1. Please introduce yourself and tell us about your education and your interest in cinema. I’m Winnie Chen, an aspiring Taiwanese producer. After working for a couple of years in the Taiwanese entertainment industry as a professional, I realized there was a big cultural difference between the Eastern and Western models of filmmaking, and the attendant challenges in storytelling. Even though I had graduated from Taipei National University of the Arts, majoring in cinematography, and was working on set in Asia. I decided to apply for grad schools in the US, with an emphasis in Creative Producing. My interest in cinema developed young. For my generation, smartphones weren’t popular (affordable) till I was in 9th grade. And if you add a strict parent element to that, I honestly didn’t really have an iPhone until I got into college. So cinema was always my first go-to for entertainment, and I’m forever thankful to my parents for that. 2. Seeing and reading what works aroused your interest in this medium, and as a result, what works do you owe your education in cinema to? I owe my love of film to so many great filmmakers who’ve gone before. I stand on the shoulder of geniuses. As a child, films like JAWs and Forest Gump, made for a popular audience, had a strong impact on me. The masterful visual storytelling in service of a resonant theme inspires me. More recently, I admire how Christopher Nolan uses the physical representation of time in Interstellar to reflect on the meaning of love. In general, my favorite films tend to be those where the combination of brilliant technical support a deeper meaning. 3. Tell us about your first project. What difficulties did you have in the beginning? My first short film project with a professional crew, where I worked as a director/producer, was my thesis film at Taipei National University of the Arts. Compared to the current circumstances - with the need to support me and the threat of COVID-19…I might have had more room for pure creativity back then. In my days as a student? Have really tight schedules and a limited budget? I learned to focus on creativity in my writing and story. Nowadays? The limitations may have changed (e.g., making something that makes financial sense for a young filmmaker and the new filmmaking reality during a pandemic). But the lessons from school about stories and creativity still apply.
4. Is it more important to have a budget, or to have the mind to find salvation solutions in critical situations? What’s important is the story. The limitation on filmmakers (budget, cast, number of days, location, weather) should be our source of inspiration. I pride myself on being able to make a movie on any budget. I believe budget enhances creativity. In my opinion, the budget is very far down on my list of priorities. If the story is worth telling, my goal as a producer is to make it happen. There’s always a way around difficulties, that’s one of the basic skill sets of being a producer.
5. Do you think film festivals help filmmakers?
Films and filmmakers need publicity, and film festivals are a great way of gaining attention for your film.
6. Tell us about film production companies. Can one, as an inquisitive filmmaker, count on production companies?
Before arriving in Hollywood, I worked in Taiwan where each film is mostly produced by a new entity. While in Hollywood, companies have agendas. For example, as I’m writing this on January 27th, many of the platforms are probably already planning their holiday films for the end of 2022. I’m not interested in making a Christmas movie, but I’m aware of the market. I have yet to work on one of the big platforms that are currently financing many productions, but in theory, I understand the difference.
7. How much of the future of cinema do you think is in the hands of powerful companies like Netflix?
Depends on how you define cinema. In the short term, online platforms represent a huge change in the business. But…I suspect the way films are circulated and consumed will continue to evolve. Too much focus on Netflix, Amazon, Disney, HBO, etc, may obscure the bigger picture. Democratized short-form filmmaking, such as TikTokand YouTube shorts are also exploding.
There will always be companies that aggregate and promote motion pictures, the possibilities of short-form and interactive motion pictures are inevitable. But I have no idea who will profit from these trends.
8. Is cinema, as some say, is dead, and should we expect television and Internet broadcasts to be gaining more and more power?
Opera hasn’t disappeared entirely. Theaters for traditional plays are not gone. Which seems to prove that great art forms never die. But they will be forced to compete, as advances in technology and cultural trends evolve.
9. What skills do you think a filmmaker needs to have? Is it necessary for the filmmaker to personally understand many specialized subfields?
Skills? Be observant, open-minded, and kind. Yes, every filmmaker’s past is different. In my view, nothing you learn along the way is ever wasted. The more a filmmaker learns about their craft and the world, the better it prepares them to be ready when the moment comes.
10. Tell us about your next project, please.
I’m not sure what my next project is going to be. Like all professional filmmakers, I’m a juggler. Currently, I’m invested in building career for myself in the United States.