Haofeng Li graduated from the School of Film and TV Arts with a BA in Digital Media Arts in 2000. Now, he is an accomplished television commercial (TVC) director. According to Li, his time at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University (XJTLU) provided an international environment that nurtured his interests and inspired him to pursue excellence.
Li has always been interested in digital media art and its possibilities. He believes studying at XJTLU allowed him and his fellow students to explore their interests and find their direction in life.
“During the four years at XJTLU, we were all searching for our own direction based on our interests. The paths we chose are not the same. Some of us pursued careers in game development, variety shows, or still photography, while others chose to pursue a PhD,” says Li.
Li credits the diverse curriculum for enabling him to explore various aspects of digital media art. The programme’s modules cover topics including digital aesthetic creation, visual effects, innovative multimedia methods, and film pre- and post-production.
During the programme, Li was drawn to pre-production shooting courses, which helped him find his specialisation.
“XJTLU provides a diverse platform for undergraduate students to discover their passions, specialise in their chosen field, and continuously delve deep into it,” he says.
Li Haofeng's works shot in the UK
A chance to explore
One of the most memorable experiences for Li during his time at XJTLU was the Experimental Film Practices module in Year Three.
It was his first opportunity to direct and shoot a short film. Despite facing some obstacles, Li and his team completed a plot-based short film, The Novelist. Their work received high praise from their professor and scored the highest grade in the class.
“This project is equivalent to my first work that opened the door to the industry, and it still has a profound impact on me,” he says.
On the set of The Novelist
Li says the teachers at the School of Film and TV Arts also inspired him. He had the opportunity to learn from avant-garde filmmakers and former Hollywood photographers who had transitioned to academia. Their expertise allowed Li to gain a deeper understanding of the film industry and supported him throughout his academic journey.
Deepening industry knowledge
After graduating from XJTLU, Li achieved a master’s degree from University of the Arts London. He is currently a TVC director, responsible for preparing, writing scripts, storyboarding, and overseeing the entire commercial shoot.
Through his work, Li has become increasingly aware of the importance of communication and teamwork.
“The most important thing for a director is communication skills. Communicating with your team and clients is an important part of a director’s work. These skills were fully exercised during my studies at XJTLU.
“The film and television advertising industry is challenging, but if you really love this industry, you will experience the fun of work,” Li says.
Transitioning from school to the workplace is a significant step for Li. Unlike completing coursework in school, he needs to deal with the real budgets of commercial shoots.
“Commercial shooting is about racing against time. Every second is burning money. Especially on the shooting scene, time control is very strict, and you need to work under pressure. But if you can successfully complete the project, you will also have a great sense of accomplishment,” he says. “This job combines pressure and a sense of achievement.”
Haofeng Li (right) at work
Although Li is deeply interested in films, he’s not merely focused on becoming a film director.
After entering the industry, he realised success can take many forms and often depends on luck and opportunity. Many film students don’t immediately enter the industry after graduation and instead begin their careers in advertising.
Li also finds advertising requires more visual innovation compared to the complex emotional expression and narrative techniques in filmmaking. In addition, advertising projects have shorter shooting cycles and offer considerable income. Li sees them as an opportunity to try new ideas and build a solid foundation for his future endeavours.
“I’m open to what life brings. It’s certainly good if there’s an opportunity to explore filmmaking, but I don’t mind continuing my work in advertising. I want to keep a balanced mindset,” Li says.
For younger students, Li’s advice is to find their own direction, leverage their strengths, and strive for excellence. As the film and television industry values practical skills, he emphasises the importance of continuous practice and accumulating experience.
“Stay humble. Stay creative, and keep practising.”
By Jiaying Liu
Translated by Wenzhen Li
Edited by Xinmin Han and Catherine Diamond
Photos courtesy of Haofeng Li