As a child Charles Dong had a passion for telling stories. However, in his teens the boy was thrilled about a new hobby. The director remembers: "I started to show magic tricks and amazed everyone around me. A little bit later my interests slowly transitioned into filmmaking – the power of images intrigued me."
In some sense cinematography allowed Charles to combine his two passions, storytelling and tricks. Movies were just a new instrument to make people amazed and, more importantly, to make them think about the story shown on the screen.
Charles Dong was born and raised in a small town in northeastern China called Anshan. When he was still in high school, he came to the US as an exchange student. The director remembers: "After my return I realized that I was not where I should be and was not sure what I should do in my life. Therefore, I decided to change my life drastically. I moved to Leipzig in Germany for a short period of time."
Nevertheless, Germany felt like the wrong place. Charles suddenly understood that the best solution would be to go back to the US and pursue his filmmaking dream. "In 2019 I graduated from the Tisch School of the Arts NYU with a degree in film", the filmmaker says. "Since then I was fortunate enough to direct numerous short films and commercials and am working on my first feature film right now."
The director did not stop there. He continues to develop himself. Currently he is a first year directing fellow of the American Film Institute Conservatory (Class of 2022). In spite of a difficult situation because of COVID-19, Charles has already gained valuable experience at the institute. He confesses that he has got the inspiration from the other filmmakers in the program. He discovered a huge number of filmmaking tricks from them as well.
Attitude towards education
Nowadays many people do not appreciate studying at the university, or even decide to quit because they find it boring. Charles, on the contrary, found his education very helpful for his career as a filmmaker.
"I met all the people I have been working with while studying in a film school", the director comments. "My producer Branton Choi is a long-time collaborator of mine, I met him on a student set almost four years ago, and now we moved to LA together. In addition to that, I met my cinematographer Stefan Nachmann on my first day at NYU: way before I decided to pursue a career as a director and he - as a DP (Director of Photography). Stefan and I used to be roommates for a long time and know each other inside out."
A collaboration of two old friends, who enjoy working together and have a great understanding of each other’s artistic approach. It doesn't always work like that. Moreover, there are a lot of directors who never went to film school. Charles thinks that in the end either way works.
Passion for photography
Charles Dong is a photographer as well as a director. "I want to be a filmmaker", he explains. "Being a photographer is just my hobby. Photos capture characters, films tell their stories. Films are broadened pictures."
Whenever Charles takes a photo, he never really looks at the specific aspects of it. He often simply feels that the person or the space is right for his camera to capture. He is fond of taking photos of people and places he feels good about.
The most joyful thing for Charles is taking pictures of people he knows. He has taken a set of photos of his family in their most natural condition. This inclination for biographical elements can also be found in his latest project. Charles says: "Narratives and documentaries are different genres, but in the end both are storytelling. I am writing my first feature film, Anshan Blues, based on a true story from my experience, about two insecure teenagers bullied in school. They decided to hire a group of gangsters to beat up their bullies. I am hoping to make this film after I graduate. And in general, I am willing to make films about people who I love and care about."