Tag Archives: Chinese Filmmakers

A talk with renowned cinematographer Feixue Tang

Processed with VSCOcam with b1 presetWhen Feixue Tang thinks back to growing up in Beijing, China, she recalls her middle school and high school years as being extremely dull and oppressive. The school system only cared about high grades, and students are then rated, ranked, and sorted based on academic performances. As an escape, the young Tang started watching a lot of films in her own time. She felt her life expand through immersing herself in all those different movies around the world.

“When I was in high school, I watched Elephantby Gus Van Sant. I was very impressed by the film as it showed me the great possibilities of what film as an art form could be like. I really loved how Elephantplayed with narrative structure and perspectives to tell the story artfully and creatively and how it utilized the form to serve the best of its content. While watching behind the scenes of the film it fascinated me seeing all these different crafts and creative minds going into the making of a film,” said Tang.

As a young teenager, Tang knew she wanted to one day go on to making movies. She wanted to tell stories and share a part of herself with the world through her work. Now, she has achieved all that and more. She is an award-winning cinematographer, internationally in-demand with a series of decorated projects highlighting her resume.

Throughout her career, Tang has shown what she is capable of as a cinematographer. Earlier this year, she made headlines with the multiple awards she took home for her outstanding cinematography on the film Here & Beyond. The experience of making the film, for Tang, was one of the best of her career, and the awards and recognition are secondary to simply loving what she does.

“I would say the highlights of my career are the moments when as a cinematographer, you meet a director that you can communicate so well with and with whom your collaboration is so spontaneous, fluid, inspiring and creative,” said Tang. “The collaboration with director Colin West on Here & Beyond was definitely one of my highlights. We talked day after day in pre-production discussing how to create the visual world for his film Here & Beyond. That collaboration, the continuously mutual inspiring experience was definitely why I chose and love this job.”

Here & Beyond is just one of Tang’s many success stories. She was also recently nominated for Best Cinematography of a Documentary Short Film at the Asian Cinematography Awards for her work on Lumpkin, GA, which dives into the issues surrounding America’s immigration policies by documenting the stories of a small town with a huge immigration detention center right next to it.

Lumpkin, GA’s praise is hardly Tang’s first success story in the documentary genre. Her film Who We Are, a film that starts in the midst of America’s Opioid Epidemic when a Southern California family searches for meaning in the wake of their son’s death, received critical acclaim at many international film festivals.

Undoubtedly, Tang is a force to be reckoned with as a cinematographer, and she understands the intricacies of the artform more than most. She did not always know this would be her path, but she knows she is just where she is meant to be and worked hard to get there. For those who are pursuing a similar dream, she offers the following advice:

“I think in general to work in film you need to be really passionate about what you do. It’s working long hours, it’s challenging physically and intellectually, and compared to other jobs it has so many turbulences and unknowns. I think feeling that you honestly love the job and enjoy being emerged in it is very important. And then just continue learning and never stop,” she advised.

Be sure to keep an eye out for Tang’s future projects. She is about to begin work on a new feature length documentary, as well as a fictional movie. You can stay up-to-date with her work by checking out her website here.

 

By John Michael

Director/Producer Jamly Yang shoots moving commercial for Nike

As an industry leading producer and director, whenever Jamly Yang steps onto a film set, she is a leader. She is in charge of both the artistic and business sides of the production, ensuring everyone works harmoniously to make the best piece of art possible. When directing, she is highly creative, looking at each shot from an artistic standpoint to make the film a success, and when she is producing, she ensures each project she embarks on reaches its maximum potential.

“The responsibility of a producer is not just making sure the production makes a profit, but also to have eyes for stories that can change people’s lives,” said Yang.

These stories are what Yang is known for and are evident in her films The Screenwriter in the Restroom, The Invisible Superman, The Milk Tea, and many more. She also brings that sense of storytelling to her commercials, and with award-winners like the Alpha Browser Commercial, Doritos Campaign, Folgers Coffee, and beyond, she knows how to make an advertisement that not only resonates with consumers, but also entertains.

Yang has worked with many renowned brands throughout her career, including Nike. Yang shot for the iconic sporting wear company back in 2017 for a campaign that went on to win Best Commercial at the San Francisco International New Concept Film Festival 2018.

“This is a trend in the commercial industry, using stories to sell products. It is a trend I both enjoy and believe in, and I love making commercials that move audiences not only to buy something, but also get them to feel something,” said Yang.

The commercial tells the story of three generations of a family. A man gave all the best to his son, and now that the son is a father, he tries to impart some of his own father’s wisdom to his son, and Nike is a part of that. It is a beautiful story.

“Most Nike commercials we see are all about strength and power, but how do you bring more customers who are not entirely about that lifestyle, but who are just normal people who need to exercise every day? You need a touching story. Everyone has a father, everyone runs. Everyone has something from their parents that they cherish. For this Nike commercial, it’s a pair of running shoes that ties to three generations,” said Yang.

The commercial was shot at Land’s End, one of San Francisco’s most iconic spots and a beautiful scenic backdrop for the video. Yang directed, produced, and wrote the commercial, handling the majority of the responsibilities from casting to distribution. She is thrilled to play such a large part in such a successful commercial, especially because she is and has always been a fan of Nike.

“Everyone likes Nike. It’s so iconic to the point where they almost don’t need commercials at all. It is more like a culture than just a sporting wear company, and that’s how Nike differs from other brands,” she concluded.

Check out Yang’s moving Nike commercial here.

 

By John Michaels

Editor Yun Huang introduces China to rest of the world in compelling docuseries

When Yun Huang was just a young child, growing up in China, her passion for film was born. Her grandmother was a movie projectionist and would share stories of her job with her granddaughter. She encouraged Huang to not only watch films, but to appreciate them. Since then, film has been an important part of Huang’s life, and she knew it was more than a hobby. Now, as a seasoned editor, Huang works in filmmaking every day, living her childhood dream.

Having worked on several successful projects, Huang is an internationally sought-after editor. Earlier this year, her commercial “Choice” amassed millions of views online, and her work on the film Stardust led the project to many awards at several prestigious international film festivals, including Huang herself being honored with Best Editing at Festigious International Film Festival.

It’s important as an editor not to have one specific style. Your job is to help the director to create their own style. You can provide different editing styles that you think can be used, but you must respect the director’s thoughts. That is what makes a great editor,” said Huang.

One of Huang’s ongoing projects is Unveil China Outside China, a documentary series that allows her to share her country with the rest of the world. The series is distributed on people.cn, a large-scale news platform built by The People’s Daily. The People’s Daily is the biggest newspaper group in China. The paper is an official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, published worldwide with a circulation of 3 million.

“Yun was our video editor when we were doing the post-production of this documentary series. I have known her for a couple of years and always like her work. Yun works effectively and always has a good attitude for communicating with the crew. I believe her talent in editing will bring even more fancy artwork to the world,” said Leiqi Lin of The Oriental Vision, Inc.

While making the series, Huang and her team have conducted many interviews with foreigners, from American politicians to ordinary people in the streets of San Francisco, from the founder of international think tanks to the engineers of Silicon Valley. The idea of this, from an overseas perspective, is to let them tell the story of China. What kind of role does China play in today’s world? How does the world see the development of China? What is the expectation of the future of China? Through their narration, the audience can find different answers.

“The documentary series include aspects of Chinese achievements, innovation in China, ‘Made in China’, Chinese diplomacy, China’s economic globalization, important meetings of the Chinese government, reform and opening-up, and so on. We interviewed many foreigners who told stories of China in overseas perspectives. I like to know more about China in different angles. I’m so proud that I can introduce China to the world by editing this series,” said Huang.

Having had previous documentary experience, Huang knew she was up for the task of creating and launching Unveil China Outside China. The monthly series involves a lot of work, and when Huang receives the footage, she only has a few days to turnout a compelling installment. At first, she found this to be a challenge, but now she finds it exhilarating.

“I only have three or four days to finish an episode, which was a challenge for me in the beginning, because I also have to work on the stock footages and special effects, find the background music, and more. However, after I had edited two episodes, I knew that I enjoyed such high intensity work. It let me have a sense of accomplishment. I believe resilience is a skill that all editors should possess,” she said.

The first episode premiered in October of 2017 and was published on both people.cn and People’s daily app. The premiere received over 810 thousand views in its initial month of being live, and Huang knew then and there that they were making something special. Now, they have ten episodes, each more successful than the last.

Unveil China Outside China is just one of the many projects that exemplify what a versatile and talented editor Huang is. She knows that the most fundamental aspect of her job is storytelling, and she encourages all editors that are looking to follow in her footsteps to make sure they know just how to do so.

“Try to learn more things rather than simply editing, such as fine art, music, literature and so on. These are extremely important skills and knowledge while you are editing videos with various subjects,” she advised.

You can watch one of Huang’s most recent episodes of the series, Unveil China Outside China: Riding on a bullet train is fabulous, here.

 

Written by Annabelle Lee

Cinematographer Yang Shao personally connects to award-winning film ‘Once More’

Growing up in Changzhou, a small town in the Eastern part of China, Yang Shao found himself drawn towards filmmaking. As a child, he would pick up his family’s handy-cam and experiment, filming everything he considered interesting. In such a way, he was destined to be a cinematographer. He always had a good eye for photography and frame composition, and when the average person would just see tall buildings while walking in the city, Shao saw letters, signs, magic. He spent his youth thinking of what angle every image he took in would look the best, and he still applies this mentality now, years later, as a celebrated cinematographer.

Shao has put his artistic touch on many film and television ventures. Projects such as A Better World, Life is Horrible, Under and The Great Guys have gone on to see international success with the help of his talents. Audiences can soon expect the same from his upcoming features: Need, In the Middle of the Night, and Excel on the Highway.

The highlight of his career, however, came just last year when Shao worked on the film Once More. It perfectly showcased his talent and passion for cinematography, as the Director and Producer were eager to let him explore his creativity. He was also eager to share the story with the world.

“I was really moved by the story this movie tells. I believe in the importance of telling good-hearted stories and this one is a perfect example of that kind of story. Also, we had an amazing team who was working on the project and working with those folks was really a pleasure,” said Shao.

Once More explores the tale of a psychologically collapsed dancer who failed in a renowned competition and broke his left leg. As the remedy to this life, he intends to commit suicide, but he is accidentally saved by a neighbor girl he was in secret love with. This subtlety encourages him to get back to the stage by dancing with the bum leg.

“At the present time with the #TimesUp movement showing the toxic environment in the film industry that was exposed in the recent year, I think there’s still a lot of room for masculine vulnerability. In fact, that kind of trait in men actually gives me hope in our future. And this movie is a good example of bright and pure emotions that are left in men’s souls. I believe in importance of bringing up the stories that have to be heard but at the same time I know that good-hearted and kind stories is what will make this world a better place,” said Shao.

Once More premiered in March 2017 at the Hollywood International Moving Pictures where it was a semi-finalist on the festival program. From there, it saw great success at many international film festivals, and Shao himself was recognized at many of them, winning Best Cinematography at the American Movie Awards, the Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival, Top Shorts!, Festigious International Film Festival, Los Angeles Film Awards, and more. In total, the film brought Shao seven awards for cinematography, and also numerous awards for Best Film, Best Director and Best Producer. Such acclaim could never have been possible without Shao’s artistic eye.

“I always knew that Yang is a talented cinematographer and always wanted to work with him. He brought his outstanding skill-set to the project. I’m looking forward to working more with Yang,” said Kees Van Oostrum, Executive Producer of Once More.

It was Van Oostrum that approached Shao to be a part of the film. He knew Shao’s cinematography style and that he would be vital to the production. As the cinematographer, Shao chose to use more of the natural light because the story is very elevated by itself and a lot of artificial light would only have hurt the picture in his opinion. A large portion of the movie takes place in a theater, and he made a decision to use abstract lighting to highlight the emotional state of the character and emphasize the stress that the protagonist was going through.

Coming from the East, Shao shot the story with an Asian flavor, bringing the best traditions of the eastern cinematography combined with his extensive experience working in the film industry. This allowed him to obtain angles many would not have, and this tactic was fully supported by the Director, Rachel Zhou and main actor, Jaeme Velez.

“I think we found something very precious there on set. When people’s energies start to bounce around and more importantly play in the same key, that’s when the real magic happens,” said Shao.

Above all else, however, Once More was special for Shao because of the story. He saw himself in the main character, connecting to the protagonist’s artistic journey. It provided a beacon of hope during a difficult time for the cinematographer, and he will never forget what it gave him.

“His passion and will resonated with me on a deeper level. His struggle and obstacles that were on his way to his dream are similar to mine in a way, and to most of the artists’ paths. There was a time in my life where the only thing that was left was hope and big desire to create something larger than myself. And actually, this film came along right around that time. It was like a big sign telling me to keep going, and I think in the end it paid off really well,” he concluded.

 

Written by Annabelle Lee

Sought After Editor Aijia Li: A Master of the Cut

Aijia working on a new upcoming feature film.jpg

No matter how powerful the actors’ performances, how brilliant the director, or how adept the cinematographer, the film that audiences ultimately see is only as good as its editor. When tens to hundreds of hours of footage reach the editor’s desk, the success of the film is in their hands. Like a conductor who turns the unbridled chaos of an orchestra into the most beautiful of symphonies, a great editor can create a timeless masterpiece from a million disparate pieces, and that is exactly what editor Aijia Li accomplishes with every project she takes on.

Hailing from Changchun in northeast China, Aijia developed a passion for film and photography when she was just a teen. She spent her youth hungrily absorbing every movie she could get her hands on. By the time she reached college she’d accumulated a huge collection of movies, and was falling more in love with filmmaking with each passing day.

“I’ve had a passion for telling stories since I was a kid, and then I started writing stories and novels. But film has always been my spiritual food,” Aijia recalled. “In junior high, I spent all my allowance on DVDS, and now my parents still have a few boxes of my collection in the house.”

It was during college that Aijia seriously began experimenting with creating and editing her own films. She discovered just how crucial the editor’s job was to the overall process and realized that she had a natural aptitude for the delicate and often-arduous job. But editing films was not just something she was good at — it was something she loved. As an editor, Aijia was able to work hand-in-hand with the director to shape and define the story as they envisioned it. It’s not much of a stretch to liken her role to that of a midwife, guiding the film through the last critical stages before it enters the world.

“Film can [only] be film because of editing. A good editor can save the director’s life. I think in the digital age, the editor as the director’s closest partner may become more and more important,” Aijia explained. “The relationship between the director and the editor is like a marriage. After they finish shooting the film, the director spends more time with the editor than their own family. A good director understands that the film is the editor’s work. Before editing, what the director has is only the raw material.”

Editor Aijia Li
Film poster for “The Moon Also Rises”

Nowhere is the power of that partnership between director and editor more evident than in the quality of Aijia’s work. Time and again she faithfully executes the director’s vision, blurring the line between art and science with equal measures of calculated efficiency and creative instinct. The 2018 drama “The Moon Also Rises” is a perfect example of Aijia’s unparalleled editorial prowess. Simultaneously moving and thought-provoking, “The Moon Also Rises” is an existential exploration of the impacts that people have on the lives of those around them, and the lasting traces they leave when they’re gone.

“This film is different from any other film I’ve edited,” Aijia said. “In the process of cross-editing, the difference between the images and the proportion of the frame gives the audience a strong sense of the drama’s conflict… The director of this film is a pure artist.”

Faced with the daunting challenge of creating a final product that lived up to director Yao Yu’s lofty expectations, Aijia’s work on “The Moon Also Rises” was a trial by fire. The resulting film is a testament to both her technical expertise and keen creative instincts. Impressed by the film’s concept and execution, judges at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival included “The Moon Also Rises” in the festival’s 2018 lineup of screenings.

Aijia had already cultivated a stellar reputation as an editor prior to “The Moon Also Rises.” Among her earlier works was the inspiring 2016 film “Short Term” about the unlikely paternal bond a homeless man develops with a young boy he finds living on the streets. Written, directed and edited by Aijia Li, “Short Term” explores the perennially-relevant subjects of poverty and racism and the impacts they have on the most vulnerable members of society.

“As the editor, the only way to make this kind of emotional story great is to edit by heart. I understand the characters, I feel them…,” Aijia explained of her process. “Another thing is, less is more. I don’t cut too much when there’s a heavy, emotional moment. I hold it. Because good editing is not just about skill and it’s not an editor’s showreel. It’s a story.”

Aijia Li
Film Poster for “Short Term”

That philosophy guided Aijia’s work throughout the editing process, and when critics and audiences watched “Short Term” it was obvious she had a gift possessed by few others in the field. The film immediately caught the attention of festival judges across the country. In addition to winning top prize at the 2016 Women’s Independent Film Festival, “Short Term” was also a semi-finalist at both the Los Angeles CineFest and the Hollywood Screening Film Festival. It was also an official selection at the International Family Film Festival, the Lady Filmmakers Festival and the Glendale International Film Festival — where it was also nominated for two additional awards.

Among some of Aijia Li’s other masterful works as an editor is the recent film “Float,” which earned multiple prestigious awards from the 2017 European Independent Film Awards, Hollywood Film Competition, London Independent Film Awards and the LA Shorts Awards, and Pantha Rahman’s dramatic film “Deceased,” which was chosen as an Official Selection of the Nepal Human Rights International Film Festival, Bucharest International Film Festival, Indian Peacock International Film Festival and more.

glendale film festival
Editor Aijia Li at the Glendale Film Festival for the film “Short Term”

“I have encountered many editors during my time in the film industry, but Aijia was my only choice to work on this film. Aijia has the best feel for editing out of any professional I have ever worked with,” admits “Deceased” director Pantha Rahman.

“I was incredibly impressed by the high level of emotion she added to my film… Ms. Li’s unlimited knowledge and understanding of editing was evident in every single cut she made… Her vast knowledge and wealth of experience were essential in building the film’s narrative structure… Without Ms. Li as the editor of ‘Deceased,’ the engaging visuals and sentimentally resonant narrative would have never come together, making me forever grateful for her work on the film.”

Editor Aijia Li
Film Poster for “Deceased”

A great editor understands a film’s story and characters as well as they understand the technical aspects of the job. In many ways a film is a lot like an unassembled puzzle when the editor’s job begins. Only, this puzzle includes hundreds of extra pieces and there is no picture to reference. The only way to know where the pieces go and what they’ll form is to fully understand what the director’s vision is and how to bring it to life. In the simplest terms, that’s what Aijia Li does — from thousands of scrambled, disparate pieces, she builds stories with the power to move audiences to laughter or tears.

 

Chen Xu gets his hands “dirty” while creating sound for ‘The Shaft’

In 1999, Chen Xu dedicated himself to watching approximately 1,000 movies in order to absorb as much information as possible about sound design and sound mixing within the film industry. Interestingly enough, the overwhelming lesson that he learned was that regardless of a film’s genre or budget, a good sound design could always supplement a film’s visual stimuli and boost the viewer’s imagination beyond this imagery. Sound design has the ability to change the entire viewing experience and Xu felt confident that he possessed the skill set and creativity to be able to take any visual film component and take it to the next level with the addition of his sound design. Since then, he has earned a substantial amount of recognition for his talents, not only in the form of awards, but also in sheer demand for his work. Fortunately for Xu, sound design and sound mixing are a lifelong passion and he is one of the few people in this world who can say that they get to do what they truly love and call it “work.”

“Sound is not as specific as the film’s picture; however, it tends to be integral to our subconscious mind. The delicate organization and arrangement of sounds can greatly enhance a movie. On the surface, it appears to be a mere aid to the picture but in reality, the space and importance of the sound creation typically accounts for over half of the film. This gives me a sense of freedom in my work to express my own creativity. That’s where I really like sound,” said Xu.

Throughout his remarkable career, Xu has used his sound design and sound mixing expertise to enhance the scripts of a number of renowned films such as A Simple Goodbye and The Wasted Times. For his work on The Summer Is Gone, Xu received a nomination for Best Sound Effects Award at the 53rd Golden Horse Film Festival. For Xu, however, receiving awards and nominations are simply a bonus to being able to mix and design sounds for a living. In fact, the true highlights of his career come to life when he gets to work on projects enriched with culture and meaning. This is why, in 2015, when Xu was approached about working on The Shaft, he could not refuse.

The Shaft, which has earned over a dozen international awards, follows three intertwined stories of a father, a son, and a daughter fighting to hold onto hope and family as they face the harsh realities embedded within life in a poor Western-Chinese mining town. The story illuminates a number of complicated relationships hidden beneath the community’s hardened exterior and when Xu first read the film’s script, he knew it was something he had to be a part of. Xu credits the film’s realistic script as being the main draw to accepting this challenge. This meant that for the film, Xu would be in charge of all sound-related work, from production mixer to sound design to final mixing during the film’s post-production phase.

What Xu hadn’t necessarily anticipated when accepting the opportunity to work on The Shaft, was just how harsh the conditions would be. Due to the fact that the film deals with miners, many scenes were shot deep underground and as a result, Xu was tasked with ensuring that the film’s sounds remained as clear as possible given the setting constraints. In addition, the actors insisted on shooting their own scenes despite dangerous conditions, and therefore, Xu had to accompany them in the mines to shoot their scenes. Oftentimes, he would be covered in particles of soot at the end of a shoot. To his director’s appeal, Xu masterfully captured the realistic texture of the town and the state of those living within its conditions through his sound mixtures. In addition, he chose to enhance the importance of the film’s sound design by only using music at the conclusion of the film. In addition, he managed to capture the unique, untouched atmosphere of Guizhou Province in China. Given the fact that Guizhou Province has not yet fully integrated into the fast-growing Chinese economy, he knew that it would be extremely important to ensure that audiences could grasp the authenticity of the film’s location.

Where some sound designers may have found themselves intimidated by the challenges presented when working on The Shaft, Xu found himself energized by the opportunity to experiment in new areas of his art form and to help his colleagues tell this story in the most interesting fashion possible. The film’s director, Zhang Chi, requested that Xu stray away from the typical, clear-cut sound design principles and create a more “dirty” sound arrangement. This, however, did not require Xu to simply arrange the film’s sound elements, but to do so in an intentionally disorderly manner. Chi felt as though this would help to enhance the film’s objectivity. He did not want to criticize the characters, nor did he wish to sympathize with them. He wanted to present the world with an understanding of the social realities embedded within the Chinese culture today and to do so in a way that would resonate with his audiences.

In the coming year, Xu will take charge of the sound mixing and design for two feature length films and hopes to continue spreading his talents throughout the sound editing industry for years to come. To anyone else looking to pursue a career in sound mixing and sound design, Xu offered the following advice:

“Sound design and mixing is a very creative but oftentimes relatively boring job. If you want to become a good sound designer, you must first be able to endure loneliness and genuinely love movies, so that you can always maintain the vitality of your creation,” told Xu.

 

Written by Sean Desouza

‘The Ballerina, The Shoemaker and His Apprentice’ takes audiences back in time with help of Meibei Liu’s editing

As a film editor, Meibei Liu sees herself almost as the conductor of an orchestra. She puts together endless footage and turns it into a piece of art, transforming a script into a true visual masterpiece. In many ways, she is like the doctor of a film; she removes what is unnecessary and replaces what needs work. Editing is putting the final pieces of the director’s puzzle together, and Liu not only understands that, but she also thrives because of it, and that is what makes her a good filmmaker.

Having worked on a variety of projects that have made their way to many prestigious film festivals around the world, Liu has made quite a name for herself as an editor. Such films include Dear Mamá, Headshot, Faith Need Not Change Her Gown, Pumpkin and Fried Noodle, and more. Recently, her film The Ballerina The Shoemaker and His Apprenticereceived nominations at the Oscar-Qualifying Hollyshorts Film Festival and LA Shorts Fest, Maryland International Film Festival, and Ouchy Film Festival in Switzerland, New Port Beach Film Festival where it was nominated for Short Film Award, The Grand Jury Award and Best College Film at The Next Generation Filmmaker Film Festival.

“I’m happy to hear that the film went all over the world for festivals and awards. I was glad that my changes made it into the film and was shown to people who speak different languages. It confirmed that emotions expressed and enhanced by editing can be identified by everyone, which made me believe that I should continue doing what I did for the film. I was glad that Eva asked me to go on board and be part of the project. That gave me a chance to show my attitude towards editing to people,” said Liu.

The film takes place in 1963 Hackney, England, and follows George Arkwright, a young man down on his luck, who must navigate the refined world of ballet pointe shoe making and redeem his value as the apprentice under the shadow of Mr. David Traynor, a talented but stuffy point shoemaker. George’s imagination turns into a reality when he becomes smitten with the Ballerinas the shoes are built for, one named Sylvia particularly, but soon learns this magical and seemingly distant world is not beyond the reach of affliction. Liu came on board half way through editing the film when the Director, Eva Ye, realized she needed expansive editing talent to turn her vision into a reality.

“Working with Meibei was great. She has a strong sensibility for impactful storytelling through an editing perspective. She often provides new perspectives to the story and is invested in trying different ways of getting the emotion across. Sometimes she is more willing to dig deep into the materials just to find something I didn’t even know existed. Her passion and dedication to editing is something I’ve seen rarely. And in many ways, she makes my work better,” said Ye.

Liu is able to address the problems of cuts quickly. When she reviewed the first cut that was made before she was brought on, she realized exactly how to transform the footage into what the director wanted and what audiences would connect with. She took what was a half-finished film and reworked it, making it better. She realized that the scenes were dragging; all of them could end earlier by cutting out some of the lines and actions. She stopped in the middle of the first scene and started the second scene earlier, helping to show the main character’s eagerness. Sometimes, however, she chose to extend a scene and have it linger longer to show the apprentice’s feeling of loss and disappointment. This film has very subtle emotions, and an editor’s vision and eye on digging out the emotions, and enhancing them by editing is vital. Being a very emotional person who is strong at noticing the emotional changes of people, Liu was the ideal candidate to take over as editor.

“It’s a story of dreaming. I believe this is a film that speaks to everyone in spite of when and where it happened. It’s a worldwide emotion that people all over the world can understand. I believe it is important to tell this kind of story, giving the audience a short period of time to experience something they can relate to,” Liu concluded.

The Ballerina, The Shoemaker, and His Apprentice is currently available on Amazon Prime Videos.

 

Written by Sara Fowler

Dixie Chan talks honor of producing China’s most viewed documentary of 2015

For as long as she can remember, Dixie Chan recalls having a deep passion for the art of filmmaking. When she was a child, she would actively search for the “behind-the-scenes” footage of her favorite films and study the styles and techniques through which they were created. Particularly, Chan found herself interested in the making of documentaries. There was something so intriguing about how the lives of the individuals or concepts presented in narrative documentary style films would tell themselves. As she got older, Chan began exposing herself to film festivals around the world and her fascination with the visual and narrative power of documentary films grew stronger the more that she watched. She could often be found in the back of a film screening, jotting and scribbling notes about the techniques and ideas that interested her most. Flash forward to today, and Chan has developed a remarkable career as a film producer, exploring her love for documentary style films and forming a livelihood around it.

“What I love is that every documentary project has a certain theme, message, or vision. My role as a producer, then, is to flesh that out by searching for the right people and the right places to tell those compelling stories. In the field of documentary storytelling, you look for these compelling characters and you let their lives tell their stories. With that, preproduction work often involves extensive research, most of which is done in the field with locals. As a producer, I am always the first one to access the location and characters, so a big part of my job is to gather as much intelligence for the shoot as possible. Subsequently, I cast characters and scout out the best filming spots and angles. I also brainstorm with the field director about how we can bring our narrative ideas to life, from the types of scenes that can be shot to the kind of questions that we can raise during interviews,” shared Chan.

During her career as a producer, Chan has worked on some of National Geographic and The Discovery Channels most prestigious documentaries. Her work on documentaries such as Frontier Borneo, The Bridge, Warriors of Wood and Stone, and Expedition X — Silk Road Rising, are the reason that she has earned such a strong reputation amongst her peers. She is well known for her ability to see a project through from conception to post-production and her unique style makes her a force topple reckoned with in the producing community. In fact, the caliber of work that Chan is capable of producing typically earns her a significant amount of praise and award buzz in her field. For instance, it is no coincidence that after Chan produced Frontier Borneo, it went on to receive a nomination for Best Documentary Series at the 2017 Asian Television Awards, as well as an Official Selection for the 2017 Eco Film Festival in Singapore. These awards were little, however, in comparison to the recognition she received for her work on National Geographic’s hit series, China From Above.

China From Above is a 2-part documentary commissioned by the National Geographic Channel which takes an aerial perspective showcasing how China has transformed its cities and infrastructure over the last three decades, whilst still retaining its strong traditions. From the monumental engineering feats of the Great Wall, to innovative and unique farming techniques, and a massive water splashing festival, the show illustrates how these strong traditions have shaped China’s landscape to make it uniquely recognizable around the world and truly magnificent, especially from the air.

Chan began working on China From Above in 2014, partway through the show’s production. Given that aerial cinematography was still a relatively new style of filming, she was eager to explore her own personal production style along with it. At the time that Chan was asked to join China From Above’s production team, management had identified a gap in communication between the show’s Chinese and Australian partners. Fortunately, Chan had experience working on Chinese documentaries and being bilingual, she was able to communicate extensively in both Mandarin and English on all logistical and editorial matters. She was thrilled that she was able to bridge the gab between Chinese and Australian work cultures. Though it was challenging at times, she was rewarded by the opportunity to expand her experience within the field of documentary style film production, as well as to explore her potential as a bilingual producer.

As the show’s lead producer, Chan had a very large task on her hands. Given the fact that aerial documentaries were so new and unexplored, she had few points of reference to go by when researching and planning the film’s production. For this reason, she motivated herself to utilize the skills she had already established throughout her career and adapt them for this new and unfamiliar style of filming. In addition, she had her work cut out for her when it came to scouting characters and locations to feature in the show. She was in constant battle with climate and terrain conditions, travelling through extreme winter and desert conditions at even the best of times. Beyond that, she carefully and considerately searched for characters who would bring a certain degree of unpolished authenticity to the footage. For this reason, she spent countless hours grooming candidates and refused to stop searching until she found the best possible individuals for the job.

“There was one instance where I arrived on location to work on a story about Kazakh Eagle Hunters and realized that the characters that were introduced to us were not ideal for our project, and had to spend another 5 hours traveling in the snow to find a more authentic candidate. I am a perfectionist in that regard. I never take the easy way out especially when it comes to characters and stories,” told Chan.

Though daunting at times, her hard work eventually paid off in the end and Chan considers her work on China From Above to be one of the greatest highlights of her career. For anyone who worked with her on the project, it is no secret why. She placed a great level of dedication and effort into ensuring that each second of film was edited and refined to shed China in the most compelling light possible. Felix Feng, Vice President of Operations: China, Natural History New Zealand, worked very closely with Chan when researching and scouting locations for the show and knows how particular she was about capturing high quality content throughout the duration of the filming process. He credits her as having been the reason that the project was executed so smoothly and considers himself fortunate to have been able to collaborate with such a high performing producer.

“It was a great experience working with Dixie on this award-winning and breakthrough project about China. Her patience, hard-work, smart and creative thinking, persistence, and proper communication skills were very valuable in the production of China From Above. This helped us in an extremely smooth execution in both the research and ground shooting of the production. Today, the show has a viewership of over 200 million people and is one of the best rated documentaries in China. Dixie was a hero behind the scenes and is one of the biggest reasons why it was so successful,” added Feng.

After it premiered, China From Above went on to earn a slew of awards and praise at film festivals across the globe. For instance, the film won the award for Best Camerawork and Best Cultural Issues at the New York Festival Gold Awards in 2016, as well as a Gold Panda Award at the 2016 Sichuan TV Festival, and more. In addition, it received over 130,000,000 views within the first two weeks of premiering in China and was later named China’s most viewed documentary TV series in 2015 by China Mainland Media Research Co., Ltd. Its widespread success and praise was above and beyond what Chan had dreamed of for the series and she feels fortunate to be able to have played such a prominent role in creating it.

Lili Huang casts an honest lens on the life of “Xixi” in award-winning documentary

Alfred Hitchcock once said, “To make a great film, you need three things: a great script, a great script, and a great script.” For award-winning screenwriter and producer, Lili Huang, these words resonate deeply. If her career has taught her anything, in fact, it is that a well-written script is absolutely essential to the success of a film. For this reason, Huang pours her heart and soul into ensuring that when she writes a script, she fine-tunes each and every detail to perfection, regardless of its size. This dedication to scriptwriting, coupled with her business acumen and knowledge of film production, make her a rarity in the entertainment business and an asset to any project she works on.

“For me, screenwriting is about using my writing skills to take a simple idea and turn it into a gripping story for an audience. I enjoy the entire creative process of writing, from developing each character, to building the structure, planting every small or large detail, and ultimately, of course, presenting a final story that people will eventually fall in love with,” told Huang.

When Huang looks back on her career, however, she recognizes that originally, her passion for screenwriting and producing were not as clear cut as most. On the contrary, they have slowly and progressively built over the course of the last decade and as she continues to explore the film industry, her love for the two professions only grows stronger. To date, Huang has written upward of thirty film and web series scripts and makes no plans to stop any time soon. In addition, she has received a number of prestigious awards for her unique set of skills and techniques. For instance, in 2011, Huang tested her abilities as a screenwriter, director, producer, and editor when she created her film, The Flower of the Future, and earned herself a nomination for Best Screenplay at the Golden Panda Awards in China. For another of her films, Mei Mei, Huang won Best Film at the Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers Film Festival, earned herself an Official Selection at the IndieFest USA International Film Festival, and more.

To little surprise, Huang is used to receiving a substantial amount of praise for her work from her peers and fellow film-lovers. For instance, well-known Chinese director, Xuehua Hu, acted as both a mentor and colleague to Huang over the years, considers her to be an asset in the industry. When asked about what makes Huang so good at her job, Hu had the following to say:

“Lili Huang has a rare professional dedication and passion for filmmaking. Throughout her career, she has gained a comprehensive understanding of the filmmaking industry, especially as it pertains to the differences between filmmaking in China and in other parts of the world. I can say confidently that she is an invaluable, professional filmmaker.”

After years of developing her skills in the genre of drama, Huang felt that she was ready to branch out of her comfort zone and explore the realm of creating a documentary-style film. Given that documentaries interest her greatly, Huang was confident that this was an area of filmmaking through which her talents could prosper. In 2012, she felt compelled to tell the story of Xixi, a girl who was born in China, immigrated to the United States as a child, and moved back to Shanghai, China, as a young adult. Huang spent the next eight months gathering raw footage of Xixi’s daily life, endeavoring to capture every moment of happiness, hardships, romance, friendship, and more. Ultimately, Huang wanted to shed a light on the Xixi’s unique life circumstances and allow audiences to draw their own conclusions about the intricacies of Xixi’s cultural transitions.

“I wanted to show my audience what her daily life is really like. For her, having had just moved back from the United States to China, she was definitely experiencing life in a very different way than local Chinese people were. I wanted to share her point of view on her new life in Shanghai, on how she was adopting new customs, etc. I also wanted to audience to draw their own conclusions after watching the film,” she said.

Once she had concluded her filming process, Huang edited her footage and eventually, in 2013, Xixi premiered at the Golden Panda Film Festival in China. Later, at that same festival, she received a nomination for Best Director of a Documentary Film, and was overwhelmed with pride. Director Haiying Wu, who acted as an advisor for the project, offered a great deal of praise for Huang and had only positive things to say about the film. Xixi, in conjunction with Huang’s other achievements in her field, have proven that there are very few limits to what she can achieve when she sets her mind to it and fortunately, she intends to continue dedicating her efforts to telling meaningful stories and continuing to help contribute the art of film for years to come.

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.