Students participate in a Harry Portter-themed workshop during the third annual Wellington College International Shanghai Arts Festival. Photo: Courtesy of Wellington College International Shanghai
Kirk Jones delivers a lecture to students in Shanghai. Photo: Courtesy of Wellington College International Shanghai
Invited by the third annual Wellington College International Shanghai Arts Festival (March 13-17), British director and screenwriter Kirk Jones recently paid his first visit to China to speak with local teenagers about the film industry.
Growing up in a small village in southwestern England, Jones started working as a "runner" for one year before becoming an assistant film editor. With his hard-earned money he wrote and directed short films, eventually winning several awards and gradually to a career in moviemaking.
Since his 1998 debut, the self-written feature film Waking Ned Devine, Jones has delivered five funny yet touching full-length films, including Nanny McPhee, Everybody's Fine, What to Expect When You're Expecting and My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.
After Waking Ned Devine, he received numerous scripts and requests to direct, but he refused all, intending only to direct films he himself had written. Then he read Nanny McPhee by Emma Thompson. A father of two sons, Jones was absorbed by the script, which tells a story of a father torn between work and family.
Recently he finished writing a new film, which is set in New York and the Caribbean and will start shooting at the end of this year. Amid his busy schedule at Wellington College, Jones (KJ) sat down with the Global Times (GT) to talk about film and family.
GT: What do you think is the most important lesson to deliver to budding filmmakers?
KJ: There are two things. One is the understanding that if you go to a creative field, you know writing, directing, even music, you must be aware from a very young age that there is no right or wrong answer. If you are a mathematician, for example, you know five plus five is 10, and you can stand confidently and the teacher says well done. But if you make a film or if you write a poem or a story, it's not that easy, some people say it is genius, another person would say it is the worst thing they have ever read. For that reason, I want children to feel confident when they're presenting their own ideas, because if they believe in their own ideas, that's all that matters. The other thing I've been talking to them about is the importance of pitching an idea. In the movie industry, from day one you have to pitch an idea to get the money to make the film, and then as you move forward, you have to pitch ideas to the studio who are paying for the film. You'll have to sit down around a table at some point in front of 12 people and say I have an idea, it's really important to me, I need this funding and these people. And if you can present it in a very focused way, in a short amount of time, be very clear, and present it with a passion, that will always help them in any career.
GT: Most of your films are about family; what is so fascinating about family for you?
KJ: I like to make films that people can connect to. When I go to the movies, I like to find some connection, and it struck me a long time ago that family is something that everyone on the planet has in common with each other. Everyone has the experience of family - some people have wonderful experiences while some hate their parents, brothers or sisters. Even though I'm an only child, I'm interested in family films, maybe because I never had that big family, so I'm interested in exploring it.
GT: In this era of communication technology, it's more convenient than ever to connect with people through instant messaging and social media. However, some people do feel lonelier than before. What's your observations of family bonds in this era?
KJ: Yeah, it's interesting when I made Everybody's Fine and I would travel with the film and people would say to me, "You've made me realize that I have to leave the cinema and ring my parents." People are able to stay in touch with each other really easily, but they still don't. And it's a very interesting time in the world with communication, maybe my hope is that there is a backlash. This generation are exposed to all this social media, but I hope soon people will say "I don't want that anymore," "I'm gonna leave my phone at home today," "I'm not gonna check my Facebook." And I already hear around the world about young people saying they want to move out of the cities to communities where they can grow vegetables and make their own houses, and I love that. I think people realize social media is a trend but maybe not a healthy one, I hope things will calm down in the future. It's bit like someone just invented alcohol yesterday and everyone is high, but in a year people will go "I don't do it, that doesn't help my life, I'm not interested in it anymore."
GT: You're very good at comedy. What's the most hilarious thing that has happened in your life?
KJ: When my son was six, my wife gave him a bottle which she thought was water, but it was gin. We'd been on holiday and had some gin, so we just put it in a water bottle and took it home. That water bottle was put in the bedroom, and one night my son was thirsty and my son just drank the gin and said "it's not very good, mom" before she smelled it. And my son told me later that "mom took me to the bathroom, dad, and she put a finger down my throat till I was sick." So just silly things; when you have a family, funny things happen.
GT: What's your favorite film?
KJ: Cinema Paradiso by Giuseppe Tornatore. I think it's a beautifully-made, lovely film, and he is a great director and great storyteller. I think for me, because I came from a very small community (like the protagonist in the film), where people have nothing to do with the film industry. You know I should have really become an electrician, carpenter or working with computers, because that's what all my friends do. That's my world, my bubble; but somehow, I don't know how, I ended up directing films.