SHANGHAI - Dong Liqian, a senior at Tongji University's Film School in Shanghai, is a playwright, director, even video editor, having practiced all these things for TV and drama.
Dong Liqian writes a screenplay for a music video in a classroom of the Film School at Tongji University in Shanghai on Thursday. [Photo/China Daily]
In fact, Dong, 22, is still doing her internship as assistant director for Shanghai TV's Family Studio, a popular talk show about celebrities and their family members.
But, she's also a freelance writer for a professional studio in Shanghai that specializes in recording personal love stories as short music videos, or "love MVs", about how couples met and fell in love. These are becoming quite popular in some cities.
Dong found the part-time job on the Internet and, after a simple face-to-face interview in mid July, got the offer. She had to take part in a half-day screenplay training program with two other college students, but said that it's not a difficult job for a student who always gets As in screenwriting class.
She also thinks it's a good way to make some easy money: "I earn 150 yuan ($22) for each script."
Her task is quite simple, yet challenging: create a short script that satisfies the customers as well as the director.
She gets her assignment ideas from people who phone in then tailors her screenplay to the various people's needs. These might, for example, include a request for setting the video in 1930s Shanghai.
Customers will talk to the director in depth about their requests and expectations for the MV. They then fill in an information sheet, which describes their own particular love story, such as how they met, which particular experiences were the most moving, along with any difficulties in the relationship.
Dong then uses the information to make the script. Sometimes the director will contact her about a special request.
"I can quickly finish the script within two hours," she bragged.
"What customers want is romance, beauty and empathy," she explained. But, they can be quirky: "Once, a pair of lovers wanted even their dog to appear in the video."
And she does her best to write what the couple would like to see in the MV. Some lovers have no specific requests, so Dong is free to weave her own romantic version without much restriction.
Each MV has a unique clue running through the story, such as the couple's favorite toy. For example, she just finished a story about love in this life and in a past one, where a jade bracelet worn by the girl connects the two lives.
At the same time, "The director wants the MV to be easy to shoot and romantic as well," she said. "It's usually filmed in just one day, to keep costs down, so the script is really restricted, not only in length, say fewer than 1,000 Chinese characters, but also in content."
She has to think about the feasibility of every scene before writing it to make the shooting easier and more efficient.
"It's impossible to drive to several places to film the MV in one day's time. Our time is very limited."
Because Dong's a Shanghai native, she knows the city so well that she can easily arrange places where they shoot in an efficient way.
Some public places are very popular among customers, such as the Bund, old western-style villas, swimming pools, subway stations, parks and large lawns.
Sometimes she has to stretch her imagination to express abstract things in a concrete, simple way. Once a pair of newlyweds wanted to show how they met at a volunteer teaching program in Qinghai. In the end, the scene was filmed outside, with a bus passing by, with a sign reading "volunteer teaching in Qinghai".
Dong attributes her writing skill and her inspirations to her broad reading. She's a liberal arts student and has immersed herself in reading a variety of works, including kungfu novels, romantic fiction, fantasy novels, Kunqu Opera, Yuan Dynasty (AD 1271-1368) novels and books on architecture and psychology.
Her interest in drama led her to direct a drama, Amber, on campus in June. It drew an audience of more than 900 from schools around Shanghai. The play had been a box-office hit from China's leading avant-garde theater director, Meng Jinghui.
Still, she maintains jokingly, "I'm just a common TV migrant worker."
For Dong, being a screenwriter is no different than any other occupation. However, what she gains from the freelance job is so much more than just pocket money.
"Recording others' happiness is also happiness for me," she said.