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A tale of two directors
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Jia Jia (far left) and his crew shoot his film I Want to Earn Money at Capital University of Economics and Business on April 1.

Jia Jia (far left) and his crew shoot his film I Want to Earn Money at Capital University of Economics and Business on April 1. [Global Times]

With such affordable equipment and post-production software on the market, almost anyone can realize that long kicked-around screenplay idea with a low-budget indie film. All it takes is a little cash, a lot of passion and a DIY spirit; something Chinese student-filmmakers have plenty of.

And in a world online, they're doing it for audiences of millions, presenting us with intimate and personal portraits of university life in China from the comic to controversial.

For Jia Jia, it started back in March when he was assigned a semester-long dream-project for his Media and Communication class – put together your own movie, the perfect opportunity to get his screenplay, "I Want to Make Money," an expose of student schemes for making green, on the big screen.

"Students never have any money, so we're always thinking of ways to scrape some up. Especially at our business school; there are kids trading stocks all over the place," explained Jia.

After consulting classmates, teachers and professional playwrights, by the end Jia's screenplay had undergone 12 rewrites.

"Now there's hardly any of my original dialogue in it," Jia laughed.

When putting together an indie film, everything is either on loan or borrowed, including the cast. All of Jia's 15 actors hail from 412 Studio, a drama club at CUEB, while everything AV was on loan from the university's Communication Department.

"The drama club wasn't sure I could put anything together worth watching, so I only got their newest members, all inexperienced," Jia explained.

"But they make up for it in enthusiasm. Some scenes were reshot dozens of times and nobody would complain. In fact when shooting ended, they told me they still wanted to keep going."

According to Jia, the biggest obstacle to overcome is the lack of funding. To support his project, he invested about 3,000 yuan (US$439.5) out of pocket.

"I even tried to get some corporate sponsorship, but nobody was willing to take risk on a student who had little training or experience," he said.

It was Jia's premiere on June 2 at Capital University of Economics and Business (CUEB), however, that made all the blood, sweat and tears worth it; over 340 teachers and students packed into a 280-capacity hall to watch the film.

"As soon as the credits rolled, applause roared for at least a minute," said Jia. "A student ran to me afterwards saying he wants to make a film too. At that moment, I really felt like a dream had come true for me."

In order to promote his film, Jia uploaded the 74-minute video onto youku.com, a popular video website in China. Unexpectedly, the video rocketed to number one as the most popular original video.

"I think we're proof that students, even if not formally trained, can make a good film."

Student filmmakers share universal frustrations of getting their "Spruce Goose" of a film project off the ground, but limitation is also the mother of invention. Unable to afford equipment for his first video project, a 6-minute short called Our Beautiful School, Liu Hexu simply made his own.

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