Bright prospects for film and TV graduates in Hong Kong

With competition set to intensify in Hong Kong's TV market, the prospects for local film and TV graduates have never been brighter, writes Chris Lau

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 February, 2014, 9:37am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 February, 2014, 6:13pm

Ask Simon Lee Chun-him how he feels about the past two years, and he enthuses: "It was pretty surreal. I basically went from nobody to a famous YouTube celebrity."

Two years ago, the Hong Kong Design Institute student was taking a public relations course at a technical institute, but deep down he was drawn to film studies at the design institute's campus nearby.

As long as you know where the buttons are, you can get employment
lecturer alex lee

"I remembered every day when I walked past the rooftop garden and saw film students shooting with their cameras, I kept thinking that I was wasting my time," says the 20 year-old, who was then already a film buff.

He was so driven that finally he decided to switch to the institute to study film and television. His application was accepted. Not only did Lee change his study option, his online video venture Weirdo Production - which he founded last year with best friends Timothy Chiu Kam-tim, Joseph To Chun-yin and Leung Wai-lok - has also become one of the hottest local YouTube channels in town since its launch. It now boasts more than 40,000 subscribers.

Watch: An episode of Weirdo's Travel Guide

What's more, with the looming television war in Hong Kong, led by Ricky Wong Wai-kay's aggressive Hong Kong Television Network, the prospects for local film and television graduates have never been greater.

Late last year the government issued free-to-air television licences to PCCW and iCable Communications. HKTV had its application rejected but it has filed for a judicial review and is set to launch internet-based television services in July. The increased number of operators means promising job prospects for film and television graduates, says Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts lecturer Alex Lee King-wah, who teaches television production at the academy.

Fresh graduates with hands-on, technical skills will be most in demand for the time being, he says. For those who major in fields such as cinematography, editing and sound effects, the practical knowledge acquired at college will stand them in good stead. Those are skills that can be easily put into use on the first day of work, says Lee. "As long as you know where the buttons are, you can get employment fairly quickly."

And these employment opportunities are quite versatile, too. This is because, Lee explains, a production crew member carries out similar duties wherever he goes. That said, for example, a cameraman's job is always to manage the camera, regardless of the creative content and subjects they shoot, and an editor trims and puts together a show as they are told.

"We have a lot of graduates working for the production side of Now TV news because they already know how to shoot, edit and set up lighting," says Lee, adding that these students had little or no news training before they landed their jobs.

Sometimes these opportunities can appear in the least expected places. "The Jockey Club actually hires many of our graduates, because all the horse racing programmes we see on TV are produced by them, and they need skilled employees to work in production," says Lee.

Those with alumni connections, he adds, may have a better chance of securing jobs.

Tse Ming-chong, senior lecturer from the design institute's department of communication design and digital media, echoes Lee's view on a positive hiring trend for graduates with specialised technical skills.

"We have our own studio, where we teach students how a typical three-camera production works. As for equipment, we have some professional 3k cameras," says Tse. "We also teach them how to do lighting and add post-production touches such as animations and colour grading."

Over the past two years the design institute has seen an increase in enrolment for its high diploma in film and television course.

"One of the reasons is students may have already seen the rising demand," notes Tse. "It's not just about traditional television stations these days. Many companies and newspapers now have their own online platforms, where they post their corporate and advertising videos.

"Youngsters are just more interested in and sensitive to moving images these days."

There is ample evidence of public dissatisfaction with the current quality of television programmes. At the recent public hearing held by the Communications Authority over the renewal of free-to-air licences held by TVB and ATV, participants expressed outrage at the biased content of some of the programmes, and standardised plots of some drama series aired by both stations.

But those who are more used to working with ideas, such as script writers or directors, may have fewer chances of landing a desirable job. The academy's Lee doubts if investors are prepared to invest in young blood at this early stage of a potential television war.

He said after losing some of its top talent to Ricky Wong's HKTV last year, rather than hiring new graduates to fill vacancies in junior roles, TVB brought in former employees who had either retired or were working in China.

The future, though, still looks promising. It might be just a matter of time for aspiring writers, producers and directors to find themselves in hot demand. HKTV has already pushed up the average salary in the industry by 20 to 30 per cent. The rise of other stations may also spawn the growth of more independent production houses that will hire all sorts of professionals.

Already on the right side of the fence - Simon Lee's course covers everything technical - the YouTuber still believes the key to success is to sharpen every edge you have.

"And the reason I'm so proud of our YouTube Channel is, the four of us pretty much write scripts, act, shoot, edit and promote the videos ourselves," says Lee.