Unforeseen circumstances force Goldthread to innovate, creating new storytelling opportunities

By Victor Pena

Goldthread at South China Morning Post

Hong Kong


Goldthread came to be through a communal desire to tell China’s stories to the world, particularly the Western world.

Even as we become more connected and even knowledgeable about global news, human interest stories remain essential. At Goldthread, we weave the stories of real people into condensed, faithful, and distributable narratives, all with excellent production value.

The team is divided evenly between editorial and video. I was brought in to head up the video aspect. This required coming in and hiring talent, training said talent, developing storytelling styles, and designing the workflow, all while straddling the different and ever-changing social media formats.

Goldthread capitalised on its social media reach to share creative stories from around the world.
Goldthread capitalised on its social media reach to share creative stories from around the world.

From zero to 1.26 million followers

When I first joined, Goldthread had existed for one month, and we had not yet launched any of our social channels.

We hit the ground running: The team travelled to mainland China every few months to spend three to four weeks shooting stories. We would return to SCMP’s offices in Hong Kong to transcribe, log, script, edit, and publish videos a couple of times each week.

We launched in 2018 on June 6 at 6:00 p.m. (the auspicious 666) and began, like most content makers, with a grand total of zero followers. We now have a total of 1.26 million followers and subscribers globally across YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, and are expanding into other platforms.

Visual storytelling in a short documentary style requires knowledge of and attention to the specific platforms of distribution. Social media has become a key player in content distribution, so we’ve had to adjust our filming and editing formats depending on the platform. Short-form videos have become more critical, and adjustment to each platform’s particularities is essential, whether those are algorithmic or software limitations.

Finding the best vehicle for translation is also a vital part of the process. It is a never-ending adventure. To quote one of our previous interviewees, we are engaged in the “ceaseless pursuit of perfection.”

Pandemic complications

The ever-transient nature of digital storytelling was further complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our goal was to share stories about China, a location we could no longer access. In response, Goldthread had to adapt even further. Though these challenges were difficult and unprecedented, they have enriched our processes and we have emerged even stronger.

Many of our team members were dispersed out of Hong Kong, and the ones left in Hong Kong could no longer venture out of their homes. In response, we began to do our first diaspora series.

One of our team members had moved back to his home in France temporarily, giving us access to that part of Europe. Additionally, we had a few former Goldthread team members who left Hong Kong early or mid-lockdown to relocate in Australia, Singapore, Shanghai, and the southern coast of China, opening windows into these regions.

This was our first intentional effort to create an entire season of content for our Mean Street Gourmet (aka MSG), which was so well received that each episode was bombarded with comments referencing similar dishes from other countries and regions.

These global connections highlight the importance of diversity in any workplace but especially in storytelling. Through our global employee base, we gained access to a wider range of stories and expanded our reach.

Building on what turned out to be our most challenging and rewarding days, we are now taking our first steps into the rest of Asia. We have lined up several shoots across India, Vietnam, and Thailand, and we are in the early pre-production stages in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

The future looks bright

It is crazy to think that none of this would have been possible without the challenges we’ve endured these last few years and the creative ways we had to innovate. Our progress really does attest to the fact that necessity is the mother of all inventions.

Sometimes you don’t know what the world is going to throw at you. But when you get served up something from left field, working with an amazing team of passionate individuals who are willing to do what it takes regardless of where they are — or might be in two weeks’ time — to make it work and continue to succeed, makes all the difference.

It is the driving force that keeps me investing and wanting to give all I can back to the most amazing colleagues with whom I have had the privilege to work with.

About Victor Pena

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