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How Apple Shot a “Hollywood Grade” Film on the iPhone 13 Pro


For the fifth year in a row Apple is coming out with its Chinese New Year campaign, this time in the form of a 23-minute-long intergalactic adventure shot entirely on the newest iPhone – LBB’s Zoe Antonov spoke to the TBWA\Media Arts Lab team to find out how

How Apple Shot a “Hollywood Grade” Film on the iPhone 13 Pro

In another amazing spot for Chinese New Year, Apple has collaborated with TBWA\Media Arts Lab to create the short film ‘The Comeback’ by Chinese director Zhang Meng. This is the fifth year in which Apple has celebrated Lunar New Year with a heart-warming and enticing storyline, this time shot entirely on iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max. 

A movie inside of a movie, The Comeback tells the story of an aspiring director (but currently only a stunt-double) coming back to his village, where his father still lives on his own. While the young man is there, the villagers come up with the idea to create a film about their village, in a bid to attract more tourists and give it some more “umph”. The ambitious idea includes landing on Mars, a donkey turning into a unicorn and much more – all of which the villagers rally together to do themselves, including script writing, set and costume design and filming, of course, on the iPhone 13 Pro Max. The production of the film reignites hope not only in the residents of the village, but also in our main character who finally remembers why filmmaking was important to him in the first place. 

Jumping from comedy, to drama, to classic sci-fi, The Comeback is a story about hope, community and creativity. With a comfortable dose of familiarity, it also gives audiences something fresh and completely unique with the two narratives intertwining in the film. The 23-minute movie is also accompanied by a Behind The Scenes look at how it was made – before you ask, this was also shot on the new iPhone!

The TBWA\Media Arts Lab team told LBB’s Zoe Antonov more about the process of filming with the iPhone 13 Pro, what features were utilised, the significance of the film and taking this year’s CNY campaign to the next level.

LBB> What was the brief for this campaign, and what were the initial conversations surrounding it?

TBWA\Media Arts Lab> Our Chinese New Year film series is Apple’s annual love letter to China through the lens of an iPhone. It’s a new tradition that Chinese audiences look forward to every year.

Going into the campaign’s fifth year—given the amazing, new iPhone 13 Pro and its incredible cameras—we asked ourselves: How can we take this year’s film to the next level? Can we make it “Hollywood grade”?

LBB> There are a lot of themes in the film about coming home—reviving something that seems to be lost, and bringing back hope to a hopeless place. How did the idea for this story come about?

TBWA\Media Arts Lab> Every Chinese New Year our story has a theme that is deeply rooted in local culture and humanity. For this year’s story, we landed on the theme of “belief.” China’s younger generations are feeling powerless about the future due to the drastic changes in recent years. With all their efforts seeming wasted, dreams feel more distant than ever—impossible, even.

So, we feel that this Chinese New Year is the right moment to inspire and encourage everyone to never stop believing in their dreams—even if that dream is as far away as Mars—“because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

LBB> Tell us more about the relationship between the main character and his father. What were the ideas behind the way they were portrayed? How did society influence the development of their characters?

TBWA\Media Arts Lab> We always look for tension and contrast when creating the main characters. In this film, Shu and his father are two generations with opposing outlooks on dreams: The 20-year-old son finds them disheartening, while his 60-year-old father never gives up on them. Injured, and defeated by reality, Shu is on the verge of giving up his filmmaking dream, just like many of today’s young people who feel powerless before their dreams.

By contrast, his father represents the “crazy ones”: Endlessly passionate about a seemingly impossible dream of making an out-of-this-world film for his beloved village—a place which, in Shu’s eyes, is a wasteland of nothing but sand. It’s the persistent hopefulness of the father and the crew that, eventually, reignites Shu’s belief in his own dream—with the two generations coming together during the Chinese New Year moment.

LBB> Tell us more about the actual locations the film was shot in.

TBWA\Media Arts Lab> The shoot took 11 days, across three cities: Datong, Shenyang, and Yangyuan. The village in Datong has unique characteristics—while at the same time, visually, it fits the look typical of small villages that are at risk of being forgotten: Deserted, with worn-out industrial tools scattered around a stony, sandy, natural environment.
For the Mars landscape, we found a place in Datong called Tulin. It’s an “earth forest”:  a unique, geological backdrop of earth pillars, carved by thousands of years of river erosion and dust storms. Its out-of-this-world look resembles the terrain of Mars. Tulin not only met our story’s requirements, it also gave us an opportunity to capture spectacular scenery throughout our film.

LBB> What about filmmaking? What was it like, filming entirely on iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max?

TBWA\Media Arts Lab> For the first time ever, director Zhang Meng and his team used iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max to shoot a film. This multi-genre story gave us the perfect stage to showcase iPhone camera capabilities—capturing true cinematic magic, and pushing the boundaries of filmmaking. From Hollywood sci-fi, and traditional Kung Fu action, to nostalgic feel-good comedy, our multi-genre film was shot using only the three built-in lenses of iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max. No additional lenses were used.

Cinematic mode boasts a surprising new depth-of-field effect that allows natural focus transitions among subjects. It raises the iPhone to a fully professional level of filmmaking that uses cinematic language to focus on emotions. When capturing details in low light—as in the scene when the astronauts enter the “Mars base” under purple lighting—the device performed at a fully professional standard. (The rich details and textures of the “Martian surface” were captured by positioning the phone close to an old wok.)  Its compact size and flexibility let the team position the phone in unexpected places not possible in traditional filmmaking. In the “Mars rover” scene, we attached it to a remote-controlled model car for a truly “remote” shoot.

The enthusiastic reaction of the crew in the behind-the-scenes film best summarises the whole experience: “In the past, there were things we had wanted to do, but couldn’t. This time, everything was possible.”

LBB> Tell us about costume and set design—how did you manage to give it a rustic and “do it yourself” look, while still being functional?

TBWA\Media Arts Lab> Partnering with the director and his team—while he continued his pursuit of perfection regardless of how impossible it felt to reach it—has been an incredible journey.

Our sci-fi approach is a good example: Inspired by “dieselpunk,” the director’s vision was to create Hollywood-level sci-fi—but with an atypical, locally crafted twist. All the props were composed from scrap metal and dilapidated items from daily life to recreate a uniquely Chinese, visual sci-fi story. The spacesuit was stitched with old video-game consoles and mobile phones. Old calculators and refrigerators were converted into the gate for the Mars base. All of this created a unique, sci-fi “nostalgia.” Seeing this crazy idea come to life was truly amazing—and an experience we’ll never forget.

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TBWA\ Media Arts Lab Shanghai, Thu, 03 Feb 2022 16:06:10 GMT