It is an honor to be invited to participate on industry panels, but the MPA-BJIFF Workshop: Feature Film Pitching Competition and Coaching, is particularly special for me. Not only do I have the opportunity to speak to young filmmakers about my experiences as well as work with, and foster the growth of the next wave of filmmaking talent, but I can also play a role in helping selected filmmakers to travel abroad and learn first-hand about film industries outside of China. The only greater satisfaction in discovering and helping young filmmakers early in their careers is seeing their final product come to fruition.
This year, more than 700 entries were submitted to the BJIFF Film Market. This may be the greatest amount of entrants in the seven years of the competition. Of these entries, it was narrowed down to four, each of whom spent 20 minutes pitching their film projects in front of panel Moderator, Hellen Chan and the six judges: Mike Ellis, President & Managing Director, Asia-Pacific, MPA; Zoe Chen, Producer, Ruddy Morgan Organization; Andrew Lazar, Producer; Carrie Wong, Head of Local Production, Film & TV, Greater China of Sony Pictures Entertainment; Ya Ning, Senior Vice President of iQiyi & President of iQiyi Pictures; Zhu Huilong, Founding Partner of CDH Cultural Industry Investment Fund; and myself, David U. Lee, Founder and CEO, Leeding Media. We then selected the two winners, Cosplay and Forest of Tumor. Cosplay, the 1st place winner will be off to Los Angeles, California for a five-day immersion course in November and Forest of Tumor, the 2nd place winner will be going to the Asia Pacific Screen Awards in Brisbane, Australia in November.
This is an invaluable experience for young Chinese filmmakers who would never otherwise have the opportunity to go abroad and connect with the international film industry first-hand. They will see the intricacies of how the various international players and stakeholders of a well-oiled and mature film industry function. With so many participants each year, increasing the number of winners to two this year was a great step in the right direction. I am hopeful the program will continue to grow by further increasing the number of participants who are able to travel to Los Angeles and abroad through the MPA’s support for developing Chinese filmmakers. This workshop is but one example of the MPA’s impressive and far-reaching range of exchange projects between the United States and China. These activities, including the forums during the Shanghai International Film Festival, the China International Coproduction Film Screenings, UCFTI expo and the new Golden Screen Awards held in Los Angeles have had a major impact on the improved knowledge and skills of filmmakers and have dramatically enhanced the growth of the market. It is also important to note that the MPA has worked alongside SAPPRFT and CFCC on many of the initiatives just mentioned. This close relationship continues to help strengthen ties between the two.
As for myself, this year marked the fourth time that I served as a judge and coach, and, as in previous years, the creative energy and excited optimism of the young Chinese filmmakers filled the room. As judges, our role is to listen to the finalists pitch us their projects, and then offer them advice and guidance in how to improve and hone their feature film presentation skills. My most important takeaway remains the same as it did the first year I served as a judge – it doesn’t matter where the filmmaker lives, studies or works, the making of a successful filmmaker has that extra “film passion” gene that is universal. That is also what makes the entertainment industry as intoxicating as it does – that passion permeates all facets of making a film – from writing, casting and shooting to the pursuit of financing, distribution and marketing. As judges and coaches, we share with them the joys and frustrations of the process and remind them that it’s all worth it. Regardless of whether you are simply attending the panels or you are one of the chosen to pitch your project, the goal of the workshop is for the filmmaker to learn – to learn from those who have come before. It’s also about learning what new technologies and opportunities may come next as well as how to hone your skills and to leave as a more knowledgeable filmmaker than you were when you arrived.
About David U. Lee and Leeding Media
David U. Lee is the Founder and CEO of Leeding Media. Leeding Media is an international entertainment company with offices in Los Angeles, California and Beijing, China. It is a production, finance and marketing company that serves as a bridge between the U.S. and Chinese entertainment industries. The company works with American studios, filmmakers and rights holders as well as Chinese investors, distributors and media companies to identify, negotiate and execute mutually beneficial partnerships and co-productions.