以下是好莱坞职业剧作家,导演,制片人Mark Byers先生于今年9月参加在中国山西大同举行的国际武术产业论坛的演讲稿.与会国际知名人事还包括李小龙先生之女李香凝,香港著名导演唐季礼,洪金宝,美国动作影星Jeff Speakman等.
First Hengshan International Forum (China) on Martial Arts Cultural Industry
Look around you – what do you see? A room full of people from all around the world. The diversity here is amazing – men and women, old and young, wise and foolish, Asian and Western, experienced and novice – each of us a unique individual.
Yet we are all here in Hengshan, China because we share one abiding passion, a single heart – a love for the movies, and for the martial arts.
The things we share in common far outweigh the differences we have. And as a filmmaker in a room full of filmmakers, I can tell you something else we have in common, a fear that lurks in the soul of everyone in this industry – the fear that someone you know is going to invite you to the screening of their new movie – and that it’s going to be awful.
You know exactly what I mean, because it happens to all of us – a friend or associate has just finished making some ultra low budget independent film, and is desperate to get an audience to come to their screening.
It happened to me again just before I left for China – I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they got me. “Hey, Mark,” my producer friend said, “I just finished post on my new film, and we’re having a screening at Paramount – I’d love for you to come check it out!”
Now I know better than to ever accept an invitation like that. But she insisted. Pleaded actually. She was desperate for an audience. And against every instinct and in spite of the voice inside my head shrieking NO, I agreed.
It doesn’t matter if its someone’s kid in a school play, or the screening of a new independent film, the odds are it’s going be a less-than-dazzling evening that will sorely test the limits of your friendship and require all the diplomatic skills of a Li Zhaoxing.
Why? Because when it’s all over, you know that they’re going to corner you in the lobby and ask that fateful question – Well, what did you think?
So against my better judgment, I went to the screening. It was a bad omen when I was given a handout with pictures and credits, and a “review” that was obviously written by a close family member of the director. The review started out – “This explosive movie is like a raw exposed nerve...”
Well – they were certainly right about that.
The film started out as merely intolerable, but quickly deteriorated into unmerciful. It was so convoluted and confusing that at first I thought it must be profound. This must mean something.
Let’s just say that at the final blessed fade out, the applause was uproarious – because the root canal of movies was finally over.
Everyone in the audience was a friend of someone involved in the movie, and the ordeal became some perverse test of that friendship. We all spilled out of the theater into the lobby, exchanging uncomfortable glances, wordlessly sharing our pain – and longingly eyeing the front doors and freedom.
I almost made it out the door without running in to the friend who invited me. I could see cars driving by on the street so tantalizingly close, happy people on their way to happy destinations –
Suddenly her voice rang out across the lobby, “Mark...” My blood froze. I was trapped. “Thanks so much for coming,” she said. Her expression was nervous, expectant, like the end of a first date.
Then the fateful question, like the blade of a guillotine, “So tell me – what did you think?”
I know that each of you have been in this same situation. What do you say when the truth won’t do and a lie won’t suffice? Fortunately, I was a Boy Scout when I was young, and our motto was – Be Prepared. And I was – I came prepared with a list of non-lying half-truths, which I now give to you free of charge, because sooner or later you will have to face this moment again, just like I did. I call it the fine art of How Not to Lie While Not Telling the Truth:
Confuse Them With Chaos. Immediately start a discussion on religion or politics. Preferably both. Say something like, “I applaud your courage and convictions. Your film is obviously a thinly-veiled metaphor for the attempts of the working classes to assimilate into the cultural elite.” They will either immediately leap into the fray of debate, or else hurriedly excuse themselves and flee to the relative safety of the no-host bar. Either way, you’re home free.
Muddle Them With Misdirection. Find something you liked, or even remembered, and talk exclusively about that. “The use of that strobe light during the pig butchering scene was absolutely brilliant! Was that your idea?”
Infer with Entendre. You can’t say, “It was interesting” anymore. Everyone knows what interesting really means. However, there are other things you can say without betraying your true feelings; “Indescribable. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s really quite a piece of work!” All true, any way you look at it. But you have sell it with the right tone of voice – then make your escape before they realize your true meaning.
Dazzle Them With Footwork. Go on the offensive, and start asking lots of questions. Filmmakers especially love talking about themselves. “Wherever did you find the inspiration to make such a unique film?” “How did you get those performances out of the cast?”
Bluster Them With Bull. Talk about how much hard work it must have taken to make this film. “You really threw yourself into the production. How you must have sacrificed!” Film people thrive on talk like that. And you can usually avoid ever having to discuss the work itself.
This latter one was my bluster of choice, and it worked like a champ.
And even after completely dancing around all of the issues and never actually saying anything, my friend still thanked me profusely for coming, grateful just to have an audience, any audience.
She was so appreciative, in fact, that I actually agreed to go to her next screening…
I hope this helps you next time you face a doomsday screening.
I am convinced that the greatest differences between us as international filmmakers come in our perceptions rather than in reality. And when it comes to perceptions, Hollywood more often than not seems to be out of step with the rest of the world.
Let me tell you a story that I think perfectly illustrates this point – One day a very famous Chinese film producer dies, and he goes to Filmmaker’s Heaven. And it is truly a paradise – everything is beautiful and wonderful and perfect. And celebrating in the joy of Filmmaker’s Heaven are movie people from China partying with movie people from Europe who are enjoying movie people from Australia – everyone all together in one big moviemaker’s paradise.
The Chinese producer is so very happy to be with all of his filmmaking colleagues from around the world. But as he looks around Filmmaker’s Heaven, he can see one group of people waaaay off in the distance, all by themselves. There is no one else near them.
The Chinese producer turns to St. Peter and asks, “Who are those people all alone over there?” St. Peter just laughs and says, “Oh, those are just the Hollywood filmmakers – they think they’re the only ones here!”
I am old enough to have seen the first Star Wars film when it came out. It was, of course, a huge success around the world. But when Hollywood looked at that, they thought that audiences wanted special-effects-science-fiction-films, and the studios all immediately spend millions making a spate of special-effects-science-fiction-films – most of which were dismal failures at the box office.
Hollywood missed the point that the rest of the world understood – Star Wars was not a special-effects-science-fiction-film, it was a mythical epic about the condition of the human heart.
I am also young enough to have seen And Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon when it came out. Another phenomenal worldwide success. But once again, Hollywood missed the point, thinking that audiences wanted martial arts action pictures. They failed to see that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was not a martial arts action picture, it was a mythical epic about the condition of the human heart.
Chinese filmmakers have always understood that great films are about the heart. And nowhere is this more evident than in one of the nation’s greatest cultural exports – martial arts films.
Ask any martial artist in this room – martial arts are not about punches and kicks, not about fighting or winning – martial arts are about the deeper things of the human heart – Honor. Dignity. Courage. Respect.
It’s no accident that the martial arts were developed by men of faith and heart rather than by men of war. As far back as the Chou Dynasty, one thousand years before Christ, martial arts masters passed on to their students the philosophy that they must – “Learn the ways to preserve rather than destroy, for all life is precious, nor can any be replaced.”
Shaolin monks developed their systematized exercises in order to strengthen the body and the mind so they might better endure prolonged mediation. Tien T’ai said, “Given enough time, any man may master the physical. With enough knowledge, any man may become wise. It is the true warrior who can master both – and surpass the result.”
It was a Taoist priest, Chang Sen-feng, who created the famous Wu Dan school of Tai Chi Chuan, “The Grand Ultimate Fist,” not as an art of war, but as a means to maintain health, calm the mind, and increase longevity.
And these are the great gifts Chinese martial arts cinema has given to the world – not just exciting fights and physical prowess – but true heroes who showed us that it is the duty of the strong to protect the weak, that true victory comes from a righteous heart, that honor and dignity are more important than riches and fame.
Confucius would have made a great filmmaker. 2,500 years before the movies were even invented, he embodied the very heart of Chinese martial arts cinema when he said – I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.
Thank you to my Chinese colleagues, past and present, for all that you have taught me through your extraordinary work. And thank you for the honor of addressing you today.
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