At 2019 Beijing International Film Festival, SKY FIRE, China’s first disaster action blockbuster driven by visual effects with a volcanic theme, was particularly eye-catching. It is a visual effect disaster action blockbuster to explore the concept of “Chinese product, international production”, that is, the development incubation, investment production and global publicity have been mainly controlled by the Chinese side, and a world-class production team has been invited to guarantee the creative link and industrial production process. During the filming period, 551 filmmakers from 17 countries participated. The director of the film Mr. Simon West is a famous international director, and the film’s chief producer is Ms. Jennifer Dong, who has been hailed as “premier promoter behinds the scenes” by the film industry.
The film tells a story that geologist Li Xiaomeng unites all the people to rescue those trapped in a volcano at the beautiful Sky Fire Island at the time of its sudden eruption. The film are starred by famous actors and actresses Wang Xueqi, Hannah Quinlivan, Shawn Dou, Bai An, Ji Lingchen, Leslie Ma, etc. Notably, Wang Xueqi and Hannah Quinlivan are the leading actor and actress of the film, and Shawn Dou is specially starred herein. Wang Xueqi said at the evening of the opening ceremony, “Sky Fire is China’s first visual effect driven catastrophe action blockbuster focusing on volcano theme, filling the blank of domestic film in the type of disaster film.”
Jennifer Dong has been active in the Chinese film industry for many years. She has not only rich industry experience, but also professionalism and global vision of the whole-industry chain operation. Chinese Film Market (“CFM”) interviewed Jennifer Dong during the Beijing International Film Festival. In the interview, she told us in detail to the production of this film and described her experience and understanding in overseas cooperation, giving us a strong impression with her professionalism. She said, “First of all, Chinese filmmakers must be professional before they win respect and trust in international cooperation.”
CFM: Would you please talk about how the film SKY FIRE has been generated?
Jennifer Dong: Our team has a consensus that all of us hope to shoot a genuine domestic film with both domestic and international markets. We Chinese filmmakers can have the dream come true. Therefore, we have been attempting to choose one of film types without obstacles for the world audiences to see. Actually, the most suitable one is the disaster blockbuster driven by visual effects. When we human beings encounter catastrophes, most people will resonate and empathize. Of disaster films, earthquakes, tsunami and other themes have been shot. The volcano theme is quite fresh, so the project of SKY FIRE has been born.
CFM: Would you please tell us the production progress of the film? When do you expect the film to meet the audiences?
Jennifer Dong: Now, it is the tense sprint phase sprint of post production. There are a lot of special effects scenes still in production. We can’t determine the schedule until we finish 90% of special effects scenes. The film shall be released within 2019.
CFM: Many special effect technologies are used in the film. Can you introduce the process of producing special effects in it?
Jennifer Dong: The number of special effects scenes in SKY FIRE is close to that of THE WANDERING EARTH. Most of such scenes are concentrated in environment construction, such as volcano, rainforest, underwater and other scenes. Many scenes are required to be shot in real scenarios before they are added by special effects. There are many action scenarios in the film, with a lot of special effects scenes as well.
We began to prepare digital assets for the film two years ago. The film’s main partner in terms of visual effects is Base FX, a special effects company based in China. Several large-size visual effects companies from other countries and regions, such as Malaysia, have also participated. We hope that ultimately, the audiences can satisfy our scenes driven visual effects.
CFM: Simon West is a famous director of Hollywood commercial blockbusters. During directing the film, as the chief producer of the film, how do you integrate the director’s personal style and the background of Chinese story?
Jennifer Dong: There is a consciousness and attitude to serve the Chinese market in Director Simon West himself. He knows very clearly that this film is for the Chinese market and for the Chinese audience, so he will purposely learn and understand the Chinese market and the likes and dislikes of the Chinese audience as well. For example, he will deliberate on the character relationship of a certain scene and whether or not dialogues fit the character setting of Chinese style. He will modestly listen to the opinions and suggestions of the Chinese team. At the same time, he also has the superior ability in on-site control and execution. We do not expect to see any overdue or out-of-control phenomenon, so it is very important for the Director to complete the shooting schedule in strict accordance with the plan and budget.
CFM: What difficulties need to be overcome in the process of teamwork between China and foreign teams?
Jennifer Dong: I personally have long-term experience working and living overseas, so strong internationalization gene will be reflected in Meridian Entertainment and my personal life. At college, my major is English language and literature. I have lived and worked in the United States for eight years. There are also many “talents learning overseas and returning to China” in our team. This kind of background and network has brought many opportunities for international cooperation of Meridian Entertainment. The majority of team members are professional talents with many years’ experience in the industry film. This is why the overseas team will respect our opinions and requirements and cooperate with us. All the questions, opinions, and demands can be communicated openly, leading to simple and smooth communications. We have never encountered problems that can’t be solved.
CFM: You have been active in the Chinese film industry for many years, accumulating a wealth of professional experience. How do you feel about the development and change of Chinese film in these years?
Jennifer Dong: Europe and the United States and other film markets have been already in a relatively mature state. To put it another way, they have been in a bottleneck period (in a state of calmness and stability). By contrast, Chinese film has been in a fast development period for the last two years. Almost every year, you can find surprises in Chinese film. For instance, the 2014 film MY OLD CLASSMATE, directed by Guo Fan, generated a box office revenue of RMB 450 million. Five years later, the film THE WANDERING EARTH, also directed by him, obtained a box office revenue of RMB 4.6 billion. For two films with the same director, the box office revenue of the latter film is 10 times as much as that of the former in 5 years. Such a miracle can only take place in China. Now, the territory of Chinese film is constantly expanding, with increasingly rich types and increasingly mature audiences, and increasingly high ratio of film great works and masterpieces. It makes every Chinese filmmaker pride. It also encourages each of Chinese filmmaker to make increased efforts.
CFM: In the process of integrating with the global film industry, what do you think Chinese film needs to improve most? What are the gaps in the Chinese film industry?
Jennifer Dong: Currently, Chinese film is now in its infancy. It is still in the process of separating the wheat from the chaff and survival of the fittest. It is something really good. The market capacity is getting bigger and bigger and the audiences are getting more and more mature. Through “voting with feet”, they will tell good films and bad ones, urging us filmmakers to provide better and better products.
CFM: What subject matters and traits do you think Chinese film is easier to promote overseas? What bottlenecks do Chinese film creators encounter in the expansion and exchange of the international market?
Jennifer Dong: By type, commercial films are more easily accepted by the market and the audiences. For many years, it seems that there are no films to break the overseas box office record of CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON. Therefore, we want to try hard to launch a project like SKY FIRE, in the hope to increase the overseas box office record a bit (let the record hit the new high), which is what we really want to do.
When communicating with overseas teams, if we can clarify our respective demands in advance, it may be easier to communicate. The best way for creators of Chinese film to reduce communication barriers in international market expansion is to be sincere, frank, and simple but direct.
CFM: What activities does SKY FIRE have during the Cannes Film Festival?
Jennifer Dong: We have just attended the 9th Beijing International Film Festival, mainly for the debut of the industry. The first time for SKY FIRE to enter the international market is to participate in Cannes Film Festival. So far, we have not determined activity arrangements in Cannes, all of which have been in communications and preparations.
We are now trying our best to complete the project of SKY FIRE, trying to win the trust of investors, striving to be the best, and leaving no worries or regrets.