Tales of Beijing

By Wei Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2013-3-13 19:43:01


From the competition's official website, this scene of inspiration for US screenwriter candidates shows a Peking Opera performer applying makeup. Photo: Courtesy of Beijing Int'l Screenwriting Competition
From the competition's official website, this scene of inspiration for US screenwriter candidates shows a Peking Opera performer applying makeup. Photo: Courtesy of Beijing Int'l Screenwriting Competition

Are you interested in China? Do you have talent in scriptwriting but find it too hard to be noticed? Or do you get cold feet when thinking about sending your works out to big studios? You may find an opportunity in the 2013 Beijing International Screenwriting Competition.

Co-launched by Beijing International Creative Industry Corporation and Harvardwood, a volunteer-run, non-profit organization for Harvard University alumni, and under the supervision of Beijing Municipality State-owned Cultural Assets Supervision and Administration Office, the Beijing International Screenwriting Competition is open for all US-based professional and nonprofessionals of any nationality.

Winners may win a free week in Beijing, a cash prize as high as $15,000, and the possibility of having their script made into a movie.

For old and young alike

Starting from this early March, the competition contains two sections: feature film competition and short film competition.

While the short film section is mainly targeted at full-time students who are currently studying in any college, university or film school in the US, or recent graduates, the feature film section welcomes any US-based person who has the interest.

Both sections require participants to submit a brief screenplay.

There are no rigid demands on how to organize the proposals, but one very important thing is that all stories must center on Beijing, its people or culture; in other words, they should be "tales of Beijing."

Altogether, writers of five feature film selections and 10 short film selections will receive an all-expense-paid week in Beijing, as well as a cash reward of $1,000 each. There will be Grand Prizes for both sections as well, and winners of the short film competition will have the opportunity to have their screenplays shot into movies, whereas the winner of the feature film competition will receive a final reward of $15,000 in cash.

Also, there will be 100 Early Bird Prizes in the short film section for those who make their submissions made by March 29, 2013. Each of the Early Bird Prize consists of a $100 AMC gift card.

The deadline for feature film proposal submission is April 7, 2013, while that for Early Bird Prizes is March 29, and short film submission is April 20.

Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Mark Harris and key consultant to Oriental Dreamworks Tracey Trench will be the judges for the competition. 

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter last week, Trench said that her hope "is that the competition will bring the two cultures closer together through the delicious language of film."

Stories behind

In a face-to-face interview with the Global Times, Zhang Huiguang, Director of the State-owned Cultural Assets Supervision and Administration Office of the People's Government of Beijing Municipality, said that the office had been thinking about how to make the Chinese culture, especially the culture of Beijing, welcome in foreign lands. And very coincidently, a Canadian Chinese student from Harvard contacted the office last year, telling them that more and more students in the US were becoming interested in China, with many already studying the country; so he hoped for more activities that could provide these students with opportunities to get closer to China. 

"The two ideas from both sides hit it off instantly," Zhang said, explaining that in the very beginning they only thought about having foreign students to tell stories of Beijing. "But later we thought we could make it bigger and more interesting - to write screenplays and have them shot."

Zhang believes this kind of cultural exchange will bring possible future cooperation between China and Hollywood in the movie making process, which is also a welcome trend.  

Zhang is very proud in telling the Global Times that such activity is the first of its kind, and believes it is a very good way to encourage young people to build interest in China and foster artistic collaboration between the US and China.

As of last Monday, the affiliated organizations and departments at seven well-known US schools have publicized the competition to the registered students and alumni. They are Harvard, MIT, NYU, UCLA, USC, Williams College and Yale.

Zhang also told the Global Times that if this year's competition goes well, in the future they may consider expanding it to more countries, as people from Canada and the UK have also shown interest.

Chinese tales, foreign tellers

Having its culture understood and stories liked by international audiences have been eager wishes for both the Chinese government and non-government institutions in recent years. However, even after AMC was purchased by China's Wanda Group, few Chinese movies could make a huge big office overseas.

Take the recent Chinese movie Lost in Thailand as an example; while it took in over 30 million yuan ($4.82 million) at home on its first day, its three-day take at North American box offices was only $32,000.

The same situation happened with other movies that were popular at home. Two such movies Zhang has the deepest impression about were Aftershock (2010) and If You Are the One II (2010).

But by contrast, Zhang said, Mulan (1998) and Kung Fu Panda (2008) received great welcome both in China and the North American market.

"It seems that Chinese storytellers and foreign story-tellers see from different points of view when looking at the same thing," Zhang said. She hopes through this competition, Chinese stories will be told in an internationally acceptable way.

When asked how young students in the US, who may have barely visited China, can understand Beijing and its culture enough to write a good screenplay, Zhang answered that she understands some works may not be that deep, but if this competition can help more young people build an interest in China and enrich their understanding of Chinese culture, they've "fulfilled the first step."

Besides, compared with foreign students who study in Beijing and may have a better understanding of the city, Zhang thinks those who have seldom or never been to China have less of a chance to get to know the capital and therefore should be given this opportunity.

Yu Chun, a domestic director, told the Global Times in a phone interview that although it's not only the scripts' fault that Chinese movies do not receive good acceptance overseas, this kind of activity is a good way to try to break through the cultural divide.

Yu's words are echoed by Chinese script writer He Ye, who said, "Though US students lack a [deep] understanding of China, which seems to be a disadvantage in writing a Chinese story, still the author (Jiro Asada) of The Firmament of the Pleiades had never been to China before [he finished this novel] either.

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