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    Film industry thirsts for more trained talent

2004-02-12 07:32

The Beijing Film Academy has been packed with thousands of excited and boisterous teenage boys and girls since last Wednesday.

They have been braving the city's chilly weather to apply for admission to the academy's directing, acting, new media art, and film business management majors.

Vying for the fewer than 100 openings, all these youths, said to number about 9,000, have come with the dream of becoming famous film artists some day.

The auditions, which usually comprise three to four rounds, are expected to end on February 16.

The applicants who survive the auditions will still have to take a physical exam and pass the National Entrance Examination for Colleges and Universities this summer. Only those who overcome the last two hurdles will be enrolled in this, one of the most prestigious film academies in the country.

Similar auditions and oral exams are also held annually around this time of the year in the Central Academy of Drama, Beijing Broadcasting Institute, and Shanghai Academy of Drama.

For years, the applicants' touching stories and their stubbornness, eagerness and burning ambition to enter one of these "cradles of Chinese film superstars and top film artists" have been closely followed, widely reported and frequently commented on by local media.

But this year, amidst all the media bombardment, film industry insiders and people concerned about the development of the country's film industry have been spending a lot of time discussing the cultivation and training of film talent.

Looking beyond the prosperous business of the Beijing Film Academy and other major institutions connected with the performing arts, they have found that there are many questions that need to be answered if the Chinese film industry is to see a healthy development, despite the prospects of rapid growth.

More professionals needed

The popularity of the college majors in various areas of the film industry coincides with the industry's increasing demand for well-trained professionals.

"China's film and TV sectors are enjoying an increasingly agreeable climate for growth," said Huang Huilin, dean of the Academy of Media and Film Art of Beijing Normal University.

The industry is expecting more investment now that new policies concerning film production and distribution have come into effect. Large scale media and entertainment companies have been set up with increasing private investment.

Under the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement with Hong Kong, more film professionals and investors from there are expected to enter the mainland film market.

"With these changes, we can predict that the Chinese mainland film market will have more players, stronger competition and more vitality. More importantly, there will be an increasingly strong demand for talented people with film, TV, media and entertainment industry expertise," said Huang Huilin, who is also director of the Chinese Association of Film Education and Research in Universities.

However, "the lack of well-trained film professionals, particularly experienced film producers, talent scouts, managers, stunt choreographers, scriptwriters and marketing professionals, poses a major bottleneck for the future growth of the Chinese film, TV and entertainment industries," said Hu Bo, producer of the Beijing 2008 Olympics Bid Film, which was directed by Zhang Yimou.

"That's why many Chinese film companies, operating at either the regional or national level, have been becoming more and more anxious about the success of their films because of the shortage of film professionals with management, marketing and financing expertise," Hu said. "And that shortage has hindered faster development in these areas."

Zhao Bing, manager of the Import and Distribution Division of China Film Group Corp - rivalled only by the Huaxia Film Distribution Company, talked in an article about how newly recruited, well-trained young marketers have helped boost the marketing arm of their company.

In his division, there are 16 staff members, eight of whom are graduates, in their 20s, from the Film Business Management Department of Beijing Film Academy.

"They speak fluent English, are well-informed and use computers effectively in designing marketing plans. They can do in-depth film data analysis and learn very quickly from their foreign counterparts. Most importantly, they carry out film distribution campaigns with much better results than we old fellows can do," Zhao said. But Zhao wants to see even more young talent in his group.

In the film production sector, the lack of trained people with good skills and a strong sense of responsibility has resulted in the making of many lousy films each year, said Chen Guoxing, director of the well-received films "Dark Eyes" and "Kong Fansen."

"A large number of talented and ambitious young film people are eager to become famous and wealthy directors, but they hate to work as obscure assistants, which is equally important and demanding in the business of producing high quality films," he said.

Also, there is a shortage of film producers.

"In the TV sector, they have many outstanding producers such as Zhang Guoli and Zhang Jizhong. But in the film sector, we can name very few like Zhang Weiping, who works with Zhang Yimou, and Wang Zhongjun, who teams up with Feng Xiaogang," said veteran film critic Ma Zhi.

Zhang and Wang are arguably two of the most successful film producers in contemporary China.

"A qualified film producer must have both a thorough understanding of filmmaking and a shrewd sense of the market," Ma said.

Veteran film director Zhang Yimou has repeatedly called for the creation of better scripts for the big screen. But "for quite a long time, 'copycat' scriptwriters have been everywhere and 'clones' of well-received films are being hastily made using second-rate stories, in a bid to make profit," said Xing Zhaolin, a veteran filmmaker in Beijing. "Many Chinese films have been criticized for their lack of depth and novelty."

When speaking of talented film directors, Huang Jianxin, director of the Chinese Film Directors' Association, pointed out: "Although most of them are already in their early 50s, the Fifth Generation of Chinese film artists such as Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, Tian Zhuangzhuang, He Qun and Li Shaohong, are still pillars of the Chinese film production force. The younger generations are not strong enough to fulfill their mission yet."

Lu Xuechang, film director of the popular film "Cala, My Dog," is not satisfied with the supply of film actors and actresses.

"Very often we see too many Chinese actors and actresses with handsome or beautiful faces and sexy voices, but it is hard to find one who is fully qualified to take on a challenging role," he claimed.

Recent years have seen a convergence of different fields of the media and entertainment industries, analysts say.

For instance, many fashion models such as Hu Bing and Qu Ying, pop singers such as Chen Kun, and TV anchors such as Ni Ping and Li Xiang, have entered the film and TV industries.

But because of their lack of professional training in filmmaking, some of them have not done as well in the film business as they have in their previous careers, said Xiao Dong, a Xi'an-based filmmaker.

Film education expands

Because there are not enough film professionals to meet demand, there has been talk about expanding film education beyond the campuses of film and drama academies and improving professional training.

"There should be more film majors and film schools for young Chinese. The monopoly of film education by a handful of film schools should be crushed," said a Beijing Film Academy teacher, on condition of anonymity.

"This would help cultivate more qualified film talent for the industry and also help foster a larger audience of informed film-goers," he said.

"It is true that in film, much like scaling a pyramid, only a few are lucky enough to make it up to the top, while most will remain in obscurity. However, many can still find a rewarding niche for their talents," said Lu Liping, a famous Chinese actress and president of Beijing Lu Liping Film Art School.

"Generally speaking, the qualifications of current Chinese filmmakers are relatively low when compared with the skills of their counterparts in developed countries where the film business is more active," Lu said. In fact, the Beijing Film Academy, Beijing Broadcasting Institute, Shanghai Academy of Drama and the Central Academy of Drama in Beijing, the alma mater of most of the current stars and noted film directors, are gradually losing their monopoly.

Since 1993, about 600 film majors and schools of media and film studies have been set up in comprehensive universities across the country, and are now competing with the old guard schools, according to professor Huang Huilin, who founded the Academy of Media and Film Art of Beijing Normal University in 1992.

"The film industry needs fresh blood. Film education is vital for the revitalization of the Chinese film industry," Lu said, adding that new concepts, methods and operation modes must be introduced in film schools.

(China Daily 02/12/2004 page13)