U.S.-China Institute at Bryant University

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Day 14 - China Film Group

Chance can play a critical role in our lives.  China’s National Day closed down the universities and a good many businesses in China.  It also created the vagaries of flight scheduling that left me with my only really ‘open day’ at the end of two weeks in China.  At the outset of this trip, I really didn’t have a plan for Day 14.  The one possibility was something that Ting-ru Huang suggested when we talked about the question of what Chinese people would like foreign visitors to see. 

Ting-ru had studied music and worked in the film industry before she left China, and she suggested that some of her old friends from that world might be willing to talk with me.  In fact, Ting-ru got in touch with Tao Jing a friend from her student days.  Since that time, Jing Tao has gone on to a career as a sound designer working in China’s film industry.  The last twenty-five years have proven a time of dynamic growth with the “fifth generation” of Chinese film.  Tao Jing has been right in the middle of that growth with quite a successful career, winning  numerous awards for his sound work on films such True Legend (2010), A Simple Noodle Story (2009), Curse of the Golden Flower (2006) House of the Flying Daggers (2004), Hero (2002), Shanghai Triad (1995), To Live (1994), and Farewell My Concubine (1993).   

Tao Jing On the set of A Simple Noodle Story with Tao Jing and Chen Zidu

For most westerners, however, Tao’s most recognizable production credit would be in his sound design for the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  If you haven’t seen any of the films, I’d especially recommend Shanghai Triad and To Live .  Both are Zhang Yimou films starring Gong Li, and both have become modern classics among China’s “fifth generation” films.

Tao Jing set up a tour of the new film studios at CFG – China Film Group – and invited Chen Zidu, another of Ting’s friends from her school days to join us.  Chen Zidu is now a Professor of Directing in the Film and Theatre Department at Beijing University.  And while he has collaborated with Tao Jing from time to time, Chen has never actually had the opportunity to tour the new CFG facility.  The tour that Tao Jing arranged was truly extraordinary. 

The China Film Group is China’s government-owned film production and distribution agency.  In 2008, CFG opened a new set of film production facilities on 132 acres about 35 miles northeast of Beijing.  In all, this film production base has 16 sound stages as well as extensive post-production facilities.  The largest of the sound stages could easily enclose a football stadium (328x164x59 ft), covering nearly 54,000 square feet.  Even the smallest of the 16 sound stages still offers nearly 10,000 square feet of enclosed space.

Studio 12 is among the larger of the facilities – nearly 21,000 square feet. The CFG campus is new, well maintained, and clearly designed to create a comfortable working environment
Altogether the CFG facility covers 132 acres, offering film makers a one-stop, full service facility.  As the promotional material says, the CFG facility, “concentrates all the resources . . . to create a complete film production chain.”  In other words, CFG can offer a producer a complete package taking in everything from pre-production planning through the manufacturing and distribution of finished DVDs.
The back lot at CFG.  With cardboard and illusion, you can feel yourself transported back to Shanghai circa 1920.

In much the same way that Italy’s Cinecittà Studios seemed to exercise a magnetic attraction for film makers of the 1940s and 1950s, CFG’s backers are seeking facilities that can attract big time productions to China.  The draw here, as at Cinecittà sixty years ago, is with a state-of-the-art facility and complete services that include construction contracting, equipment rental, props, costumes, make-up, casting for extras, animation, and postproduction.  CFG is even building an entire town with hotel facilities and apartments for staff in the area surrounding the entrance to CFG.

Without the Italian lure of sun, fashion, and beaches, it’s not clear that CFG will exercise the same kind of pull on major productions.  Still, this is the state of the art in modern film making.  

At the CFG sound editing board.  (I just watched!) The Avid editing suites are quite large.  They are also well lit and comfortable.
The sound board (analog) in the CFG recording studio. The CFG recording studio can accommodate up to a 100-piece orchestra, but a 60-piece orchestra is more common for most sound tracks.
Despite the holiday weekend, a number of CFG staff were at work, as was this sound engineer in the Foley studio. Close your eyes, and a good Foley artist can make you hear almost anything.  The Foley stages at CFG hold a genuinely bewildering array of sound producing equipment.  We had to laugh when the Foley artists demonstrated their craft.

Tao Jing seems made for the film industry.  Here he’s adding some action to a set from A Simple Noodle Story (2009), a Chinese re-make of the Coen brothers 1985 classic, Blood Simple.   

Zhang Yimou’s remake has been released internationally as A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop.

On a clear day, you can see the Great Wall stretched along the mountain crest behind CFG.  Even at CFG ultra modern China is framed  with the traditional culture of China

The day at CFG became one of those delightful surprises that can make travel such a joy.  The hospitality of Tao Jing was every bit as warm, unaffected, and sincere as what I’d found in Suzhou and Qufu as people set out to show me what they want visitors to see and understand about China.  Tao Jing is hardnosed and pragmatic about his work in the film industry.  At the same time, his warmth and hospitality are just as much a part of traditional China as the Great Wall and Tang Dynasty poetry. 

Dinner around a Mongolian hot pot


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