By Destroyx | August 17, 2012
Recently I had the chance to interview creative extraordinaires Zoetica Ebb and Shien Lee about their ambitious new project ‘The Secret Guide to Alternative Beijing’ which is a video travel guide series giving insight into the skyrocketing alternative art, fashion, music, and nightlife culture in Beijing.
As I write this, Zoetica, Shien and Daniel are on their way to China to begin their adventure exploring and documenting the city and culture of Beijing for their guide. They are using Kickstarter as a means of funding their project so be sure to support them so they can make the best guide possible and to get involved personally!
Q: How did you guys meet? What made you to decide to form an elite group of creative ninjas and collaborate on this epic project?
Shien: Zo and I have been friends and fans of each other’s work for many years, but we actually connected on this project with a casual tweet, of all things! I had just returned from China from the most incredible trip of my life, and I tweeted to @zoetica that I had to kidnap her on my way back this summer. That got us talking about my trip and why I could not wait to return. The stories of my adventures and the people I met there quickly convinced Zo to do some research of her own, and before we knew it, our mission took shape. Daniel is another longtime friend of mine, with whom I had shot several TV spots with over the years, and as someone who had traveled to China before, he had witnessed first-hand the cultural renaissance taking place in China’s metropolises and knew exactly why it was so important to expose this activity to a wider Western audience. With this guide, we’ve set out to inspire other world travelers to plan their own adventure to China, starting with China’s cultural capital, Beijing.
Q: What aspects of Beijing made you pick it to be the subject of your city guide?
Zoetica: Initially, our focus was on Shanghai – that’s where Shien’s first trip took place and I’d been infatuated with its stunning, futuristic skyline for ages. I always had a romanticised idea of this city, so when our plan began to materialize, I was excited to explore what’s become a Chinese version of Blade Runner’s LA in my imagination. However, after almost everyone we contacted in Shanghai asked us why we weren’t focusing on Beijing’s alternative culture, we began to investigate and quickly realized that we absolutely had to show the incredible amount of creativity burgeoning in Beijing to our viewers.
Q: As someone who has been a little intimidated to travel to China due to the language barrier, I was thrilled to hear you guys would be helping demystify the city culturally and practically through your guide. Shien, as someone who grew up in Taipei and moved to NYC to become one of the foremost producers of underground alternative events – did you feel that your background and experiences of both worlds made you uniquely qualified to create this guide?
Shien: I feel that my multi-cultural background and professional experiences are strong assets to this project, but part of what makes this guide unique is that I came in as an outsider, who did not expect to fall in love with China. To be honest, the world has held an unfavorable view of China for a long time due to a variety of reasons (especially in Taiwan, as I was growing up), and although attitudes are rapidly changing, travel to China is still stigmatized. Like Effie explains in the opening lines of our video, many people base their ideas of what China is like according to 80s kung-fu movies or their local Chinatown – but that’s not what China is like at all. I knew China had been developing at an unimaginable rate, but I was completely shocked by how different China was from what I imagined it to be, how incredible and paradoxical it is. My mission is to share this sense of wonder with the world, but more importantly, to change perceptions, break down boundaries, and promote cultural understanding.
Q: I love the idea that people can feel personally involved with the project by funding it through Kickstarter. You guys have taken it to the next level and allowed supporters to actually influence the content of the guide and become producers and co-creators. What made you come up with this idea to involve your backers?
Zoetica: Giving our backers the option to be part of the guide came naturally. One of the best aspects of Kickstarter is its spirit of community and because of this I decided that anyone who feels strongly enough about the Secret Guide to contribute at a higher level deserves to be on the creative team and participate in the project, if they want to. We’re offering several tiers of participation, with titles ranging from Associate Producer at the $250 level all the way up to Executive Producer and Co-creator at $8,000. Most of our rewards are interactive, actually. From us offering to send postcards to your loved ones from China, to getting locals to teach you how to say a phrase in Chinese on film, to going on a photo-scavenger hunt with disposable cameras – I want our backers to feel like they’re part of the adventure!
Q: I know that Zoetica has used Kickstarter successfully for previous projects. What appeals to you about using it as a means to fund creative projects?
Shien: I have not had any experience with Kickstarter beyond pledging for many of my friends’ projects, but I see it as a valuable promotional tool and a platform from which to mobilize an audience to support a worthy cause.
Zoetica: What made me fall in love with the Kickstarter experience was exactly what Shien is talking about – that sense of mobilization! Last year, when I ran a campaign for D4RT to bring art supplies and lessons to kids in an impoverished Peruvian community, one of the most rewarding aspects of the experience were the responses from my backers, many of whom wanted to be more involved, to know how they could help more. With this tool, we get to raise awareness and create a community around projects we’re passionate about – and become parts of other communities, too. I can’t think of a better way to make art.
Q: Personally I’ve been noticing a boom in amazing fashion designers coming out of Beijing in recent years so I am super excited about your street style section and shopping guide. What kind of sartorial delights do you have in store for us in your guide?
Shien: One of the designers we’re scheduled to interview in Beijing is Zhang Chi, whose futuristic and inventive menswear designs are really inspiring. Many designers grew up during the Cultural Revolution, when the only fashion being worn was the revolutionary uniform. Now, 40 years later, the Chinese fashion industry is experiencing a revolution of its own, as if to make up for those decades of political dress, and utilitarian fashion. We hear that a lot of fashionable people can be found in the Sanlitun district, so we’ll also be there with our cameras to document stylish individuals for our street fashion lookbook.
Q: If this project is successfully funded and completed (which… we all know it will be!) do you have any plans to do more alternative city guides?
Zoetica: Ideally? I’d love to, but for now we’re just focused on making our Beijing installment the best we can!
Shien: The thought is on the horizon, but we are so immersed with Beijing at the moment, we haven’t really had a chance to consider it, haha.
Thanks so much to Zoetica and Shien for taking the time out to be interviewed! I hope you are all as interested in the guide as I am and back their kickstarter project in its final days. The minimum pledge is only $1, so hop to it and get involved!
Footage of Zoetica Ebb by http://joshsgibson.com/
Images: 1. Ivan Walsh 2.hdrwallpapers.com 3. Tauno Tohk