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Live Film Production Case Study: The Last Race

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In this chapter, I analyse the interactions of value, reward, and power structures as previously discussed in Chap. 2 through the onsite participant observation of the film entitled The Last Race ([终极胜利, Zhōngjí shènglì]) (2016) co-directed by Stephen Shin and Michael Parker in China. In Chap. 2, I discussed theoretically the changing nature of IP, of audience contribution as creators of content and the implications of creative peer-productions on these aspects. While the centrality of IP is redefined, a wave of young online creators is emerging.

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Fig. 6.1
Fig. 6.2
Fig. 6.3
Fig. 6.4
Fig. 6.5
Fig. 6.6
Fig. 6.7
Fig. 6.8
Fig. 6.9
Fig. 6.10
Fig. 6.11
Fig. 6.12
Fig. 6.13
Fig. 6.14
Fig. 6.15
Fig. 6.16
Fig. 6.17
Fig. 6.18
Fig. 6.19
Fig. 6.20
Fig. 6.21
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Fig. 6.23


  1. 1.

    The film is a biopic about Eric Liddell, one of the main and real-life protagonists of The Chariots of Fire, who returns to his birthplace, China in the midst of the Japanese invasion.

  2. 2.

    And my previous work with them.

  3. 3.

    The promotion efforts were observed through textual material such as the film promotional trailers and inter-textual elements such as trade magazines, media articles and audience discussions on social networks.

  4. 4.

    As seen in Chaps. 4 and 5.

  5. 5.

    I sometimes had to anonymise the names of the respondents and interviewees to avoid potential legal litigations. This is particularly true for the individuals who had signed a non-disclosure agreement with the production. Additionally, respondents generally feared to be blacklisted in the industry if they spoke out in regard to certain issues, therefore some of their testimonies were provided in confidence. The interviews were mostly organised informally as I was not allowed to record them with any type of device when meeting them one on one. This challenges the very notions of transparency, equality and freedom discussed in Chap. 2, particularly after a film has been made and released: film industry professionals operate self-censorship at an individual level.

  6. 6.

    In terms of the biases which may have influenced my ethnographic research, I must inform the reader that I am a white male in my early 40s, with no extreme political or religious views. My previous experiences in film have been mostly as a writer, a Director and a Producer, so this may have influenced my views. I was initially placed in a position of observer in regard to the subject of study. However, as detailed in the next sections, I became increasingly active in my participation and interactions with it. Therefore, as a participant observer, I may in turn have been somewhat influenced by the subject of study.

  7. 7.

    Discussed in Chaps. 9 and 10.

  8. 8.

    Morning Paris reached the pre-production phase but was never produced.

  9. 9.

    The total budget of The Last Race was less than half the budget of Outcast for example.

  10. 10.

    As seen in Chaps. 3 and 4.

  11. 11.

    Also unlike with The Last Race, I did not observe the process from start to finish with these films and sometimes information was not available first hand.

  12. 12.

    Seen in Chap. 2, Sect. 2.1.2.

  13. 13.

  14. 14.

    This is not a coincidence as all these productions, including The Last Race (In Mr. Shin’s own words and intent) were trying to ‘connect with worldwide audiences ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympics’ in Brazil. The 2016 Olympics appeared to be a good vehicle to get international exposure.

  15. 15.

    The Producers eventually understood that the working title The Great Conqueror’s Concubine was not going to have the expected appeal on the international markets.

  16. 16.

    See Chap. 4 for details about the rapid developments of the Chinese media industry.

  17. 17.

    One of the four largest talent agencies in the US.

  18. 18.

    Producer on Ghost in The Shell.

  19. 19.

    Mr. Parker’s spouse is from Hong Kong. He also understands and speaks Cantonese.

  20. 20.

    Correspondent for The Independent, Empire Magazine and The Scottish Sun in China.

  21. 21.

    Comparable at this level to movies such as Children of Huang Shi [黄石的孩子] (Spottiswoode 2008) or Flowers of War [金陵十三钗] (Zhang 2011).

  22. 22.

    As the film production was taking place and China was about to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Nanjing massacre, ghosts were also still floating in Japan for the 70th commemoration of the atomic bombs dropping (This is a theme covered by Akira Kurosawa in his film Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (Kurosawa 1990) in the section entitled ‘The Tunnel’, a short film about World War II closure and the ghosts of the war).

  23. 23.

    As seen in Chaps. 2 and 3.

  24. 24.

    The production had to pay US$10,000 to a casting agent for Mr. McGregor to read the script. The script was turned down.

  25. 25.

    Which is a fairly high budget considering that the average independent production budget in the US was around US$15 million and the European average fluctuated between EUR5million and EUR10 million at the time (European Commission 2014, 6). In comparison, the Chinese average has ranged from US$20 million to US$61 million over the past 3 years with significant discrepancies year-on-year (Numbers 2016).

  26. 26.

    The film certificate or Lixiang necessary to film a co-production in China is easier to obtain through a government controlled production company such as Sil-Metropole. It was also potentially good for the production to be associated with such a government company for the promotion and the release of the film.

  27. 27.

    Aymerick Pilarski, Director of Photography who has worked on several Chinese productions and co-productions has confirmed that a lot of producers and directors in China rely sometimes on unskilled, free or incentivised help from friends or family.

  28. 28.

    Key organisational issues will be discussed in detail later in the production section (Sect. 6.3.3).

  29. 29.

    These were the only nominations that the film obtained.

  30. 30.

    As mentioned by Stephen Shin in April 2015.

  31. 31.

    This is not uncommon in China, for instance, the film Morning Paris had to be stopped 2 weeks before the production phase due to the lack of professionalism and the unreliability of one of its investor groups.

  32. 32.

    This was confirmed during a meeting in Hong Kong by producer Tan Kyle Cheo, CEO of Star Entertainment Co. on the 21st of July 2016.

  33. 33. now renamed King David Inc.

  34. 34.

    The pre-production had already started 2 weeks prior to this date with location scouting.

  35. 35.

    For an undisclosed amount c. CNY1.5 million (US$180,000) according to several of the directorial crew members.

  36. 36.

    I had to rely on the help of informal translators to be able to understand most of the meetings contents and assess the overall situation. I also developed a good rapport with the Hong Kong crew who could convey key information to me in English in a timely manner. I was relaying this information to the other foreigners as fast as I could.

  37. 37.

    This team formed the basis for a group of emerging filmmakers who I have regularly interviewed and conversed with (Chap. 9) to elaborate the participatory production model proposed in Chap. 10.

  38. 38.

    As explained later by Mr. Shin (this will be explored in more details under Sect. 6.3: Production).

  39. 39.

    Typically, a shooting period of 6–8 weeks of filming.

  40. 40.

    MPC were the lead driver of VFX on this film. They claim that they ‘are involved at every stage of the creative process, from the initial concept art to the final compositing and stereoscopic workflow’ (MPC 2016).

  41. 41.

    Despite claims in The Hollywood Reporter (THR) that the competing production Absolute Surrender was more loyal to the Christian faith of the lead character Eric Liddell (Bond 2015).

  42. 42.

    As see in Chap. 3, in China the political supersedes the commercial and the cultural domains which are seen as vehicles to promote the earlier: more will be discussed about this topic in the following chapter relative to YT.

  43. 43.

    As seen in Chap. 3, the newly merged SAPPRFT reports directly to the Chinese Government DOP.

  44. 44.

    As seen in Chap. 3.

  45. 45.

    Before the real estate giant, Wanda Group, started investing in the media sector, many Hong Kong-based companies had already pursued this model such as conglomerate Emperor Group. Some of these groups were thought to be closely associated with the triads and using film and the theatrical circuit to launder money from their other illegal businesses (Dannen 1997).

  46. 46.

    VPNs were legal at the time of the shoot.

  47. 47.

    As seen in Chaps. 2 and 4.

  48. 48.

    As seen in Chap. 3.

  49. 49.

    Sections 6.4.1 and 6.4.2.

  50. 50.

    The Panoptic Society described by Foucault and Deleuze mentioned in Chaps. 2 and 3.

  51. 51.

    With the authorisation of the film co-Directors.

  52. 52.

    See Chap. 5.

  53. 53.

    This task was given to Ms. Xu, which empowered here further within the production.

  54. 54.

    In Mr. Shin’s own words.

  55. 55.

    The longest shooting day on the production was a record 27-h non-stop shoot earlier in July when the cast and crew saw the sun rise twice without having taken a break.

  56. 56.

    As seen in Chap. 2.

  57. 57.

    This professional had already worked on the famous Monster Hunt (R. [许诚毅] Hui 2015).

  58. 58.

    This was confirmed to me by one of the wardrobe Managers and one of the ADs.

  59. 59.

    The quality of the film is addressed in details under Sects. 6.4.2 and 6.4.3 about distribution and circulation.

  60. 60.

    Around 20 women for 200 men, none of the heads of the key departments were women except the hair and makeup department.

  61. 61.

    As a co-producer, he had the authority to so.

  62. 62.

    This was later reported by Mr. Shin.

  63. 63.

    Although many of them were merely staying in the office doing little. Some just acted their presence, pretending to be busy while working on their own personal activities.

  64. 64.

    After the film was released one of the crew member and Mr. Shin explained that Ms. Xu, who Mr. Shin had trusted since the beginning of the production by giving her signing authority on the accounts and giving her access to the Mainland operations in her name, had rallied one of the production assistants to her cause, took control of Mr. Shin’s Mainland company branch, and fled with a significant part of the production money.

  65. 65.

    Also unanimously nicknamed ‘Si Mao’ or ‘dead cat’ by the crew members for his legendary scream on set which was believed to be able to kill cats instantly when they heard it.

  66. 66.

    A model that would benefit investors, creative talent as well as audiences.

  67. 67.

    As seen in the previous section.

  68. 68.

    Mr. Teare told me that his salary was four to eight times lower than what he would normally take, but he took it for the experience.

  69. 69.

    A role, which does not exist on a film, because drama and actors are the direct responsibility of Directors.

  70. 70.

    This was later confirmed by Mr. Fiennes himself during a conversation with Mr. Teare.

  71. 71.

    Mr. Teare had trained as drama coach at the renowned drama school Jacques LeCoq in Paris.

  72. 72.

    Field Manager: This is another role which does not exist in a regular film crew. Yang Yang effectively occupied the role of 1st AD.

  73. 73.

    This specific point is developed further in Sect. 6.4.2 under ‘Distribution.’

  74. 74.

    Section 6.2.3.

  75. 75.

    Under Communication Sect.

  76. 76.

    Wild Bunch had views over cooperation with China and created the Europe-China Film Fund for US$120 million (100 million Euros equivalent) in January 2016.

  77. 77.

    It was re-cut into the film in the US version at the demand of the US producers.

  78. 78.

    This part will be developed in the promotion Sect.

  79. 79.

    Please refer to Appendix 6 for a few selected press articles regarding The Last Race.

  80. 80.

    See Appendix 5: English and Chinese versions.

  81. 81.

    This material is compiled into an Electronic Press Kit (EPK) that is then distributed consistently to all media and film festivals. This method is extremely cost efficient as it avoids work duplication and focuses the message to be delivered to all media outlets. However, the EPK only became available in March 2016, which cost the PR teams a lot of time and energy being wasted and missed opportunities with the media.

  82. 82.

    Also commonly called ‘wrap’ in the film industry.

  83. 83.

    This operation was orchestrated in agreement with the two co-Directors who saw an interest in this opportunity.

  84. 84.

    The Scottish Sun had agreed to give a double central page to the film.

  85. 85.

    Ms. Xu had a great part of responsibility for the unfolding of this crisis: she had not arranged for Mr. Fiennes’ family to come and visit him on set as specified in the contract.

  86. 86.

    Few of the smaller supporting roles and none of the agents and background actors were invited to it.

  87. 87.

    The production joined forces with a local charity organisation and in Hong Kong on 3 March.

  88. 88. and

  89. 89.

    This will be explained in further details in the following Sect. 6.4.2 under Distribution

  90. 90.

    Which any film can enter provided the production has the budget to fly their lead cast, to buy promotional space, and book screening time on the market.

  91. 91.

    Less than during the on-set promotion campaign.

  92. 92.

    Please see Appendix 6 under ‘Cannes Promotion.’

  93. 93.

    Although a very good piece of work.

  94. 94.

    Which is traditionally packaged with Macau in distribution territories.

  95. 95.

    The venue was connected to some of the real estate investors.

  96. 96.

    Mr. Shin made this comment in a private conversation. Solvil & Titus’ reaction was a direct consequence of the production and promotion flaws illustrated previously.

  97. 97.

    Alexandra Sun, CEO of The Film Library, an experienced producer and distributor, with over 20 years of experience in film, mentioned that two journalists formed the group in 2015. This was confirmed by the company’s presentation on Cinando’s website which mentions the former name of the company as newsgroup Movie View Media Group (Cinando 2016).

  98. 98.

    Seen in Chaps. 2 and 4.

  99. 99. Despite the deal with Sony, it will be relatively hard for the film to eventually recoup its initial investment.

  100. 100.

  101. 101.

    The Great Wall, which was a rather unsuccessful film commercially and critically managed to gross over 70 million at the Chinese box office (Rosen 2017).

  102. 102.

    Not scored yet: This showed the little interest that the film has gathered.

  103. 103.

  104. 104.

    US$3,860,000 for China alone and $979,761 in other territories for a total of $4,839,761.

  105. 105.

  106. 106.

    Note: access to these websites and the brick and mortar illegal DVD/Bluray shops in Beijing was solely motivated by the requirements of this research which is for educational purposes and therefore by presenting ‘fair use’, it does not infringe any copyright laws.

  107. 107.

  108. 108.

  109. 109.

    I will develop these aspects further in Chaps. 8 and 9.


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Poujol, P. (2019). Live Film Production Case Study: The Last Race. In: Online Film Production in China Using Blockchain and Smart Contracts. International Series on Computer Entertainment and Media Technology. Springer, Cham.

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