Finance student follows her passion into film

A job in finance made sense to young woman's parents, but her artistic side had other ideas

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 January, 2014, 5:15am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 January, 2014, 5:15am

Shen Shen was never much interested in numbers, but like a lot of Asian students living in Canada she opted for a vocational degree, studying finance and management at the University of Toronto. After graduating she took a job in finance, but after an unhappy year she quit and returned to China to pursue her dream of working in the film industry. She has now made one short independent film and is in the process of finishing another.


When did you move to Canada with your family?

I was originally from Tianjin . In 1998, when I was 14, we moved to Toronto.


Why did you major in finance and management at university?

I didn't have much choice back then. My parents worked very hard for me to have an education in Canada. There was a trend for Chinese students there to go for either engineering or business or biology. My passion was in writing and literature, but English is still my second language. I didn't think it would be an advantage if I chose a major in writing. It would be very hard for me to find a job in Canada.


How did you find your first job after graduation?

After four years at university I went to work for a travel agency in Toronto. I really didn't like it, and that was the worst time of my life. I found that doing accounting in front of a computer eight hours every day was really boring. It was like working in a jail. I didn't like to work with numbers. Ever since I was little, numbers were boring, rigid and cold and didn't mean anything to me. I found it didn't interest me. I didn't want to do that for the rest of my life. So I quit the job after one year.


What made you come back to China?

I was always interested in writing and film. I wanted to find a way to pursue my interest. I thought of going into journalism and the media. Then in the summer of 2007, I went to the Toronto Film Festival to watch the premiere of Blood Brothers, a Hong Kong film directed by Alexi Tan. I felt the power of film. A lot of people from Toronto came to cheer for the film crew, the actors and directors. People are from different cultural backgrounds, but film is like a medium, an art language. You don't need to speak the same language or be from the same cultural background, you can still understand the message of a film. That really inspired me. At that time, my dad was sent back to China by his company to work. So I thought maybe I should go and check out the film industry in Beijing.


Were your parents supportive?

At first, my mum was really against me going into film. Just the idea of working in film was beyond her imagination. She is an accountant, but she knew I was not happy. I promised her I would apply for a graduate school in the US after a year in China.


What did you do when you first returned to China?

When I first came back in the beginning of 2008, I didn't know anybody and had no contacts. I worked for a language school teaching English for six months and also did some translation work, first in Tianjin and then in Beijing. But by September I was sure of what I wanted to do. I enrolled at the Beijing Film Academy and studied scriptwriting for a year. It was the first time I had got some professional training. I liked it. Because I was an international student, I met a lot of students from other countries. It was like a springboard for me. I felt very happy and also felt this was where I belong.


How did you find your first job in the film industry?

It was kind of a miracle. After graduation, I wanted to get into the business, but didn't know how. So I posted my résumé on The Beijinger website. An American director who has been here for 20 years found me just like that. It is a small media production house. I am her assistant. I also manage the office and help with the writing.


In your spare time, you work on your own films. What was your first film about?

I got inspired by a dream I had. It was about a girl in a dying relationship. One day, she had this dream about a scary woman with a lot of bruises trying to choke her. It was actually herself. When she wakes up, she realises how much she is hurt in this relationship just like the bruised woman. The film was five minutes long.


Did your parents watch it?

Yes. Before they watched it, they thought I was just playing around. But when my mum watched it, she said it's not bad. She saw that I have some potential and I'm serious about what I do. After that, she also visited me in Beijing and saw that I'm happy and content with my current life. She began to support me. She wants me to be happy. She also sees the film market is booming here in China and maybe there are good opportunities here.


Where did you get the money for the film?

From my family. It didn't cost a lot, just a couple of thousand. It was my first effort. I wanted to have a try to see if I could do this. There is only one character, who is played by my friend. There is no dialogue. Last year, I sent it to a couple of film festivals like the Toronto International Short Film Festival. My film was selected and they let me meet the audience and talk about the film.


You are now in post-production for your second film. What is it about?

The second film is a bit longer and will be 15 to 20 minutes long. It is a sad story about a clown whose job is to deliver flowers and a girl in a band whom he falls in love with.


Why are both of your films about relationships?

Because at the current stage of my life, I only have this much experience of life, like love and relationships. These are the things I am more familiar with.


What is your next plan?

I want to finish this film and submit it to film festivals and for the film school I am applying for. I'm hoping to go back to a film school in Toronto next year. After I finish the programme, I'll be eligible to apply for a government grant to make films. In a couple of years, I hope to make a feature film about Canadian Chinese in Beijing.

Shen Shen spoke to Xu Donghuan