Wheatfield Sailors, the pitch by Taiwan’s Dynamic Communications, is the story of young men from a poor farming community in China’s Henan province whose dreams of becoming sailors see them attending the local naval school. Problem is – the school is nowhere near water and the men have never seen the ocean. Everything is simulated. All the men might ever only see – is a sea of wheat.
The idea of a naval school many miles inland of China clearly baffl ed the judges, but the team exploited the intrigue to draw the judges in to a larger story of overpopulation, unemployment, poverty, and a chasing of seemingly impossible dreams in a impoverished province of over 100 million people.
“The average farmer there makes US$350 a year. If they become a sailor, the salary jumps from between US$1,000 – US$7,000 per month!” exclaims producer Charlene Shih. “They’ve never seen the world. The reason they can’t see the ocean is not only that the ocean is far but because they don’t have the money to travel. There are many layers to this story.”
Taiwanese producers Charlene and Gary Shih, together with director Ning Huo from China form the trio that worked gruelling months perfecting their story. Huo, the primary researcher, recounts trekking hundreds of kilometers to mountainous villages to interview the story’s central character (the team made more than ten trips in all). Multiple conversations with teachers, students, and experts later, the team knew they had to tell this story.
The long-distance collaboration also meant that Gary Shih often had to cross borders to lend support to Huo, including operating the camera.
On rejections and possibly abandoning the project (the team had three prior submissions in various competitions), Gary Shih fi red a quick “å†æŠ•” (just submit again) without hesitation.
“You must know that as documentary fi lmmakers, we never get picked up at fi rst,” Shih explained, in Mandarin. “The fi rst attempt is always ‘immature.’ You must continually refi ne your pitch and then you’ll eventually get there.”
This time, the team was confident that they have a winning product. A commissioner at a previous pitch expressed strong interest, and even though there was no development fund then, Charlene says that the intangible benefi t was the ability to engage in conversation with experts in preparation for future pitches. To prepare for The Asian Pitch, the team tossed powerpoint slides across both sides of the Taiwan Straits, rehearsed incessantly via MSN, hired a script expert from the UK to refi ne the submitted treatment before regrouping two days prior in Singapore – only to rehearse some more.
Thankfully, in this fourth attempt, Dynamic Communications clinched the endorsement they sought. In all, four pitches have been picked up for production. EPs from each participating broadcaster will be assigned to fund, produce and broadcast these documentaries for a 2013 premiere across all three broadcasters. NHK will supply two EPs, with MediaCorp and KBS each supplying one.
Then there’s the possibility of touring festival circuits and receiving a cut from the sale of the documentaries (international sales by MediaCorp).
In this field of dreams, some pitches do win.
Taiwan’s PTS to join The Asian Pitch in 2013
Also making news at The Asian Pitch is the Taiwanese broadcaster – Public Television Service (PTS).
PTS, who is represented by its president Dr. Sunshine Kuang, announced the joining of The Asian Pitch as a fourth broadcast partner.
With the Taiwanese broadcaster’s involvement in 2013, The Asian Pitch will broaden its outreach to more Asian fi lmmakers and fi nd more Asian stories that need to be told.
Kuang says that documentary producers in Taiwan need an established platform like The Asian Pitch. She hopes that through this venture, PTS will be able to provide talented fi lmmakers the support that they need.
“We have so many good producers. This year, out of 100 entries at The Asian Pitch we have two fi nalists, I think that’s good. Some Taiwanese producers have very good ideas. They know how to talk to us but they need to learn how to pitch internationally. Locally, we have enough pitches from PTS but now we need to give them an international voice.”