Interview with Rachel of Butterworks 牛油坊: How passion was transformed into a business

by Natalie Lim

It was a Friday morning and I was scheduled to meet Rachel, co-founder of Butterworks. I look at my phone, double-checking that I was five minutes early to the meeting, and took relief in the fact that I had time to prepare myself for the interview.

I push open the meeting room’s door and was immediately greeted with a loud and chirpy “Hey!”

I wasn’t ready.

Besides the obvious reality that I’ve lost my time for composure, my head was lost in thoughts and I haven’t had the opportunity to scan the room to locate the voice source. And when I did locate the voice source, it was from a girl with rounded bangs, conspicuous jade-coloured pom pom earrings and a very, very petite frame. 

Rachel and I have never met before this interview, but we share a common working space in *SCAPE HubQuarters. Her office is situated just two doors down from mine, and I’ve often sneaked glances through the window as I passed by. She and her co-workers were often seen buried in work, faces scrunched up over their laptops, presumably focused on video editing.

Today, the Rachel I’m looking at seem to light up the room. Though I wasn’t prepared, her orotund voice quickly calmed me down and in minutes, we were cracking jokes. We soon warmed up to each other and in the course of this interview, Rachel shares with me the origin story of Butterworks and of how a little work can turn passion into a business.

What is the origin story of Butterworks?

Butterworks 1
Photo: instagram/@rachelkellyoh

We started as a production house where we did a lot of corporate videos and commercials and we only decided to dabble into YouTube after a couple of years in. Our initial name was Block n’ Roll Studios and that was nine years back. When we started ButterWorks, it was just because we wanted a space for creative output. A space where we could do what we like through short films and stories.

We joined a lot of film competitions as we wanted to have a platform to showcase our stories. At that point in time, YouTube was very niche and fresh. We decided to gather a bunch of good friends just to create short stories during our free time and honestly, we didn’t know where this would take us. Now, we’re a production house and also a content creator on YouTube. Most people know us from there and we get a lot of clients from our channel as well. That’s our bread and butter.

How would you describe your videos?

We want to do meaningful things. We’re living in a fast-paced society and we’re always very stressed out — all Singaporeans are. So when we produce stories, we just hope to enlighten and inspire people by talking about common things that they can relate to.

What has been the hardest thing about running Butterworks as a business?

I always tell people this, and I know that they can relate. It’s difficult to turn passion into a money-making business. When it comes to content creation, we create things that are not the easiest to produce. We create short stories and even mini-movies up to 60 minutes long. So imagine how much a production like that can actually cost, or how much time it actually needs. Even getting clients in is difficult. But we do it because of passion.

Plus, we always strive to let people have a message to take away at the end of our videos. It isn’t just about watching, laughing “hahaha” and bye-bye! We want people to take away something.

It’s always about striving to push our quality to another level. We started with DSLRs, but now we’re using cinema cameras. We’re constantly trying to increase our quality. And of course, we have to learn to be resourceful and keep to a certain budget.

I realised that in the early 2000s, other local channels started with listicle videos. They then evolved and are constantly moving with what fits the trend. But Butterworks has always kept true to the brand and stayed with heartwarming skits. Was there a point where you found it difficult to stay relevant in time?

Butterworks 2
Photo: YouTube/ Butterworks

We never really felt the pressure of following what other people were doing as there’s always going to be some form of saturation here and there. Yes, staying relevant isn’t easy. But we believe that short stories are always relevant to a certain extend.

Every day in our lives we’re talking about stories. Every day in your life it’s a story. The only problem is the amount of competition coming up, such as places with curated content or streaming platforms such as Netflix.

People are usually busy at work. So when they reach home, they want quality content to watch. That’s when they go onto Netflix or other platforms. That’s everyone’s struggle. So we do know that things are shifting and we’re constantly thinking — how do we keep their attention? Do we evolve? Do we move on to other channels and platforms? But the constant struggle is always a good problem.

Then how do you truly capture your audience?

It’s the way that you angle your title. For example, it’s like how reporters or journalists want to write their headlines. If you simply tweak your angle, sometimes your headline looks a little bit more interesting. Let’s say you want to talk about a guy being short. Would you write that this guy is not as tall, or would you say that this guy is short? There’s a difference. The one that says the guy is short captures your attention immediately, while the other one sounds more formal and polite.

I realised that Butterworks has also started a filming workshop. What’s the reason behind it?

We’re still in the middle of our first run and we had our first workshop, Video Production Kickstarter for Zero Experience People, last week. We started it because of COVID-19. All of us couldn’t work and production was at a standstill, so clients were held as well. Instead, My husband, Lun, and I got into adjunct lecturing.

Lun teaches cinematography, and the two of us are lecturing in another private school called Orita Sinclair School of Music and Design. Though the school focuses on music and design, we’re there to teach music videos. Because nowadays, the school recognizes that besides creating your music, you have to know how to market yourself, whether it’s via videos or other forms of media.

We also help to run workshops for Ngee Ann Polytechnic for their CET programmes. From there, we see the demand for videos as working adults that have been in the industry for a long time would need to do marketing. Some of them struggle as they’re older, so they come to understand how videos work and how they help you as a form of communication tool. We do enjoy teaching, that’s the reason why we decided to open the film academy and give back to society.

I used to be a film student and I find it so hard to put myself out there. So I can imagine what it’s like for an aspiring filmmaker who wants to put something on YouTube, but they’re afraid of judgement. What would be your words of encouragement for them?

I definitely agree that by putting yourself or your content out there, you’re being vulnerable. But to me, being vulnerable is a kind of courage and beauty, as long as you know how to take the comments in constructively. Don’t take it too hard on yourself. At the end of the day when you produce something, yes. You’re putting a piece of yourself inside. You can try your best in everything, but the only way to improve is to take in criticism and learn from it.

So for all the aspiring filmmakers out there, they need to have the courage to do so, take it as a challenge in their lives and climb a step further. Only from doing that, then can you really reach your goal.

At least you tried. And if you hit a wall, whether you bash through it or remain stuck, it doesn’t matter. Simply because you’ve tried and there are no regrets.

Takeaway from Butterworks

Photo: instagram/@rachelkellyoh

It’s easy for someone to pick up a DSLR and call themselves a director. But at the end of the day, it’s the grit and hard work that helps pave your way into making your passion a solid career. Though Rachel and her husband, Lun started with corporate and commercial videos, it’s their continuous love for filmmaking that created Butterworks, the alternative platform for their creative output.

It is the raw authenticity and heartwarming films that draw their clients in, and they’re a classic example of how passion can actually pay the bills.

Website | YouTube

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I leave the office at 6PM on the . to rush home and play games. My boss has no control over me!!

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