Next Gen Asia: Class of 2010
Director, writer, producer
An early starter, Alix won a Film Development Council screenwriting contest, and his winning script, "Yesterday Children," was made into a full-length feature -- all while he was still a teenager. After earning a degree in mass communications at the University of the City of Manila, he spent "three or four years working as a screenwriter," primarily for TV. It was "Donsol," his 2006 directorial debut -- which he also wrote -- that first gained him recognition outside the Philippines by becoming the country's official submission for the foreign-language Oscar. Alix has directed "about 13 features since then," in addition to numerous writing credits. He says the focus given to "the wave of Philippine independent directors that are getting attention at film festivals recently," along with a willingness to pay the bills by working for domestic majors, is now allowing him to make the type of films he wants to make.
"The most important thing is not to waver in your stance," says Ishimaru. "Be unwavering in your feelings and your thoughts. If your unwavering stance happens to match the zeitgeist, then it'll go well, and if it doesn't, then it won't." He adds, "I think that every year, but in 2009 it went particularly well." Ishimaru would have found it difficult to be any more successful last year: He not only produced the two most-watched drama series on commercial TV -- "Mr. Brain" and "Jin" -- but also the highest-grossing movie of the year in "Rookies," which pulled in more than ¥8.5 billion ($95 million). Ishimaru first made his mark as a national schoolboy swimming champion, but insists the drive and focus that took him there are unrelated to his current success. "I don't think I've been able to transfer any of that to my work," he says.
Writer, producer, director, Yimeng Films
Jin wrote, co-produced and directed (and drew illustrations for) the 2009 boxoffice hit "Sophie's Revenge," making her one of only eight Chinese directors whose films grossed 100 million yuan ($15 million) last year. Comfortably bilingual, she is coy about just how autobiographical her film, about a scorned woman getting back at her ex, might be. "What surprised me about 'Sophie's Revenge' was how many men told me they'd also had a love-hate relationship and that the film had touched them, even made them cry," she says. "That's when I knew all of China was ready for this story, not just women." Jin, who studied Italian opera for eight years at the China Music Conservatory in Beijing before she moved into cartooning (she's published several books) and, finally, into filmmaking, notes: "Drawing taught me I was good at expressing myself with images, but opera's pace and rhythm are still there for me in filmmaking. Now I only sing in the shower."
Being an in-house producer at Toho -- the most major of majors -- Kawamura considers it his role to bring left-of-center projects into the mainstream. His breakthrough came with 2005's "Train Man." "Around that time, I was thinking nobody was looking at the Internet," Kawamura says. "I had the idea of doing something from 2ch (a huge collection of message boards started by 2009 Next Gen Asia's Hiroyuki Nishimura) and then came upon the true story of this 'otaku' (geek) trying to get this girl, while getting advice from people on the boards. It also appealed in terms of being very much of my generation." So did his 2008 film, "Detroit Metal City," a cult comic adaptation that also became famous for being the only movie in that year's top 30 that didn't have TV station-backing. Kawamura's latest project, "Confessions," based on a best-selling thriller, will bow domestically in the summer.
Actor, producer, director
Having reached what he calls a "middle ground" between youth and maturity, Wu's not taking random risks anymore. "I have a logical way of going about it," says the multihyphenate. After more than 50 Hong Kong films, the NoCal Chinese-American, who once received an A+ on a college thesis about John Woo's balletic gun battle choreography, is branching out. The one-time architecture major helped produce Clara Law's Hong Kong International Film Fest feature "Like a Dream" (in which he stars), just acted opposite Kevin Spacey in the indie feature "Inseparable" and starred in Fox's first Chinese co-production "Hot Summer Days." "We have to break the mold that says Chinese film equals 'Crouching Tiger' and make sure we're always doing new, creative projects," he says. His latest projects: A management company and producing records. "If people aren't letting you do what you want, you just have to figure out a way to do it on your own."
Mak quit her screenwriting job early in her career after one too many no's from her bosses and became a waitress instead. The experience was a rite of passage for the filmmaker, who discovered the value of perseverance as well as the need to work well with others. The directing wunderkind started out writing scripts and made her debut feature, "High Noon," a coming-of-age story about rebellious Hong Kong teens, at 23 under the tutelage of Hong Kong multihyphenate Eric Tsang. She has now moved on to helm the romance "Ex" for Emperor Motion Pictures. The key for a young filmmaker to make it in the business is to learn how to take rejection and persevere, she says: "Don't question why others reject you or your ideas; ask only what you've done wrong and why others don't trust you." Directing is not the only area of filmmaking she's interested in. "I want to be a P.A. on a big production -- only when I know how every position of the team works will I be a considerate director."
Acquisitions executive, GM Hopscotch Films, Features
"It feels weird to be 31 and to have been with the same company for eight years -- it's like a throwback to the 1950s," Okine says. With technology changing distribution and production models, Okine has moved from marketing to production, but says she wouldn't want to be anywhere else. The political science major's long-held interest in cinema -- she worked her way through university as a projectionist -- came to fruition at the U.K.'s Film Four. Her next opportunity arose when she returned to Australia to work for startup Hopscotch, distributing prestigious foreign-language films. "There were four of us sitting around one computer. It was very low-tech then," she says. Continually "setting and meeting your business challenges" has enabled Hopscotch to grow to the stage where it's co-distributing and financing films like "Mao's Last Dancer." Next up for Okine: Eight features in development.
Development producer Animal Logic
"I've always had this vision of being Liberace," Peers says. "I've got a song for everything." Peers one of the new breed of film executives making their way up the ladder via the digital route trained as a pianist, got a sound engineering degree and managed several postproduction facilities before she was asked to work with Animal Logic founder Zareh Nalbandian. While managing the 500 or so animators and visual effects people who worked on "Happy Feet," she was "mentored in the art of storytelling" by George Miller. "What 'Happy Feet' and '300' did for us was help us find our creative voice," she says. "We're a small unit, but we're focused on our goals." Those include completing AL's first self-produced project, "Guardians of Ga'hoole." Now one of a team heading up AL's development unit, she admits she's less keen to see any more penguin or Spartan army scripts.
Director, writer, Sahamongkol Film International
When Sakveerakul was deciding what to study in college, he says it was a close call between music and film. Thankfully for the world of cinema, music lost out -- though he cites his childhood music teacher, Mr. Pinai, as one of the major influences on his life and says he still plays the cello and trombone every day. Having started out making his first short film in 2000, Sakveerakul says "I just carried on making films year after year since then and I've never really stopped." Somehow he found the time to write and direct a few films before turning 30: The horror film "Evil," the psychological thriller "13 Beloved" -- the remake rights for which were snapped up by the Weinstein Co. -- and the gay teenage love story "The Love of Siam." Sakveerakul says the theme that links these diverse projects is "humanity -- they're all about humans and their feelings."
GM, producer Irresistible Films
"Everyone in the film industry is crazy," Tee declares. "They sacrifice health, wealth, their personal life for their work." Tee is no exception, often giving up family time for work. But the film producer and executive considers herself "very lucky, because I love what I do." Born in Malaysia, she has a degree in education and began her career in theater production, joining Focus Features when she came to Hong Kong in the early 2000s. She now manages Irresistible Films, which was established to cultivate new talent across Asia and has produced four films since 2008: "Claustrophobia," "The Strawberry Cliff," "Crossing Hennessy" and "Lovers' Discourse." She also produced "At the End of Daybreak," an acclaimed drama for her own production company, Paper Heart. The perennially upbeat Tee, who loves the process from development to postproduction, has established a network of friends across the region. "Within Asia, the working style is similar. The industry values contacts and relationships above all," she notes.
Innovation, To says, is like a drug to her. Eloquent and adventurous, she challenges herself each time she takes up a new project. "I'd never want to repeat something I've done," she says. Her fresh takes on genres that range from action, period drama and kung fu fantasy to crime thrillers have made her one of the most in-demand young writers on the scene. "Young audiences want to see the unexpected," says To, who believes originality and imaginative storytelling will give Asian filmmakers a competitive edge over their Hollywood counterparts within the fast-changing Chinese marketplace. To, who broke into the industry through an internship program seven years ago, became one of the most polarizing figures in the Hong Kong film industry last summer when her provocative script for "Murderer" sparked vicious criticism online that verged on cyber bullying, which she took in stride. "A creator," she says, "should always be true to oneself. It's always a good thing to make people think."
Producer, Asmik Ace
Having been "making 8mm films since high school," Uda joined production and co-distributor Asmik Ace after studying commercial production at Nihon University College of Art. After spending a less-than-fulfilling year in sales, he worked as an assistant on movies like "Ring 2" and "Tekkon-kinkreet," the first anime feature to be helmed by a Westerner. All four of the films he's produced so far have been with first-time helmers, except for "Heaven's Door," a reworking of German hit road-movie "Knocking on Heaven's Door," made with "Tekkonkinkreet" director Michael Arias, whom Uda approached to do his first live-action film. Uda's latest project, "My Unkind Senior," is directed by Yutaka Yamamoto, another first-timer. As an in-house producer, he describes planning movies as a cross between being a "salaryman" and a "venture capital boss, in terms of overseeing investments." Although a fan of digital technical innovation, for its use to be meaningful, he says, "the content has to be able to take the technology forward."
Producer, Three Dots Entertainment/Beijing Sheng Shi He Ying Film & TV Culture
After fulfilling her lifelong ambition to work in the film business by producing seven features in five years, Yeh now works in Taiwan and mainland China. Her distribution company, Three Dots Entertainment, is based in Taipei; and she also works with newly founded production company Beijing Sheng Shi He Ying Film & TV Culture, in partnership with friend and mentor Jimmy Yang. Film studies at the University of British Columbia provided just a taste of the business, the nuts and bolts of which she says she's really learned through distribution. "Understanding the marketplace first is required education