Iris Lai of Muris tells us how this Taipei-based creative studio is producing documentaries despite the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Iris Lai: Based in Taiwan, we’re safe and well in this difficult time. I was actually pregnant when COVID-19 happened back in Nov 2019, so I stay home most of the time since I can’t travel during the pregnancy anyway. I gave birth to my baby boy in July 2020, and it was heartwarming and meant a lot to my family that we had a healthy baby coming out from this difficult year. We’re so thankful!
The Covid-19 pandemic has reshaped our personal relationships in unprecedented ways, forcing us to re-examine our relationships with families and partners, also with ourselves. That’s why our team made a new documentary on modern relationships! (Now live on Kickstarter) During the making of this film, I’m from a daughter becoming a mom, having a new baby boy last year. I’ve learned so much from the process, learning how to make peace with my parents and be a parent myself. Also, with other topics like marriage, emotional education, colliding, and tech relationships, we hope we could share the insights we’ve learned with the audience.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Muris.
Iris Lai: I’m a film producer and the co-founder of Muris, a production studio based in Taipei. I founded this studio back in 2011 in San Francisco with my husband, the director. Since then, we’ve produced several award-winning documentaries, “Design & Thinking,” “Maker,” and “Hanzi.” This year, we’ve just finished our new documentary “Relationships”, and it’s live on Kickstarter. We funded every documentary we made on Kickstarter, and it becomes part of the identity.
How does Muris innovate?
Iris Lai: Our interviewees in this film are located in the US, UK, and Japan, but we can’t travel abroad to film them. We start to think maybe we could collaborate with filmmakers from those countries. But if we do that, how could we maintain the image quality? We don’t want the audience to notice that there’re three or four different filming styles, and it looks like being put together from different movies. So we start to write down principles from the making of our previous films, including camera setting, lighting, sound recording, the interview style, B-roll subjects, etc. This turns out to be a guidebook for our cooperation partners. The result is very pretty good! The whole movie looks like the same team filmed it, and when we did the test screening, the audience was surprised that different cameras actually filmed it.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Iris Lai: We distribute all of our movies by ourselves, selling DVDs and digital copies on our website. The pandemic did affect our business since people have more important things to do. Watching documentaries on design subjects is not something people will be interested in this period.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Iris Lai: We actually didn’t have this problem, and our team works remotely even before the pandemic.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Iris Lai: We’ve noticed that in this period, people who want to purchase our movie will be more likely to email us first to make sure we can deliver the order on time, especially DVD purchases. It’s great to engage with our customers directly and know more about what they think or what they need. They usually find our contact info through our website, so the website needs to be very easy to find with a good SEO. We use Squarespace to build all our websites, and we found it’s very helpful with great templates and 24/7 support!
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Iris Lai: We didn’t benefit from any government grants. But since our government did a great job of dealing with the pandemic, we benefit from them, feeling safe and healthy during this difficult time.
Your final thoughts?
Iris Lai: Relationships are hard. The pandemic has made it worse. In a time of change and reflection, we hope our new film serves as a conversation starter and reminder that we no longer have to choose from tradition but are able to have a broader idea of how we can re-structure and look forward to relationships in a new future.
One of our Kickstarter rewards is worth mentioning: We’ll plant a tree for each digital pledge! Most film projects on Kickstarter have DVD rewards, but DVDs are rarely used nowadays; people usually watch films digitally. We believe that digital files are the most convenient and high-quality way to view our films, reduce packaging waste, and maintain a good relationship with our world. To express our gratitude even further, a tree will be planted for each digital file pledge. We work with One Tree Planted, a non-profit environmental charity on a mission of global reforestation, and they plant trees in North America, Latin America, Africa, Asia, Europe and the Pacific.
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