Mina Shum: Filmmaker, Writer/Director
Multiple-award winning filmmaker Mina Shum has written and directed three feature films. Born in Hong Kong and raised in Vancouver, Canada, The New York Times calls Shum's work "wry and winning".
As a director resident at the Canadian Film Centre, Shum developed her first feature-length film Double Happiness, which premiered at the 1994 Toronto International Film Festival, receiving the Special Jury Citation for Best Canadian Feature Film and tying in third place with Kieslowski for the Toronto Metro Media Prize. Double Happinessgarnered Canada’s highest film honours, winning Genie Awards for Best Actress (Sandra Oh) and Best Editing (Alison Grace) with additional nominations for Best Picture, Best Direction, Best Screenplay and Best Cinematography. It also won 1995 Berlin Film Festival prize for Best First Feature, as well the Audience Award at the Torino Film Festival in 1994. After it’s US premiere at Sundance, it was released theatrically in the U.S. by Fine Line Features in 1995. Her second feature Drive, She Said premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 1997. The film was invited to the competition section of the Turin Delle Donne Film Festival in 1998. Shum’s third feature film,Long Life, Happiness and Prosperity premiered at the 2002 Toronto Film Festival and played to sold out audiences at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival. It won a Special Citation for Best Screenplay at the Vancouver Film Festival. It will be released theatrically in Canada by Odeon Films and in the U.S. by Film Movement.
Shum has written and directed several short films, including Picture Perfect, which was nominated for Best Short Drama at the 1989 Yorkton Film Festival, Shortchanged, Love In, Hunger, Thirsty and Me, Momand Mona which won Special Jury Citation for Best Canadian Short at the 1993 Toronto Film Festival. Her 2011 web short, Hip Hop Mom has garnered thousands of hits and can be viewed for free at www.minashum.com.
Shum directed the television movie, Mob Princess for Brightlight Pictures/W Network. Her episodic directing work includes: About A Girl, Noah’s Arc, Exes and Oh’s, Bliss, TheShield Stories and Da Vinci’s Inquest for which she was nominated for a Director’s Guild Award. Her episodic work has been seen on CTV, Global, Nickelodeon, CBC, N, Logo/MTV, Showcase and Lifetime.
She is currently writing and developing her next feature film, Two of Me, with Brightlight Pictures, as well as writing and developing other feature projects including, The Lotus (co-written with Dennis Foon).
RUSTY TALK WITH MINA SHUM
Kathryn Mockler: How did you first get into filmmaking?
Mina Shum: When I was 7, I got down on one knee, spread my arms wide like Al Jolson and declared "I want to be in show business." At 12, I started my first journal and wrote everything I thought, felt, and heard down. I would copy things I'd overheard on the bus ride home, word for word to examine the patter of speech and the subtext of a banal conversation between two ladies about a cupcake recipe. In grade 9, I was failing my knitting class and transferred to Drama and that was the beginning of my official training as a filmmaker. I went to theatre school at UBC, got a film diploma after my BA, and continue to study and practice the craft.
KM: Where do you get your ideas from or what or who inspires you? MS: I am a voracious consumer of ideas, movies, art, theatre, music, dance, fiction and non-fiction. I read interviews with people I've never heard of. And I listen to both friends and strangers speak. I live entirely, throw myself into situations, get my heart broken, soar with infatuations. And somehow all that gets funneled through my guiding intention, which is to reflect and reveal how we can be happier. How to live more authentically, how to make the most out of this one life.
So, how does this hodge-podge of thoughts gets distilled through my next feature? Two of Me is an irreverent romantic comedy about an overworked 35 year old super woman (two kids, live-in-mother-in-law, husband, high pressure job, trying to get promotion) and she's granted a wish for "two of me" except the other "me" is ten years younger when she was a no-good indie rock musician. It's a film about who you once were and who you've become and the disconnect that often occurs when we're busy living life! At its heart, it's about surppressing our true nature (which I think all my films are about).
KM: What is the writing process like for you?
MS: I get hooked on an idea, a question and I write.It starts in the title which I believe should say what's the essential theme/idea behind the movie; it starts with a good title. Then I write the three-sentence pitch. If I can do that, I move on to a proposal that is half director's vision and writer's beats. But after that I work on my treatment, which is beating out the film pretty well. And at this point it's the writer's hat I'm wearing. The writer has to deliver on the promise to the director. Being both writer/director, I have to know when to wear which hat. The director in me is a heavy taskmaster and will continue to make me (the writer) work the script until it sings and I take it over as a director. And then when I direct the film, I will continue rewriting bits even in the sound mix of the film.
KM: How do you approach revision?
MS: I rewrite until you are watching the movie in a theatre. When I say that, I mean in marketing, in my interviews and in my q and a. I assume that all the notes I get, is just gonna make the film better. I do reject notes. But if the same note is coming over and over, I take notice.
KM: Writers/filmmakers often have to face a great deal of rejection, especially when they first start out. Do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers on coping with this?
MS: Nothing is ever lost when you practice. I like to think of all of life as a practice. Malcom Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to get really good at something. Clock your 10,000 hours. Keep working on it. I write and direct everyday even if it's just in my mind, toying with concepts or even a note to a friend.
Trust the path.
KM: What is the best thing about being a filmmaker and/or writer and the worst thing?
MS: Best thing about being a filmmaker, making a film.
Worst thing: waiting for the funding to make a film. But even as I write that, I know that I have to "practice" making that part fun, part of the process.
At best it takes fours years to go from thought to you seeing it on the big screen. That's four years of living, breathing and waiting. Or should I say "practicing"?
From the short film HIP HOP MOM
Photo by Matt Lyons
A SHORT FILM BY MINA SHUM
Check out Mina Shum's latest 4-minute short Hip Hop Mom.
When two alpha moms fight over a parking spot, they reveal their secret identities, and it's a hip hop battle royale!
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