Why did you choose film?
It enlarges the emotions. When I was in high school I got to have a DV (digital video) camera. And I used to take my grandmother’s pictures – I would ask her to act elegantly and film her, but actually in all the video I made she was angry with me, saying “No, you can’t film me because I’m not wearing a good dress” and things like that.
One afternoon, I put my camera in front of her, but I didn’t notice that the record button was still on. When I came back and rewound the tape I was really surprised. It showed a close-up of her heartbeat. Which I’d never seen in my 16 years. I realised that the camera has something magical.
How did you go about pursuing your studies?
In 2005, nobody was going into the film industry. I had two really good teachers who actually went to USC [University of Southern California] but they focused on video art, so they didn’t really talk about movies at all. Because I think the whole of society didn’t have the market, we not only didn’t have the cinema market but we also didn’t have someone to generate [the content].
So, I tried Beijing Film Academy. Actually, I also went to look at academies in Taiwan and Shanghai but they all only focused on drama and theatre, and didn’t have any film academy.
It’s like a Kung Fun school, which you go to and you forget why you study Kung Fu; you just learn all the techniques and foundations.
I really worked hard. The year that I graduated I found out that I’d gotten all the prizes – honour student, the Sony Scholarships. Those four years really helped me in a political sense and in the scale of how a film market can be.
Choosing to stay on in Beijing after the degree, what did you think of the industry?
My first job after graduating with a Bachelor’s degree was to work in a commercial film directed by Wang Leehom, a Taiwanese-American. He was already a very famous singer but then he wanted to try his first movie. When I was in the film industry I found out “Oh no, they’re not really making movies” – at that time I was very naïve.
I was the on-set editor and they asked me to do lots of product placement (implanting products in the film). After those four years of learning I supposed I was already well trained in all the techniques and knowledgeable about the passion of making movies. But on this project I really learned how the film industry is, and that made me feel like I should question whether what I was choosing as a career was correct.
But that was good [because] after the film academy I focused on all the techniques but I forgot that when someone is hitting me I have to avoid [the blows] or I have to fight back.
How did you go about pursuing film?
I returned to Beijing Film Academy for my Master’s degree to find an opportunity to make my own films. At that time, they exchanged 35-millimetre film for digital. Everything was changing; I went for the Master’s degree when the whole system was changing, so people were changing also.
So, I pitched a project set in Paris about a jazz singer who tries to create a second life in Paris as a chef. A total change but lots of inner self-reflection since she has to be highly motivated as everyone thinks she can only be a singer, and in China the profession of chef isn’t seen as so prestigious.
So, we made the project in three years, and I tried to again be a high school student and take my camera and follow her everywhere to make the documentary.
In addition, I was working on some short films, including ‘Macao Stories 2 – Love in the City’. This series is a feature film but with six different directors . . . we went to Portugal, Japan, everywhere to meet other filmmakers. So, it’s another kind of exchange activity [thus] I gradually formed a film industry network of my own.
In the Master’s degree period I also worked on a commercial movie which did very well at the box office called Finding Mr. Right. It was a commercial love story made with a small budget, and we went to Vancouver and New York to make the movie. But then the product was very successful, making a mark at the Chinese box office – I think something like RMB5-6 billion – but the film was made for less than RMB500,000.
So in my involvement then in the Mainland film industry I was editing a feature film, doing IPs – adapting novels into scripts – all because of my classmates who are all in different positions in the film industry. They tried to get lots of opportunities for me.
Did you choose Bejing Film Academy because you knew you would get a network out of it?
No, it just happened naturally. When I was about 17 no-one told me what Beijing Film Academy was. At that time I wanted to do movies but none of the universities were offering film classes except Beijing Film Academy. The Internet was still taking off, there was no YouTube, so I think we’ve experienced a lot in the years since then – YouTube, ITE, Youku, the whole online network.
You can see film production – the market selling or the producers or the executive producers are very crucial. But for the networks I think it’s also very crucial but it makes it quite easy. When I talk to my friends who are producing a network film they really have lots of money to do post-production, and also there’s not a very big cast, so they’re not limited in that sense.
What about your current project?
‘My Dreamer Daddy’. After all this journey – high school, bachelor, film crew, implanting commercials, joining the commercials as the on-set editor in Vancouver and New York, doing the documentary – I felt that it might be good timing to start my first feature film.
So I found a Hong Kong producer named Matthew, who is the executive producer of ‘Finding Mr. Right’. All the nine features which he produced were either successful or didn’t [suffer] any loss. So, he’s really well known in the whole industry, including Taiwan and across Asia. He told me that if I’m ready I have to find something which I have confidence in doing. I told him about this piece – a father and son’s interaction, speaking of dreams and reality – and found this is what I have a strength in.
For this project we don’t have a very big budget, it all depends upon the cast. In particular, I have a father figure in this movie, so if the father – if he is a well known actor – the whole production will be upgraded to a more commercial product.
The two-day investment fair [Guangdong–Hong Kong–Macao Film Production Investment and Trade Fair], groups such as Sony Entertainment or Mainland China investors, they all asked my producer about how they could invest in the project.
I found it’s a really good opportunity to attend this kind of pitching because now I still have to create a lot of content – the pre-production, etc. – but I will have knowledge of the financial side; I won’t be as stubborn as I was when in high school or a fresh graduate from the film academy.
I found that implanting commercials is really good, if you can do it skilfully and make it not so obvious, that’s a good way [for extra funding]. My producer asked me to choose the investment, saying that in China nowadays the investment is huge so everyone is finding projects to invest in, so not everyone is the most suitable investor for you.
Do you like storywriting?
I like all the things that I can do by myself. In high school I had this kind of energy and tension because I went to a drama class at the conservatory that was held as an extracurricular activity. I started going to it when I was 13 with my sister.
I didn’t know yet but I found that I could change from a visual image to a story already when I was that age.
Later on in the drama class, we had all kinds of activities and exercises – we had to go out to the street and have a paper and observe people. Asking myself “Why does this guy have three watches” and so on. So, I wrote these types of things down and then would go and share them with the class. That’s why when I went to university I found it actually quite easy to access the process.
Was leaving Macau and then coming back to work a hard decision?
It was really tough.
The conservatory where I had been studying called me, and the headmaster said that they wanted to [launch] a scriptwriting course, mainly about film scriptwriting, but just for short films.
He asked me “Can you do this?” and I wasn’t sure because I was actually writing a script for an IP, and it was paying well. So I said “Okay, maybe I can” since I was just writing, so I thought maybe I could be based in Macau.
But later on I found out it was a trap, I started the semester and every Friday I had to teach at night from 7:00pm-10:00pm, something like that – but then the Beijing producer said “Okay, you have to come to Beijing, we’ll have a meeting”.
Monday to Thursday I was in Beijing, then I came back on Friday to teach. I felt guilty because all I earned went into buying the plane tickets, but at least I gained the miles to fly to Europe.
In July, I moved back to Macau, but I had no job. I just kept some creative work in Beijing. I went to the U.S. and stayed with my brother for a month and found a topic to film in the U.S., and then when I came back there were offers like the part-time job at the University of Macau.
At that time, in September and December I also went to some primary and secondary schools to just give a talk about action movies and how students can open their hearts to capture things.
I also went to an association for the deaf, trying to learn if I can’t really hear, how can I visually make [the film] strong. I met lots of people and from this experience, from that point of view, I could write a story which I really felt was connected to people.
All those days when I was in Beijing I was doing a very routine job. I would go to the office, then go to a coffee shop and edit or write my script with nobody [around]. This new experience changed me a lot.
Also, when I went to teach at the university I had to make them write their own scripts and because I was also writing my script we actually jammed and influenced each other. So, after the class all 29 students had their own script and they knew that it was a script with soul.
I also felt when I was making movies the energy and the contentment with my work – but now I feel another kind of contentment.