Steve Chan: From Experience to Endurance
01 Oct 2018
Dare to Film
Steve was given the Chinese name Chan Chi-fat by his father who wished for his only child success and wealth with financial stability, a desire perhaps accentuated by his own recent business failure. ‘I mulled changing my name as it gives people an impression that I am an avaricious person,’ Steve recalls with a chuckle.
However, running a business was never an aspiration he shared with his father. Steve says, ‘I think I may have let my father down. When I was young, I dreamed of becoming an inventor, to create things that could change people’s lives.’
An indirect path to film
Steve was brought up in a grass-roots family. He wasn’t a diligent, studious child and would much rather spend his time on playing computer games instead of studying. His childhood was filled with bickering and quarrelling. Steve didn’t pin his hopes on a successful future; he didn’t even think he would be able to get into university to fulfil his father’s wish. When the public exam period neared, he roused himself and made up his mind to study hard. ‘Once I decided to study, I was like a motor, nothing could slow me down. This experience strengthened my belief in my ability to overcome any obstacles that I encounter in my life.’
While studying a higher diploma programme, Steve worked part time for a famous music video director. This proved to be an invaluable experience which equipped him with skills for film production. Eventually, Steve won his admission ticket to the Academy of Film (AF) of Hong Kong Baptist University and majored in Cinema and Television. ‘Getting accepted into HKBU was the happiest moment in my entire life.’
Steve’s interest is easily categorised as falling under the creative industry, but actually he did not plan to become a director. ‘When I was an AF student, I learnt from the lecturers how to appreciate a movie, and I found myself obsessed and fascinated with the world of film. It was then that I thought about becoming a director and making use of film to inspire others and change the world.’ After hearing that the thing that sets a director apart is their way of thinking, Steve spent much of his time reading different kinds of books. By practicing extensively inside and outside the classroom, he gradually built up the confidence to pursue a career in film.
What are you willing to do for your dream?
After all, becoming a film director is a far-fetched dream to a fresh graduate, and for good reason; apart from entry hurdles, it is a strenuous job that taxes one’s mental and physical strength. The combination of unstable income and the mounting costs of film production results in financial burden. Despite the tough journey ahead, Steve didn’t give up on his dream. He put aside the wages from his part-time job in a “Dream Catching Fund”.
It wasn’t long before the Fund was put to good use. The screenplay Weeds on Fire, which he co-wrote with Wong Chi-yeung, also an AF alumnus, won the First Feature Film Initiative (FFFI) competition of Create Hong Kong. The Film Development Fund awarded HK$2 million to the duo to make their first commercial feature film.
Steve knew he had to grasp this opportunity of a lifetime; he didn’t hesitate to quit his job in order to devote himself completely to the production of his debut film. But the fact remains that it takes more than passion and commitment to produce a commercial film. To make a film with HK$2 million is a tall order. With such a tight budget, Steve deeply appreciated the support he received from his alma mater. ‘Throughout the filmmaking process, teachers from AF gave me a lot of encouragement and advice and many students also gave generously of their time to support us. The University also lent us all the available equipment and facilities. I would say that Weeds on Fire was to a certain extent produced by HKBU.’
There was an outpouring of support but it was the support from his parents that finally banished any apprehension Steve had about pursuing his dream. ‘I don't think my parents really understand what the role of film director entails, but when I told them I will quit my job and not be able to provide financial support, they didn’t utter a word of complaint.’ Steve often felt drained by the stressful work of film production and was anxious about the future. Seeing their son’s struggle, Steve’s parents supported him through concrete action. ‘More than a few times when I headed out for work I discovered that my parents had put a few hundred-dollar notes in my wallet.’ Encouraging gestures like these from his parents gave Steve a strong boost that propelled him forward.
‘I took my father to watch Weeds on Fire at the cinema. He cried during the movie.’ Since then, his father’s health has deteriorated and he no longer remembers much about the film. Steve is heartened by the knowledge of his father’s pleasure in witnessing his graduation and his career accomplishments. ‘Although fame was not the motivating factor when I made up my mind to be a film director, the fact that the movie’s success has helped get my name out there, I may have to some extent fulfilled my father’s expectations.’
Reflecting on his childhood dream of becoming an inventor, Steve said, ‘I may not have brought any inventions to the world, but I have been able to use my inventiveness to create different film stories that inspire audiences. I think it’s safe to say that I did achieve my childhood dream.’