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Shooting under the (Communist) radar in Shanghai

Form factor of Panasonic's HVX200 contributes to Shanghai shooting By John Virata

While China has become an economic powerhouse, imposing its will in virtually all aspects of the global economic and political spectrum, it remains a communist country. And as such, making movies, and more to the point, gathering footage in China can be a challenge. Unless you are Jackie Chan, most independent filmmakers don't just fly into Shanghai and take over the local streets with lights and camera booms, and directors, and catering trucks. It just doesn't happen. For the filmmakers of Made in China, shooting in Shanghai was a challenge, but they got the job done and created a film that won a Grand Jury award at the South by Southwest Film Festival. Digital Media Net spoke to first time film director Judi Krant on the making of Made in China, a film that follows an entrepreneur as he works to get his ideas made in China.

DMN: Shooting in Shanghai under the radar can indeed be a "dicey proposition." What were some of the more challenging aspects of day to day shooting?
Judi Krant: One of the biggest challenges was getting the shots we needed, while keeping our crew small and inconspicuous.The locals were also really curious about what we were up to and would often try to get involved with the shoot, fixing the actors clothes, stepping into shots, looking into the camera -- it was as charming as it was challenging!

DMN:  Is this the first time that you used the Panasonic HVX200 in movie production?
JK: This is the camera we wanted. At the time it was the best option for a production like ours.

DMN:  What are some of the main features of the HVX200 that helped you to decide to shoot with it?
JK: At the time that we shot, it was the best camera for the budget. It shot 24fps and  the test images we shot were lovely.

DMN: Did the relatively small form factor of the camera make your endeavors less insconspicuous?
JK: Yes, keeping things small was a huge advantage. Locals were often distracted by the actions of our lead actor, which also helped. Western faces are pretty exotic to them still, especially in the old neighborhoods where we did a lot of our shooting.

DMN:  You shot for 15 days in Shanghai. How many hours of footage did you shoot in total?
JK: 34 hours.

DMN: What other hardware did you use to help make the movie?
JK: Lots of hard drives and the 100GB Firestore (at the time we shot, 8GB P2 cards were available).

DMN:  Given that you shot in 25 locations in Shanghai, how did you keep track of all your footage?
JK: We downloaded at the end of every day (the Firestore gave us the ability to shoot all day without offloading footage) and we'd label as soon as we imported, then we kept everything in batches according to the shoot day.

DMN:  After a day's shoot, how did you offload your footage and how was it stored? Did you have a dedicated external hard drive to archive the footage?
JK:We had two dedicated external hard drives and we backed everything up twice before clearing the Firestore.

DMN:  Were there any special rigs used when shooting in Shanghai or was the shooting entirely handheld?
JK:All hand held. We had had a couple of good indie filmmaker tricks up our sleeves for a few of the "bigger" shots, though. You use what you can to get what you need!

DMN: The film was edited in Final Cut Pro. What were the reasons why FCP was used? Was there any editing done on location in Shanghai?
JK: FCP seemed like the natural choice for many reasons.  It was the system that we were most familiar with and it was really compatible with the P2. It's also pretty portable, so, yes, we did start cutting in Shanghai.

DMN:  What other software was used to help make the movie?
JK:Our sound designer, Chris Athens, used Sound Track Pro.

DMN: You describe your project as a low budget independent film, which can mean a lot of different things to different people. Can you give a ballpark on what your budget was?
JK: Imagine a really tiny budget. Once that number is in your head, cut it in half, then divide by 8, and add $25  That was our budget.

DMN:  Grand Jury award at South by Southwest is quite an accomplishment, especially that Made in China is your debut feature. What else have you worked on and where else will Made in China be submitted?
JK: Before shooting Made in China, I was really focused on screenwriting. I wanted to hone my long format storytelling skills before I made my first feature.  Before that, I shot commercials and music videos under the legendary Bob Giraldi in NYC. SXSW was a great start for us! We're planning the rest of our festival path now. There's really nothing better than getting to share your story with an audience!  It's truly the biggest thrill there is. Storytelling is what it's all about for me. I feel so blessed to be doing what I love.

DMN: For those who wish to shoot in Shanghai, what tips can you give to make it easier?
JK: Don't go in the summer!  It's too damn hot! Also, eat as many soup dumplings as you can.  It's a Shanghai specialty and there's nothing like them.

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John Virata is senior editor of Digital Media Online. You can email him at [email protected]
Related Keywords:filmmaking, digital filmmaker, panasonic hvx 200, P2 camera, shooting in shanghai, shanghai moviemaking,


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