Photo Gallery 047: Life Stories of Seven Chinese Screenwriters
摘要： In TMTPost Photo Gallery 047, we invited seven Chinese screenwriters to share their experiences and thoughts with our readers. Some of them have already left a name in the history with some popular TV series, others have written several popular short internet big TV series or films, while the rest are still busy writing plays to make a living… What stories do these story-tellers have?
Since it is not enough to merely live our own life, we all need a poetic world. We all need stories because they can either bring us feelings (such as romance, magnificence, danger and excitement, etc.) we never have the opportunity to experience in our own lives, or shed light on our pains when caught in trouble. A good story, weaved through screenwriters’ imagination as well as common sense, can even lead our way to seek truth and dig out the essence of life.
In TMTPost Photo Gallery 047, we invited seven Chinese screenwriters to share their experiences and thoughts with our readers. Some of them have already left a name in the history with some popular TV series, others have written several popular short internet big TV series or films, while the rest are still busy writing plays to make a living… What stories do these story-tellers have? (Excerpt)
“Three prerequisites of being a good screenwriter”
TMTPost: We’ve not seen your works for the past few years. What are you up to?
Zheng Zhong (hereafter referred to as “Zheng”): Well, all kinds of things, such as holding Party and experimenting new types of videos. By preparing lots of machines at Party’s hall, we turned the hall into an experimental performance venue. Not knowing that they are actually actors, participants would follow our clues, programs and paths and make their own decisions. The entire process will be secretly recorded, and then edited into narrative scenes under certain subjects. Basically, I have been occupied with all kinds of creative and experimental projects in order to not only let other people have fun, but also entertain myself. For me, creativity is the foundation of everything.
TMTPost: It seems that they have nothing to do with screenwriting?
Zheng: In fact, I have always been writing plays and stories I am interested in, as well as reading others’ stories and plays in order to figure out the current situation, what everybody is thinking about, and more importantly, what I am thinking about.
TMTPost: Market situation, for example?
Zheng: For sure, market situation is a crucial aspect, since our ultimate goal is to let people accept our stories, have fun and even get inspired. To do so, it’s natural that we have to experience and appreciate the world as everybody else does.
TMTPost: Do you think that ratings on Douban will “have negative impact on domestic films”?
Zheng: Douban ratings, reached by thousands of new intellectuals, are precious and honest, which is rare to see in this world. Being honest is the most precious quality of an intellectual, so Douban ratings should continue to exist. Without concrete evidence, it’s hard to be honest and really understand something. Otherwise, it’s like cheating yourself and living in a fake world.
TMTPost: What else have you been doing recently?
Zheng: I have been writing a story that’s both classic and modern.
TMTPost: What thoughts have lingered in your mind most recently?
Zheng: What I have kept in my mind is how to interweave metaphysical thoughts into physical narratives that relate to audience more? In other words, “what’s the meaning of writing a story and turning it into a play?” I want my audience to realize something they don't know before after watching my stories. For me, it’s more advanced aesthetics.
I believe a good work or story have to strike a good balance between physical narratives and metaphysical thoughts. In other words, metaphysical thoughts have to be naturally drawn through physical narratives. Since screenwriters have to be responsible for the story, care about others’ sufferings and problems, it’s natural that we have to hide metaphysical thoughts in stories, though in a way that can be accepted by the audience. A good story has to satisfy people’s mental needs and let people see man’s nature, blood, actions, strong characters, love or even sex, etc.
TMTPost: Will love and sex be contradictive sometimes in your writing?
Zheng: Absolutely no. For me, I think they are complementary, just like life. Sex can be transitioned into love, while love can also lead to sex. To some degree, love and sex are inseparable in our lives.
TMTPost: Will the market influence screenwriters over the attempt to integrate physical narratives and metaphysical thoughts?
Zheng: If so, then the attempt will turn out in failure. Ideally, there shouldn’t be any contradiction. Others should be able to not only identify your theme and the “thoughts” you are trying you convey through the story, but also appreciate a series of details as well as cleverness you included in the story.
I practice, however, some people might notice some sort of contradiction: for example, when you put too much emphasis on market response and include lot of funny jokes in your story, people may find no point of watching it since it’s just like “a stack of jokes put together”. As a screenwriter, we have to make sure that our audience can not only relax and entertain themselves through the story, but also understand scenes where intense feelings are involved. Besides, the plot has to develop in a way not only above average intelligence, but also reasonable. For audience, they are also constantly finding the perfect match. Although it seems that there are contradictions on the surface, I believe it’s just illusion, since fundamentally there shouldn’t be any contradiction.
TMTPost: What would you do when you have no inspirations?
Zheng: I will just wait for a while, since there’s nothing else I can do. It is a very tricky moment. Basically, as long as you are patient to wait for a while, be not too anxious, or do something else, such as developing a relationship, you will gradually recover. Inspiration comes from life. If your life is in a mess and awfully dull, then how can you have imagination and inspiration? If you are always writing plays without leading a colorful life, your muse will desert you someday.
TMTPost: What makes a good screenwriter?
Zheng: Above all, lots of skills are involved in writing a play. Although there are so many textbooks, few people can successfully apply theories to their writing. After all, writing a play is not an easy process, since you are not simply talking and speaking your mind. Instead, you are telling a story, so you have to appreciate your story from two aspects: the story-teller and the listener. In other words, it’s not simply telling a story, because you have to take into consideration if the audience can be drawn by your story and and pay full attention to your story for an hour and a half or even two hours. To do so, lots of techniques have to be adopted, such as pacing, sequence, plot development and logic, etc.
Secondly, you have to make it clear “what message you want to convey to audience”. Are you a responsible person? What’s your attitude to others as a story-teller? To a degree, everybody is caught in a quagmire. What a good story can do it create the opportunity to leave the quagmire and relax for a while. An even better story, however, can even help you figure out another way of thinking to face the quagmire.
At last, a good screenwriter has to be well prepared intellectually. In classical sense, a good screenwriter has to study psychology. Everybody has his or her own understanding towards life. However, as a screenwriter, you have to see things in a more accurate manner. To do so, you have to master some professional tools and methods. Therefore, you might have to know a little bit about psychology, so that you can see the nature of a problem more clearly than ordinary people and even help people solve their problems in real life. Maybe you have to know a little bit about philosophy and sociology. Only then can you get rid of traditional ways of thinking and help people see their lives more clearly, in another dimension through your story.
These are basically what make a good screenwriter: skills and techniques, knowledge background as well as social responsibility and moral standards. A good screenwriter must have to motivation to help others and make others’ lives easier.
“Writing a play is a particularly solitary and tangled process”
TMTPost: Who on earth is the murderer in “What’s in the Darkness”?
Wang Yichun (hereafter referred to as “Wang”): Finding the murderer is actually not the most important thing in this story. When I wrote this story, I didn’t assign a specific murderer. Instead, I wanted to use the cold-blooded murderer to represent lots of things. For example, everybody could be a murderer when you grow up in a perilous world.
TMTPost: In the story, the relationship between the father and the daughter moved lots of people. What’s your relationship with your father in real life?
Wang: My relationship with my father quite resembles the relationship between the father and the daughter in my story. My father is also well-educated but not good at communicating with others. Therefore, his relationship with people around him as well as his own kids are quite weird. For a long time, I deeply doubt if we love each other. However, when my father passed away in 2002, I was terribly at a loss for almost a year. Since then, I began to have completely different understanding towards lots of things. It was also after that year that I began to write this story.
TMTPost: Are you really a housewife?
Wang: Yep, I am married and I have a 9-year-old kid. In any sense, I am a housewife.
TMTPost: But most housewives I encounter are quite busy.
Wang: It only takes about a month to leave behind my family and make a movie. So I can write plays while accompanying my kids most of the time. However, time could be fragmented, so perseverance and strong self-control are needed to stick to writing. They are exactly what I am lacking in.
TMTPost: It’s quite common to give up everything and redo when writing plays. How did you manage to maintain confidence in writing in a fragmented life?
Wang: Time cost, maybe. After all, I’ve spared so much effort in writing the play. If I didn’t finish it, all my efforts would turn out in vain. Therefore, I have to be as patient as I can. At that time, when my friends invited me to have a cup of coffee or go shopping with them, I always declined, explaining that I was writing a play as an excuse. After a while, fearing that they would think I was crazy, I would not mention that I was writing a play, but explain that I just want to stay at home without going anywhere, though I spent most of the time not knowing what to write. This was the hardest part for me in writing a play.
Not everybody could survive such pain. It’s a process so solitary and tangled. However, I never thought of giving up. Instead, I often told myself that I had to finish the play whatever it took. Whether other people liked my play or not was another matter. Above all, I had to finish it. This was the basic requirement I set for myself.
TMTPost: Did it really take a decade to write “What’s in the Darkness”?
Wang: I am almost embarrassed since I am often reminded of this fact. It’s not that I was too demanding over my work, but that I was too lazy. Oftentimes, I had to stop writing and do something else. However, I never forgot writing and would resume writing once I found time. When I almost completed the play, I decided to start making the film.
TMTPost: Can you briefly describe your writing process? For example, how will you collect data and stories?
Wang: For example, I have to write about a nanny’s life in a recent story. Although I can write a lot of details when I think as an employer, I don't know what life looks like for a nanny. So I have been thinking about finding an opportunity to experience the life of a nanny.
TMTPost: There are both praise and criticism over your work. Will you bother to read internet users or film critics’ comments?
Wang: Of course, it’s inevitable.
TMTPost: Will their comments affect you?
Wang: I won’t get mad when I see different voices. Instead, I find many comments appropriate, to-the-point and even close to things I regret about myself. However, I don’t think it’s useful to read too many comments. When I start writing a new play, I shall consider all the comments I’ve read about. However, these comments are often contradictory. When I satisfy this group people, I may not be able to satisfy that group of people. After all, I can’t take into consideration of the needs of everybody. Therefore, I am less worried about their comments and think it’s no longer necessary to read all the comments.
For example, I read a commentary once and thought the writer must know very clearly about my advantages and disadvantages. However, when I approached him, I realized that writing a play and commenting on a film are totally different and completely different skills were involved.
TMTPost: Audience can understand and appreciate your story, but they can’t participate in the writing process.
Wang: Yep. In fact, I’ve communicated with many well-known directors over this matter. We all agree that there’s no need to care too much about film comments. Otherwise, you might not be able to figure out what to do exactly.
TMTPost: Will you chat with elder screenwriters and seek their advice?
Wang: It’s difficult to give advice as to a specific story or play. Everybody is writing their own stories, and it’s so hard to understand others’ stories. The most important thing in meeting other screenwriters is knowing problems others have encountered and figuring out that you are not alone since you’ve all met this or that problem. After such conversations, we may feel more confident, realizing that it’s not that you are too stupid, but that it’s just the law of creative writing. For example, I once gave up writing a play when I’d completed two thirds of it and felt so sorry. However, when a well-known director later told me that it’s most likely for screenwriters to give up after finishing two thirds of a play, I realized that most screenwriters would do so, and it’s okay if I just gave up on that play.
TMTPost: Have you developed a mature writing pace that fits you best?
Wang: I haven’t developed an effective writing model for myself, and I haven’t formed a consistent writing habit. Although it’s unnecessary to attach too much importance to writing techniques, we do need to set up a writing structure. For example, those well-known screenwriters and writers would all set goals for themselves. No matter they like what they are writing or not, they have to writer a certain number of characters every day. When they reached the bottleneck, they shall just leave the problem behind. Maybe the problem will be naturally solved later, you never know. I know these techniques for a long time, though I haven’t applied them to my writing. Even till now, I am still too blunt and bold in writing. When I reached a bottleneck, I shall just leave myself to the torture of negative feelings. Even when my friends invited me to go out and have some fresh air, I shall just decline, stay at home, and continue to write until I find the way to solve the problem.
TMTPost: Are there any changes that becoming a professional director has brought to you?
Wang: I didn’t find much difference. As always, I would take care of my kids, find time to write plays and make the film after finishing a play. As a matter of fact, I don’t expect that becoming a director can bring any fundamental change to me.
TMTPost: What about vanity?
Wang: Sort of, but you have to work so hard to earn it. It’s no easy thing.
TMTPost: Fundamentally, you are just too lazy, isn’t it?
Wang: I’m afraid you are right.
“Eventually, screenwriters will write something based on their own life stories”
TMTPost: You have a very good reputation in the circle.
Zhao Zhu (hereafter referred to as “Zhao”): People who’ve cooperated with me all have the same opinion: I am highly cooperative. No matter what they asked, I could understand what they meant and write as they asked. Besides, I always know what stuff will be accepted by the market more willingly.
TMTPost: When did you start writing plays? Have you ever been cheated by someone?
Zhao: You name it. As a screenwriter, It’s too common to get cheated. After all, it’s known that there are so many liars in this circle.
I started writing plays in 2012 and have been writing plays since then. In 2012, I wrote a play for a film with a partner. I put so much effort in writing that play, wrote and revised the play for a long period of time at a tea restaurant near Liangma Bridge, Beijing, but I only earned 5,000 RMB as deposit. The producer took the play and were gone. It was only till this year that I found he took out the play and signed his own name to the play. He’s already commissioned a company to file for record at the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television.
TMTPost: What’s the name of the film?
Zhao: There’s no need. If he had the gut, then he could just make a movie out of it. He hasn’t started shooting the film, but he’s already filed for approval. Maybe he will start shooting the film after cheating some investors into the project. However, I don’t think he can succeed. It’s not a bad play, but it’s already out of fashion.
TMTPost: What the play about?
Zhao: A loser and a celebrity look very much alike and coincidently, they have to take up the other’s identity.
TMTPost: Like Hong Kong film Twin Dragons?
Zhao: Sort of. It’s a comedy. It is possible to earn a box office of over ten million RMB if we found the right actor and shoot the film in 2012 and 2013, even thirty to forty million RMB if we polished the details. However, nobody is interested in that theme now. It’s already out of fashion.
TMTPost: What else stories have you written in the past few years?
Zhao: I have plays to write for the first few years. In 2012, I wrote a play for a film. I wrote plays for two TV series in 2013, among which one was set to be produced by Yuan Heping’s studio. However, he later put all his efforts in shooting Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2, so I had to give up on the play. In 2015, I wrote a play for an intenet big film. The investor had planned to invest 80 million RMB in a film about South China conflict, police and bandit. Basically, it was like an advanced version of Operation Mekong. I started writing the play at the end of 2014, revised it twice in 2015 and settled the final draft at the beginning of 2016. After Operation Mekong succeeded and earned 1 billion RMB in box office, Ministry of Public Security might find the theme interesting. After all, my play is full of positive energy, like a eulogy of Chinese anti-drug and anti-terrorists police squad. Therefore, the play was approved.
TMTPost: What happened later?
Zhao: The boss has already been looking for investment and has already registered the project. It is expected that we will shoot the film in 2017.
TMTPost: It is said that the story includes a wide range of themes.
Zhao: This is why I say I am very cooperative. It could also be a problem for me. I didn’t learn screenwriting at college. Instead, I am just quick to learn new things. As long as I can collect all the data I need, I can write something of my own. Collecting data is like the basic requirement for a screenwriter. The only theme I dare not touch is love. As a male screenwriter, it’s hard to grasp themes that are purely female. Generally speaking, I am good at themes such as ghosts, monsters, zombies, Taoist priests as well as male themes such as police and bandit, actions and suspense.
TMTPost: If you are free to write anything and for yourself, what kind of stories will you write?
Zhao: The play I am writing right now is sort of similar to “What’s in the Darkness”. Basically, I am still writing life around mines, which is also my grow-up environment. However, I shall package the story in themes such as anti-spy, hot blood and gang fight, etc. In the next two to three years, I shall focus my writing on teenagers’ lives in mine mountain towns in the 1990s.
TMTPost: In other words, you will write more stuffs based on your own life experience.
Zhao: Yep. Eventually, screenwriters will write something based on their own life stories. Only when writing about their own life stories can screenwriters share their real feelings. However, it’s impossible to simply “record” such life judging from the current Chinese film market situation. However, the decade I spent in mine areas, from 1990 to 2000, happened to witness the most drastic change in Chinese society.
TMTPost: You also wrote plays for lots of internet big films for the past two years.
Zhao: Yep. One of them is soon to be released, The Tokyo Vampire. Basically, it’s about the life of vampires and humans from China and Japan, as well as the conflicts and conspiracy underneath. Although the story is quite simple, the director put much efforts in making the film.
TMTPost: You also played a role in the film?
Zhao: Yes, I played a monster king. However, it took two hours to dress up and I had to wear masks from head to toe. Our special effect team was very professional, and the masks looked quite true to life.
TMTPost: Do you find such materials absurd?
Zhao: This is typical of internet big films. A good internet film has to include all sorts of popular themes, such as anime culture. For example, I once watched an internet big film where a fat guy and an ugly-looking girl acquired super power when sun spot blased, so that the fat guy would become attractive once he sweated, while the girl became beautiful once she had the period. This is anime culture, imagination. There are people who like such stuff, anime culture stuff.
TMTPost: Where do such crazy ideas come from?
Zhao: 80 per cent of them come from Japanese cartoons.
TMTPost: What’s your current situation?
Zhao: It’s okay and I can strike a good balance between my work and life. As a freelance screenwriter, I have fixed partners and companies. In fact, I’ve just finished the play for an internet big film, and the director is soon to shoot the film. The only awkward thing is that I haven’t had an official representative work of mine. Maybe I’ve put too much effort in customized plays and didn’t care too much on my own projects.
I am not as anxious as before, and I have a more relaxed attitude. After all, I shall do my best in every piece of work, even for projects I don’t like.
TMTPost: By the way, where did your nickname “Zhao Zhu” come from?
Zhao: When I was young, I used to play the primary of the game History of Three Kingdoms. There were some minor bosses, including Zhao Brothers: Zhao Chu and Zhao Sheng (both “chu” and ”sheng” means animals such as pigs in Chinese). Therefore, I and my friends would just refer to them as “Zhao Zhu” (“zhu” means pigs in Chinese). When we were “killed” by “Zhao Brothers”, they would just vent their anger on me and call me “Zhao Zhu”, since my family is also “Zhu”. Gradually, they would refer to me as “Zhao Zhu” even when we are not playing games. So I also gradually accepted the nickname “Zhao Zhu” even chose it as my pseudonym.
“You will always be one step behind if you only go with the flow”
TMTPost: What plays have you been busy writing recently?
Mr. Man: Three plays: one for an internet big film, the other for an internet big TV series, the rest for a TV series. The first play is about anime culture, ghosts and monsters, the second is campus love stories, while the third one is about the love story of a overseas student in Holland. At present, the only theme I haven't touched is history and suspense. I only adapted a suspense novel into a play once.
TMTPost: How did you become a screenwriter?
Mr. Man: The fun version is: I started making up stories when I found that I also had to make up certain details in reports when I majored in journalism. The normal version is: my modern poetry professor in college used to love films. It is him who led us to this road of no return. Under his influence, I became so artsy and passionate about poems. When I showed him some poems I wrote, he chatted with me and asked me what films did I like. So I told him my favorite films and he asked me if I wanted to watch other films. Gradually, I watched some movies by Tarkovsky, Kieslowski and Akira Kurosawa and got interested in films in an artistic sense. However, when I really entered the business, I began to watch Hollywood’s films. A decade ago, I disdain watching those films, but gradually I realized how naïve I used to be and how extraordinary Hollywood films were.
TMTPost: Do you find a gap between materials you want to write about and you are supposed to write about?
Mr. Man: When I just entered the business, I would think so. At present, however, I wouldn’t have such idea, because I can still determine how a story goes and how different roles react to conflicts even if I have a fixed story structure. As long as I am writing a story, I will be writing something I want to write myself. It is also possible that I only accept customized projects I am interested in and refuse those I don't want to write about. Therefore, I don't find any gap between things I am supposed to write and I want to write about.
TMTPost: What stuff will you write about if you can write for yourself?
Mr. Man: It’s too unruly an idea for me. I would want to write things for myself a decade ago, but not now. Still, there are things I really want to write about, such as unplanned birth and birth control. Although the theme relates to me as well as lots of people born from 1985 to 1990, I guess, it might not be commercially successful. To let ordinary people accept the theme more willingly, I have to package it in a comedian.
TMTPost: What kind of screenwriter do you think you are? Concentrated in certain areas? Cooperative? Imaginative?
Mr. Man: I agree with the latter two. Well, I have become highly cooperative after these years. At first, I had my own thoughts and things I want to express. At present, however, I shall do everything I can to meet others’ needs. I don’t know if it is a good thing or not. When I just entered the business, I thought I knew better how to write a play than producers or sponsors. However, I gradually found that it was possible to revise the play and make it better based on sponsors’ advice. It’s likely that I have such feelings because the sponsors I work with are more reliable. When I just entered the business, there could be advice quite unreliable, and there would be people who told me that “what you think doesn’t matter, because what I think matters most”. However, no sponsor who say such thing to me at present. Sometimes, I find that my play would work better if I follow their advice.
TMTPost: What your opinion towards the market?
Mr. Man: I discussed this issue with some friends several days ago. To be honest, I don't think it’s necessary to bother to predict what will be fashionable in the next few years. Fundamentally, human beings have shared feelings and their interests are always about food, drink, love and sex. You will always be one step behind if you only go with the flow. Why not just focus on the IP you are working on? It’s likely that when you finished your work, the time will be ripe to win over the audience. I really think it unnecessary to predict what the audience’s preferences. Many screenwriters might be trapped in such stereotypes and blindly follow super IPs when writing their own plays.
TMTPost: What’s the best writing experience you’ve ever had?
Mr. Man: For example, there was once when I delayed handing in my play several times and the producer was also patient to wait for me, since my play had far exceeded their expectation. When writing that play, it seemed that all those conversations and plots had nothing to do with me, since they almost emerged naturally. All I needed to do is type on my computers and the content will flow to my keyboards by itself. Every character had things they had to talk about, and they didn’t come from me. However, when I had to make up every sentence and plot by myself, it really sucked.
TMTPost: Do you find any of your works satisfactory?
Mr. Man: The play I am writing right now. Since I am still writing it, I certainly think it’s better than the previous play. I am always more attentive and take more pains when writing the next play. There’s never a point where I would stop taking pains when write plays.
TMTPost: What has been motivating you to do so?
Mr. Man: A person always needs to find a way to communicate with the world. For me, I communicate with the world through words or pictures. Without them, I don’t know where I belong or I can’t express myself. Words and pictures matter so much to me. How can I not put my heart and soul in it?
“The real world is made up with coincidences, misunderstandings and violence”
TMTPost: You used to be a joke writer. How did you end up becoming a screenwriter?
Bu Xiaoshi (hereafter referred to as “Bu”): I didn’t mean to enter this business. For a long time, I worked as project manager in a design company. Writing jokes was only a hobby for me. Since I have lots of designers to work for me, I have lots of time to have fun. At first, I would send cynical comments on Twitter. Later, I turned to Sina Weibo. However, while I can say anything on Twitter, lots of my “inappropriate” comments will be deleted by Sina Weibo. In some cases, my Sina Weibo accounts might even be shut down. Up till now, four to five of my Sina Weibo accounts have already been shut down.
Gradually, I gave up sending cynical comments since they were too sensitive sometimes. As alternative, I turned to jokes. At that time, there were an internet daily called ShortFun that included my jokes in its daily posts. I could earn ten yuan for each joke that was selected by ShortFun, so I gradually got a sense of achievement. I was so proud that my jokes were selected and read by so many people. However, I never expect that I would make a living with jokes.
After writing jokes for Diors Man, I started thinking what contents would be favorable in the market and started learning how to write stories. After all, I can’t always write short jokes. I believe every kid once had the dream to make a film. When Diors Man Season Two rose into popularity, many people approached us in order to learn from us and repeat our sucess.
At that time, I also find my work in the design company boring. Since our projects mostly came from the government, there weren’t demand for our design. Government officials didn’t understand design principles and couldn’t tell if a design was good or not, so we only needed to use our templates and do minor adjustment. For example, after visiting Dubai, a government official told us to “design” a street similar to Dubai’s. While Dubai is a desert city beside the sea, Erdos is a desert city scarce of water. How can we copy a Dubai street, a fountain to Erdos? Tired of serving them, I decided to quit.
Since then, I began to write jokes for talk shows at Jiangsu Satellite Station or internet talk shows. Later on, I started writing for Diors Man. In 2015, the tide changed, and people no longer loved short jokes. We were at a loss for a while. However, we still needed to make a living, so we started trying to write longer jokes. At that time, I also established an ads company with a friend and made some ads and virus videos to earn the bread. It was until then that I started writing longer stuffs.
TMTPost: You witnessed the popularity of “Diors Man”.
Bu: At that time, we noticed a very popular program in Germany called “Mrs. Loser”. We tried to so something similar. At that time, all of us didn’t have any experience. I didn’t regard myself as a screenwriter. I wrote jokes just for fun, so our plays were more like the combination of jokes. Gradually, we started to select some really great jokes and try to make short videos out of it.
At first, nobody thought it would become popular. There was no such thing as internet big TV series and we didn’t have the resources to invite celebrities to play a role. As a matter of fact, nobody was interested in it.
However, Liu Yan happened to be a good friend of Dapeng and volunteered to help out. She shot a few clips and showed them to Deng Chao, who then recommended Sun Li to give it a try. Therefore, Dapeng would attract other celebrities, saying that: “Now that Liu Yna and Sun Li had already volunteered to play a role in our program, would you give it a try?” Dapeng really had a business brain and knew what it took to make something popular.
TMTPost: Where does your inspiration come from?
Bu: All kinds of conversations. Yesterday, a photographer shared his five-day experience in prison with me, and I found it so interesting. I always loved holding dinner parties and chatting with people of all walks of life. I didn’t participate in lots of dinner parties for the past year, but in the past, I was nicknamed as “Dinner Party King”. During these dinner parties, I could hear people of all walks of life share their stories. When I fell out of inspiration, I shall just organize a dinner party and ask my friends out. Sometimes, a friend’s words during dinner parties would help me figure out my problem. Other people may find inspiration by reading books or something, but my way is to hold dinner parties and listen to others’ stories.
TMTPost: What’s your ideal story?
Bu: My favorite is Fargo. I like the idea of witnessing something dispassionately, though the story is so true that it can happen right next to us. The real world is not as beautiful as we imagined. Instead, it’s made up with lots of coincidences and misunderstandings. If I am able to direct a film by myself, I shall make such a film. At present, however, I shall just manage to find the similarity between me and my partner and do something together.
“I won’t be able to laugh after making other people laugh”
TMTPost: What type of stories is your favorite?
Hua Yu (hereafter referred to as “Hua”): I used to love comedies. This is also why I joined UniMedia. However, after three to four years, I find it harder and harder to do comedies. In addition, lots of experience is needed to make a good comedy. Recently, I have been trying to make something that’s closer to life.
TMTPost: Like what?
Hua: Like the TV series Chinese Style Relationship featuring Ma Yili and Chen Jianbin. I think such TV series are more down-to-earth and can reflect matters in our lives. I myself is also trying to write something from this aspect.
TMTPost: Why do you think it’s harder to make a comedy?
Hua: Based on my understanding of UniMedia’s fans and audience, I find that as they watch more and more our programs and shows, it’s harder to make them laugh. I even feel that their aesthetic taste is growing at a speed faster than us. There was a time when we can make every laugh with a simple wordplay. However, this is impossible now.
There aren’t so many things in the world that can make people laugh. Somebody once said that it’s easy to make people cry, but hard to make them laugh. For the past two years, many of my colleagues are getting melancholy. In the past, our conversations were so full of jokes. However, when we put all our efforts in comedies and make everybody laugh, we might reach a point where we can’t make ourselves laugh. This may also be why many comedians suffered from depression at last. If you think about it, this can be quite scary. When you don't think you are mentally mature, peaceful and experienced enough, do not attempt to make comedians, since it’s really no easy an attempt.
TMTPost: Will you get anxious when writing stuffs?
Hua: Of course. There are moments when I feel I have “run out of ideas”, since my output speed has surpassed input speed. When I spend too much time writing jokes (output), I have less time absorbing and learning new things (input).
If you are not well-prepared, it will be bold if you try to make a comedy. This is also why I won’t try to make another comedy in a short time. It not only wears me out, but also is irresponsible for the audience. Whether me or other colleagues at UniMedia won’t every try to make our audience with old jokes.
TMTPost: What have you been busy doing recently?
Hua: A UniMedia’s project called “Soul of Food”. It’s a comedy packaged into a food program. We’ve already filed for record on Youku and the show is set to be released on September, 2017.
TMTPost: What’s your responsibility in the show?
Hua: I am the screenwriter, the editor-in-chief.
TMTPost: Your comedies have always been very short. However, the mainstream seems to prefer longer periods. Are there anything to adapt to the new trend?
Hua: Of course. I just mentioned “Soul of Food”. We are set to produce twenty episodes and each episode is to last forty minutes. When writing the play, we encountered problems we’ve never expected before. In the past, we can use up all our imagination in shorter episodes; now, however, we find that jokes we thought crucial in our episodes might not be as important as before. In other words, we can’t maximize our strengths. This the the most urgent problem we have to overcome right now. Of course, I am well aware that this is the bottleneck all screenwriters who used to be good at shorter episodes have encountered. After breaking the bottleneck, everything will be readily solved.
“Acting enables screenwriters to better deal with details”
TMTPost: How did you end up in this business?
Ai Jing (hereafter referred to as “Ai”): When I graduated in 2013, I followed my parents’ advice, went back to Sichuan and worked in a bank. However, after no more than a month, I got so frustrated and decided to quit. I wanted to write plays and make videos. During college, I have already been writing plays and making short videos. At that time, I noticed that UniMedia was recruiting screenwriters. I liked its founder Jiaoshou and sent my resume. When I was invited to have an interview, I didn’t think to much and went to Beijing. Luckily, I passed the interview and embarked on this path.
TMTPost: What’s your understanding of screenwriters’ role?
Ai: Screenwriters are story-tellers. The most complicated thing is that he is no independent. To turn a play into films or TV series, a screenwriter has to cooperate fully with directors and post production teams. Screenwriter is only a part of the entire process and has to be cooperative enough.
TMTPost: What's your favorite types of stories?
Ai: Sitcoms. At first, I though it was easy and convenient to make sitcoms and a good play was the most important thing. I could maximize my strengths without worrying too much about cost. Later on, I find that writing a good sitcom play is the most important attempt in creative writing, since the screenwriter has to integrate complicated plots, characters of different characters and funny lines all in simple venues within a short period of time. This is far more difficult than making an ordinary TV series or program.
TMTPost: Your new work “Xiya Xia” already lasts a little longer. Are there anything to adapt when you transition from sitcoms to longer episodes?
Ai: It’s more like growth than adaptation and transformation. We decided to make sitcoms because our company was not big enough, we couldn’t find any celebrities, so we had to find actors within our company. Since their performance skills can’t be compared with professional actors, we had to do something that’s shorter and fast-paced to hide their shortcomings. We didn't expect that we could succeed. In fact, it came as a total surprise. After the success, we were not satisfied, so we wanted to really write a good story and tell it to our audience. To do so, we have to learn lots of things and grow up into a real creative writer.
TMTPost: You’ve played a role in your sitcoms before. Do you like acting?
Ai: To be honest, I don't feel like acting. At that time, Zhizunyu always convinced me that I had to know something about making a sitcom and get to know what actors were thinking about in order to write something really great and polish my details. That’s why I played a role.
TMTPost: Did you learn anything through the experience?
Ai: I learnt a lot. Acting was fun. For example, I can better deal with details in my creative experience, while I wouldn’t think too much on actors’ pacing and if an action can be achieved in the past. Besides, I am better at dealing with lines, because I would consider if it would be silly for the actor to say something, if it will be more natural if he or she conveys the same message in another way.
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Translated by Levin Feng (Senior Translator at PAGE TO PAGE), working for TMTpost.