Category Archives: Chinese Films

Sound editor Zheng Jia transports audiences to 1930s China in upcoming film ‘Luna’

LUNA WB premiere
Zheng Jia at Luna premiere

Zheng Jia did not always plan on being a sound editor. She spent most of her young life working towards a career in computer sciences. However, when she realized she wanted to pursue something different, she started exploring as many career options as possible, and filmmaking kept coming back to her. It gave her the power to tell stories, to change lives for the better, and to share her work with the world. After starting to watch films for more than simply entertainment, she began to realize the power of sound. It has the ability to completely transform a scene, to take it to a new level. She would be storytelling, bringing out emotions with her work, and she was intrigued. It was this realization that put Zheng on the path to greatness, as she is now an internationally sought-after sound editor.

With an outstanding reputation, Jia has come a long way from that girl who didn’t know what to do with the rest of her life. She has worked with some of the world’s largest production companies and on many popular film and television projects. She is currently working with NBC Universal on their long-running show Law & Order: SVU, and her esteemed resume features many more hits. Earlier this year, Zheng worked with Warner Brothers on the upcoming film Luna, and once again, she has proven what a force she is as a sound editor.

“It was an absolutely amazing experience working with Warner Brothers, and truly a privilege to be able to work with the most experienced post production crew, alongside close filmmaker friends. I got to experience the freedom of great communication and artistic collaboration with talented filmmakers that I’ve known for years, and also got to go through the strict disciplined post-production schedule and protocol through one of the most professional film studios. It was also a great feeling to know that the whole studio system was there supporting the entire journey for us filmmakers and we could always communicate and work closely together towards any potential issues and obstacles. Our main goal was always the same: to create great art,” said Jia

Luna is set in 1930s Shanghai, China. It follows the famous prostitute Luna, who offers to play a gambling game with an unexpected guest. As the attraction between the two builds, both of their undercover political identities unravel, leading to unexpected consequences.

Zheng’s worked as the dialogue editor for the film. She was in charge of the whole audio build-up from the human voice perspective. All the crowds in different locations (on the street, inside the brothel) needed to be created from scratch. Because of the unique texture of the story, everything needed to be in Mandarin with a certain accent and in the certain location. To do this, Jia collected many Mandarin sound footage from past projects and from her own personal collection, and put them together piece by piece in order to create the perfect tune for a 1930s Shanghai brothel back in that era, which was a key point of the whole story. Her work was invaluable.

“Working with Zheng was a great experience. Firstly, she gave us constructive suggestions on sound recording before we started shooting. The story takes place in 1930s Shanghai but we shot it on Warner Bros. back lot. To make the story sound real, we needed a lot of effects to recreate the environment of 1930s Shanghai. Finding them in the United States was nearly impossible, so Zheng got them from her own collection,” said Xu Zhang, Director of Luna. “She has a lot of experience, skill, and work ethic, which make her one of the best at what she does.”

Luna is Warner Bros. first production that is fully produced and presented in Chinese Mandarin, with with a Chinese main cast and crew, telling a Chinese story, with a strong Chinese female lead character. As a Chinese female filmmaker herself, there wouldn’t have been a better fit than Luna for Jia. After, Zhang and writer/editor Mei Liying approached her to be a part of their project, knowing that they needed a talented sound editor due to the nature of their film, Jia was immediately on board.

The film required not just a good sound editor, but one that also was fluent in Mandarin. Although that is the language of the film, the lead actress was not fluent. There were many takes with good acting, but not a completely authentic accent. This is where Jia’s extraordinary talents truly shine. She had to go through multiple takes to find lines that would match the performance, and string them together flawlessly. To do this, Jia had to have full knowledge of the certain dialect in that region in China, back in the day, in that specific location or situation, with the very specific crowds and groups and everything human voice related. Such a task is normally daunting and time consuming, but Jia turned everything around in two days.

“Especially for Western audiences and Western crew members including Warner Brothers studio producers and other staff, my work was their direct way of experiencing a world that is vastly different from the nowadays Western World, and that was immediately affecting their whole emotional experience when watching it. I worked closely with Xu and Mei in order to pick up and fix the subtlest places of the dialogue in creative ways in order to keep the performance authentic while still making sure that culturally or language-wise everything still made sense,” Jia described.

Besides the technical part of dialogue editing, Jia was in charge of creating the human voice environment for the crowded brothel, with different groups of people – men, women, laughter, flirting, drunk conversation, polite, higher-class small talk, etc. in order to make the whole story as authentic as possible. To achieve that, she went through all of her sound library collections, and even went out and recorded some authentic materials herself. Eventually, she was able to build up the whole brothel environment, and it sounds remarkable.

The film premiered at Warner Bros Studios in May. It will begin making its film festival run soon, and there is little doubt that not only will Luna be a tremendous success, but Jia’s sound editing will receive acclaim from both critics and audiences alike.

“This project itself was a great pleasure to work on. Xu and Mei created such a great story and characters that were so very intriguing and authentic, and as Chinese filmmakers, it was an absolute honor and great presentation to be able to work on a great project featuring strong female minority lead in a major Hollywood studio,” she concluded.

Audiences can also look forward to Jia’s work on the small-screen in the upcoming CW series Life Sentence. It’s a dramedy, very different from the sound editor’s previous work. Be sure to check it out next year.

THE SOUND OF THE GRANDMASTER: JIFU LI

The human experience is diverse and complicated. There are layers upon layers of emotions that make up the life of every individual on the planet regardless of their experiences and their point of origin. This complexity can sometimes go unnoticed in the din of so many people. The beauty that makes up each person’s life is a story in itself. This concept goes overlooked by many but is always present in the mind of Jifu Li. As a Sound Editor, Jifu spends his time ensuring that the voices and sounds present in a film weave in and out of presence in the story as the filmmakers see fit. One might not think of sound in terms of color but it is precisely this perspective that allows a contouring of the experience by the audience. Jifu uses his talents in a wide variety of films ranging from Oscar nominated to independent productions, proving that those of great talent seeks to collaborate with great storytellers regardless of the price tag…because that’s what they must do as committed artists.

Creating any film is a massive endeavor. The Oscar-nominated feature film The Grandmaster was almost hyperbolically so. The footage was extensive, twelve reels by the time that Jifu began his work. The production’s shooting cycle had lasted four years. Li’s previous work on five films had convinced Wu Ling (general manager of the China film post Company) that Jifu’s talent and propensity to work long hours without complaint made him ideal for the position. The Grandmaster is the story of the martial-arts master Ip Man, the man who trained Bruce Lee. While it’s a gripping drama, the film is an obvious action story as well. The picture editing and audio editing of the film were done synchronously, which meant that getting the final frame version in perfect sync was an intimidating proposition. Altogether there were fifteen versions of the film. If an action scene changed, all of the effects and Group ADR required recutting by hand, sometimes even redesigning or rerecording.  Describing what he does in a very literal sense, Jifu states, “If you cut from a punch to a slow motion reaction, the sound pacing should be fast to slow. I might add in some ‘Bass Drops.’ The hit should appear to the audience as it ‘feels’ to the characters, like you can hear the fist beat from the skin to the bones, all the texture and details. What happened a lot in The Grandmaster is that they would then change it on the other side; cut to the fighter’s slow-motion movement first, and suddenly speed up, hitting the others person’s face. The sound design will then change a lot. Sometimes there were voices and sometimes just music and sound effects. There are so many of these sonic aspects in modern films and in particular action films. My job is to make sure these subtleties are executed perfectly and to the desire of the director. It can be arduous but it’s always gratifying.”

A consummate professional like Jifu was necessary for The Grandmaster due to one technique which was employed during filming for the benefit of the action sequences. In this film (as in many action films) the director used music to aid in the fight sequences. This type of choreography is always about timing and music greatly aids in this. Quite often, the music used during filming is not the same that is used in the final edit (sometimes the music is altogether discarded). This results in extensive ADR (automated dialogue replacement). Even beyond the main characters, Li worked extensively on Walla Editing (the background character voices), Wild Tracks (sound effects which are recorded on location by the production sound mixer and then later edited for use), and Foley.

The Grandmaster is a beautiful film, visually and audibly. In addition to its 2014 Academy Award-nomination, it also received the Best film at the (2014) Asian Film Awards, Best Film at the (2014) Hong Kong Film Awards, as well as a Golden Horse Film Festival Audience Choice Award & Best Feature Film nomination. Most meaningful to Jifu was the Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing in Foreign Feature Film that acknowledged his skill on The Grandmaster and which he credits for inspiring him to continue to excel in the profession.

Though he enjoys the challenge of a huge budget feature film, Li also welcomes the opportunity of smaller films and the methodology they require. His work in Editing for the film “Love is Color Blind” helped to create the mood for a very different type of adversity and combat between the film’s main characters. The film, which won a host of awards at the London IFF 2017 and the Los Angeles Cinema Festival of Hollywood, is the story of an American woman who adopts an orphan from China and has brought it back to the United States. With adolescent rebellion, the child begins to gradually question the authority of her mother. Teen angst ensues and a rift is created between child and parent. As life educates the daughter, she prepares to sincerely apologize to her mother at her 18-year-old birthday party but the mother faints from weakness due to late stages of cancer. At the last moment of life, the mother and daughter finally understand each other.

Jifu had extensive conversation with director Liu Jiaqi about the emotional shading of the tone she wanted in the film. In creating the sound design for “Love is Color Blind” he used Avid Media Composer  and Protools HD. The program creates sound Design effects and allows them to be categorized and moved around as per the director’s desire for subtle differences. These type of modern tools are equally applicable in major studio films or smaller indie productions. It’s a fact of the modern filmmaking era that both the tools and the skilled professional like Jifu who use them often work in both situations. The key factors in either are talent and hard work, something which Li is always mindful of. He reveals, “I remember when I worked for Kar Wai Wong the director and he told me an idiom which inspires me to this day. Everyone knows that the most valuable part of a toad is the toad oil but do you know how the toad oil is produced? The toad is placed under a light and is scorched by the light. It produces this oil, a process which takes about twenty hours. When I heard this, I thought ‘sometimes inspiration comes from dogged pursuit.’ The best thing/essence occurs at the moment when you feel you reach your limit and want to give up. If you persist, you might be surprised by your achievement. This is what keeps me working as hard as I possibly can.”The Grandmaster -MPSE best sound editing

RACHEL ZHOU DIRECTS A MULTINATIONAL NAIL BITER IN LOS ANGELES KIDNAPPING

China not only possesses an acclaimed and burgeoning film industry but also a huge number of movie goers and cinema fans who greatly contribute to a film’s international box office. There’s a good reason that you see many Chinese names in the credits of Hollywood films these days as well as an increasing number of the country’s talent appearing alongside Hollywood marquee names. The relationship between these film industries has been mutually beneficial artistically and financially. A key ingredient in this scenario is the ability of at least some of the professionals to communicate in both languages (sometimes multiple languages) whether in front of the camera or behind it. Rachel Zhou is a Chinese director well versed in American film. She has found herself working on numerous productions due to her talent and her command of both languages. Communication is key for a director when speaking with the actors, cinematographers, and other members of the film crew. It’s even more so when the same vision must be communicated clearly to a cast and crew who do not share the same native tongue. The China-US production Los Angeles Kidnapping enlisted her as a director due to their need of cross cultural assuredness in both the storyline and the performance of the off camera crew.

The occurrence of US/China film productions is becoming increasingly more prevalent. Directors who are both talented and at ease in communicating in both languages (Rachel speaks four languages) make them even more attractive these days. Zhou believes that the communication involved in a film production transcends even the spoken. Her goal is to have her team work together culturally and spiritually. Directing more than the film, she feels that it is her job to create a positivity, a sense of calm and confidence that permeates the very air of the working environment to sync the minds of all involved. Even though she possesses more than the appropriate verbal skills needed for all on her team, it’s Rachel contention that once she creates this “vibe” on set, everyone understands and anticipates the needs of the work.

Los Angeles Kidnapping is a Chinese story taking place in the US but the theme is universal. Through the experiences of Delger (played by Siyu Lu) the audience is asked the question, to what ends will one spend their life fixated on revenge. Motivated by avenging his brother’s death, Delger follows clues about the murder to Los Angles. As a graduate of the police academy, he both understands the law and is willing to work outside it as a result of his anger. Working undercover as an Uber driver in LA, he continues his investigation. When a friend of a friend is kidnapped by mobsters, Delger is enlisted to aid in the rescue. The experience and a surprising plot twist at the end of the story cause this protagonist to question whether a life solely focused on vengeance is one he is willing to live.

While the list of Zhou’s directing credits is extensive, her work on action films was not, prior to Los Angeles Kidnapping. She fully embraced the idea of the different approach required for the genre. Taking great care to design and discuss the film’s many action sequences with stunt coordinators for entertaining action designers, Rachel’s cast underwent extensive training for them film. While storylines of a more emotional nature are centered around the actors, action films present the action as a character in themselves. This includes crew members and professionals who specialize in the genre such as stunt coordinators, drone operators, traffic controllers etc. The film also gave Rachel a chance to use one of her favorite tools as she describes, “I’m into Steadicam shots a lot. When I direct an action/crime/drama, especially actions scenes, I prefer to go with Steadicam shots. Steadicam is a novel way to shoot a scene as it isolates the movement of the camera operator from the camera. Stabilizing mechanisms counter the movements of the camera operator to eliminate the inevitable imperfections present in handheld shooting. These work in an extremely powerful way since the Steadicam shots, compared to handheld shots, give a stronger sense of subjectivity with steady movements. The audience finds it easy to become engaged in the setup.”

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Los Angeles Kidnapping garnered a plethora of awards at such prestigious events as the London Independent Film Awards (2017), Miami Independent Film Festival (2017), Hollywood International Cine Fest (2017), Los Angeles Film Awards, and received an astounding 1.94 Million views on Iqiyi.com (China’s version of Netflix) which announced Zhou as an action director. Los Angeles Kidnapping’s producer Cleo Zou has an acclaimed career in China as a producer, working with the country’s most respected and successful stars like Jackie Chan. Cleo declares, “With Rachel on the set, I never had to worry about the shoot because she is such a highly-productive artist. She`s talented, smart, hardworking and humorous. She always knows what she wants and how to get it. We all love working with her. She possesses that ease of working with professionals from both cultures which enables everyone involved to relax and enjoy the process, which is when artists are able to deliver their very best.” It’s this tone that Rachel always strives for, in both big and little ways. She reveals, “Everyone works very hard on a film set. I feel it’s important for us to not only support each other but to lift the spirits of one another. I think there is always time to make it fun. When we were shooting a conversation scene in an alley for Los Angeles Kidnapping, the art department was asked to make wanted posters to place on the walls. Because those posters are never in focus, they made ones that said “Wanted, Giraffe” & “Wanted Dinosaur”, etc. It was a tight shoot that day but the funny posters made all of us laugh. It’s not only the little things that the audience appreciates but also the little things the professionals making the film like.”

LA MEETS CHINA IN DIRECTOR RACHEL ZHOU’S LOS ANGELES KIDNAPPING

China not only possesses an acclaimed and burgeoning film industry but also a huge number of movie goers and cinema fans who greatly contribute to a film’s international box office. There’s a good reason that you see many Chinese names in the credits of Hollywood films these days as well as an increasing number of the country’s talent appearing alongside Hollywood marquee names. The relationship between these film industries has been mutually beneficial artistically and financially. A key ingredient in this scenario is the ability of at least some of the professionals to communicate in both languages (sometimes multiple languages) whether in front of the camera or behind it. Rachel Zhou is a Chinese director well versed in American film. She has found herself working on numerous productions due to her talent and her command of both languages. Communication is key for a director when speaking with the actors, cinematographers, and other members of the film crew. It’s even more so when the same vision must be communicated clearly to a cast and crew who do not share the same native tongue. The China-US production Los Angeles Kidnapping enlisted her as a director due to their need of cross cultural assuredness in both the storyline and the performance of the off camera crew.

The occurrence of US/China film productions is becoming increasingly more prevalent. Directors who are both talented and at ease in communicating in both languages (Rachel speaks four languages) make them even more attractive these days. Zhou believes that the communication involved in a film production transcends even the spoken. Her goal is to have her team work together culturally and spiritually. Directing more than the film, she feels that it is her job to create a positivity, a sense of calm and confidence that permeates the very air of the working environment to sync the minds of all involved. Even though she possesses more than the appropriate verbal skills needed for all on her team, it’s Rachel contention that once she creates this “vibe” on set, everyone understands and anticipates the needs of the work.

Los Angeles Kidnapping is a Chinese story taking place in the US but the theme is universal. Through the experiences of Delger (played by Siyu Lu) the audience is asked the question, to what ends will one spend their life fixated on revenge. Motivated by avenging his brother’s death, Delger follows clues about the murder to Los Angles. As a graduate of the police academy, he both understands the law and is willing to work outside it as a result of his anger. Working undercover as an Uber driver in LA, he continues his investigation. When a friend of a friend is kidnapped by mobsters, Delger is enlisted to aid in the rescue. The experience and a surprising plot twist at the end of the story cause this protagonist to question whether a life solely focused on vengeance is one he is willing to live.

While the list of Zhou’s directing credits is extensive, her work on action films was not, prior to Los Angeles Kidnapping. She fully embraced the idea of the different approach required for the genre. Taking great care to design and discuss the film’s many action sequences with stunt coordinators for entertaining action designers, Rachel’s cast underwent extensive training for them film. While storylines of a more emotional nature are centered around the actors, action films present the action as a character in themselves. This includes crew members and professionals who specialize in the genre such as stunt coordinators, drone operators, traffic controllers etc. The film also gave Rachel a chance to use one of her favorite tools as she describes, “I’m into Steadicam shots a lot. When I direct an action/crime/drama, especially actions scenes, I prefer to go with Steadicam shots. Steadicam is a novel way to shoot a scene as it isolates the movement of the camera operator from the camera. Stabilizing mechanisms counter the movements of the camera operator to eliminate the inevitable imperfections present in handheld shooting. These work in an extremely powerful way since the Steadicam shots, compared to handheld shots, give a stronger sense of subjectivity with steady movements. The audience finds it easy to become engaged in the setup.”

IMG_1546

Los Angeles Kidnapping garnered a plethora of awards at such prestigious events as the London Independent Film Awards (2017), Miami Independent Film Festival (2017), Hollywood International Cine Fest (2017), Los Angeles Film Awards, and received an astounding 1.94 Million views on Iqiyi.com (China’s version of Netflix) which announced Zhou as an action director. Los Angeles Kidnapping’s producer Cleo Zou has an acclaimed career in China as a producer, working with the country’s most respected and successful stars like Jackie Chan. Cleo declares, “With Rachel on the set, I never had to worry about the shoot because she is such a highly-productive artist. She`s talented, smart, hardworking and humorous. She always knows what she wants and how to get it. We all love working with her. She possesses that ease of working with professionals from both cultures which enables everyone involved to relax and enjoy the process, which is when artists are able to deliver their very best.” It’s this tone that Rachel always strives for, in both big and little ways. She reveals, “Everyone works very hard on a film set. I feel it’s important for us to not only support each other but to lift the spirits of one another. I think there is always time to make it fun. When we were shooting a conversation scene in an alley for Los Angeles Kidnapping, the art department was asked to make wanted posters to place on the walls. Because those posters are never in focus, they made ones that said “Wanted, Giraffe” & “Wanted Dinosaur”, etc. It was a tight shoot that day but the funny posters made all of us laugh. It’s not only the little things that the audience appreciates but also the little things the professionals making the film like.”

Producer Xueru Tang connects with her heritage on upcoming film ‘Hot Pot Man’

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Producer Xueru Tang

Xueru Tang has two mottos by which she lives her life. The first is “work hard”. Her friends call her a workaholic, but to her, she is focused. She loves what she does and she strives to be the best, and she makes no excuses for that. Her second mantra is “believe in yourself”. The world “believe” is important to her. Every project she takes on, she truly believes it will succeed, and this belief keeps her pushing through any tough times, or any problems that may arise, causing her to face her fears. These two qualities, hard work and faith, combined with an innate talent, are what have allowed Tang to become the film producer she is today, and she is recognized around the world for what she does.

Having worked on award-winning films like Locked, Inside Linda Vista Hospital, and Emily, as well as last year’s popular commercial for Chinstudio’s Fall Collection, Xueru Tang has had a career filled with success. However, with her upcoming film Hot Pot Man, she got to feel a sense of accomplishment that she has yet to feel in her esteemed career, telling a story of her hometown.

“I was born and raised in Chengdu, China. The hot pot was created in Chengdu, and it’s my home food. It really important to me. All the story in the film happens in Chengdu, and it is shot in Chengdu. This really excited me when I heard about the project. I want to show the world how beautiful my city is,” said Tang.

The film, which will premiere in October in Chengdu, has received a lot of media attention. Newspaper Xin Cheng Kuai Bao and Jin Ri Toutiao reported about Tang, calling her a New Power filmmaker from the generation after the 90’s. They interviewed her about her experience in U.S. film industry, how she combined the differences between China and U.S. in film production and operated the whole project from funding to future distribution.During these interviews, Tang also shared her opinions about helping Chinese independent filmmakers spread their strength in U.S. market and form its own way to distribution and achieve a greater personal, marketing and social value.

“Five years ago in China, not every filmmaker studied film, and we don’t really think about the professional and how it is important. For today, we still don’t request professional producers who study producing or filmmaking as their college or university major. Everyone just works, never studies, and they just use their way or someone’s way to do thing. For me the kind of the producer who studied and worked in Hollywood, and knows about Hollywood style, is really difficult to find in China. I think this is similar to what it is like in Hollywood, they don’t know a lot about the Chinese market there. When they call me a New Power Filmmaker, I think it is because I understand both markets. In that way, I am a unique producer,” Tang described.

This understanding of both the Chinese and American film markets is vital for Hot Pot Man. Tang brought the Hollywood style of thinking to her hometown. She did the funding and location scouting for the film, and dealt with the stars, like the famous rapper Di Xie and the Chinese comedian Jian Liao, and their agents. She checked all the contracts with crews and locations, and made sure there was insurance and the required permits. She made sure labor was fair and didn’t allow for too long of work days. For distribution, she got the film into Chinese cinemas, negotiating in what she calls the “Hollywood” way.

“Xueru is our excellent producer. She delivered a business plan and pitch book in english and Chinese in one day. This work efficiency we have never experienced from one person in China. And Xueru was a very responsible producer. I remember, another producer couldn’t find the location and couldn’t make a deal with talent, so we called Xueru. She didn’t blame them, she just bought a plane ticket and came to China to solve all the problem. I really like working with her. She has respect for the views of others, and she brings a lot Hollywood working style to us, making our shoot very smooth and all the crew members very happy,” said Dage Zhang, Director of Hot Pot Man. “Xueru loves her job, she crazy loves what she does. She told me she believes the movie will change the world. She wants to produce good movies that will affect the world. And most importantly, I never once heard her say she could not do something, she always tried first, and I think that is remarkable not just as a producer, but as a person.”

Tang found the story of Hot Pot Man very interesting, and when she got the call asking for her help, she didn’t care that she was on the other side of the world, she wanted to come and do what she could.

“No one thought of this as a job or work, everyone thought of it as a film. It was really great team work. But working for this project, it’s my passion. I have special feelings for my city, my city helped build my personality,” she concluded.

XIANG NAN GONG ENABLES THE PRODUCTIONS THAT TELL THE STORIES OF CHINA TO THE WORLD

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It has been said that everyone has a story. In the world of television and film production, writers and directors are considered to be the creators of these stories. While this may be true, without the mastery of a technical director and producer…none of these tales would ever reach an audience. Having a vision is a very different thing from having the skills and knowledge to manifest it. Xiang Nan Gong has served this role for decades at Shandong Radio and Television, earning him the status as one of China’s most respected professionals in this field. During his time with Shandong he oversaw the multiple technical facets in the creation of documentary and scripted series. From massive scale variety shows to location documentary series which told the history of the Chinese people, Gong designed and facilitated lighting, staging, sound, and a myriad of other components which are essential to delivering the filmmakers vision. Xiang Nan might be the least well-known member the production team but he is definitely the most vital.

As with all cultures, the Chinese people are interested in the history of their ancestors and land. A country of such immense size and variety of inhabitants has many stories to tell. “The Story of Yili River” is a documentary depicting the Yili River from the perspective of the cheerful running water line.  It explores the Yili river people’s folk customs, rich life, and delicacy. Gong focused on his expertise as a recording engineer for this production, recording and placing the authentic music of the inhabitants of this region to tell the folk customs of the people on both sides of the Yili River.

Xiang Nan worked closely with the director and a small team of professionals in the studio to create and recreate the sounds of the Yimeng People for the “Shandong Report.” Layering a series of sounds and sound patterns, Gong created the sound design with a mixture of authentic music, location recordings, and studio sonics which depicted the hard lives of these people. This village is surrounded by high mountains and steep cliffs, streams, and other harsh natural environmental factors. To properly recreate and communicate what these inhabitants experience required a consummate expert like Xiang Nan.

As technical director and producer on Shandong’s “Sun Bin Military Strategist”, Gong aided this production which tells of a man who also lived through a difficult situation but persevered and elevated himself to the level of great respect. Famous for receiving the punishment of face tattooing and having his knee caps removed, Sun Bin later became one of the most respected and trusted strategist of his country’s era. While remarking that his difficulties were nothing compared to Sun Bin’s, Xiang Nan concedes that the equipment of the 90s which he used was less than desirable for this thirteen-episode historical series. He tells, “Historical dramas are grand in scale with many layers of sound. This is what makes it so believable to the viewer. While your conscious mind may not notice it, something in your unconscious tells you that you are really there amidst these battle scenes and different locations due to the small details. Today’s state of the art technology makes the process much less cumbersome but back when we made this series, it took many hours to achieve what can happen in minutes now. Regardless, the finished product is what is important and ‘Sun Bin Military Strategist’ was very well received and popular.”

Another of Gong’s productions, “44 Notes” received international and domestic acclaim. “44 Notes” won the first prize from the State Council Information Office and the Ministry of radio and television, the “Golden Bridge Award” in the United States, Japan, Germany, Taiwan, Hong Kong and other countries and regions, and was adapted for television drama production at the center in Beijing. This documentary shows the bicycling trip of teacher Du Xiangjun and forty- four of his students (of the Zibo Normal School in the Shandong Province) as they made their way to the capitol to perform a concert. Along the way, they sing and experience a number of hardships on their journey. Half way between reality TV and unscripted drama, “44 Notes” called upon Gong to be prepared for an unlimited amount of variables that could affect the filming and recording of this production. Its international acclaim is a testament to his expertise on this project.

As a loving husband and proud father of a daughter, Xiang Nan was especially happy to assume the duties of technical director and producer of Shandong’s “The Charm of Women.”

The program is the first female Chinese series about female characters with outstanding contributions from all walks of life. It introduces the work, study, life, and successful careers of each woman. Shot in documentary style, Gong took particular care to oversee the lighting and sound to present these women with the respect and admiration which their achievements deserve. While certainly not the most famous subjects of the many productions he has overseen, Xiang Nan professes that they are among the most important because they serve as an example to current and future generations like his daughter, exhibiting the great importance and impact that Chinese women have on their families and society.

As the professional who literally “sets the stage” and supplies the sounds on a wide variety of productions, telling the stories of China’s past and present; with international award-winning productions to his credit, the respect of his industry, and a long history at Shandong Radio and Television, Xiang Nan Gong is among the elite technical directors and producers who continues to bring new ideas to an ever expanding production community.

Shu Zhang brings authentic historical makeup to film Death in a Day

Born and raised in Hangzhou, China, Shu Zhang brings her heritage into her work as a makeup designer. She has worked and volunteered around the world, lending her skills to completely different projects time and time again, showing both her clients and those that see her work just how innately talented she truly is.

While working on the short film Death in a Day, Shu had a pivotal role as lead makeup artist and hair stylist. She aimed to give the actors authentic, historically accurate makeup, as the film takes place in the early 90s. Shu’s background in art history and period makeup made her integral to the authenticity of the production.

“The hero is the early 90s American immigrant. The look is totally different with the America born Chinese nowadays. I wanted to focus on her 90s traditional Chinese style, but also to show her makeup under the influence of 90s American style. So, I put her major look into the decade which is more nature in tone, a sculpted look with a more idealized face shape,” said Shu.

Death in a Day tells the story of Evan, a young Chinese boy who, after visiting his comatose father in the hospital, witnesses his mother’s struggle and must come to grips with the impending death falling upon their family. Death in a Day, which premiered in June last year, was announced as the Best Narrative Short at San Diego Asian Film Festival in 2016, and was officially selected for a number of film festivals, it received a huge response from there.

“It’s fun to get involved in this original concept movie. I always came with idea of my own, so I know how this is important to a director to make a film,” said Shu.

It took three months of pre-production and many meetings to work out the perfect makeup design. Shu then had to test the makeup on a couple of actors to make final decision.

The mother’s makeup throughout the entire film is very key to its success, and there are many close-up on her face. Her makeup had to look beautiful but also desperate to highlight the soul of story, and Shu was more than up to the task.

“Shu is good at researching and widely knowing the cosmetic market. She always finds the most suitable products based on actors’ situations. She is always the one to meet my requirement accurately and without fault. Shu can really create with makeup. Everyone knows how to put on lots of makeup on, but looking simple is even harder, and she can do that,” said Yuin Zhang, an investor and advisor of the film.

Yuin Zhang was extremely happy Shu’s work on the film, and invited her to join the feature film she is investing in, Venus by Water. She works for the largest film studio in China, Hengdian World Studio, which is often called the Hollywood of China.

The writer and director of the film, Lin Wang, was also extremely impressed with Shu’s work. The two had previously worked together for a photoshoot for the NBA, where Shu was the first ever Chinese makeup artist to do the makeup for NBA players. The two formed a friendship and business relationship from there.

“Lin Wang is creative, young, and talented director. I knew Lin would make an award-winning film. The script was originally written by just herself. I feel we focused on every detail to perfection: makeup, wardrobe, props and the set needed to be completely historically accurate, which led us achieve a higher artistic level. All our efforts have paid off,” said Shu.

Wang will also be directing Venus by Water, which will begin production later this year. Shu is constantly looking for opportunities to keep doing what she loves, because she is a true artist, and all those that view her work know this to be true.

“Makeup is art to me. Faces are perfect canvases. My inspirations come from art history and from fresh makeup products that come out. I love looking at people’s faces from different worlds, and transforming them. It’s always been the biggest part of my life,” she concluded.

Cinematographer Jon Keng feels lucky to be doing what he loves every day

No matter how many awards he wins, festivals he attends, or film sets he works on, Jon Keng remains humble. For him, it isn’t about the recognition or the praise, for him, it is just about doing what he loves. He knows how fortunate he is. Keng is from Singapore, where people rarely get to pursue their true passions in life as they get forced to conform with societal norms. Despite all that he has accomplished, he just feels to be able to make a living out of being a cinematographer.

Keng started out wanting to be a photographer, but as he grew so did his dreams, and he turned to cinematography. His understanding of how to beautifully frame a still image greatly contributed to his talents as a cinematographer when he began, and now he has worked around the world on a variety of award-winning films and television shows. He previously worked on award-winning LGBT themed films Cocoon and The Stairs.  He recently shot the TV pilot Pineapple, which was selected for Sundance Film Festival 2017. His film Fata Morgana won a prestigious Golden Rooster Awards last year, China’s equivalent of the Academy Awards. There is no shortage of achievements for this cinematographer.

I enjoy my work a lot. Every film presents a different work environment, so I never get bored of what I do,” said Keng.

Working on the 2013 film Tadpoles, Keng began experiencing his enormous success. The film screened at over nine festivals, including the Vladivostok in Russia, Jogja-NETPAC in South East Asia, and the Singapore Short Cuts. He was also the first Singaporean to win the Jury Prize at Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland for his work on the film, the world’s longest running film festival, which is widely considered to be one of the top film festivals.

Tadpoles was, by far, the toughest film set I had ever worked on,” said Keng. “Being forced to tackle extreme challenges with a team of people is my favorite aspect of filmmaking. I feel that it really bonds the crew and gives us so many great memories to look back on.”

Keng was involved with the film right from the beginning of the screenwriting process, and was able to give his feedback to each new draft as it came along. He worked alongside his childhood friend Ivan Tan, the writer and director of the film. The two of them always had a shared interest in filmmaking, and became a compatible team.

“Jon is a great pillar of support on set. Even when things get stressful, he is always on point and calm with his decision making. This is very reassuring to the crew,” said Tan. “Jon never tries to impose a particular style onto a film. Instead, he digs deep into the core of the story and together, we find a unique look for every film we work on.”

Tadpoles follows two families who are forced to stay indoors and confront their fractured relationships as an unusual monsoon threatens to flood the eastern part of Singapore. There had been a series of floods in Singapore prior to the film, which became the inspiration.

“It feels great to be able to share this uniquely Singaporean story with the rest of the world,” said Keng.

After the triumph of Tadpoles, it became clear to not only Singapore, but the rest of the world, that Keng has extraordinary talent as a cinematographer. In 2015, he worked on the film Home, which became the first Chinese film to win at Best International Film at Raindance International Film Festival.

Home is a unique project because it started right from the ground up. We threw around some themes that we wanted to explore, being migrant stories in China, but we never really had a specific story in mind,” said Keng. “One day when we were on location scouts, we came across an abandoned hotel resort with a gigantic water lily pond. We spoke to the old caretaker of the resort, a migrant worker that had been left behind by the construction company many years ago after the construction had fallen through. inspired by this unique location and character, we decided to write an entire story around it.”

Home tells the story of Lao Tian, an elderly migrant caretaker of an abandoned construction site. On his last day of work, he encounters a five-year-old city girl who has run away from home. Bie Pu explores the concept of homelessness across the social classes of modern day Beijing.

“Shooting on real locations with real people cast in many of the acting roles was a great pleasure for me. It showed me that there is a multitude of stories out there in the real world left to be explored,” said Keng.  “I enjoy this organic style of working, to find a location first before writing the script. This brings a level of realism to the film, something that cannot be achieved with set builds. Once the location was found, the script was completed in less than a week and we were shooting within two weeks once the actors were cast.”

The film had its premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2015, an Oscar qualifying festival and one of the premier festivals in Los Angeles. It then went on to not only be screened at 13 international festivals, but win the HBO Films Competition Award at the Savannah Film Festival, and the Director’s Choice Award at the Miami Film Festival.

“Working with Jon Keng is the epitome of a professional working experience. Jon’s expertise in cinematography is only matched by his great demeanor and ability to remain calm under high pressure situations. Jon has made a name for himself as being the reliable artist and technician you want on set,” said the producer of Home, Edmond Yang. “J on is good at what he does because he approaches every job and every collaboration from a place of respect. His interactions with coworkers are based on a foundation of trust and professionalism surpassing any of his peers. He is able to keep focus on the overarching needs of a production while never forgetting the micro details which make up each successes. Jon illustrates why creativity fused with technical precision make an artist, but more importantly he reminds us why interpersonal communication is key to our discipline. This is why people want him on every set we have – because he is as talented as he is humble and that’s a combination we want to surround ourselves with in order to achieve our best on film sets.”

It seems that Keng does not work on a project that does not have outstanding results. His meticulous eye and passion for what he does justifies why he is such a celebrated cinematographer. With skills like his, there is no doubt his name will continue to appear on both the big and small screen.

LIVI ZHENG EARNS HER REPUTATION AS AN INTERNATIONAL FILMMAKER

Many of us from the West are mesmerized by the martial arts. Though we might pretend otherwise it’s mostly about self-protection peppered with a dash of “I’m cool.” The difference is that those from the part of the world in which this discipline originated and who truly understand it is this; it’s a way of life. There is a mastery of self that transfers to all parts of one’s life. It becomes a lifestyle rather than an expertise with combat. Yes, the physical benefits are there but the mental and spiritual one’s supersede them. Livi Zheng is a respected producer and director began her career as a stuntwoman and actress due to her mastery of martial arts on the enormously popular Asian television program Admiral Zheng He. Immersing herself in the production world, she began assisting in all of the different department until she became the assistant to the producer. Quickly thereafter she was working on scripts, doing research, prepping for shoots, and finally became the producer herself. The immensely popular program about Admiral Zheng He led to a film about this historic Chinese figure. As a testament to the benefits of her martial arts training, Livi assessed what was needed to conquer the production world; achieving great acclaim in the ever-expanding Asian TV and film industry; no small achievement for even the most accomplished professionals.

Livi is originally from Indonesia but moved to Beijing, China with her brother to further pursue martial arts training. While her excellence in the discipline would lead her to working on the hugely popular TV show about one of the most respected historical figures of China, it would also take her life down an entirely different path. The Admiral Zheng He TV series is a massive hit in Indonesia; to simply be an actor on the show would already register as a great success for Livi. But she was so interested in the workings she saw behind the camera that she immediately began the pursuit of assisting in the many different parts of production. Her dedication to learning every aspect of production paid off when she began her role as a producer on the program. In her role on the series as Suhita she was a Javanese queen regnant and the sixth monarch of the Majaphit empire (the biggest empire in Southeast Asia), ruling from 1429 to 1447. Somewhat mirroring that character, Livi oversaw productions that took place in China, Indonesia, and Thailand. It’s poetic that Zheng would learn the lifestyles of each of her people (the cast and crew) and then rule (produce) with the knowledge and empathy gained.

Livi’s work was so successful and lauded by the viewing audience as well as the production company that she was asked to produce the film inspired by the TV program’s success; The Empire’s Throne. Her abilities as an actor together with her skill as a producer, handling the production schedule and budget, made Livi the two most valuable people involved in the series.

Managing hundreds of extras and animals on set with lead actors is quite a feat for any producer. Zheng is frank about the fact that The Empire’s Throne was all about spectacle with expansive vistas and huge numbers of foot soldiers and cavalry. Recalling one scene she states, “There was a very big fight scene with a many horses and challenging stunts. We prep it ahead of time but there was still so many details to work out on the day of; such as getting all the stunt people and extras in the period costumes and props. I hired an extra crew just to get everyone ready faster. I wanted to maximize the shooting time rather than using it to prep the hundreds of people involved in front of the camera.”

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The Empire’s Throne is a colossal dramatic action film, based on the story of the empire Majapahit, the most powerful Empire in Southeast Asia. The film tells the story of the epic struggle for the throne of this kingdom. It features a huge cast, stunning Southeast Asian sets, costumes, locations, and music. This epic period piece possesses a unique cultural aspect. Its spectacular production design is extravagant and unique in the eyes of US audiences, so much so that it garnered an official selection in Boston International Film Festival. It’s of great relevance that one of the stars of both the TV series Admiral Zheng He and The Empire’s Throne took note of Livi’s professionalism and excellence on these productions. In addition to being a star of the show, Saifullah Yusuf (also known as Gus Ipul Job) also has the distinction of being the Indonesian State Minister for National Development Planning (2004-2007) and Deputy governor of East Java, Indonesia (2009- Current) …meaning that he understands the historical accuracy and authentic recreation of these tales. as Saifullah Yusuf related,

 

”Livi Zheng is a talented and dedicated producer who has shown herself capable of executing sophisticated productions with significant budgets. On the TV series Admiral Zheng He (Laksamana Cheng Ho) and the feature film The Empire’s Throne she coordinated a cast of over 1000 extras along with hundreds of horses while shooting in three different countries. In the action genre her personal experience as a multiple award-winning martial artist gives her unique insight into the stories she produces. Not only was I impressed by her ability to access her prodigious skills and experience, but also by her devotion to depicting realistic portrayals of the locations and historic periods in her films. To this end she spent a good deal of time gathering research from museums around China to add authenticity to the production.”

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Director/producer Nirattisai Kaljaruek has worked with American household names such as Nicholas Cage and Bon Jovi. Regarding his experience working with Livi on these multiple productions, he comments

 

“Livi’s upbeat spirit and strong vision were an inspiration to our cast and crew, helping them realize the tone and spirit of the film. Her energy and passion are infectious. She manages to oversee everything with compelling detail, while paying attention to budgetary and scheduling constraints. Having grown up in Indonesia and China, and then continuing her education in the United States, she brings a unique multicultural perspective to all of her creative work.”

 

Zheng’s work on the productions concerning this popular historic figure continued as producer on the feature film Legend of the East. The film was a huge hit with notable achievements, including:  Nominated at the Madrid International Film Festival for Best Foreign Language Feature Film –Legend of the East (Livi Zheng and Nirattisai Kaljaruek), Best Director of a Foreign Language Feature Film (Nirattisai Kaljaruek), won Best Actor for Foreign Film and Best Supporting Actress for Foreign Film. With her successful directing credits adorning her resume  Zheng continues to expand her role as a respected filmmaker, more recently producing and directing the suspenseful Victorian period-piece The Lost Soul. Livi is currently fielding several  offers in the US.

(Title featured image courtesy-of-marie-claire-indonesia-by-irfan-hartanto-2)

Sound Editor Xiao Hou Collaborates With Renowned Supervising Sound Editor Martin Hernandez On The Action Packed “Compadres”

Universal talent advances in sound

Xiao Hou at Studio
Sound Editor Xiao Hou

Xiao Hou is an international sound editor who has been working among various platforms of the audio industry perfecting his craft for eight years. His credits include commercials starring famed celebs like the Los Angeles Clippers and Paris Hilton, and a series of short films such as “Once,” “God Save the Queen” and “Until the Dust Settles.”

Most recently, Hou has acted as the sound editor of the Lionsgate produced feature film “Compadres,” directed by Enrique Begne (“Dos Abrazos” and “Busco novio para mi mujer”) and starring Omar Chaparro (“Pulling Strings” and “Superfast!”), Joey Morgan (“Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse” and “Camp Manna”), Eric Roberts (“The Dark Knight” and “The Expendables”), Kevin Pollack (“Special Correspondents” and “Mom”), and Erick Elías (“Qué Culpa Tiene el Niño” and “The Color of Passion”).

“Compadres” is an action comedy film that follows a former cop named Garza, who seeks revenge on a crime lord named Santos, who framed him.

Martin Hernandez, known for the his work in sound on the renowned films “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Birdman” and the Oscar award winning “The Revenant,” contributed as the supervising sound editor of the film.

“I was absolutely thrilled when Martin came to me with the news that he wanted to bring me on board,” Hou said. “Throughout the entire process, he was my mentor. I followed his lead and directions and learned first hand how a high scale film like “Compadres” is put together.”

Hou and Hernandez first met at the screening of “The Revenant,” where the latter later informed Hou of upcoming projects. “Compadres” was the project Hernandez pitched to Hou, who relished the idea of becoming involved.

“Working on “Compadres” was an absolutely amazing and unforgettable experience. Not only was I presented with the opportunity to work with the legendary Martin Hernandez, it was also the first time I worked on a film of such magnitude that required such detailed sound work,” Hou commented.

In post production, Hou was required to implement his creative abilities in order to cut sound effects from different sound libraries and mesh them together in new and unique ways, ultimately producing a desired sound. “For example, I applied a jet engine sound underneath the sound of a cop car to make the effect beefier and more vivid,” Hou offered, elaborating on his responsibilities.

The job of a sound editor is one that requires much patience and detailed work. In fact, Hou recalled spending hours, and sometimes even days, looking for and designing a specific sound that would perfectly match a particular scene. Regarding this rigorous process, Hou explained, “It gave me the chance to utilize all of my resources and prior experiences in order to tailor the sounds to meet the director and supervising sound editor’s requirements.”

“Throughout the entire post production, I followed Martin’s directions and learned how a film like “Compadres” is successfully put together. It was all such an enjoyable experience and was definitely one of the peak moments of my young, professional career,” said Hou.

The final version of the film “Compadres” was released in theaters on March 31, 2016 in Mexico, and on April 22, 2016 in the United States.

Xiao Hou with Martin Hernandez
Xiao Hou with “Compadres” Supervising Sound Editor Martin Hernandez

For more information on “Compadres,” please visit: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3367294/

For more information on Xiao Hou, please visit:
http://www.xdecibel.com/
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm5670635/