Finding a way to train young directors
China’s rapidly growing movie market has long been thirsty for qualified directors. Now the shortage may ease slightly thanks to a program which aims to find new talent.
The country’s two top movie authorities— the China Film Director’s Guild and the film bureau of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television — have jointly launched a program to support young directors.
According to the sponsors, five novices, ages between 18 and 38, will be selected after a four-month nationwide competition, the first edition of the annual project.
The winners will have five famed directors to guide them. The directors will act as executive producers.
This year marks the 110th anniversary of the birth of Chinese movies. “But young talent and their directorial works have accounted for a significant part of China’s cinematic culture and history,” says Zhang Hongsen, director of the film bureau.
Up to 10 million yuan ($1.56 million) has been set aside for the project, and more preferential policies and funds will be provided to support new filmmakers seeking to achieve their bigscreen dreams, says Zhang.
For Li Shaohong, president of the 300-member guild, the new filmmakers represent “the creative power” of the domestic industry, which is worried about rising competition from foreign rivals.
Though industry sources expect China to overtake the United States to become the largest movie market in the world in two to three years, around 40 percent of this year’s box office takings — so far grossing worth nearly 42 billion yuan — come from Hollywood blockbusters, which number around one10th of homegrown titles.
Wang Changtian, chairman of the industry giant EnlightMedia, says the market is currently short of around 200 “mature, skilled” directors.
The annual output of movies made for general release is around 300 in recent years.
A regular pace for veteran directors is one title per year, and currently only around 100 directors meet this norm, saysWang.
With its own project to train stars to become directors launched in 2011, Enlight has helped at least 20 celebrities including actor Xu Zheng, Taiwan singer-actor Alec Su and Taiwan idol actorWallace Chung.
Some who have proved their potential behind the camera include Xu, whose directorial debut Lost in Thailand (2012) was the highest-grossing domestic movie title for three years until Monster Hunt surpassed its nearly 1.3 billion yuan collection this year.
The best way for a newbie director to convince investors is to start with commercial work, says Wang, although most film majors prefer making art-house productions.
When a filmmaker proves his value to the market, he has more chances to “speak on something buried deep in his heart”, he adds.
Experience is also key to better filmmaking, say more than 60 veteran directors and officials from around 30 film studios.
Feng Xiaogang, a big name behind scores of commercially successful blockbusters, will helm the first edition of the program.
Revealing that he did not understand what it meant to be a director in his early years, Feng says he started to understand the entire system only after working on at least 15 titles.
“It’s a very tough job. When you walk deeper into directing, you find more struggles in your heart.”