentions. They want the fame and glory, and those are the people that we’ll try not to waste our time.

TODAY: How do you distinguish between these people?

Chan: Oh it’s very easy to tell after a while.

Tan: Yes, usually we help them, but then later the pattern all come out.

Chan: We’ve seen it happen quite a lot of times already. You see for us, for Jian Hao, for Dee Kosh, we’re very close because doing videos are our true passion, that’s all we can talk about, that’s all we can think about, and hanging out with the right people who just really want to make good videos, really boosts your morale everyday and you feel motivated.

Tan: And then, there’s another group of people who comes to the very same supper and when we’re talking about making videos, they’ll say: “Why my Instagram followers only like that only. Can you shoutout for me or not? I take a wefie with you can or not?”

Chan: Or like, “How much do you earn from your clients this month?” And you know they’re coming from a different place, where fame and money is a little bit more important. And these people really suck your energy, because that’s the part of the industry that we least like. The business part may be necessary, but we want to get it over and done with.

TODAY: Is there now pressure to live up to expectations, consistently deliver quality videos?

Tan: Of course. Actually because of this, there’s quite a lot of videos we shot that we didn’t release. We really wasted a lot of effort, because we think they could have been better. ... The pressure (wasn’t there) last time. At the start you wouldn’t really care much because you think nobody is watching, but when you know so many people are watching and so many people are taking advice from you, you have to set an example.

Chan: Then you slowly become the unofficial Singapore benchmark for the industry, and people, schools come to us and say “Oh our students poll you as the top creative entrepreneur they want to meet”. When you hear things like that you think: “I better not screw up”.

TODAY: What are your plans for next year? I see that you’ve started a crowdfunding campaign on Patreon? (Patreon is crowdfunding site that raises funds for artists and creators)

Tan: Patreon is a very small part and it’s experimental, but hopefully in the future, we can rely less on client work and be able to produce content that we really want, that’s not so restricted. ... Of course, we can’t say no client jobs, but maybe less.

Chan: I guess we want to be more selective of our clients, take on the clients that we really like. ... We want to (continue working) with a lot of old clients, but at the same time, we want to do a new style of videos. It’s time for us to move on to better production values, in terms of editing and even shooting and acting, so there’ll be some changes that you’ll really notice because we have a lot of plans to do a lot of things. And also for the brand, we want to start a clothing line at the end of next year.

Tan: Like a legit clothing line, not all the fun shirts that we have been producing.

TODAY: Do you see making videos in your long-term future?

Tan: Definitely yes. I cannot see myself doing else. I mean we’ll try to expand ourselves into other areas of work, but videos will always be there at the core.

TODAY: And finally, what has been your highlight of the year?

Tan: This year has been very eventful, I would say every day is a new highlight. So I really don’t know... (looks at Chan)

Chan: Hmm, oh, actually it could be our NOC carnival.

Tan: But you can’t say that your highlight is something that hasn’t happened.

Chan: But it’s something different. Every year we have a meet and greet, and last year we didn’t really expect a lot of people to turn up, but the response was so huge. We expected around 300 max, but then 1,000 people showed up.

So this year, we are having our first kind of carnival style meet and greet. We really want to vomit blood trying to do this carnival because it’s a free event and we actually don’t get anything for it, we’recoming out our own money to do it. Our clients will be there with booths and we really just want people to have fun and let our fans and the clients we love connect with each other.

Read more of TODAY's interview with Night Owl Cinematics' Ryan and Sylvia via this link.

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