Recently, a group of new directors are rising. It’s noteworthy that most of them started out as screenwriters. On the afternoon of April 18th, bianjubang organized the Industry Conversation: The 5th China Film Screenwriting Seminar themed on “The Course of Growth from a Screenwriter to a Director” in Beijing.
Screenwriter-turned-directors like Zhang Xiaobei, Wu Nan, Yu Miao, Tian Yusheng and Yuan Yuan attended the forum and discussed the challenges and chances with which they have struggled. Also, they shared their precious experience in this regard. Famous scriptwriter Song Fangjin made a speech and Du Hongjun, founder of bianjubang， appeared as well.
Screenwriters become directors by chance or through effort
Screenwriters have become a major source of new directors. Incomplete statistics shows in China, there are more than 40 screenwriters-turned-directors and the number is increasing. Some had made full preparations in advance; some just seized the chance. Each has a different starting-point. And when they grow into directors, challenges arise. Yet the most difficult thing is adapting themselves to the transformation of roles.
Zhang Xiaobei who has engaged in writing movie reviews and planning many years is a co-screenwriter of Lee's Adventures and An Inaccurate Memoir. In his own words, Zhang had desired to be a director quite early. He has been making preparations. In this way, he was tied with Tencent Pictures on Pathfinder based on the comic series of the same name. This sci-fi movie is under post-production now. According to him, writing the script has no great difficulty. But for a new director, it’s difficult to do anything about filmmaking. “In China, the main work of a director is managing the crew. For me, filmmaking is not so difficult only if I can spend time learning; but crew management is difficult as I have to adapt myself to changing conditions.”
Wu Nan wrote the scripts of Curse of the Golden Flower and Crazy Alien. But she even had no chance to direct when she graduated from the Department of Film Directing of Beijing Film Academy. To make a living, Wu chose to be a screenwriter. Push and Shove turns out a script she wrote for others. But she found no proper director. Once she met with William Kong and asked, “Could you help me make a film?” That’s how she becomes a director. Unlike Zhang Xiaobei, Wu Nan tends to be managed by somebody else. She stated a screenwriter had the advantage to interpret a script. A script could make various members of a team to work together.
Yu Miao’s directorial debut Kill Mobile was screened in late 2018. This director joked that he had been hoodwinked into making the film by the investors. “They said, ‘you’d direct it by yourself. And you’d write the script beforehand.’ While Some Like It Hot was under way, I visited the location to learn about the whole process of filmmaking. There will be little difficulty left when a film is finished, said he. It’s really difficult if filmmaking stops halfway. In my opinion, a screenwriter supports the whole process of filmmaking; a screenwriter is always tenacious. When he planned to direct Kill Mobile, he invited Zhang Yibai to work as executive producer. And now he readily shared Zhang’s advice—a new director should not focus on technology, but on relationships and core conflict between characters.”
Tian Yusheng is the director of the Ex-Files franchise. But he had no mind to be a director at first. He finished the script Ex-Files and asked his friends like Lu Yang, Han Yan and Yang Qing to direct. It’s unlucky that they each had to make a film. “So, I had to helm the film as it was not fit for any older director. Later Huayi Brothers’ CEO and Co-Founder Wang Zhonglei told me, ‘Half a year has passed and you don’t yet find a director. You yourself could do it. Huayi will behind you.’ “Tian stated he lacked the experience in managing expenses of filmmaking. He was previously a screenwriter and knew little about directing. On this occasion, he provided advice to newbies, “Ask RMB 5 million more than the budget anyway!” He added: “If you need an executive producer, find one expert in expenses management, but not in film creation.”
Yuan Yuan, the screenwriter of Go away, Mr. Tumor, has a similar experience as Wu Nan. After graduation from School of Film and Cinematic Arts of Communication University of China with a master’s degree, she had been busy writing scripts and searching for investments. Later she served as screenwriter upon the tutor’s advice. In her eyes, many guys seem not professional during the shooting. “Only a few people devote their energy to making the film and many others just do their jobs. However, what film-making needs is not few people’s effort, but everyone’s hard work. Sometimes the workers do not fulfill their duties. I would wonder why I can do my work well, but they can’t. I feel very confused.”
Screenwriters should be calibre-oriented
When talking about the transformation, those guests disclosed their insights into the industry. Zhang Xiaobei, for example, said in recent years, there are more chances for young screenwriters. Despite that, he feared the situation may worsen and encouraged these youngsters to keep on going ahead. Wu Nan claimed the film industry needs forward analysis and any department involved in filmmaking is doing some handicrafts. What’s more, Yu Miao stated scriptwriting is low-cost and highly competitive. So, don’t wish to go viral overnight. Though there are more writers and more scripts, but good scripts are not so many, added Yuan Yuan.
Tian Yusheng stated that screenwriters should be calibre-oriented. “Screenwriting is an essential requirement for anyone engaging in the film industry. I think producer, art director or even cinematographer should receive training in this aspect. They should know something about it. Screenwriters should be calibre-oriented, indeed. They should learn storytelling from senior high school. Even so, they are not necessarily to be screenwriters. Such skill matters for any film practitioner.”
Song Fangjin: Don’t necessarily want to be a director
Sharp-tongued Song Fangjin delivered a fantastic speech titled The Story Warms My Heart and I’m Aspiring High. He shared with the audience his own experience in becoming a director. And he said not all screenwriters could be directors. “Don’t necessary want to become a director. If you have such a dream and write great scripts, you’d just do it.”
Also, Song stated that recently, he and Wang Hailin, Yu Fei have been devoted to making stars in scriptwriting. They have been trying to make these stars reach the same prestige, status, income and control of the film as directors, actors and producers. He earnestly hoped more screenwriters could hold fast to the profession. “It’s great to be a screenwriter. You cannot only get what a director wants, but even achieve much more than that.”
Bianjubang 2019: Keep on Going
At the forum, Du Hongjun said, any capable screenwriter could become a director as soon as he becomes qualified for the job. But certainly, he still hoped many screenwriters could hold fast the profession. No matter what kind of job you want—a director or an executive producer, there will be such a chance as long as you keep on going.