By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
“The best [experience],” said film director Keith Melton about making his new film in China, “was working with the crew out of Beijing. Really great, caring people. We became a temporary family!”
Asked about his worst and most surprising experiences, the director — whose IMAX huge-screen “Mysteries of China” shows alongside the “Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor” exhibit at Seattle Center — cites “the pollution, sometimes the challenging food choices.” Most surprising: Despite cultural and historical differences, how similar we were to each other.
The Chinese, Melton elaborated, boasted “a different production/shooting style than our more traditional ‘Hollywood,’ approach, but we learned from each other. In America, you wouldn’t see about 100 people lifting a crane weighing around 1,600 pounds over railings, so we could get our shots, for instance! That was amazing! They also tend to work seven day weeks, which took some getting used to.”
The film crew visited the Terracotta Warriors at the tomb of China’s first Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, in what is today the country’s Shaanaxi province. Melton made two location scout trips one year before the shoot, and then spent 27 days shooting the film’s main body, with a small amount of second unit work. and some location shots from high up, using cameras mounted on drones.
“Our film,” explained Melton, “tells the story of the First Emperor and why he had the Terracotta Warriors made, and what they represent. We also talk about his mysterious tomb, which has never been opened. Last, we try and put this all in context to a modern and vibrant China while reflecting upon its roots. This film is a perfect complement to the exhibit, as it goes into greater historical detail and describes different facets of some of the images and objects that can be seen in the exhibit.”
Melton remembers his hearty crew as “often at the whim of weather,” and quite limited as to the amount of time they could spend in each of the warrior pits.
Only archeologists were allowed down into the main pits, but the crew was allowed into the back of Pit One, where unearthed, sometimes crushed, warrior figures go for examination. “So, we were able to have the very unique privilege of walking amongst the “wounded warriors” and shoot very closely with them.”
Traditional IMAX cameras send 65mm film horizontally through the camera, exhausting 1,000 feet of film in only two-and-a-half minutes. “Mysteries of China,” Melton said, “was the first large format film where we shot the entire original footage with Sony’s 8k F65 digital camera. As much as I hate to admit it, film will not be around much longer. Digital capture and processing is the technology of the future.”
Asked about future projects, Melton says he wants to shoot an IMAX film in Tibet. “This is an amazing part of the world that is rapidly changing, and I want to catch it soon before it changes too much.
“There is so much beauty, history, festivals, culture, that the West knows so little about,” he said, “and it is uniquely perfect for the large format screen.”
“Mysteries Of China” plays at the Pacific Science Center’s IMAX Theaters as an adjunct to the Center’s “Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor” exhibit. For prices, showtimes, and more information, visit pacificsciencecenter.org.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at email@example.com.