‘Cashless’ undertaking reels in plenty

By Derek Tan & Melinda Tan

IF THIS recession is sprouting any green shoots, it might just be in the arts: In an already cash- strapped arena, any less just makes you more creative.

Being student filmmakers, working with little or no money is a reality. But working with less calls for some pretty resourceful problem solving.

As undergraduates at the National University of Singapore in 2004/2005 (Derek in engineering and Melinda in psychology), we’d joined nuSTUDIOS Film Productions, a student film production house under the NUS Centre for the Arts. Somewhat presciently, in our graduating year in 2008, we decided that our final production with nuSTUDIOS – CASHLESS – would be a short film about a man’s reckless pursuit of his misplaced cash after he mistakenly transfers an important sum of money meant for his mother into the wrong ATM account.

We’d envisioned a film that would explore how ordinary people grapple with communicating, connecting and sustaining meaningful relationships with each other in a high-tech cashless society. But we had little inkling that, just months later, a world plunged into a global economic crisis would give the notion of cashlessness a more poignant spin.

Oddly, the climate of financial gloom has worked in favour of the film’s marketing on more than one level. Turning to online marketing tools such as Facebook to spread the word was almost a knee-jerk response, especially after putting the better part of our limited student budget towards production, scripting and styling.

But what has become evident is that this ‘free’ marketing is not without value. Rather, it is rich in goodwill, an intangible which goes way beyond what money can buy. Our official website, cashless.wordpress.com, now has more than 3,800 hits since its release in early March this year.

Our blog – cashless-nustudios.blogspot.com – where our production notes and photos are posted, has garnered more than 5,500 hits since its inception in June last year.

But our most effective buzz-generating strategy so far has been the use of Facebook and YouTube, which has had a viral effect. Our trailers and behind- the-scenes footage are up on YouTube, and are linked to our Facebook group (CASHLESS). Meanwhile, our Facebook group has grown to about more than 450 members who follow the film’s progress, and even refer friends and share updates.

As we sought to engage our friends, family and the public using various Internet tools like blogs and social networking sites, we came to rely on them to keep up the buzz about our film. In the process, we have reconnected with friends from whom we haven’t heard in a long time. We’ve also broadened our networks with new friends among the people who join our group.

It’s the value of these relationships that we can bank on.

Indeed, the film CASHLESS has become a celebration of friendship and family; and of connections lost, found and renewed – a truly cashless society that goes beyond being just about the money.

The writers are the directors of CASHLESS and members of nuSTUDIOS Film Productions, a student group under the NUS Centre for the Arts. CASHLESS will be screened at The Arts House on June 27, at 4pm and 8pm. Tickets at $8 will be available at the venue. For more details, log on to http://www.theartshouse.com.sg/event_details_2009.php?id=946

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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