'Slumdog' Oscar winner Danny Boyle discusses location shooting

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Lots of news from China this month, as I just returned from the Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF). The Festival, which began in 1993, is hosted by the State Administration of Radio, Film & Television and the Shanghai Municipal Government. SIFF is the only internationally recognized film festival in China.

It was a great event, with over 1,925 entries which included 1,270 features and 655 shorts, attracting the likes of Halle Berry, Quincy Jones, Stephen Daldry and Slumdog Millionaire Oscar winner Danny Boyle.

Boyle was the president of the main jury of the Festival and even though kept busy by jury duty, he was quite accessible. During a question-and-answer session with the press, I had the opportunity to "chat" with Boyle a bit.

One of the director’s most interesting admissions was that in filming The Beach (2000), he and his production crew of 200 "were an army invading Thailand”—one of the reasons why there was so much controversy surrounding that film.

"We were very politically incorrect, imperialistic. We didn't get to know the local culture. We learned that the Thai crews had their own responsibilities, a hierarchy that needed to be respected. The colonial days are over. We have to work locally now."

So when filming Slumdog Millionaire, Boyle brought only 10 Western crew people to Mumbai and relied heavily on local Indian crew.

The director feels that the future of Western films shooting on location overseas depends on working more closely with local crews, but language will always be a obstacle. He cited the example of deciding to let the young Indian actors speak in Hindi since they were not able to learn their lines in English. His producer called Warner Bros. to deliver the news and reported that first there was silence on the WB end of the phone—then a string of obscenities.

WB's objection, he said, was that subtitles were still not acceptable to the American market. But Boyle went ahead and did what he needed to do and history proved him correct. Still, he concedes that "language is the biggest problem" for a film to carry into the mass market.
The solution, he predicts, is that "someday some kids somewhere are going to develop translation software that will revolutionize the industry by instantaneously translating onscreen dialogue.” Now there's an idea!



EPT Plans Chinese Cinemas
Next up is news that Entertainment Properties Trust (EPT), a Maryland-incorporated, Kansas City, Missouri-based real estate investment firm, has tied up with the Shanghai Film Group to develop multiplex theaters in Shanghai, Ningbo and Xi'an. The theatres will anchor new shopping mall complexes, according to Ren Zhonglun, VP of the Shanghai Media Group and president of Shanghai Film Group.

EPT presently leases approximately 51% of its U.S.-based holdings to AMC, one of the USA's largest movie exhibition companies. They also lease to Muvico, Regal, Southern and National Amusements. According to Chinese law, foreign companies cannot have majority ownership of cinemas, so EPT will hold a 49% share.

Zhonglun estimates cost at $3.66 million per complex, but precise financial commitment of each side will be determined by the final size of the multiplexes.

Boom Time in China?

One of the nice things about traveling to international film festivals and markets is not only the ability to commiserate with like-minded people, but the chance to collect information that is otherwise difficult to get.

Within China, filmmakers are calling this a "boom time" for their industry. There is at least one dissenting voice, however: Kwon-Taek Im, the jury president of the Asian New Talent Award at the Shanghai Festival and one of South Korea's most renowned film directors. Im said he believes that the Chinese film industry is in a recessionary phase, but that the downturn is both temporary and a normal part of the industry cycle.

The numbers show a different story, however, The box-office take last year was a record-breaking US$638 million, an increase of 30% over 2007, and represents continual annual growth of 25% since 2002. Han Samping, chairman of the China Film Group, predicted that within a decade China's box-office revenue will reach $5.1 billion.

A record 406 feature films were made in the country last year. The number of movie theatres has nearly tripled from 1,400 in 2002 to more than 4,000 today. And that just represents the tip of the iceberg.

However, many of those feature titles never make it to the screen, according to Wu Hehu, deputy director of Shanghai United Cinema Lines. "Filmgoers in China mostly fall into the 16-25 age bracket and favor action films and comedies. Others are not worth screening," Wu opined.



A Cinematic Proposal
The Chongqing Commercial Daily must carry some of the zaniest news stories on the planet. Everything from a 67-year-old man who took his 99-year-old mother on a city tour in a wooden cart, to the following heartwarming gem:

A young man in Chongqing municipal district brought his girlfriend to the movies, but when they entered the theatre, no one was inside. Suddenly, a video played on the screen in which the man asked his girlfriend to marry him.

He had purchased all tickets for that particular screening so he could propose to his girlfriend. The woman said yes!

Technicolor Awards New Talent

And last but not least, Technicolor Bangkok for the second year in a row participated in the Shanghai International Film Festival Asian New Talent Awards by offering a US$20,000 in-house post-production grant to the winner of the Best Director Award.

Judged by an independent jury that included Korean director Kwon-taek Im, Chinese actress Nan Yu, Thai director Nonzee Nimibutr, Singapore director Royston Tan and Chinese scripter and director Wen Zhu, the Technicolor Bangkok award went to Chinese director Zhao Ye for his work Jalainur. This is Ye's second film.

Paul Stambaugh, managing director of Technicolor Bangkok, said: “Technicolor, with post-production facilities across Asia, is honored to be able to present these awards to promising Asian film talent. We hope by introducing filmmakers to Technicolor’s world-class facilities in Asia—be they digital, digital intermediate, sound or film processing—they will understand from the beginning of their career a quality post-production experience.”

Contact Asia-Pacific bureau chief Scott Rosenberg with your news items at (662) 982-4525, by fax at (662) 982-4526, or by e-mail at scott.rosenberg@gmail.com.