Since graduating from the International School of Beijing (ISB) just over a decade ago, Lawrence Chen (’05) has achieved more than many filmmakers hope to in a lifetime. This year he won three Golden Lions at the Cannes Film Festival, adding to the eight awards he won at the same festival the previous year.
His other credits include directing the music video for folk rock band Delta Rae’s song “Bottom of the River,” which currently has more than 4 million views on YouTube, along with directing, editing, and producing dozens of documentary, commercial, and narrative films.
Lights, Camera, Action!
Lawrence spoke to ISB’s IB Film students via teleconference on September 29 from New York, where he is lead commercial director at advertising agency BBDO.
During an engaging Q&A session, he shared his experience as a filmmaker and offered tips to those thinking of following in his footsteps.
“My film career started in the same room you’re all in right now,” said Lawrence, who credited ISB’s longtime film teacher Breen O’Reilly for sparking his love for cinematography.
“I learned the basics of film at ISB, and I knew immediately that I loved it. From tenth grade onwards, I edited every school video and explored my interest in film.”
Despite his desire to become a filmmaker, Lawrence didn’t take the “normal” path into the industry by studying at film school. Instead, he found ways to explore his passion while double majoring in biomedical engineering and economics at Duke University.
After graduating from university in 2009, Lawrence moved to New York “with no money and nowhere to live.” It was there he honed his craft by creating short productions for MoFilm, an online content-sourcing platform.
Secrets Behind the Lens
During his master class, Lawrence explained the creative process behind many of his most successful recent films. One his analyzed films, a Snickers commercial about a pumpkin carver, begins seemingly as a horror film before turning into a documentary.
Sharing his shot list and storyboard, Lawrence took students behind the scenes by explaining the logistics of lighting, location, and other aspects of production.
“Everything he spoke about was just so practical. Many of our film students have the creativity and innovation needed in filmmaking, but the ability to take those great ideas and turn them into professional productions is what will set them apart,” said Mr. O’Reilly.
“Lawrence’s words were a real inspiration for our students. It was a personalized, student-centered learning experience in every sense,” he added.