The Macao sentiment in the movie Timing has moved many Macao and mainland audiences. How did budding movie director Emily Chan Nga Lei set foot on the path of commercial movies? She shares her story in this issue’s Chit Chat.
L: Culture Commentator, Lei Chin Pang
C: Movie Director Emily, Chan Nga Lei
L: You have signed contract with a Beijing studio to develop in commercial movie industry. What made you set foot on the industry?
C: I did movie-related and news reporter internships in university. When I graduated in 2012, I started to think if I should take it as my career. I have a dream to be a full-time movie worker, but after understanding the development of the industry, I realised that it is impossible to be a full-time moviemaker in Macao. I have to shoot commercials and music videos to make a living. In view of this, I continued to study to go on this path, and I enrolled in Renmin University of China. But then I realised Renmin University is a theory-oriented institute, and didn’t help getting me closer to the industry even if I went to Beijing. Those two years were my low ebb. Because of that, I was able to precipitate and started creating stories. Later I started looking for producers to work together with the story of Timing, and I went back to Macao to write to the Cultural Affairs Bureau and Macao Foundation to apply for capitals to shoot a commercial movie. In 2014, I joined the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Film Production Investment and Trade Fair organised by the Cultural Affairs Bureau. I got the Best Film Project Award with Kung Fu Goddess and caught the eye of my current manager in the Fair. At last I got a contract for a commercial movie and stepped into the industry genuinely.
L: What is the cooperation mode of Timing?
C: It is jointly shot by the mainland and Macao, with some mandatory requirements to involve workers, actors and scenes from both places. It is a mode of co-production.
L: How did you convince mainland studios to participate in the production of Timing?
C: I think I sold the story very excitedly to discuss the human touch of Macao, and struggle on whether to stay or not—it does not only apply to Macao, but also resonates people in those second-tier cities, because everyone one will go through the phase of proposal and marriage. Packaging the dilemma of staying or leaving with the idea of love is the attractive point of Timing. In the Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers Film Festival held in Lanzhou, the movie attracted a batch of post-80s and post-90s to the theatre. I heard some audience sobbing during the movie. They haven’t lived in Macao and can still resonate to the story—that’s when I realise that Timing should be able to break even in mainland.
L: What type of people is needed in the movie industry?
C: When considering signing in a director, movie companies do not care how technically advanced the candidates are. What they need are directors with insights, organisational skills, and the ability to articulate clearly to communicate. This is because techniques can be nurtured, and there are good executive directors, art directors and photographers to assist directors. But if directors lack the ability to write stories, it is like signing in robots.
L: When it comes to story creation and the idea designing, is it still vulnerable to clash with mainland cultures and taboos in censorship?
C: Actually the taboo is over-exaggerated—it’s actually pretty funny. For example, smoking is allowed but the scene of lighting a cigarette is not; and bad guys must end badly. There is no classification system in China, and the knowledge and academic level of audiences are not equal. Also China is vast, and there are things that must be put under control. So there’s a line to regulate what is not allowed while filming.
L: Can your experience and hardworking mode be a reference for youngsters with movie dreams?
C: First they need to come without family burden. Secondly they need to be prepared, read more books and watch more movies so that they have their own methods of expression, and be able to grab opportunities by telling their own stories at any time when they meet producers.