Of all the qualities that make up an artist, the most essential is heart. While knowledge, vision, and technical expertise are beneficial, passion is not to be underestimated when it comes to the tenacious mindset that drives an artist of almost any medium. Producer Zheng Huang’s connection to the location and story of the film “Lost” was deeply embedded in his heart. While he wore a multitude of hats for “Lost” (including writer and director) it was the role of producer which proved most taxing. It was Huang’s excellence as a producer that also led this film to such immense praise and eventually a spot at the world famous Cannes Film Festival. The film is epic, adventurous, and gripping for many reasons. Zheng was driven to create the film as a tribute and connection to his family’s homeland and to expose its beauty to the world. The lush grasslands, the exotic characters, and the endearing portrayal by the cast all appear to originate from the story which this producer was inspired to write, and was the only person capable of manifesting onscreen. “Lost” truly is a piece of Zheng Huang personified for all to see.
“Lost” was Zheng’s first high budget film to produce and he definitely felt the responsibility. Whether it was fear or passion, the fuel that pushed him towards excellence was the appropriate one. After the completion of the script, he flew to China and did location scouting in Inner Mongolia. It was an intensely emotional moment for him. Huang’s grandfather had died on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia and it was this which inspired the story. Zheng wanted to be in the grasslands; to feel them and to expose this feeling to the rest of the world in film. For two years he had seen the terrain, the people, and the story in his mind; a mixture of Chinese and American culture and individuals…and now he was seeing the nebulous form start to solidify in front of his eyes. While the story of “Lost” is not derived from his family, Huang understood that the feeling of the location and people who carry the spirit of both his grandfather’s life and his own. The film tells of an American boy named Michael who has lost his mother in Inner Mongolia. Mr. Wu, a native Mongolian, saved Michael and decides to adopt him. Mr. Wu teaches him Chinese and Mongolia culture. Michael’s real mom (Mary) searches for him for quite some time. Michael knows the truth that Mr. Wu hides this from him and Mary. Michael is angry but struggles with the decision to return to his birth family or not. While many films give a clear and imposed decision about situations like this, “Lost” accurately depicts the conflict that can be a part of real life when considering to whom have we bonded most strongly. Just as importantly, the story and the stunning visuals of this film portray the people and the culture of Inner Mongolia not as “others” but as those who share precisely the same emotions, virtues, and faults as those of any group of people on the planet, meaning that Zheng perfectly achieved the goal of his film. The process of creating this onscreen was earned.
Every producer knows the challenging points for their project. Successfully and positively utilizing these is a badge of honor as well as an accomplishment for any professional in the field. For “Lost” the can easily be defined as: kids, animals, and nature. Due to the nature of the people in this part of the world, the actors needed to be able to ride horses. This is not exactly a skill that the majority of individuals possess these days. While some actors take quickly and easily to it, it only takes one intimidated thespian to derail the schedule. A dutiful producer, Huang prepared a week of riding lessons in advance to the shoot. A couple of actors were never quite at ease with the situation (or the animals) which necessitated a restructuring of the shot list and even some “cheat” shots.
Zheng admits that this film was his first time working with a child actor. The final performance by this youth in the film is exceptional but the producer concedes that it wasn’t exactly the same as dealing with most actors in his experience. He recalls, “He was great and is a very talented actor. I think it’s wrong to expect a young actor to have the same perspective as an adult. It was actually kind of miserable for part of the shoot, it was hot and he was being asked to do things that were difficult…I can completely understand his state of mind. Having been a young boy myself once I knew that there’s not much that pizza and some toys can’t fix when it comes to attitude. Regardless of the actor I’m working with, I find that if I can put myself in their shoes I can quickly find the proper motivation for them.”
One of the most striking traits of “Lost” is the visual component of the film. The beauty of the Inner Mongolian grasslands is as epic as any classic western from Hollywood’s heyday. A shrewd producer who is always cognizant of a film’s budget, Huang had his location manager contact his best friend (a herdsman named A De) about using his private 8,000-acre meadow. A De was so interested in the film being made that he offered the location up free of charge. As a thank you, Zheng gave him a supporting role in the film. In an effort to keep production value high and cost low, he also hired a crew from nearby Beijing (four hours away from the filming location). Casting locals rounded out this international production and provided the authenticity that Huang had envisioned. Since his early vision, it was these very people that he wanted to be seen in the film.
“Lost” was much more than a film to Zheng. It was an Odyssey that connected him with the previous generations of his family. Through his talent, he was able to communicate to the rest of the world, via film, what it feels like to feel both afraid and comforted in a part of the world that few Westerners will ever see. It’s by seeing these types of stories that we realize how similar all people are at their core. The literal deluge of awards that “Lost” has received in addition to being an Official Selection of the Cannes Film Festival (2017 American Film Award, Award of Merit at the 2017 Best Shorts Competition, Official Selection of the Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival, Multiple Platinum Awards at the International Independent Film Awards, and numerous others) is an assurance that the beauty of this film has touched many people in many different lands. While producer is only one of the roles which Zheng Huang performed for this film, it is likely the most applicable to his deep investment in it.