AN INTERVIEW WITH XINYUAN CHEN, DIRECTOR & WRITER OF "PLEASE NOT BE MY MOM"
Winner: Best Family/Children Film - August 2021 Edition
DIRECTOR & WRITER
A graduate student majoring in film at Hong Kong Baptist University
Director, Cinematographer, Screenwriter, Editor.
Hello Chen Xinyuan. What motivated you to study filmmaking?
My undergraduate major was finance, however I didn’t show much interest for it. I went for it because I hadn’t scored high in Chinese Gao kao (Chinese university entrance exam) and as a result, I didn’t have too much choice. Let’s not mention “film” yet, but start with “image”. During my days in senior high school, I undercover carried around a “point-and-shoot camera” to record anything and anyone cool at school; I taught myself editing, to clip the images into videos.
Later, at university, I made friends with a guy majoring in media, Chen Jian. Actually, he is the “guide” who led me to step onto the path of filming. He taught me editing, shot many short videos with me. We even founded a media workshop. To be honest, I do not have a patient personality, and show for neither perseverance, nor am I the "studyholic" type. I tend to give up halfway along most of the time. However, to my great surprise, I never gave up on anything image-related (I could not call it film at that stage). I needed to stay in touch with it and keep learning. It felt like something was whispering to me: “Filming will be indispensable for the rest of my life.” I finally decided to get a master, and chose film as my major.
During the second semester of my fourth year at Uni, I accidentally —and fortunately - joined a variety show group and became one of the trainee directors. Although it was different from movies, I met many friends during the three months with the group. I thought I was only an intern and would not have a right to speak up. But no one, of all the leaders and colleagues I met, treated me as a minor intern; instead, they listened to my opinion carefully, took my advice. To this day, I’m very grateful to them for extending a helping hand, during those days of my directorial debut, and helping me build a kind of deep-rooted confidence.
Soon after, I was recruited by the Academy of Film at Hong Kong Baptist University, starting my journey to learn filming.
What is your first memory of cinema?
I think I started to know something about filming while at university, when I “arrogantly” shot a 60-minute love story with my friend. When I look back now, the movie was really badly produced, but I’d say that was my first time realizing what filmmaking is and that shooting a movie is not an easy thing… In that movie, I wore several hats, as leading actor and director; really hard to imagine that I would process such a movie back then…
There was no Art director, no A.D., no producer… I thought a director and a DoP were all you needed to make a movie. Of course, I didn’t realize until after a long period of time there were no scene progression, no art design, no directing mindset in that so-called 60 minute movie, and that it was simply a rough assembly of images. But it is due to that treasurable experience that I realized what authentic movie art is. Hard to imagine that the movie I felt so proud of was even broadcasted in my college…
What does it mean to make films today in China?
Nowadays, the entry bar for being a “director” in China is really low. All it takes it to have an iPhone 13, and anyone who can shoot a short video can be called “director”. Plus, the popularity of Tik Tok short videos brings great competitive pressure on the “directors”.
In today’s China, everyone can make movies, how can one outstand and been recognized? I think it’s a good question which shall be pondered for a long time.
We reckon your mother has seen your film. How did she feel about it, in what ways has it impacted your relationship?
The most important thing was to shoot what I wanted to express, actually I don’t expect my mother to make any changes, somehow. The majority of traditional parents in China are this way, and this can hardly be changed by a single movie.
After viewing the movie, my mom said nothing. But I know that she has understood, as I spotted the tears in the corner of her eyes.
Who is your favorite filmmaker, and why? Any favorite films, or genres?
I like David Lynch and I'm deeply impressed by his movie "Mulholland Drive".
David Lynch demonstrates a comprehensive capability in movie production, he masters everything from directing, photographing to audio designing, which is also my objective.
Would you share something about your future projects in film?
Right now, I am preparing my graduation design, I wish my work could be more mature and display my own style more, I also wish this short film could truly open my pathway to movie production.
Short statement describing your vision of the post-covid cinema, do you think there will be notable changes?
When the epidemic broke out, theaters in China were completely closed, and everyone could only stay at home to watch movies. Now that Chinese cinemas have reopened, I think it is a brand new opportunity for film creators. More people will be eager to enter the cinema, but at the same time they will also put forward higher requirements for film quality.