I met a freelance journalist whilst at the Udine Far East Film Festival, he was introduced to me by another of my freelance contacts Fred, and over the week Mathew Scott talked to me quite a lot, we discussed films and general work, we worked together during one or two interviews with the VIPS teaming up with questions, and he gave me a lot of knowledge and advice about his job, agreeing to give me an interview for PPP about his own work as a freelance journalist in Asia.
I’m Mathew Scott and I’m a hong kong based freelance journalist, formerly film editor of the South China Morning Post for 8 years and now I cover Asian Cinema, still for the SCMP and for magazines across Asia and also French news agencies.
I was trained as a sports journalist in Austraila, then I moved to Hong Kong in the mid 90’s to join the SCMP as a sports journalist, and I always had a serious interest in cinema, and as I developed as a writer then I wanted to do more than sports, so I approached the features editor and asked if I could submit occasional film articles. 2 months after there was a management upheavel, they reconfigured the features and the editor liked what I was writing at the time so she invited me over as film editor. She liked my approach and they needed fresh eyes, so that got me into promoting primarily Hong Kong cinema, but these were the days of film junkets and I was lucky to get flown around onto sets all over Hollywood and Asia, meeting big productions and stars (which you don’t do anymore).
What do you think originally helped you get to where you are?
I think what helped with me, was as a sports journalist you’re dealing in drama and creating (you have to be more creative than news writing), and I think that helped me enormously because I was developing a style of writing that was suited to features anyway. Feature writing is about developing your interview technique and telling people stories, which cinema is about as well. I used to watch films from 13 onwards, I was obsessed with cinema. I was lucky as when I became film editor, it was right on the time crouching tiger when it’s Oscars so interest in Asian cinema up til that point had never been bigger. It went crazy in Hong Kong and there were productions everywhere. I’ve been lucky enough to be witness to the growth of the biggest film industry in the world, especially in the coming 3 to 4 years. The development of the Busan Film Festival, Udine, Hong Kong, and to see the interest internationally is amazing.
How is Hong Kong to work there as a westerner?
Hong Kong is the easiest place to work in for a non-Asian as there are little language barriers, it’s a rare Asian city where as a westerner you can survive without learning the local language. Which is a bit bad in retrospect as it makes you lazy, and it would have benefitted me enormously to learn Cantonese. China is very hard and the Hong Kong film industry is hard as stars aren’t comfortable being interviewed in something that’s not their native tongue, that’s not just Asian anyone isn’t comfortable doing that, it’s made it hard getting interviews but that’s where Festivals come in helpful getting those interviews.
What kind of skills do you think I need as a freelance journalist?
Skills you need… well number one is curiosity, you need to constantly be questioning everything, thinking about stories…. You’ve got to want to know why things happen, to tell people stories. It’s a job you have to go at all the time. It’s less a job than a lifestyle, it’s like being in the pub 24 hours of the day and always talking to people, you’re just a channel for stories to tell other people. You see people who come in as interns and they aren’t curious, and they stand out a mile and it makes you question what they’re doing here. Freelancing now, the way media has changed and evolved, it’s creeping up now to change and it’s become a rut. The landscape of media is broader and wider than it’s ever been, but the earning capacity has shrunk as a lot more people will do stuff for little or no money now, the freedom of the job is also the restriction of the job as you’ve got to work everyday to keep pitching stories and working to survive.
How do you get contacts in the journalist/media industry?
Contacts in the industry, you get that through time. It’s just going out and meeting people constantly, going to events like film festivals, festivals like this are invaluable sources as everyone is there at the one place and time, and they have to talk to you as where else can they go? And I’ve sold work and got contacts specifically through festivals, as then people meet you because they won’t switch off once they’ve met you and they’ll read your email. But mainly Journalism and media is developing contacts over a period of time, such as you coming here to the festival Andrew, people will see your face and they’ll go “What the hell is that hairy dude doing?…”. Globally, the media industry is pretty small and you bump into people all the time. The other thing is once people see you enough times; they want to help you, as everyone is fearful of getting work again.
How did you first start out as a freelance journalist, what did you need?
When I first started as a freelancer, I told people well in advance that I’d be doing it and started asking what they sort of wanted or needed on a regular basis, to understand what I’d need to do. Then it took about 12 months to establish with some people that I could file on time and I was creative, then it all goes from there. The number one thing is enthusiasm, accuracy and punctuality, and they love it. If you get it in on time, it’s accurate and well put together then people will call you every time. You’ve just got to find your niche, the media industry is so varied and wide and you’ll think that you come here as one thing but you change and become something else.
“The number one thing is enthusiasm, accuracy and punctuality, and they love it. If you get it in on time, it’s accurate and well put together then people will call you every time”
How do you think I’ll be able to break into Journalism, what do I need or have to do?
I think the generation that’s coming into the industry now have more opportunities than we ever had with the rise of social media and broadening of the landscape means you’ll be much more skilled in other things than we were, all we were ever taught to do was write but you guys have to take photos, shoot videos, podcast or tweet or any of these things which people of your generation have the opportunity to learn a million different things. You’ve got to be multi-tasking all the time and have a range of skills.
So the first thing to consider if that I haven’t mentioned throughout the blog about wanting to be a freelance journalist, however I have talked loosely about wanting to work as a ‘freelancer’ and as a writer for EasternKicks. Whatever I go on to do in the future, the knowledge from this interview is invaluable as it’s contributed to my own progression as a film writer for EK, and also given me an idea of how a freelance media professional operates in their field. The advice doesn’t apply to one sole field on my PPP but instead applies to a range of categories and is helpful in various aspects, and I feel this is detrimental in the future as I hope to meet Mathew again at future events.
He was helping me with questions for some of my VIP interviews, hinting at the kind of things I could ask or ways to change my questions to get better answers or come across more professionally, which I feel is detrimental to improving my own creative skills as a journalist/writer. He also let me tag-team/assist him on a few interviews in the press room and work with him on the audience talks, so this brief work as an assistant was interesting to observe how a professional journalist works when they’re collecting material and earning a living. His style of coming across as both well versed in all the subjects he asks questions about, but being friendly whilst needling to the core subject in his interviews was interesting, and I’d like to develop something similar as it was incredibly effective. One of the main things was his ‘plethora’ of knowledge, and like he stated himself it was all earned over time, however this is something I’d like to improve on, and I feel I can do this both by reading more books on cinema and wider history books of culture, but also watching a wider range of films from all eras and learning about them so I understand the topics.
One of the things I note is that this is an actual ‘contact’ in the industry, a lot of people have small ‘contacts’ who are some guy who works for a small film company which is 2 people making productions that only get seen locally, but this is a fully fledged guy who gets flown out and work as press on sets, has seen the rise of a whole cinema industry over a decade and half and now has worked published globally whilst he travels to events all over the world. I feel that the way I met him, through another of my contacts and only whilst at this event, was an interesting experience and something unique to know. If I didn’t attend then I wouldn’t have known him, worked with and found out more from his experience, and I feel this is reflected in the interview when he states such. Meeting Mathew has definitely been one of the highlights of the week and I can see it benefitting in the future from knowing him.