A Documentary of Discovery
China based Kiwi director Vicki Lin is passionate about explaining the world to people through the medium of documentary. Her company aims to create shows which highlight the change and growth of Greater China in a way that is easily digestible for all. She spoke to Kea about the challenges of making meaningful television in a world awash with content and explains how her Kiwi background has helped her stand out in the competitive Chinese film and television industry.
Vicki Lin’s introduction to the world of film and television happened quite by accident, originally applying for a TV commercial only to support a friend she found herself landing the role while her friend missed out. One thing led to another and soon Vicki found herself starring in the popular TV show ‘Being Eve’ before fronting the iconic Kiwi kids show ‘What Now’.
After a decade on Kiwi screens she decided to move back to Taiwan to be closer to her ill grandmother, and after a while started working for an English speaking radio station before being given the opportunity to enter the world of documentary making for a company which had only recently opened offices in Taiwan. The job opened Vicki’s eyes to the possibilities of documentary making and soon she was working on series for National Geographic, the Discovery Channel and the History Channel. Vicki rose through the businesses eventually moving into directing and relocating to China before deciding it was time to do something different.
“I was the supervising producer for Greater China and it was exhausting. But it was an incredible job and I feel so privileged because I feel like I have been able to live more than my fair share of the average life, but I realised it was time for my next adventure.”
Vicki decided it was time to set up her own company and invest time and money into the sort of content she is passionate about.
“For me it’s an exciting time to be here, to document the growth of China. I feel like we have really been able to be a part of the change of China, because it’s such a big country, a lot of the change that happens will eventually affect other parts of the world.”
“There is so much choice now in terms of what you can watch. It’s not like the days when you had three channels and the Goodnight Kiwi came on at bedtime. We have to make things that are digestible for people. I want to use what I do to convey a message of hope, and I have a genuine desire to find solutions to some of the problems we are facing as a collective and I think I can do that by sharing stories that could help us all.
Film and television crews in China are often large teams of people who are trained and specialised in individual jobs or roles. Vicki says her company has taken more of a Kiwi ‘number eight wire’ approach to the market and she operates a small team where everyone is cross trained and pitches in to help out as and when needed. That approach has helped her stand out in the competitive China market.
“We keep things very lean, I don’t have a huge team, my company is very flexible in the way we work. I think my upbringing and my Kiwi attitude to life and work has been a huge benefit. Kiwi work hard, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously and we know how to be humble. That definitely helps when working in the Asian markets, you often need a more humble approach. The ‘jack of all trades’ attitude is also a real advantage, being able to come in and just do what needs to be done. Also New Zealanders have this beautiful ability to just adjust, you can throw us up in the desert or on top of a volcano or in the middle of an ocean and we just get on with it.”
When she looks back at the changes to the creative landscape in New Zealand Vicki says she is most proud of the strides Aotearoa has made in embracing diversity both on and off the screen.
“I think diversity has really come a long way, I remember growing up in East Auckland and there were hardly any Asian people in our neighbourhood. One morning our family woke up and there was this spray paint all across this new fence that my dad had just put up in our backyard, it just said “gooks” and we watched as my parents desperately tried to scrub it off. There was very little to no representation of Asians on mainstream TV, and I faced my own identity crisis because I would go to school each day and not really see people like me, there were no role models. Nowadays I look at New Zealand and I see the different foods and the festivals and the work my creative friends are doing in the film and television industry and it’s amazing to see how far things have come and realise the opportunities and inspiration that that provides.”
Vicki’s family still live in Auckland and while she hasn’t been able to visit lately thanks to the pandemic she says maintaining a connection to friends and family back home is important.
“I talk to my parents regularly, my mum is still baking bread like it’s lockdown! I also like to follow the work my Kiwi friends are doing. We all worked in film and television at the same time and to see how things have evolved and where they have ended up is really exciting. You hope that you are not failing the team, by being out here and doing the work that you are doing. You hope that you are lifting the game and in turn lifting New Zealand, even though no one asked you to be an ambassador, New Zealand has a really good reputation as a country of creatives and you want to keep it that way.”