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Novice director hits home run

September 21, 2014

Major league

Major league:  Weeds on Fire is based on the growth and struggles of Hong Kong's first Chinese teenage baseball team in the 1980s.

Director's cut

Director's cut:  Filmmaker Steve Chan left his job to focus 100% on the film.

Pitch perfect

Pitch perfect:  Professional baseball player Tony Wu agreed to act in the film to help promote the sport.

Method acting

Method acting:  Lead actors Sing Lam (Left) and Sham Ka-ki practice at least eight hours a day to give a convincing performance.

Dugout dreams

Dugout dreams:  Sing Lam caught the acting bug five years ago and dreams of winning a Best Actor award.

On set

On set:  Secretary for Commerce & Economic Development Gregory So visited the cast and crew.

The baseball field is where many young people's dreams come true. The same can be said about a film set.

 

Up-and-coming director Steve Chan was able to make his film-making dreams come true when he won CreateHK's First Feature Film Initiative competition and was awarded $2 million.

 

"Becoming a director is every film student's dream,” Mr Chan said.

 

With the prize money from the Film Development Fund, the 25-year-old was able to make his first feature film, Weeds on Fire, an inspirational baseball story centred on the growth and struggles of the Martins - Hong Kong's first Chinese teenage baseball team set up in the 1980s.

 

After graduating from Baptist University's film academy two years ago, Mr Chan found a job as an assistant director at a local TV station, but little did he know that a decision to submit his baseball screenplay to the CreateHK film competition was about to change his life – just like in the movies.

 

Initially, the budding director was unsure his script would even be picked up. "Baseball is not a popular sport in Hong Kong. If I sell this screenplay to filmmakers, they may not be interested because it may not make a lot of money," Mr Chan said.

 

Winning the competition meant that Mr Chan could quit his job and focus his energy on the film - and he needed it, as he had only a year to finish. To meet the competition deadline, he is working from sunrise to sundown. 

"It's worth it. Even after I have sacrificed my salary and time, I won't know the end result, but at least I can say I did my best," he said.

 

Mr Chan did extensive research on the sport to help him write the screenplay. He also asked professional baseball players to act in the film, including Tony Wu.

 

"It was my first acting experience. I was nervous, but found it quite challenging. I saw the production team's enthusiasm and it was similar to a baseball team's. I really want to introduce the sport to the public through this film," Mr Wu said.

 

His own love affair with baseball began at the age of 12. A decade later, he is now a player with the Hong Kong baseball team. It is representing the city at the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.

 

With dreams of becoming a baseball coach, the 22-year-old hopes that his involvement in the film will help promote the sport. It was tough for him to fit in shooting the film around training for the Asian Games, but he managed to juggle the two roles. "I treasure every opportunity. If I do not try, I will never know how far I can go. Athletes never refuse challenges," he said. 

 

That challenge was turned on its head for the two lead actors.

 

Sing Lam and Sham Ka-ki had never picked up a baseball bat before landing their roles, but now they practice at least eight hours a day to give a convincing performance.

 

“Opportunities are always out there for those who are well prepared,” Mr Sham said. “We aren't particularly good-looking or mature. It is a valuable experience for us to act in this film. We have to gain experience, so that when other chances present themselves, we are ready to move on to bigger, better things.”

 

Mr Lam and Mr Sham got to know each other after they were cast in their first film together five years ago. After that film wrapped, they decided to pursue acting as a career.

 

Life as a struggling actor meant Mr Lam had to find ways to supplement his income. "It is not easy choosing this career. I did not earn much in the beginning. To stay afloat, I worked more than 20 part-time jobs over the past three years."

 

Mr Lam explained that he takes up part-time work because it is more flexible and allows him to go shoot a film at a moment’s notice. “People, including my family, don’t think I’ll go far in this career, but I dare to dream. Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.”

 

In his 2013 policy address, Chief Executive CY Leung announced the launch of the First Feature Film Initiative as one of the Government's measures to support the film industry. It aims to identify and nurture talent through a competition on screenplays and production proposals.

 

Secretary for Commerce & Economic Development Gregory So was on the set of Weeds on Fire and encouraged the production team to use the experience to launch their film careers.

 

“I’m very encouraged and excited. You see the vibrancy of our movie industry,” Mr So said after the visit. “I witnessed how our experienced professionals took their time to teach our youngsters to make a full feature film. From camera to directing, you see the succession of talents passing skills from one generation to another.” 

 

The Film Development Fund is covering the full production costs of the winning teams’ films, subject to a cap of $2 million per film for teams in the student group, and $5 million per film for the professional team section winner.

 

Two other films receiving funding support under the initiative are Opus 1 in the professional group and Mad World in the student group.

 



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