Making a feature film can be a long and painful process — especially when you’re shooting an indie film in below-freezing conditions 16 hours per day for 14 days. But that is exactly what the creative team behind The Last Sunrise 最后的日出 was able to do, and along the way, they generated useful insight into China’s science-fiction movie scene and the realities of filmmaking in China on a shoestring budget.
拍摄一部故事片是一个漫长而又痛苦的过程——尤其是你制作的是一部独立电影，同时又需要你花上14天在一个每天有16小时都是零度以下的环境里去完成它的时候。 但是，这就真的是《最后的日出》这个创作团队的真实经历。 在整个拍摄过程中，它也引起了一些关于中国科幻电影的有用的思考，并且让大家知道在中国制作电影预算是非常有限的。
Wen Ren: Director | 任文 ：导演
Elly Li: Producer, Co-writer | 李昳青：制片人，编剧
And, as usual, your host, Aladin Farré.
Four main takeaways from this week’s episode:
1) Chinese science-fiction productions tend to be optimistic about the future.
While Western science-fiction productions are dominated by dystopian tropes, in contrast, Chinese sci-fi tends to paint a far more benign portrait of how science will usher in a better future. Of course, state regulations that govern cultural production in China have something to do with this, but gifted creators can often find workarounds to these restrictions.
2) In China, getting started in the film industry is like founding a startup.
The main goal of most filmmakers is to make a good-quality film and, if at all possible, to pay the filmmaking team along the way. There is no shortcut to a successful career in making feature films; making a high-quality movie is the end result of years of experience in the industry. Big payoffs do not happen by accident. Just like any other entrepreneur, filmmakers need to make good products before they can hope to earn serious revenue, and this means working on as many projects as possible. In China as in many other markets, the jump from making low-budget films online to big-budget films intended for cinematic release is a large one, and not everyone makes it.
3) Chinese internet distributors usually pay a flat fee and keep audience numbers secret.
If an internet platform agrees to distribute a film, the producer will receive a flat fee and will need to budget the film accordingly. There is no incentive or bonuses for films that reach a large audience on an internet platform. The general public will likely never learn how many people have actually watched the movie, just as with Netflix in the West. Platforms like Youku do provide an indicator of popularity 热度 and share it with the creators after some time. However, the popularity of any given film peaks only briefly before audiences move on. In the case of The Last Sunrise, for example, the movie was the second-most widely viewed movie on Youku for a few weeks before plunging down to number #799 three months later.
4) There are a few key secrets to shooting a film in 14 days.
- Do a lot of advance planning to avoid wasting time.
- Surround yourself with a team who can work long hours and understand your creative vision.
- Select only a few locations, and shoot indoors as much as possible. For The Last Sunrise , for example, the team limited filming locations to only three places: Beijing 北京, Zhangbei 张北 in Hebei Province, and Ordos 鄂尔多斯 in Inner Mongolia.
- As you pitch the project, be prepared to propose a variety of budgets and lengths to appeal to different types of investors.
Recommended watching and reading:
Train to Busan (2016): Wikipedia page
Black Coal, Thin Ice 白日焰火 (2014): Wikipedia page
The Wandering Earth 流浪地球 (2019): Wikipedia page
South Korean director Kim Ki-duk: Wikipedia page
Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda : Wikipedia page
Zhang Yimou’s opinion piece in the New York Times, “What Hollywood looks like from China.”
Answers to the episode quiz:
- Lu Xun 鲁迅 was the famous Chinese author who translated several science-fiction books over a century ago.
- Amazon Prime bought the rights to the book The Three-Body Problem 三体, by Liu Cixin 刘慈欣. The full series has yet to be released.
- The year 2003 was when the first Chinese astronaut, or taikonaut, Yang Liwei 杨利伟, went to space.