DEC 17 2014

Thirsty Earth

Thirsty Earth

When Chinese broadcaster CICC announced a call for submissions for a series of six x 15 minute micro-films on the theme “Hopes and Dreams” we were intrigued and immediately wanted to take part.

Microfilms are all the rage in China - a mixture of TV and short film.  The style tends to be more cinematic, dramatic and punchy, and budgets are getting larger and larger.  With the coming of the digital and social media age, and a trend towards watching everything on a smart phone or tablet (rather than TV), attention spans mercifully seem to be lengthening again - gone are the days when you had to get your message across in 2-3 minutes or died, users of weixin, youku or tudou are OK with watching for up to half an hour - as long as your content can keep 'em glued!

We immediately set to work brainstorming ideas that could work - we wanted to avoid the cliches of sports or youngsters with a lot of ambition but nothing actually achieved, and we wanted to use the platform that this medium could give us to bring a meaningful subject to a new audience.  Mandarin Film is renowned for its environment-related docs, including “Green China Rising”, “Adapting to Climate Change" and “Green Gold”, and we wanted to bring an approach to the subject that was accessible and not in any way preachy.

China’s lack of water is a massive - perhaps its biggest - impending ecological disaster.  A creeping catastrophe that will affect us all, but that isn’t really sexy enough to stay in the news.  When we met Zhu Jun, we knew we had a character who could bring this subject to a wide audience.  A maverick inventor and natural storyteller, Zhu came from an impoverished background and self-taught himself the skills he needed to design and build a world-beating technology that could potentially save the agricultural industries in China and beyond.

In a very competitive field, we were lucky enough to be selected as one of the six films, with CICC even agreeing to hold off on the broadcasting of the films so that we could film in the summer (when the fields turn green!)

Directed by Patrick Carr, Produced by Christina Yuan, Filmed by Paul Morris and Edited by Xander Bruins, the whole project was produced in-house at Mandarin Film, using a variety of techniques including drone/octocopter shoots, CGI, steadicam and sliders.  Locations included the far-flung deserts of Xinjiang in remote North-West China, a village house and waterways near the Great Wall in Hebei (standing in for Zhu’s grandparent’s house where he grew up), factories and fields on the outskirts of Beijing, and the CBD.

A key challenge for us was to cast the children in the film.  We needed kids of 6, 7, 8 years old who were prepared to get muddy, mucky and dirty in the waterways of Hebei.  Sounds easy right?  Wrong.  Just like Zhu Jun says in the documentary - today many people have lost that connection with nature and parents are terrified of their kids playing in the dirt!  Director Patrick Carr spent much of his time, directing from in the water trying to lead the kids by example - Producer Christina Yuan spent most of her time pacifying and cajoling worried parents on the sidelines…  The upshot was that we never did get our ‘money’ shot of the kids swimming in the creek, but they did eventually relax into it and possibly even had some fun making their first movie!

We had a blast making this film, we are proud of the outcome - CICC are happy with the result - and we sincerely hope there will be many more microfilms to come!

Skills employed:  Mandarin Film, Documentary, television, tv, movie, micro-film, production, China, Beijing, viral video, script writing, casting, fixing, location scouting, recce, crew hire, kit hire, cameraman, soundman, directing, director, subtitling, editing, editor, translation, media