Alternative education

Alternative education

A media star is paying it forward by passing on the skills that made him successful - and keep him laughing

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GagMode producer Dean Siu (back left) with staff member Tsui Ho-cheong (front left) and students Nikki Ngan (back right) and Wilson Chow.
GagMode producer Dean Siu (back left) with staff member Tsui Ho-cheong (front left) and students Nikki Ngan (back right) and Wilson Chow.
Photo: Nora Tam/SCMP
We all know that Hong Kong schools are heavy on academics and strict rules. What they are not so good at is fostering youngsters who are gifted in areas other than academia.

This bothers veteran media producer Dean Siu. He thinks everyone deserves a fair chance. In that spirit, he started free classes teaching students about media productions, and founded GagMode - an online platform with a website and YouTube channel. The idea is to help students showcase their creative talents.

Siu is a successful all-rounder in showbusiness. But he, too, took an alternative path to success after graduating from secondary school. By Form Two, he was already attending evening film classes - helped out financially by his secondary school principal, who was touched by Siu's passion for filmmaking.

Siu says: "I asked him why he decided to help me, and he said that if I ever became successful, I should do the same thing: help out aspiring young filmmakers."

In 2008, Siu did just that. He began to organise free classes to teach scriptwriting and video editing to students, most of whom struggled in conventional local schools.

The project ballooned, and two years later, GagMode was born. The platform caught the eye of many netizens with its crudely made, but fun videos. Among them were student-made animated parodies of Apple Daily's own news animations.

"The students thought news shouldn't be represented in the form of animation," Siu says. "Those videos were a joke in themselves."

The group would re-edit those videos and turn them into fictional comedy sketches. Each of their videos would generate tens of thousands of views. GagMode contributors specialise in making random sketches about the silliness of daily life - ideas everyone can relate to.

However, it doesn't appeal to everyone. Some netizens say that GagMode videos are stupid, low-brow and meaningless.

Yet Siu is unfazed by such complaints. "At least they are watching them," he says. Most viewers fall into the 13- to 17-year-old age category, and have changing tastes, he says.

GagMode's road to success has not been without bumps. The project started with about 40 students, but many of them went on to quit soon after, with only a few remaining to keep GagMode up and running.

One loyal member of the team is Tsui Ho-cheong, or "Fat Cheong", a former Yi Jin Diploma programme theatre student. He has been with the project for three years and is now a familiar face in GagMode videos.

He has also appeared in adverts and film projects, including a Tempo tissue commercial.

The only two secondary school students currently part of the project are Wilson Chow Kam-tong, who has been with the group for about a year, and Nikki Ngan Lai-yui, who joined three months ago.

Siu plans to recruit more members, and is looking for young people who "have a thick skin, because most of the time they will have to act in the videos, too".

He adds: "I am also looking for people who are willing to follow up if I don't get back to them immediately. That kind of thing proves that they have the thick skin I am looking for."

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