So you hire and pay for 11 celebrities to star in an ad, but one of the most severe snowstorms for half a century hits your filming location and strands your stars 350km away. There’s no hanging around though – Chinese New Year is just around the corner. All sounds like a distant nightmare, doesn't it? This nightmare became real life for David Tsui recently, as he was set to shoot PepsiCo China’s CNY spot. After bracing the cold for several days, hiring an entirely new cast at the last moment and tweaking the script, he got it done. Tsui explains a little bit more about the spot that almost wasn't.
Directors cut, without celebrity cameos
LBB> What was it about the script that attracted you to this project?
DT> For two years in succession, PepsiCo China has commissioned me to write and direct mini movies as part of their Chinese New Year "Bringing Happiness Home" campaign. Last year's theme was "Honour Thy Parent(s)" and this year the brief was "Love Thy Neighbour", both with "Homecoming" as the backbone of the stories.
LBB> Where was the film shot and how long did production take?
DT> The primary location was within the newly opened Wanda International Resort in the city of Baishan, with additional photography in Fusong City, both in Jilin Province. We had six weeks of preproduction and it was an 8 day shoot. The shelter in the film was a house we built on top of the ski slopes. Most of us stayed in the Westin and Sheraton nearby, but I can assure you it was no vacation.
LBB> The project was affected by a massive snowstorm - what happened and how did you have to adapt the script and production?
DT> It was a perfect example of life imitating art. Our story was about people going home for Chinese New Year stranded in a snowstorm - three days before the start of shooting we were hit by one. According to some sources it was the severest in fifty years. As a result, our location - the small airport at Changbaishan - was closed and the highways leading to it were only opened intermittently. By then the crew were already in Changbaishan but the principal actors (celebrities) and the clients were stranded in Changchun, the provincial capital city 350km away.
Things did not improve for three days and, by the time the airport and roads started to reopen, most of the celebrities had to leave to honour their other commitments. A postponement was out of the question due to the soon to arrive Chinese New Year. Faced with the conundrum, Richard Lee, CMO of PepsiCo made a decision to modify the script to include the celebrities (who had all been paid for), and so cameo roles were created to ensure they could be involved in the film. A mad rush ensued to source actors to fill the roles originally meant for the celebrities.
LBB> What was it like working with 11 celebrities under these tricky circumstances?
DT> I personally was not involved with shooting the celebrities. My second unit director Anthony Ng was sent to Changchun with some newly written pages of the script. He shot most of the scenes with the celebrities in the comfort of the ballroom of The Shangri-la Hotel in Changchun while I remained out in the cold of Changbaishan with the main crew, awaiting the arrival of the hastily assembled cast.
LBB> The film has a lot to say about people pulling together and a sense of community - how does this tie into Pepsi as a brand and do you think there's a lesson there for modern society?
DT> PepsiCo China has always wanted to be perceived as a socially responsible company. It was felt that the relatively newfound and continuing prosperity of China has brought with it its share of social ills; selfishness, mistrust, greed, corruption and a general decline of values have spread throughout Chinese society. It was hoped that a film like this could remind people of what is really important to them, at a time when people have the rare luxury of time away from the rat race to think and reflect.
LBB> The song is a really lovely moment - did that present any challenges in terms of direction?
DT> There are two songs. The song in the TVC is an afterthought, conceived when we were in post-production. Its title can be translated as "Loving One Another", an 80s pop song rerecorded. I had nothing to do with it apart from letting them use the shots from the film.
Referring to the song that the girl sings in the shelter on New Year's Eve in the full-length film, it’s called "Lover's Tears". It’s a popular Mandarin song from the 70s. Even though the actor, Debbie, did put in a commendable live performance during the shoot we opted for the cover version by the Taiwanese singer Tsai Chin in the final film.
I’ve been asked why I chose that song as it’s being a love song. My answer is that it just felt right for the character. Being a nightclub hostess (though that’s never explicitly stated), singing a song was her way of bringing some sort of relief to what was essentially a desperate situation. In a way, she was also serenading her newfound 'sister' who had fallen for the "reformed" young man who rode the bicycle downhill to look for rescue.
LBB> What does 2013 hold for China's Adland?
DT> This film rides on the continuing popularity of microfilms or mini movies in Chinese advertising. For a commercial director like myself, it is a welcome escape from the restrictions of the 15/30-second format. For the audience, it provides an alternative choice of entertainment than TV, and for the advertisers a powerful tool to target the growing online population. I expect this trend to continue and develop in the coming year as more and more advertisers begin to realise the potential of this relatively new medium. I also expect developing technology will be bringing interactivity to this hitherto passive medium of advertising.
Executive Producer: Richard Lee (PepsiCo China)
Producers: Alfred Tong (PepsiCo China)
Sophie Ho (PepsiCo China)
Artistes Management Co-ordination: Fion Lee, LIN Qian (PepsiCo China),
Fanny NG (PepsiCo China), WANG Qin (PepsiCo China),
Edith LAU (PepsiCo China), ZONG Yi (PepsiCo China)
BBDO China: Jacquelyn PANG, Alvina SEAH, Iris LE, YANG Yao, Lynn HUANG,
Grace DONG, Mulan YAP, Vincent Pang, Frank ZHAO)
DDB Shanghai: Margret WU, Lulu LI, Jason JIN)
Production company: Moviola Shanghai Limited
Director: David TSUI
2nd Unit Director: Anthony NG
1st Assistant Director: Thomas TANG
2nd Assistant Director: Lola LE
Producer: Jenny LEE
Script Supervisor: HAO Miao
Director of Photography: Alan Yap
2nd Unit Cameraman: FUNG Wing Kai
3rd Unit Cameraman: SHI Wei
Production Designer: PANG Hok Lam
Art Department: LI Xiao Jie, FAN Pei Ming
Props Master: WANG Ping
Props Assistants: TIAN Chao Hua, GAO Lu, GAO Ai Jun, LI Shang Bing, WANG Feng
Production Manager: Adam ZHANG, Pat LUI
Production Assistant: Keo PAN, ZHOU Wei, TSE Ka Ho
Production Secretary: Katrina LAU
Casting Director: WANG Yuan Yuan, YANG Bao Cheng
Camera Assistant: CAO Chun Hua, WONG Chun Wai, Yang Xun
Camera Department: WANG Hai Bin, WEI Cun Hu, MIAO Feng, YAN Gang,
YOU Wei Guo, CAI Qing Song, ZHOU Min
Dolly Grip: XU En Hou
Crane Operators: FENG Hai Feng, LIU bang Le, YAN Pao Pao
Gaffer: YAO Ji Hong
Lighting Assistant: ZHANG Xiao Bang, SU Yi, MENG Wei Wei, CHEN Yan Shou
Stylist: Caroline NIE
Stylist Assistant: Kenzo OHUCHI
Hair Stylist: Collin MAK
Hair Stylist Assistant: NI Chang Yong
Make-up Stylist: SONG Xin
Make-up Assistant: WEI Fang
Action Director: GE Nai Rong
Action Department: LU Shao Ming, JIA Fu Guo, HAN Xin Xi, CHENG Tao Long,
Sound Recordist: WU Feng, SHI Xiang
Sound Recordist Assistant: YAO Cheng Guo, CHEN Zhi Fu
Post Production: Touches Limited
Producer: Dilys TAM
Editor: Adrian BRADY
Assistant Editor: Sing TAM
2D Computer Design: LAM Chi Shing
Sound Effects & Audio Engineer: Eric LO, Benny HO, Ming WU
Production Co-ordinator: Simon CHU, LEE Koon Wa
Digit Digit Limited
Online Editor: Lisa YING Yee Man, HUNG Chi Yeung, KOO Siu Hang,