ANYONE who works in video production will tell you that things can get pretty crazy. It’s all about long hours, crazy deadlines, less-than-glamorous jobs, unreasonable clients… You get the picture.
And that’s what makes freelance videographer Adrian Yap’s decision to start Passion Portraits seem almost insane. It’s a side project that doesn’t make him any money at all, and he does it on top of his commercial video production work.
Passion Portraits is an online video series where Yap and his team of three equally young and ambitious creative professionals profile inspiring Malaysians.
And here’s the kicker – they produce one Passion Portraits video every week. They’ve been on a streak of 22 weeks now, covering people ranging from young entrepreneurs to big-name CEOs.
One of their latest videos, for example, is on iFlix Malaysia CEO Azran Osman-Rani, and how his love of endurance sports relates to his professional life.
“I think our work now is split 80/20 – 80% of our time is spent on Passion Portraits, and 20% is spent on commercial work that actually brings in money!” said Yap, with an almost embarrassed laugh.
So if it makes life so difficult for him and the members of his team – Ashlie Goh, Brian Chia and Rachel Low – why do it at all?
“We hope to create a culture where creative people like writers, photographers and videographers start celebrating the people, culture and communities around them,” explained Yap.
“Our commercial work is always for someone else. It can feel very meaningless. I looked back one year, and realised none of the work I did really mattered to me.
“I wanted to tell stories that made a difference, that impacted the people around me.”
Yap had initially planned to do something like a Malaysian version of Chef’s Table, the acclaimed Netflix food documentary. “I’m from Klang, and you know how seriously we Klang people take our food!” he said with a laugh.
But shooting a 40-minute documentary turned out to be easier said than done. He spent an entire year trying to find time to finish the first video, and then he realised that finishing it would only be half the battle.
“I was putting so much work into this long documentary, but I didn’t have an audience,” he said.
“That’s when I realised I needed to build a channel, where people would come back for more. And to build that kind of audience on social media, you need a lot of consistency.”
And that’s where Yap had the insane idea of doing a Passion Portraits video once a week.
“I had to sacrifice the idea of that beautiful 40-minute documentary where you cry at the end of it,” he said. “I’m letting that go for now, so we can do shorter, five minute videos every week to build an audience.”
To kickstart the channel, the team had to spend a few months taking up pretty much every single commercial job they could find to get enough funding.
Yap said it pushed them almost to their breaking point, but they knew they had to get enough money in the bank to get through the first few months of Passion Portraits.
“We were pretty much living on our savings by the time we launched in May, and we were still figuring things out,” said Yap.
Picking up the pace
And it’s not like they’ve been taking it easy since the launch.
Putting out a new video every week is not easy. While most YouTubers and digital content creators seem to manage it perfectly fine, most of their content is based around their own lives. With Passion Portraits, they have to work around their subjects’ lives.
Ashlie, who manages the team’s calendar, said: “You should see my diary. It’s always full – mostly with cancellations!”
“We have nothing to give to (the subjects) aside from the video, so we try to work as fast as we can and make the production as lean as possible,” added Yap.
Fortunately, the response to the project has been pretty good, and it’s still early days.
Yap said their Facebook audience has grown 800% in the past three months, and the comments and feedback have been mostly positive.
“I think there has been a lack of good, positive content in Malaysia. There’s a lot of negativity, and people were surprised when we came out, because they always think content like ours only exists in PSAs by big companies.
“And people ask us, ‘seriously, you guys are doing this every week?’ That’s a pretty common reaction.”
Changing the video production industry
Yap has been working as a freelance videographer for four years now (never mind that he has an engineering degree), and according to him, the industry has become increasingly saturated in Malaysia.
There are so many video production companies out there now, all jostling for clients, and yet, the Passion Portraits team is spending so much time on this, well, passion project.
But for all their youthful idealism, the team knows that the work they do with Passion Portraits can be good for business too.
“We could have been just another production house, but we would only be a service provider, doing what clients tell us to. We wouldn’t have a voice,” said Yap.
“Everyone in the creative industry starts out doing what they do because they love their jobs, but everyone also has bills to pay.
“I know a super talented street photographer who’s doing event photography because that pays the bills.’”
But with Passion Portraits, the team is doing something creatively rewarding that also doubles up as a portfolio for commercial clients, one that’s authentic to the team’s vision of good content.
They hope to get other young people in the creative industry involved as well, by someday opening up their channel for contributions.
“There’s only so much the four of us can do, and most of our stories are from the Klang Valley,” said Yap.
“We hope we’ll start having people send us Passion Portraits from all over the country.”