14 min read

10 questions with Heiward Mak, award-winning Film Director

10 questions with Heiward Mak, award-winning Film Director

Imagine a world with no stories. Whether it’s through an interview or the power of a screen, the art of storytelling is something that comes naturally to Film Director Heiward Mak. She's directed four short films and five feature films including Fagara. She’s also written a staggering eight films including award-winning Love in a Puff as well as produced Mad World. From community to creativity, from trust to gratitude – Heiward tells us her story.

1. Tell us about yourself. What inspired you to step into the film industry?

I used to be obsessed with children's literature, always eager to write and draw illustrations for stories. When I was studying Design at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, a teacher said that my paintings were so gloomy, they would frighten children. Thinking back now, it was because I was not a good listener yet and hadn’t found inspiration and motivation for myself. My first scriptwriting class with Dr. Tam Ka Ming was a turning point. His teachings guided me towards the film industry. He imparted knowledge and skills, whilst also encouraging us to be mentally prepared as filmmakers. We learnt to pursue our passion with diligence and self-respect. I do not remember the exact moment I gave up painting and dived into video arts. All I know is that I couldn’t help but follow my desire to use a camera to tell stories. It’s what led me to drift down this life-long career path.

2. How did your journey into the creative arts unfold?

Later, Dr. Tam introduced my graduation work to the film industry. I started to help with casting, producing and supporting behind the scenes and eventually moved onto scriptwriting. At the age of 23, I filmed my first movie, “High Noon". It explores youth and teen growth, portraying the dilemma of becoming adults and stepping into society. Now, here I am, years later – still learning and growing in this field.

3. What does creativity mean to you?

For me, creativity is a process of self-discovery and self-recovery, a way to connect with people and communicate with the world. The word “self” here does not refer to the author. It indicates that the filmmaker sees the connection between themself and the audience. Although we are all individuals with different views, I believe that art is a tool to help us connect to each other, emotionally and spiritually.

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4. What are your three favourite things about Hong Kong?
  1. The creativity and imagination of Hong Kong people, their ability to find humour amongst adversity.

  2. The natural landscapes: rocks, cotton trees, dense fog and sunshine. This is what we can still touch and feel here in Hong Kong.

  3. The complexity of Hong Kong. Though it may make people feel lost at times, I hope we can face the relationship between ourselves and this city with ease. It’s not exactly something I like, there can be discomfort, but this feeling is mixed and subtle – making it more like love.

5. You were nominated for Best New Director and given a Film of Merit by the Hong Kong Film Critics Society. What three things have helped you reach your success?

I am not sure what defines success, but for me, it means focusing on the process of “problem solving”. These three things have helped me…

  1. Approaching obstacles – distractions, criticism, comments – with an open mind. Curiosity is the catalyst for creativity. I grow by learning, exercising, and keeping a flexible mindset. I adjust my expectations to understand that difficulties are acquired experience. I tell myself not to indulge in failure, complain or blame others. When challenges arrive, I try to reflect, forgive myself, and carry on seeking a solution to the next problem.

  2. Trust, respect and appreciate everything, including your work, the people around you and life itself. You should have faith in your work and your team. Mutual trust is the basis for overcoming all difficulties. Always be grateful for your team and their trust in you. I believe that the people and things around us coexist in the same space for a reason.

  3. Love. I live by the Kahlil Gibran quote: “And all work is empty save when there is love”. Love cannot solve all problems, but in life and work, the least we can do is make decisions as human beings. It is not contradictory to act from empathy and logic at the same time. It is never a matter of choosing one or the other. Remember that there is no such thing as one correct answer, as we all have our own point of view and see things differently. The beauty of collaborative work is that it allows us to combine our ideas to create an unknown landscape, and then explore it together.

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6. Tell us about an obstacle that you were faced with in your life or career. What advice do you have for people going through a difficult time?

It is hard for me to name only one obstacle (just kidding!). When I joined the film industry, my family was facing financial problems. Later I started my own company, Dumb Youth. Writing, producing commercials and video projects were my main sources of income. Thinking back to that time, interpersonal relationships were not always as pure and easy as they are now. There were instances where I was emotionally blackmailed. It felt like someone was throwing bombs at me one after another, and I had to catch them with my bare hands. I had nowhere to release my emotions, and I felt very lonely all the time. Now I realise that a part of my role in life is to make sure others never feel that way. I work to let the cycle of harm end with me. I choose to have faith in human beings and hold on to the belief that lives impact each other.

When you are affected by things around you, feeling like your life is being nibbled and consumed by something harmful, tell yourself to be patient and continue to work hard. We may never know what we will get, but in the process, nothing will prevent us from becoming a better person.

7. What do you enjoy doing in your time off? What achievements are you most proud of outside of the film industry?

To be honest, I am always physically exhausted and just try to relax during my time off. I read and research most of the time. I’m not very active on social media and I rarely share details of my personal life. My students know more about me than most people. They would probably tell you I’m obsessed with researching! I’ve also become a good listener. It seems that people are often willing to disclose their secrets and worries to me. This isn’t something to be proud of, but rather something to be grateful for. I am thankful that people around me are willing to share their feelings, so that I know how those I care about most are really feeling. I try to help alleviate their stress.

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8. What piece of advice would you give to people who are pursuing what they love?

I can only share some methodologies:

If there is no inspiration, then regard your exercise as a routine. Some ideas may be generated without skills, whilst others can only be generated if you have true craftsmanship.

If you think it’s a pity to not understanding something, you should search and read about it. You’ll find that the more you know, the less you actually understand. But it’s alright, we’re simply practicing to keep thinking when we get new information. Follow the things that you find interesting.

Be serious about the things that really matter to you. Every step you take counts. When you take a detour, you will see different scenery.

Stay connected with things around you and appreciate people around you who are working to the best of their abilities. Knowing them is not a coincidence, and everything happens for a reason.

Learning is not a form of imitation. Stay open to insights from all things and all people. Every situation is an opportunity to learn.

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9. What financial tips would you give them? How did financial planning support your journey?

Sometimes I feel that money also applies to the cost of time, physical strength, thoughts, and experiences. Everything from goodwill to branding has value. Money is neutral. It is not money itself that is good or bad. We get to choose how we make use of money.

As for financial management, I do not think I have the best strategy. All I know is that there is a priority for everything. When I studied Economics at school, the terms “opportunity cost” and “highest-valued option forgone” impressed me the most. For many critical moments in life, it is giving up that costs the most.

10. Complete the following sentences:

Growing up I believed money was just a number.

Now I view money as a tool that reflects a person’s good will and credibility, not just a number that determines someone’s value.

To me, financial empowerment means to be fluid about how I make use of my money and resources.

My favourite Mox feature is the way it highlights how “everyday counts”.

Mox Masterclass: Storytelling with award-winning Film Director, Heiward Mak

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Remarks: The views expressed by individuals featured in this interview are the personal views of such individuals and do not necessarily reflect, and, should not be taken as the views of Mox Bank Limited.

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01 Apr 2021
14 min read