Shanghai Film Festival
Alas, after 18 months of being
told more often than not that either “you cannot do that” or “maybe
you will have some problem” by most everyone with whom I discussed
the project, our film LaoBans was submitted to the
15th Shanghai Film Festival 2012 –
thanks to the generous help of Harry Zhang Hang,
the vice president of one of my PhD classes this past second
This evening, with Harry’s help,
I expressed mailed a DVD copy of our film to SFF.
I want to thank the hundreds of
people from several countries who participated, helping make
LaoBans a meaningful learning experience. I hope those
students who worked on the project had the chance to improve their
organizing skills and critical thinking abilities while having
Frankly, after principal
photography was completed in June, the students originally involved
did not show much interest in continuing the project. Jimmy and
Aragon finally (5 months later) produced a first cut in late
December. However, afterwards, they apparently decided to
discontinue to work with me on any additional editing, for I have
not heard from them since I responded to an email request by Aragon
Thus, completion of the project
appears to be here and now with submission to the 15th
Shanghai Film Festival due by March 31st. In its present
form, our film does not meet SFF requirements to be considered for
an award. Nevertheless, our original goal was submission, so one
may consider the project to be completed as of today.
I will wait to see what results
from the SFF submission. We have until early September to decide
whether to submit to Sundance. At present, it is apparent that the
current first cut is not of competitive quality. Still, one never
knows what may come of a submission.
I note that there is an
interesting movie posted at http://www.sundance.org/
about Mainland Chinese girls not
wanted by their birth parents who were adopted by American
families. Apparently, 90% of some 80,000 Chinese children adopted
by Americans are girls. You can see more about the movie
Finally, this next week marks the
sixth anniversary of my tour here in China. My first three years
here was consummated with publication of my book by Wuhan
University Press Beijing. The three years since here in Shanghai
has diversified my understanding of China's past, present, and
future -- being somewhat ironic given that my traveling throughout
China was accomplished during the first three years of researching
and writing the book.
Although we cannot predict if
there is any future for LaoBans, we may say here and now
that a student-teacher independent film project “can” be done in
China if there is the will and dedication to do so. Well done,
First Cut: Drive to
Fill-In The Holes
On the night before New Years Eve, Aragon and Jimmy along with the
Princess join me for dinner at Daning. After a mixed menu of
spaghetti, pizza, rice, and salads with beer and tea, we retreated
to my room at Le Hu for a viewing of the first cut of
LaoBans: The Film.
Jimmy and Aragon have recently begun editing their 60 days of
principle photography. Frankly, at the end of their 46 minute first
attempt, I was surprised.
Since Aragon and I dreamed up this project on September
9th, 2010, our student-teacher group has operated on a
low-budget (under 20,000 RMB) movie-making collage, piecing
together equipment, talent, and production capacities. Everyone
also had to contend with conflicts presented by school and work
By March, Aragon had transformed into the backbone of our effort.
Recently, Jimmy has kicked in, leading post-production with
principle editing responsibilities to include integration of
soundtrack and narration.
I had since backed off driving this unique clique of SHU candidates
from the completion of our storyboard last January
15th. Many and
Kane have been elemental to administration during pre-production
and principle photography; their together, breakup, together-again
love saga also helped maintain a degree of levity among us all.
SuperBear (aka Open) provided 1st unit
camera expertise, walk-on talent as the wiseguy chasing the Black
Mafia laoban as a boy selling blackmarket cigarettes, all while
offering a supplementary voice on directing and production
Having now viewed the first cut, it may be said that…
We are fortunate to have Alaska and Michael as our two stars. Vera
with Cathy and Jimmy generate a quirky family feeling. Detlef along
with Ms. Moto and Maki as well as other foreign nationals give our
crew a sense of international import. Tony plus a cast of American
and Chinese character actors perform in ways that are emblematic of
our sketch-artist-like approach to making this film…
Meaning that we did not take our selves so seriously as to allow
production issues to intercede with having fun. How and why did we
accomplish that, you may ask?
Simple… we know that LaoBans is a first. We are the first… an
American teacher with a Chinese student ensemble producing an
independent film here in China. Enough said…
So onward and outward we go… Principle members of the project will
view the first cut, provide feedback, and then J and A will go back
into the editing room to begin polishing their sculptured,
digitized bits of sound and pictures.
Such is the pavement of storytelling… motoring an editorial process
to a destination with synchronize peaks and valleys while
straightening and narrowing characters and scenes to fill in story
arc gaps littered about the storyline-like potholes along our
roadway tale of life.
Wrapped Then Whacked –
Missing Sundance Deadline
The deadline for submitting our
student-teacher film project for consideration at the 2012 Sundance
Film Festival is September 2nd. Although we stared
preproduction of Lobans last September 9th, we have now
missed the deadline.
The cause of our
Production was not completed
until June instead of April, causing us to lose two months of
post-production. Enough said…
Granted, our timeline since
conception was aggressive. Moreover, the complexities of production
for our two third-year film students-directors were perhaps
underestimated and most definitely unforgiving when plans failed to
materialize as a result of delays in filming.
However, after viewing Jimmy’s
first cut attempts as well as given Aragon’s summer absence due to
an internship in Nanjing, the decision here to not shotgun a
substandard piece of work just to meet a deadline makes sense in
Issues of opportunity as well
as quality of product govern here…
Of two primary concerns leading
to failing to meet our deadline, most important is how a
low-budget, independent student-teacher film project achieves
optimal production values. Losses in production output to include
cancelled talent and locations caused us to alter the storyline –
several times. Inserting the role of a narrator became the
resulting primary change .
Once into post-production,
technical issues overwhelmed Jimmy. He was basically crippled due
to computer issues. To his credit, he did produce the studio
recording session for the narration tracks.
As with the 2010 New Year
holiday period of six weeks, the two months of summer resulted with
Aragon, the co-director, being absent.
Accordingly, there was no central mass of energy pushing the team
to achieve stated objectives.
Most determinative, though, is
the quality issue. The rough cut that Jimmy completed in late July
(and upon my viewing) indicates another 3-6 months of editing,
soundtrack, and narration work is required. No doubt about
That said, let us see what the
fall term brings us.
It's a Wrap
– The Moral of the
Planning, Planning, Planning
The principal photography (or
filming) of LaoBans is a wrap as of this Wednesday evening, June
8th, completed in Xin tan di with Second Director Jimmy
shooting the scene of our young black-mafia boss (as a boy) being
saved by Grandma (then a young girl selling rice meals on the
street). A cameo appearance was made by my youngest Chinese sister,
Joy, with her mother Lucy as the assistant to this young and
Although seven weeks delayed
from close of our original 90 day shooting schedule, April
15th, my co-director (Aragon) and Jimmy got the job
done. That said, I am reminded of a saying favored in real estate
“Location, Location, Location”
With movie-making, my two
third-year film school students gained a more profound appreciation
of a like-kind motto: “planning, planning, planning.” Yes, we had
focused our four months of pre-production on planning... the
script, a hybrid (PPT) storyboard design, as well as screen-testing
some 85 acting candidates during two casting
The surprise came with my
informing Aragon that he was in charge of the 90 day production. He
had done well with my presence, initiative, and financing during
pre-production. I was curious to see how he would do on his
own... time for the
Here one is reminded of a quote
by Robert Burns: "the best laid plans of mice and men often go
astray." No doubt about it... four months of momentum quickly
dissipated between New Year's six-week holiday and final exams of
the second term. As a result, selected locations were lost, actors
and staff cancelled commitments, and the crew simply found itself
running out of time.
Translated in terms of process?
Quality and quantity relative to production values suffered
significant losses. If Aragon and Jimmy found themselves in a
studio situation, their boss would be looking at hundreds if not
millions of dollars in losses, and our two heroes would be facing
the probability of being fired, literally thrown off the set –
which is how I was feeling by April with little film “in the can”
and not a whole lot of accountability to explain the
What was the source of the
problem: planning or execution? Perhaps both... Regardless, to
adjust, we had to alter the storyline.
Since the inception of this
student-teacher movie project on September 9th, several
commentators (at different stages of the project) queried who would
narrate the film. My response? There is no narration. Now, with
less scenes, actors, and locations than “planned” as well as being
flat out of time, if we were to meet the September
2nddeadline for submission to Sundance Film Festival,
inserting a narrator appeared to be our silver
Orson Wells as Robin Masters in
the television series, Magnum P.I., came to mind. The audience
never sees this character. For
more... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnum,_P.I. and
on Wells seehttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orson_Welles to
include his picture...http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lady_from_Shanghai .
Anyway, in LaoBans, there is the
stone. It is rumored to be of great value among those who celebrate
the “Modern China” as a symbolic artifact of the country unifying
itself from within, among warlords and foreign interests. It is
said that this mere piece of stone, removed from the Shanghai
docks, a cobblestone in fact, bears the
writing: The last stone, from upon
the last foot, of the last foreign soldier, on Chinese
Who was that last foreign
fighter? A mercenary? It is well known that Chinese emperors and
warlords used such foreign experts during and in the preparations
What is the connection between
that last foreign combatant and our story?
These questions played into the
decision to shape the role of a narrator, who interjects commentary
and witticisms during the course of our movie. That wandering,
former now retired member of the US Navy SEALs team that attack the
Pakistan compound on May 29th, therein killing Osama Bin Laden for
his masterminding the 9/11 attacks on US soil; American Flying
Tigers pilot, Phil Simmons, the Great Uncle who fought side-by-side
with the Chinese; his airplane mechanic, the Great Grandfather of
Dennis on his mother’s side, herself half Chinese: all play into
our film’s “half-know/half-guess human contrasts of push-button
money and fast-food-love-stories.”
But who to cast for the role of
ME... Makes sense: as
the creator and co-director of LaoBans, I know the dynamics of the
storyline. So last Saturday, Aragon and I seized the moment. He and
I, alone, from midnight to 4am, worked the rainy streets of
Shanghai, shooting at eleven locations.
The plan? What plan – there
ain't no plans” – a favorite saying of mine and a long-time friend,
Danielle, in Dallas, whose daughter and I were classmates (and an
item) during law school.
Aragon going the extra-mile here
is commendable. He had worked all day to prepare for and then shoot
his final scene at Tony’s office near Mao Club. Needless to say, by
dawn on Sunday, we were both exhausted. We had walked from Zapata’s
on Hengshan Lu to the Gucci Store off Nanjing Lu. It was raining
with a humid yet contrasting chill in the air as we carried our
camera, tri-pod, and bag with equipment by our lonesome. Still, I
shall remember this effort as one of the finest hours during these
past ten months of working together – it was a superlative in the
wrapping of production.
All of which brings us to where
we began... planning (and the lack thereof). For we had not planned
this close to the production phase of LaoBans. Totally impromptu...
I had come up with the idea of adjusting by inserting the role of a
narrator only a few weeks before.
Perhaps the lesson to be learned
here is as much appreciating the importance of developing
skill-sets to effectively and efficiently adjust as it is to focus
on planning when making a
In so much as movies are often
about war and peace, love, money, and society itself as much as of
the people who comprise any given endeavor, can we not say that the
ability to overcome the challenges so faced are, in a sense, a
reflection of one's own resolve?
Based on that standard, honor is
due then to Aragon, Jimmy, Many, Alaska, Open, and all the other
students as well as our Chinese and foreign friends who helped get
to this point, where we may now say that “we are in
Thus, at times according to plan
and at other points in time so without, we arrive at another
milestone of this endeavor: these
Chinese university students completed filming of what I believe to
be a first in China: the making of a feature length movie by a
foreign teacher and a group of students, destined for submission to
Sundance Film Festival this September in the USA.
The next important shoot is
this coming Saturday at Mao
It will be happy hour during
the shoot from 11pm to
u will def love the movie -
No Pains, No
Our shoot at the hostel near Peoples' Square were the dating
scenes between Alaska and Michael.
The manager of the
hostel was very nice. I
called him and introduced our
movie project in the evening
Aprial 29th. He agreed without hesitation
and permitted us to shoot for free.
Shanghai on the Aprial 30th, so I got there that day. But I
believed that they got a lot of nice
When I came back, Aragon
told me that they had a wonderful
Scene in Dennis's Apartment
That was a very full day.
I joined the crew after returning from
Xiamen. I was still tired after
the 5-day trip, but I knew they
We had some obstacles on that day, but finally we resolved these
1. The makeup and the
clothes of our actress, Alaska. Finally we picked
a lovely dress.
2. The emotion of love. Alaska couldn't
find the emotion that the director required. Finally, she got the
idea and finished the scene very well.
Here was the first time
that I met Michael. He is
an efficient and smart guy. His
professional acting and dedication left a deep impression on
part of the day's
Jamie gives birthday gift to Dennis in his
apartment, and then they have sex. This has to be shot on the
Alaska was very shy at first. But
with the guidance
of Michael，she acted this part naturally
Then we went to Peoples' Square to shoot on the
last sightseeing bus of the day.
We have met "many" nice friends and teachers. They
all have given us help and advice during this process of
movie-making. I hope that we will succeed in the end, and I believe
that we shall.
Everything is on Track
Thanks to Tony's friend Mr. Chen, who is the owner of an awesome
office for shooting, we finally finished the office's boss calling
Tony lived in Australia for a while, so he has an Australian
accent. He acts as the Shanghai Laoban in our movie; really, he is
a sweet guy who found us a good place for this scene. Because of
the traffic jam that day, we were half an hour late, but he didn't
say anything -- that was relly nice.
Aragon was talking to tony about how to act in this scene:
talking to a boss like a coward while being angry at the boss in
There we got a new guy in the middle of cameraman Open and
sound engineer Jimmy!
He is...Errrr..wait what's his English
How about just call him shooting scripter! Haha, he is
He was holding the lines for Tony. He took care of every
little thing and really helped a lot.
Compared to him, Jimmy looks very casual! Hey! Jimmy! Pay
It was the first time that Tony was doing all these "acting"
things, so he was very nervous. We did it again and again until
everybody could recite the lines.
Also we used almost a pack of cigarettes shooting this scene,
which made the whole room full of smoke...
Jimmy said, "Oh u always forgot the lines cuz u were trying
sooo hard to remind urself that it was time to flick the cigarette.
Just go into ur part without thinking."
Thank god we finally finished this
As the shooting went on, Tony got more and more relaxed and
acted more and more naturally.
The last part of the shooting went smoothly.
Here comes our star
Did I tell u about Michael before?
Michael is a professional American actor who has been in
Shanghai for 8 month. He is a traveller, an actor and also a
musician. He is our Dennis in the
He helped with facilitating and gathering people and
scheduling. He basically didn't need the director's direction. He
just knows how to act and how much emotion he should put in his
Two hours' shooting came to an end!
Thanks for Open's driving us there and
Thanks for Jimmy's hard job holding the boom
Thanks for Frank taking care of every
Most important, we appreciate the office of Mr.Chen offered
and his patience with us.
Thank u, Tony!
Thank u, Michael!
We are all prepared and will be doing better and
Pay attention to the next important shoot this coming Saturday
at Mao Club! It will be happy hour during the shoot from 11pm to
u will def love the movie, so come on... cYa there!
During the first six months (pre-production) of our
student-teacher film project “LaoBans,”
two dynamics appeared essential for maximizing both creativity and
management: honesty and flexibility.
1. Honesty among colleagues and team members of a
student-teacher project is affected by culture and thought
Cross-cultural issues are multidimensional here in China.
First, one is presented with the Confucian mindset; often, I have
found it (Confucian thinking) instills a sense of fear,
particularly when it comes to people expressing their thoughts and
feelings. As a result, misunderstanding is commonplace.
Second, critical thinking skills are not emphasized in
the education system here. Accordingly, decision-making is often
reduced to a circular process, whereby the person who speaks first
will prevail in terms of opinion and course of action – a Chinese
professor made me aware of this dynamic.
Then there is the politics of students working with teachers
outside the classroom as well as with other students either senior
or junior among their peers. A primary concern here is the
social-economic considerations among individual team members. If a
student has only enough money to attend school with none to spare
for extra-curricular activities, then he or she is handicapped
compared to other, more well financed students.
Here at SHU, with the recent policy of enrolling some 50% of the
freshmen from other provinces (or OP), aspects to include guanxi
and friendships (evening dating and marriage) lead to divisions
among students, such as Shanghai versus OP students. They all
complain about each other in my classes.
In summary, both (a) why one perceives and treats
project-affiliated teachers and students and (b) how students
intellectually approach projects thus require a positive,
With my SHU team for LaoBans, I emphasize thinking through a
situation, so that one may offer a solution instead of merely
identifying potential problems; this object-oriented focus
encourages both critical thinking and a less ego-centric planning
mode based on self-awareness of culturally indoctrinated
2. Flexibility to multitask and reformulate any given mindset or
personal disposition becomes one if not the determinative factor
for advancing a student-teacher project.
Why? Be it a student party, class presentation, and most
certainly making a movie, finding solutions to problems caused by
custom or tradition, even industry standards (or lack thereof) is
based on one “thinking outside the box” of a given paradigm or
Too often here in China I hear people dismiss the chance to
solve a problem because “there are too many people in China” or ‘it
is Chinese custom.” When explaining the idea of critical thinking
to one of my classes this first week of the term, a student asked:
“Does this mean we can lose our Chinese way of thinking?”
I explained that the Chinese way of thinking (whereby you begin
with generalizations and conclude with a finding) is not Chinese;
it is deductive reasoning. For essay writing, inductive reasoning
may be applied by outlining the answer to a topic question, so that
one can understand the key (most important) information by reading
the first paragraph ABC-123 is what I call this process of
Anyway, my point here is that being locked into one mindset,
whether due to one’s cultural phobia(s) or training will preclude
one from being flexible in thought process. How can one adjust to
change and adapt by employing creativity and imagination?
Bottomline: It is said that life is a two-way street. Do not get
boxed into a problem caused by one-way thinking.
Also do not think Chinese (nor of any other culture) if you want
to solve a problem perhaps caused by that very same cultural
condition or situation. Hence the term of art: “Thinking out of the
Hope this article helps or at least fuels your process of
Ps. Today, March 30th, marks my five years in
China... A most rewarding period of my life.
And on The Third Day...
Aragon becomes -
Feb 20th: Day 3 --
I got back in Shanghai on 19th Feb.
After Many told me the shooting plan yesterday, I was worried
about today’s weather. I told
Douglas that we’ll decide whether shoot or not this morning
after I checked the weather.
It was sunny this morning, so we decided to
shoot this afternoon. Unfortunately, it turned out cloudy
in the afternoon.
Anyway, we got out of the taxi near People’s Park then found the
sightseeing bus stop.
We got on the 2nd floor of the bus and set up
at the back corner. It’s very hard to set the tripod on the bus,
because the space between the seats is narrow.
Because of some sudden breaks or turns, we had to hold the tripod
tight to keep the camera
steady. We looked like some army officers checking the soldiers by
the sides of the street
against the wind.
I think we got many great shoots on the
Then we got off the bus at City God Temple to get some people and
street shots. We wanted to
get shots to look down at the street; we tried some places and
finally found the best place
Many people stopped in the street and stared at us curiously. I
them and concentrated on the work.
While we were shooting, a man came to me and asked what we were
doing. He asked if I got
the permission of the manager here or the security guards. I told
him that we were students
and wanted to shoot the movie. Actually, I lied that we got
permission from the security guards on the 1st
floor. It worked. He left immediately after I told
him this... ha-ha.
After a short lunch break in MCD’s, we got back on the touring
Open and I thought that it would be dark by
5:30, but it started to become dark after 6. This made us miss some
nighttime traffic shots... My fault.
Then we came to the bund and started the night shots. We got
many beautiful shots of the pearl
tower and the financial center. It would be better if it’s a
Before the end of shooting, we set the camera by the street
and got many cool shots of cars,
buildings, and lights. It's really
Jimmy and I are tired now
, but we all felt today’s shooting was fun.
Open's shooting skills made the video
I am confident about today's shooting.
Actually, the key point is that we enjoyed the shoot and had
lots of fun.