“There is no secret sauce. You just need to like the characters.”
On June 20th, screenwriting consultancy ScreenCraft hosted the 2017 Global Storytelling Panel at this year’s Shanghai International Film Festival. Sponsored by Quasar Management, this year’s event featured Guardian of the Galaxy’s James Gunn, King Kong: Skull Island’s Max Borenstein, and Hong Kong film producer Peter Ho-sun Chan.
The panel, moderated by ScreenCraft’s Emily Dell, focused on the need to write stories that transcend cultural divides and speak to audiences on a global scale.
Although several possible approaches were brought up during the events, Variety reports that all the guests were on the same page when it came to what not to do.
According to Borenstein, “The worst way to make a film is to try to appeal to a mass audience.” Gunn agreed, dismissing Hollywood’s usual tactic of casting diverse talent in token roles for the sole purpose of targeting international demographics. “Chinese people don’t fall for that trick any more,” the director said.
Although the event marked Gunn’s first visit to mainland China, the director claimed to have worked closely with Guardian of the Galaxy 2’s translator. Especially after complaints that the first film’s subtitles made it difficult for Chinese audiences to fully engage with the film’s quirky dialogue and made-up jargon. Its gestures like these that are essential for allowing an international audience to feel fully immersed in the world of the story.
“Chinese people don’t fall for that trick any more.”
The panel called for filmmakers to adopt a more holistic approach, telling stories that resonate with audiences on an emotional level, regardless of nationality. “There is no secret sauce. You just need to like the characters,” said Chan.
Responsible for some of China’s most successful films, the director-producer related this idea to his own work, “(In) American Dreams’ all the characters were the kind of people I’d grown up with. And when I watched ‘Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2’ recently I saw a personal film, one with a director behind it.”
Gunn agreed, “(it’s) a balance between the emotional and the logical.” As for the domestic and international success of Guardians 2? For the filmmaker, it all comes back to the film’s deeply personal, even autobiographical nature. “Rocket is me, feeling outcast and forgotten.”
ScreenCraft also recognized the winners of the China-Hollywood Screenwriting Fellowship, presented by Orb Media Group, which seeks to bridge cultures and identify worthy screenplays (in English or Chinese) that are uniquely appealing to both Chinese audiences and English-speaking audiences worldwide.