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Interview Clement Cheng on Gallants
Working on a film set 1/1 - Page 3
Author(s) : Thomas Podvin
Date : 1/6/2011
Type(s) : Interview
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Masterclass: Talk about the pressure on the set and the external forces.
Clement Cheng: There are always a lot of external forces to stop you from whatever you want to do. Because they don't know what you are doing. I am the only person who knows, and my partner. The thing is, you just have to deal with it. The more pressure there is, and the more constraints, [these] help you for your own creativity. If there is an unlimited amount of freedom, you can't come up with anything. It's like a box: you are in there and you try to get out.

Peter Chan once told me that when a HK director goes to Hollywood, people in HK praise him and if he goes up north to China, he is a sell-out. But it's actually not true. You need to make a lot of compromises in every system, in Hollywood or in China. It's just a question of how creative, how smart you are to work around things and make things happen. He did two movies in Hollywood and five in China. He told me it's actually harder and there are more rules to follow in Hollywood than in China, even thought censorship is kind of sensitive in China. He said he had a lot of freedom under the circumstances.

It is a shitty place working in movies because people in HK, and especially in HK, are constantly yelling. All the time. There was a script I wrote on - some well-known script-writer was the guy who yelled at me at the conference room for five hours. For every page and every line, he said “it's shit” and I am “crazy” and I am “immature”. For five hours. I really doubted myself. After five hours, the director came in. We were kind of friends before but then it got tense. He asked me if I still wanted to be his assistant director. If I followed my guts, I would have said no. Because I didn't want to be in this place and be yelled at every fucking day. I could be having wine somewhere else.

Everybody wanted to leave. No one knew what was going to happen but I wanted to stay. Funnily enough, they hired another scriptwriter and it took that person a month to re-write the script. And afterward, I was a scriptwriter again because the producer read both scripts and she thought mine was better.

And if I hadn't stayed, I wouldn't be writing scripts or making movies anymore.
Masterclass: Did you have any knowledge or experience to be an art director?
Clement Cheng: Not much. In HK, it's kind of weird there is no system, it's chaotic. Everybody is doing everything. You're kind of involved in everything when you are an assistant director or a script supervisor. You learn things as you go. I was an assistant director for two or three movies and script supervisor for one movie. You just have to learn on the set and not give up any opportunity you have to be on set and look at people and see how it is done. It was actually the best that I could do. I was actually the acting director on a couple of movies. I was not credited and not paid, but I learned so much. I starved though; I couldn't pay my rent.

Pressure on the set

Masterclass: Can you talk about the difference in the work ethic in Canada and in HK? I guess you are more productive in HK.
Clement Cheng: Yes, because what happens in HK is they don't treat you as a human; that's why it's productive. It's like a system of slavery. But this is the last thing I want to do to my crew. I don't like it myself. I try very hard not to [do this] and not to yell at people.

The funny thing is, the first day of shooting Gallants, the grips saw me and Derek and said “Shit, it's those two guys again."

HKCM: They didn't know you were the directors?
Clement Cheng: They did. And they said, “We don't have lunch time or dinner time; just eat on your own time.” The shortest shooting day we had was probably 18 hours; the longest was 30 hours. They were like “Shit, not them again.” But I tried to treat them with respect. It just happened that way because we didn't have enough money. We still paid them for the overtime.
Masterclass: If you had more than 18 days to do Gallants, how do you think it would have turned out?
Clement Cheng: It would have sucked. If you are really bombarded by problems, difficulties, and people trying to stop you - only in that situation can you prevail and do the most. If you have an unlimited amount of budget or time, that's crazy. But then, I would not do my next movie in 18 days. You have to give me 30.
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