A local film director has come under fire after a netizen published an article criticising his non-payment of crew members.

The low-budget youth sports drama Weeds On Fire follows a school baseball team against the backdrop of Hong Kong in the 1980s. On Tuesday, a netizen who claimed to have taken part in the film’s production posted an article on VJ Filmdom entitled: “Weeds On Fire – You don’t need to pay as long as you package it with passion?”

weeds on fire crew

The article mentioned that most of the crew members were film students of the Hong Kong Baptist University, who worked as unpaid volunteers.

“Regardless of whether the film is good or not, it is suspected that there are film producers taking advantage of students to make money behind the production of Weeds On Fire.” the article read. “Non-payment has always been a malignant tumour in the film industry.”

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In a statement released on Wednesday, the 27-year-old debuting director Steve Chan Chi-fat said all the staff members worked on a voluntary basis, with travel allowance and meals included. He added that some people quit due to financial reasons.

“The only thing that I can do for them is to offer subsidies with our limited savings as much as possible, and promise to give them what they deserve if the film is successfully released!” he wrote.

Sponsored with a HK$2 million grant from  the government-run First Feature Film Initiative, the production team recruited crew members in name of “interns.” Chan told Apple Daily earlier in an interview that many of the crew members “were not only underpaid, but even unpaid.”

Ho Siu-bun, editor of Hong Kong Economic Journal‘s lifestyle section, also said on Facebook that it is normal for independent films to have a “terrifyingly small” budget. He went on to say that it is important to note whether there are “deceptive elements.”

Using Oscar-winning Dallas Buyers Club as an example, Ho said the movie was shot over 25 days with a total budget of HK$2,000 for makeup. “You can imagine what the crew members’ salaries were like. It’s all mutual,” he wrote.

weeds on fire
Photo: Hong Kong International Film Festival.

Scriptwriter Nihat Wong Chi-yeung, editor Leung Cheuk-lam and other members of the crew also posted statements on Facebook defending Chan against the allegations.

Weeds On Fire was released on Friday.

Koel Chu is a second-year journalism and fine arts student at the University of Hong Kong. Born and raised in Hong Kong, Koel is interested in the arts and urban design. She interned at China Radio International in Beijing and, at her university, she also works as Vice-President of Branding and Marketing in AIESEC, the largest youth-run organisation in the world.