The “Big” Dream of the XS Media

Today, there seems to be a myth about Chinese films: there are a lot of domestic films that are beloved by Chinese audiences and a lot of domestic films that are recognized internationally. However, those who can do both are rare.

"To make Chinese films liked by Chinese audiences and international audiences." Xiaowen Song, the founder and CEO of XS Media, said in an interview.

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At the 32nd Tokyo International Film Festival, which ended last week, Xiaowen Song took the role as the producer of the Chinese film Summer Knight, produced by XS Media, which took best film in the Asian Future section at Tokyo film festival. The film received plenty of applause from the Japanese audience at the premiere.

For Xing You, this is the first feature film written and directed by himself; For Xiaowen Song, this is the first Chinese film produced by herself.

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This new hot mother, born after 1985, was not only selected as one of the top ten producers in Variety in Hollywood and also selected as one of the top 50 young filmmakers in Screen. Films like Nancy and A Kid Like Jake, produced by her also were nominated in the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Especially, the Nancy won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award.

After making a film together and winning the award, I interviewed the young film producer Xiaowen Song, to talk with her about the creation process of Summer Knight, the feeling about winning the award, the experience in the Chinese and American film industry, and the present and future of XS Media.

"It was a very right decision for me and the director to come back to China."

The birth of Summer Knight began with Xiaowen Song and Xing You’s common value and interest.

In 2017, Xiaowen Song and Xing You, who were both living and working in Los Angeles, knew and met for the first time by Xing You’s girlfriend. In the following chat, they found that they had similar tastes to the film. Therefore, Xing You took out a long-form movie script that he had carefully grind for a year and showed it to the producers.

When talking about how she felt when she saw the script, Xiaowen Song was hard to hide her appreciation for the script and the director. "Personally, I like the script very much. The style of this story reminds me of one of my favorite movies - A One and a Two, which directed by Dechang Yang. Xing You has delicate perceptiveness of human nature and human world. So, I think he has a lot of elements of being a good director because he has a solid foundation of life experience, literature and film culture. I appreciate him, and his story attracted me very much, so I said at that time, I will be the producer, let's do it together."

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Although they decided to cooperate together, they also need to make a difficult decision to come back to shoot the film since it is a complete Chinese film which took place in the director's hometown – Chengdu, despite the fact that they have already stayed in the United States for years.

After studying and living in the United States for ten years after graduation from high school, Xing You did not know much about the domestic living environment and working environment in the film industry. Moreover, the experience of returning to China of some of his peers and friends as well as his own visa problems made him feel uneasy and uncertain about the decision to give up the comfortable and familiar environment.

For Xiaowen Song, who was an independent producer in Los Angeles at the time, the opportunity came as a pleasant surprise, even though she knew that returning to China to make films was a must for her as a Chinese filmmaker.

Recalling the decision, Xiaowen Song admits: "it was the right decision for us because as a native Chinese, I have more passion and impulse to tell a good Chinese story. I also want to be able to communicate more with audiences in my country, not to mention that the domestic film industry now is developing so fast that there exist many opportunities."

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After deciding to return to China in early 2018, they started the working process of preparing for the film.

According to Xiaowen Song, the casting process went very smoothly. For example, after reading the script, Lu Huang and Xi Xi decided immediately to play in this film.

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Ludi Lin, a Chinese-American actor who plays Xi Xi’s uncle in the film, is the first contact and first confirmed character. When talk about why choose an actor who cannot speak Sichuan dialect, Xiaowen Song explained it by taking the importance of a actor’s attitude: "Ludi is very diligent, he also likes the director's script and is interested in independent film, so he has been following up the project and also ask a language coach to help him practice his lines, so we did not think about other actors later."

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Lingchen Ji's performance is more interesting. After knowing Lingchen Ji in various shows, Xiaowen Song felt that he could play the role of "the young man" in the film, considering the appearance, lines and culture, so she recommended him to the director. The director wrote a long and sincere message to Lingchen Ji via Instagram, and soon his manager got in touch with the team, who decided to participate after the meeting.

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After finishing the casting process, the shooting location was hard to choose. Due to the limited budget, the complicated procedures for the school shooting permit and the beginning of the school season, the production crew finally decided to shoot in Pengzhou, a small county which one hour’s drive from Chengdu.

Fortunately, Pengzhou, also known as "little Chengdu", has been less affected by urbanization, so the scene of the 1990s is still well preserved, which provides a lot of convenience for the movie scenes to be restored.

For the producer, director and the company team, shooting Summer Knight is their first time shooting in China. Xiaowen Song did not blindly imitate the working system of domestic crews that she was not familiar with. Instead, she and the team followed the principle of maximizing production efficiency, established a stable working mechanism, saved unnecessary time for eating, drinking and playing, and worked ten hours a day. Even if there are a lot of big night scenes in the film, they will ask the crew to go back and take a full rest and start shooting the next day later.

Recalling the biggest difficulty in the process of filming, the new mother Xiaowen Song did not mention the difficulty when she was pregnant in the group and had to eat KFC but emphasized the differences in working methods in China and abroad, such as the financial confusion, which was solved by the joint efforts and communication of the whole crew. They also established a set of compliant and efficient systems; for example, the difference between the level of photographer and the lighting division, and the photographer Sheldon problems with bilingual communication.

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Speaking of this, Xiaowen Song cannot hind her excitement for the great cooperation with the director: "Xing You is a very professional director no matter from the creative side or business side. On the one hand, he not only focuses on his creation, but also knows how to cooperate with the producers, we both know what exactly we should do."

Indeed, we have heard too much struggle and conflict between the producer and director, some of them even became enemies. So, it is not only a fortune, but also a wish to have this kind of cooperation which based on tacit understanding, trust, a clear division of responsibilities and the internationalized modern and efficient work style. In this mode of work, the success of Summer Knight is not surprising.

"The award was a complete surprise."

It is very exciting to have the opportunity to attend the 32nd Tokyo International Film Festival with Summer Knight. "None of us would have thought of it, except Ji, who is very confident of our film.”

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After all, it is the first time to shoot in China, and the director's unique style is very rare. So, every step of Summer Knight is very experimental.

Crucially, the final version submitted to the festival, with some unfinished later mixing, color mixing and editing tweaks because of the lack of time. In addition, in the Asian future unit, there are seven other films from all over the world with experienced directors and large company teams.

In the face of fierce competition and their own imperfections, Xiaowen Song was also uncertain about the response from the audiences.

However, the reaction from the Japanese audiences relieved this young producer. The Japanese audience watched it with laugh and crying. The questions in the Q&A session after the screening were also very accurate to the theme which the director wanted to express. "We think the Japanese audience is really amazing, so we are also looking forward to releasing it in Japan."

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After the Tokyo Film Festival, Xiaowen Song has also signed up for some European film festivals next year. In the desire to communicate with audience in other regions and build more awareness of Summer Knight at the same time, Xiaowen Song wants to use this opportunity to find a suitable domestic distribution, who can put Summer Knight in the domestic cinemas next year.

Xiaowen Song expresses sincerely: "We hope that the distributor shares the same value with us. The company is not necessarily big, but it can help the film reach the target audience, this is our biggest wish."

"Hoping Chinese films to have their own voice in the world"

Xiaowen Song, who went to the United States for the master’s degree, believes that the most important thing brought by these experiences is the ability to think independently and see problems from multiple perspectives.

"The biggest enemy of making movies is impetuousness, or too much desire, you may fall into these traps if you lose yourself, so it is still necessary to establish a correct value, learn from what you think is right and gradually accumulate experience and grow." Recalling the past few years of work experience in China and the United States, Xiaowen Song cannot hide her gratefulness.

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As for the difference between Chinese and American film industry, Xiaowen Song thinks it has its own advantages and disadvantages. Rather than saying who has more, it is better to say that the two are more like a mirror, allowing filmmakers to compare, think, learn from and absorb both their advantages.

The film industry in the United States is more standardized and industrialized, and the division of labor among the crews is more detailed and specific. The working styles among different crews are very similar. For the producers, there are relatively few things to worry about.

However, in China, every production team has a different set of rules, a strong sense of humanity, and a lot of things to worry about. But for a young producer like Xiaowen Song, who is still in the growth stage, the pressure will turn into motivation and help her solve new problems and challenges, which will bring more sense of achievement.

In recent years, with the development of the Chinese film market, not onlyCrazy Rich Asians, The Farewelland other films that reflect the life of Chinese people have become popular in Hollywood, but also more and more Chinese appear in and behind the scenes in Hollywood stage. But to Xiaowen Song, the current focus of America is the voice of Chinese-American, and there is still a long way to go for localized Chinese films.

As a member of the new generation of Chinese filmmakers, Xiaowen Song’s dream is to make Chinese films which are not only liked by Chinese audiences, but also liked by audience in the globe. "I think many of my peers also have this ability because many of them have international vision, their own ideas and styles, and they are also trying to be creative. So, I am sure the new generation of Chinese filmmakers will achieve more and more in the future. I am looking forward to hearing its own voice of Chinese movies.” Xiaowen Song is quite optimistic about this.

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"XS Media wants to grow together with young audiences"

"It is our biggest ambition and passion to create content with high quality for young millennial audience."

This is the first sentence in the proposal of the XS Media company, which was founded in early 2017 and will soon be three years old.

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Chinese audiences born in the 1980s and 1990s, or even the 2000s, have experienced dramatic changes in times and technology, forming a unique value system and become the back stone of Chinese films. As a young producer born after 1985, Xiaowen Song always hopes to show the life style of her peers and younger generations through films and TV programs.

"I am very optimistic about my generation and the post-00s audience, and I think they have a good chance to become high-quality audience. Filmmakers also grow up with audiences, and I want to make something for these young audiences."

Speaking of selecting criteria of film and television projects, Xiaowen Song doesn't like to use the item of dramas, commercial to definite a movie. But in the current context, they are more cautious about selecting the kind of movie like Summer Knight and plan to initiate one every one or two year, then concentrate more on the development of genre in the following years.

Currently, we are focusing on the development of some projects, such as the comedy about the campus young brothers, the comedy about the relationship between father and son, the thriller and the comedy written by ourselves.

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In addition to the development and production of film and television projects, another business of XS Media is the management of talents. Different from the common artists' agents in China, XS Media aims to be the manager of young filmmakers, who can provide them with career planning suggestions, project reference and other resource which can help them deal with legal and tax affairs.

Just a few months into the business, the company has signed with many outstanding young directors, screenwriters, cinematographers and editors, including Xing You, as well as Cong Zhou. Xiaowen Song also hopes to help more young filmmakers through her experience and resources.

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From the students who just started her journey in American seven years ago, the intern who bought espresso with high heels on in Hollywood after graduation, to the young filmmaker who led the Chinese film won the International Film Festival Award, Xiaowen Song’s is more passionate and focused. No matter how the environment changes, how the identity changes, and how the team expands, Xiaowen Song’s initial focus on high quality content has never changed.

Just like she positions the XS Media company – to become an excellent development workshop and a dynamic, creative production company.