Attendees of Mina Shum’s master class in Halifax on Nov 21, 2017,were taking notes. That’s because Shum not only offered a glimpse into her own creative process as writer, director, and producer, she also gave actionable tips for anyone interested in writing and pitching a script.
“Contrast leads to conflict, which leads to climax,” was her suggestion for thinking about the structure of a script.
Shum stressed the importance of having a reason to make a film—a personal connection with the story you want to tell. In her latest film Meditation Park, she wanted to tell a coming-of-age story about a sixty-year-old Chinese woman. The film chronicles the woman’s journey to self-discovery, and the ultimate realization that she can have agency outside of the family home. Shum imbued the film with details from her own life, like wallpaper based on graphic designs that her father created before the family immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong when Shum was a child.
Both poignant and funny, Meditation Park stars veteran actress Pei-Pei Cheng, of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Sandra Oh, known for her role as Dr. Cristina Yang on Grey’s Anatomy, and her work on Shum’s first award-winning feature film Double Happiness.
While it may not be unusual to hear about the importance of structure in reference to script writing, Shum detailed how she crafts each script so that words are strategically placed. While writing she will deliberately position a piece of action directly in the middle of a page, and a subsequent follow-up action right on the last line of the page, forcing readers to turn the page if they want to know what the action on the bottom line will reveal.
In addition to a sneak peek of Meditation Park, which will be released in March 2018, Shum screened a portion of her critically-acclaimed 2015 documentary Ninth Floor, and a short film that she created as a tribute to mothers, Hip Hop Mom, which shows her playful side. She suggested that perhaps the humour in Hip Hop Mom was one of the reasons she was approached to travel to Halifax and direct This Hour Has 22 Minutes.
The master class was hosted by Women in Film and Television Atlantic (WIFT-AT) in partnership with Director’s Guild of Canada – Atlantic Regional Council.
Stay tuned for details about upcoming WIFT-AT workshops!