Today our guest is iconic figure in the filmmaking world, legendary film and tv film director, Mr Wang Weimin (王伟民先生). Together with such iconic names as Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, Ang Lee, John Woo his name is firmly embedded in the history of filmmaking of China, and after participating in numerous International Film events, his name, together with Steven Spielberg, his name embedded in the history of the world filmmaking.
After graduating from Shanghai Drama Institute, director Wang Weimin studied in the Soviet Union at the Leningrad Academy of Drama. Later he was transferred to the Moscow National Academy of Culture, and obtained bachelor's degree.
In 1995, Wang Weimin returned to China and got the chance to work with the famous film director Xia Gang. He had done scene recording, worked as director's assistant, and deputy director. After making his own independent films, he made some modern youth dramas.
Starting from the "Blue Contest" in 2000, Wang Weimin began to work on the creation of iconic projects, such as "Good Man Li Chenggong", "The Eyewitness", "The First Prison in the Far East", etc.
In 2014 Wang Weimin directed the first urban-emotional TV series "Daddy's Love Life", it had rich audio-visual expressions and post-modern performance methods, which allowed this TV show to become the most popular TV drama in China. After his TV series were aired by CCTV, in 2016, he received very high ratings.
In 2015, “My Golden Blood Dream” was broadcast. Wang Weimin’s realistic style anti-war masterpiece was praised as “the conscience of the industry”. “So many people promote historical studies, development and use a small person to reflect the great history of the War.
His major works are: "The Blue Contest", "The Good Man Li Chenggong", "The Eyewitness", "The First Prison in the Far East", "Jiangyin Fortress", "Study of Saving a Female Soldier", "Red Sword", "Dad's love life , "My armored Jagged dreams" , "Yihai Alliance", "Soma flowers " (主要作品包括：《蓝色较量》、《好人李成功》、《目击者》、《远东第一监狱》、《江阴要塞》、《拯救女兵司徒慧》、《红色利剑》、《囧爸的爱情生活》、《我的铁血金戈梦》、《彝海结盟》、《索玛花开》).
In his works Mr Wang pursues the historical realism, and they have a very deep sense of humor. While shaping characters that the audience likes, they also pay attention to the richness and cultural heritage of the film.
During past decade Mr Wang Wei Min got multiple awards in China, as well as in the US. During last years his TV Films were extremely successful in China, getting highest ratings.
I knew that behind his eyes there is a unique Universe and a dramatic story. My intuition told me that a person cannot become successful film director without a super rich and at the same time dramatic background, and when Mr Wang Weimin agreed to meet for an interview I felt super lucky. I knew there will be another legendary story discovered, but I didn't expect it to be that deep.
We met in Beijing and at the first impression I got was not that I met a successful man from entertainment industry, but a wise and peaceful man, with deep inner world and vision. Despite the fact that Mr Wang is famous and successful he is very modest and down-to-earth.
Dialogue with him was like reading an Encyclopedia, book of wisdom and book of history at the same time.
You are welcome to watch and enjoy our interview:
Mr Wang, first of all thank you for finding time to meet and record this interview, in order to share with our viewers your story, points of view and plans.
- Hello everybody!
- First of all I’d like to say that my main major is TV Film Director, I’m focused on filming TV Shows, TV Film. I grew up watching films of Steven Spielberg, and also learned from him. When I went to University, I watched and learned from his works, such as “Jaws”, “Jurassic Park”, … etc. I watched a lot of his films and many times, because I needed to learn. That is why I believe that our generation received a lot of American filmmaking influence. And not only in film, but in tv shows as well. American film tv shows, as well as European and Russian, all made influence. I personally studied in Russia. So what I’m trying to tell you is that we, our development, received a lot of influence from the World film industry. 30-40 years ago in China we had not many chances. Industry wasn’t regulated by market, it was government regulated. Director could film what government needed to be produced, or may be TV Station had a project of TV Series. As far as I remember, at that time we had 2-3 TV shows made per year, 1-2 films per year at a film factory. We had around 7-8 film factories in China. They were not like modern company, it was just like a small factory. Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Changchun - these big cities had a film factory. Each factory produced 1 film per year. That is why to be film director during those times was very difficult. How come they could trust you to make the film? It was very difficult. But if you made it, you had audience of one billion viewers or more, and you could become famous right way. We got acquainted with successful directors of those times and we had a strange feeling. There was nothing too special about them. How come he became so famous? Then we realized that it was a historical matter. May be he didn't make the film very well, but because he got this chance - the whole country knew him. This is not fair, you know, you had to work so hard. Now it is totally different. Now we have about 500 films made per year, I mean those films which were screened. We might have 500 or more which weren’t screened. Hence, we have around 1000 films made per year. Regarding tv series, we have around 20 000 episode produced per year, huge volume. The industry, including directors, editors, producers, actors - became like a pyramid. In the lower level a lot of people are making films. You have chance to get to another level if you make a very good product, only this way you survive. If you stay only on the bottom level, there are no much chances. Billions of RMB are wasted there. Chinese market is huge, a lot of financing is coming not only from the film industry. There are bankers or other business people, and they get interest in investing in a tv film or film. Chinese market is also growing, developing very fast. May be in few years or 10 years, it can be as stable as it is in America or the EU. As for example Hollywood, or New York. There are only these big and professional companies who compete in the market. In China things are still changing, but again the market is very active, what is very good. That’s why I believe we, directors of my generations, live in a very good era. It is also connected with Chinese economic development. People stabilized their lives, they live a good life. Now if we make a tv show or film, my salary, for example, is about the same as it is in Hollywood. Generally when they make a film or tv series, they can earn about few millions of dollars. Here we earn about the same. But I mean of course our earnings in Chinese currency. But I must say that you can make these money only when you achieve this certain high level. For example if I work on a tv series I can earn 2-3 millions of dollars. After you reach a certain level you can make it. If you are in the bottom level it is impossible. Just as it is in America, we are about the same. Majority of actors and directors, their lives aren’t rich. When you achieve high level, such as Steven Spielberg, then of course, your earnings can get close to numbers he makes. I also think we have many opportunities to partner up, this is a thing I’m happy about. I visit America each year at least once, we go to Hollywood. Now we have a lot of mutual projects to develop.
- Mr Wang, you have just shared with us the history of development of the filmmaking industry of China. It is very interesting for us to know your story. When you became interested in this sphere? What made you interested in filmmaking?
- In 1988 I entered Shanghai Drama Institute. I have been studying there for 2 years. At that time I liked drama a lot. Then there was a chance to go to Russia. At that time it was Soviet Union. It was a wonderful chance, also because the government paid for my studies. They offered me this opportunity and I accepted it. I came to USSR, started learning Russian language, and entered the St Petersburg (Leningrad at that time) University of Drama, Film and Music. I studied there 1 year and then, I went to Moscow Film University for a masterclass. It impressed me so much and I decided to move to Moscow for my studies. In Moscow I started my major in film. At that time, 80-90s, Soviet Union had a very good quality film education. I studied there for 4 years and then came back home. After I returned I decided to be film director. However, for a young person, there were no chances, because as I already told you, during those times we had only few films and tv series produced per year. At film factories there were many old film directors, waiting in line. For me, a young guy in his 20s, nobody would give this chance. Therefore I decided first to work at the TV Station, to make documentary films. I was still thinking what to do, because I wanted to make movies. I believe at that time one of the best directors was Mr Xia Gang, he was a very famous director. He liked me and my work a lot, He asked my story, I introduced myself, my background and he invited me to work with him. I came to his studio, started by working as Director’s Assistant. We made 3 films together. I did many different jobs, as well as Director’s Assistant, Vice - Director. When we were working on our 3d project, an investor approached me and asked if I wanted a chance to work on my own project as director. At that time market already opened and there was a need in young directors to film tv shows. So they approached me and asked if I wanted to be director on their project. I felt shy and said that director (Xia Gang) is here, I can’t decide without him. They talked to Xia Gang and he happily agreed. It was a 3 episode tv show. Xia Gang told me to take this project. I didn’t have much experience at that time and I don't think the project was filmed perfectly well. Nevertheless it was pretty successful for that time. Since that time I worked in this sphere around 15 - 16 years.
- Mr Wang, I noticed that stories of your projects are almost always tied with history, historical stories, and culture. Why did you choose this genre? Why, for example, didn’t you choose science fiction or futuristic films, such as James Cameron’s “Terminator”, when a person from future comes to the past…
- I believe it’s because, when I was small, I got education in the USSR. Soviet war films made impact on me. For example, Bondarchuk his films. Yes, imagine, I met Bondarchuk alive. Later he passed away, unfortunately. Soviet culture and education influenced me a lot, made me interested in history and different historical events, wars, etc. Actually I was more interested in history since I was a little kid. In the beginning of my career I made some modern tv shows, for youth. Later I thought that it isn’t right, my direction isn’t right. The more I was watching, the less sense I found in these projects. Then I took a moment and thought about what I like the most. If you are a film director you have to first of all ask yourself what your favorite thing is, what things are touching for you. Then you can make a good quality film. I believe no matter if you are director, or you have different position at this project, it has to have some connection to your life. Directing should not be acting. For example, Steven Spielberg. First of all he is Jewish. That is why he could film so good his projects “Schindler's List”. He put a lot of himself, his heart in this film. I watched “Schindler's List” a lot of times. I’m sure that this film for sure has a lot of Spielberg’s feelings, his views in life and historical non fairness towards Jewish people, and German aggression towards Jewish. I believe that he could make this film so good because of these matters. The same is with me. I asked myself - what is the thing I love the most. For China and Chinese people, their path was very difficult. Starting from Qing Dynasty, we had a lot of bitter times. Today, me being Chinese, living in this era, I have a great feeling of happiness in my heart. Just try to compare, and only if you’ve learned history you can understand. For example, our modern life today. My year income is about 2-3 millions of dollars. From the point of view of American citizens, it’s nothing much. In the US many people can achieve this level. However for China it is different. I’m a regular person, I don’t rely on rich parents or something like that, only on myself. I am an ordinary person. May be from the film director’s level I’m reached a bit higher level, but still I am a regular person. I don't think I’m something amazing, and I don’t compare myself with big bosses. Nevertheless I have the feeling of happiness in my heart. Through hard work I could get a good house, good car. Each year I can travel to any place in the world. Or I can buy a vacation house in another country. In China, 30-40 years ago such things were not achievable and unbelievable. At that time my parents together only earner about 50 yuan. I was studying at the University at that time. If we look at even earlier times, when my father was young then it was much more difficult. It was the time of war. Guo Mingdan and Gong Chandan were fighting each other. Before that - Japanese invasion. Before that another war, before that - Qing Dynasty. In China each era had it’s difficulties. When it was the time of the Emperor, ordinary person’s life had no value. That’s why I believe that in China today, after 100 years of these hardships, our lives became much better. People with good income, no matter where they go, to the USA or Japan, their income now is about the same. Now nobody can look at, lets say, Americans from below because they drive a car, or have a fridge. It was a long time ago. Now everyone is about the same. That is why history is very important. We came to this level today though a very hard path. Therefore I always continue studying history, and through history explain our modern life. If you don’t study history you can’t understand where you might appear and what direction to take. Life has limitations. I am 48 years old right now. May be I’ll work 18-20 more years, and then I won’t make any more films. This period is very short. That’s why, as director, I believe that I must have social responsibility and I’m sure American directors are the same. Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks - they have a huge social responsibility. Their ways or interpretation might be slightly different but still, they have this responsibility. This is the most important matter why my films are all based on history.
- I understand now. This your story and understanding are very touching.
- Yes, absolutely. If you are director, your story has to be touching and touch yourself first of all. I saw many directors, not good directors, they are acting as they were touched by the story.
- If I’m not mistaken, you started filming TV series and films in 1999. Which your projects you consider to be the most successful?
- Correct. Projects which were made during last 3 years I believe are the most successful. During last 3 years I made mostly TV films, for example “My 1997”. It was dedicated to return of Hong Kong in 1997. Also last year we made “Suo ma huokai”. This year “Yi Hai Jie Meng”. It got the highest award in China “Fei Tian Jiang”, it is like Oscar for TV Film in the US. For me right now, my experience and finance reached already certain level, that is why it is my duty to make each episode the best I can. That is why I believe all projects, which I made during last 3 years were pretty successful. Of course I don't stop and plan to have more successful projects in future. I have to get even more experience and for example, in order to get more funds, you have to investigate the market much better and deeper. In China, film directors do these kind of market investigations. For example with which TV channel to partner up, or which city or region to pick as the target audience. In the US producers are doing this, in China it is done mostly by film directors. For example when investors come, they might not be professionals from this sphere and they won’t do distribution, that is why we, directors, do this work. This investigation is pretty important. For example, if you partner up with this TV Station, you can earn only 5 million, or 10 million. Not more. Hence if even you film it better and invest more, you wont earn more than that amount. That is why we study the market precisely. Now I my experience in understanding the market, working with funds, doing projects, looking for actors is already pretty mature. Normally it won’t let me go along the wrong path. I understood that being a film director is a very responsible thing. Just like in the US, lets take Steven Spielberg for example, he has a very sensitive feeling regarding market and it’s preferences. He isn’t only good as director, but he is also good in business. There might be a young director, who can work not worse than Steven Spielberg, however his knowledge about market, audience, working with big movie stars are definitely non comparable. That is why when you are a successful director, a mature director, you have everything in one system.
- Thank you. Mr Wang, if we talk about your films from the point of view of it’s story. Story wise, which from your projects, are your favorite and most successful.
- Story wise, I believe it is the “My 1997” project. We also participated in the American - Chinese Film Festival. It is a tv show, which tells us about the history of the period from 1997 till 2017. Before Hong Kong returned to China, people were moving there mostly illegally, trying to build their lives and starting from the lowest and hardest types of jobs. He didn’t have good place to sleep and to eat. He went through all these hardships he became successful. His girlfriend was on the Mainland China, how she went to be together with him. I really like that story because it has the history, but also has people’s destiny in it. It adds a lot of warmth to the story. There are a lot of things which happen to us in real life. “My 1997” is a pretty short tv show, it has 30 episodes. We made it very fast. The script was finished in 2 months, we filmed it during 3 months and that was it. And because it had this warmth in it, this project went very smooth and fast. I love it a lot, yeah.
- Mr Wang, you studied at Shanghai Drama Institute, then you went to St Petersburg and Moscow Universities. I’m sure you also know are aware of the filming education in the US. What is the difference? Which school is the most useful nowadays?
- They all are different. At those times Soviet school was similar to Chinese, their acting school was based on Stanislavsky method, director and producer majors were similar to ours. Both USSR and China were similar in their structure. USSR also wasn’t market oriented country, it was regulated by the government, similar to China. USSR made huge impact on me, because of their linguistics and literature, culture, acting school. Pushkin and Chekhov, all their poets and writers, Soviet culture was very “thick” and large. These cultural details made huge impact on the film development in USSR, and they influenced me a lot. After I returned home, I also learned a lot from American filmmaking, the Hollywood style, which is based on market demand. In USSR, if you make a film, you didn’t have to worry about the market, you just had to make it and that was it. Government took care of everything else. In China, after our country opened up, our market became just like american.
- Let’c compare Chinese and Hollywood markets. What is the same? What is different? What are their directions of development?
- Chinese market is still in the development process. Each year it grows, amount of cinemas grows up. The volume of films needed is also growing. American market is already stabilized. They have this stable amount of cinemas. For example, in North America they have 2000 screens, 2000 cinemas. TV stations are the once we know: HBO, CBS, etc. They are making tv shows. China is still changing all the time, and I believe will continue developing during 5-6 more years. In the USA the space for development is very small. This I believe is the biggest difference. This situation might have different reasons, for example the bigger development is, the more funds it requires. In Chine we now need more international exchange, for example American director comes to China, or American stars come to China and vice versa Chinese directors and actors go to the US. Chances for such exchange are much more now. For my next tv show I’ll need 10 or more American actors, and I don't mean small actors, I mean big names, famous film or tv stars. There is going to be a lot of such exchange.
- From your Master’s point of view, how can a young person become a successful director? What king of background and qualifications this person needs to have?
- In America many young people know this famous phrase of Steven Spielberg: “ You want to be director? Okay, get a camera, start rolling and you are director”. We all learned this phrase. To become a film director isn’t difficult, however to become a successful director, thats another story. Now you can take your phone and start recording, or a camera. It’s not difficult to be director, you just have to tell your story. However if you wan’t to become a good director, just as I already expressed today, you have to have a certain warmth, your films have to have warmth in them. The difficult part is how to transfer this your warmth into the film. You have to study a lot, read a lot, experience life and learn from society. Only then you could find what is the thing you love the most. Now for American or Chinese youth, the way to become director is about the same: they have to get education, watch films. This is the easiest. But then they have to get life experience, learn from society. What I mean by this. Go to McDonalds, for example, get a job for 6 or 8 dollars per hour. While you work at McDonalds you meet a lot of different people, they all have their special stories and characteristics. You start getting life experience. This is the most precious for film director. This is how your film becomes a part of your life. Everyone would like a very interesting, not regular person. Nobody likes regular stories, such as : he was born, went to school, then to university, then started working. Is it interesting? No it’s not. Interesting are personalities with unique background and experience. For example: he was born here, then his family faced lots of turmoil, then he started studying, went to Europe, then went to USSR to study, met KGB agent, became KGB agent and pilot, then moved to America and whats next? This is an interesting story. It is just an example. Don’t be afraid of difficulties. Don’t be afraid of low level jobs. In Europe I met very interesting young people. They were working at a pub for minimum wage, and in the evening they were working as actors, were making films. I asked them about this life style, if they thought it was very difficult and they told me they loved it, they find it very interesting. I think their way of thinking is amazing. To become director is different from becoming actor. To become director you for sure need to experience life. If nobody is inviting you to make films then write scripts, just like in America. When it is ready try to sell it and negotiate that you want to be director of this story. In America 99% of directors came this way, in China it is the same now. Just as Steven Spielberg. He graduated from school and nobody invited him, hence he started writing scripts and went to take part in competitions. Now all film schools, New York Film Academy, UCLA, Beijing Film Academy, Moscow Academy - they all are the same. All graduates are the same. The path is the same: hard work, write scripts, sell them, look for investor and make your film. You’d need 10-15 years for making it. Hence, first advice is don't be afraid of hardships, and second is - don't be afraid to experience the lowest level of life. Nobody can become a successful director right way, with a good house and car. For sure you need to face difficulties and hardships. Just like me, when I graduated from the school and came back, I was riding a bike everyday, lived in a small room in the basement, with no restroom. My parents also lived in Beijing but they didn’t really care. I was writing scripts every day. I had no AC, it was super hot in summer, I was working hard every day writing those scripts, my body was covered with sweat. When I received a call from investor I took my script and went to the meeting. I had to also be dressed nicely, despite it was extremely hot in the room. I spent many years living like that. I was borrowing some money, because I might not make it through next week. You don’t have to say no to such life. Even now I’m happy had this experience. If a young guy graduates from school, his family arranges him to work as director and they invest in the project I don't believe that he will be able to make a good film. He didn’t experience society and life, you are not familiar with realities of life. You didn’t develop love towards the world. How you can become a good director? I believe for director number one important thing is to face difficulties. The second would be focus on the goal to become director. He has to have a lot of things, thoughts, feelings, love to share with the whole world. One day’s hardships will become your wealth one day. Many young people give up, get a regular job in the office and thats it. They can get a good life much faster. They can’t stand hardships, can’t walk through. They think : oh, I have to get a job, then in the evening write scripts, then to find an investor…then 20 times fail, 30 times fail, may be 100 times fail. But I believe that may be 101 trial will be successful. American Hollywood young people are going through these challenges. So for young people, they have to love what they do, to have passion. They have to ask themselves if they really love filmmaking. And if the answer is yes, then they have to get ready. They have to give themselves time to go through hardships, work hard 3-5 years, they have to write scripts. May be they need 10 years of preparations and only then they can become directors. Passion and bear hardships are most important conditions to become a good director. Please don’t see me as I am today. I can bear hardships. I can cook very well, I can wash clothes do different kind of work. If you leave me in an unknown place I can make it. This is very important.
- Many Hollywood stars, like Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Spielberg and others - they do motivational speeches and share their tips of success. Could you please today share with us you 3 most important tips of success.
- As I just mentioned: passions, bear hardships, write scripts. Don't be afraid. For example, I wrote this much of scripts, if to count in Chinese Characters, I wrote 10000000 characters, and everything went to the garbage. But still after that I made it to success. In our Chinese film industry, myself as film director, I can write a very good script and I can film it. So I can make money of 2 different positions. I don’t mean I do it for making these money. When nobody invited me to be director I could only write scripts. When writing becomes very good, you are almost ready to become a director. I started from writing, this is my way. May be not everyone’s writing skill is good, but still you have to write. This work has the lowest cost of production. I remember one American write said: If my house is on fire I only need to save my pencil and paper, so I could continue writing. No matter what, keep writing every day. I saw many people who gave up after 2-3 years. Because it is much easier to not write. It is easier to get an office job. Life becomes better much faster. But they gave up the most important. May be they needed one more year for success. Hence, my 3 tips are: passion, bear hardships, write.
- Thank you and we also invite you to Los Angeles, where we could meet and record our second interview.
- Okay thank you!
- Today our guest was one of the most well known and successful film directors in China and please stay tuned, because Mr Wang is coming to LA with his next project and he will hold auditions, he will be looking for actors in Los Angeles and Europe. Don't miss this change and stay tuned.
Interviewed and translated by
Victor Migalchan, Los Angeles 2018 (c)