FILMMAKING IN A PANDEMIC WITH BIZHAN TONG

Giles Alderson welcomed Bizhan Tong back to The Filmmakers Podcast this week, to discuss his latest film Lockdown, which was filmed remotely during the pandemic. 

Making Films in Hong Kong

Bizhan said that growing up with Hong Kong Cinema, Jackie Chan movies, etc. he felt that the cinema had peaked when The Departed won Best Picture at the Oscars.

“It’s a remake of a Hong Kong film. And in the last 15 years, (the industry) just fell by the wayside. And it’s a shame because the talent’s still there. It’s still exceptional – the work ethic, and it’s a beautiful city. And I just felt that it needed that kickstart. Hong Kong has been focusing so much on the mainland that it’s lost sight of the rest of the world. And so I saw it as contributing to the resurgence of Hong Kong Entertainment”.

Bizhan moved to Hong Kong in July 2019 and joined ATV as an executive producer focusing on “spearheading the creative direction in terms of international elements. I started off looking at what stories we could explore, which are international; and that actually led me to want to do Lockdown, during the pandemic, because we had a lot happening at the time.”

How it all Started

“During COVID my mentor sadly passed away from complications from the virus and that was a difficult time. I was self-isolating, so I was staying in and trying to keep safe.”

He said that during his isolation period, he started watching the news and what was happening around the world. “And so it made me want to tell a story about this moment in time.

The lockdown and the events of 2020. I had the script written over the next two months. And then when we were shooting; and even then I kept on trying to update it to reflect what was going on, because 40 years from now, people are going to be looking at 2020 and thinking how insane things were.”

Directing Remotely

Obviously, during the pandemic, most film sets were locked down. But Bizhan had decided that he wanted to shoot on locations around the world. 

“We had a production team in the UK, one in Hong Kong, one in Japan, the US and Italy. And then we had me flying between the UK and Hong Kong, directing remotely for the US and Japan.

The idea was initially trying to do something self-contained. So we anchored it in this room where the actor is having his audition. And then as the story progresses, we break out into different scenes and settings in other countries.”

The through-line is the story of the actor, played by Kevin Leslie, sitting in his room and “going through the most hellish experience of his life.”

Script Writing

After having the through-line – one room, one location and then expanding on it – Bizhan said that he focussed on his limitations, due to the pandemic.

He needed to consider the challenges of shooting on location and keep up to date with the ever-changing rules around filming. “There were certain things that changed in the scripts after conversing with the authorities (in Hong Kong) to try to see what I’m permitted to film, with the limited number of people I can have outdoors.”

Bizhan says that he focuses on the story beats. “I know how it’s going to begin. I know how it’s going to end. And then the journey, itself, is to try to create the characters.

They should never come out of character in their actions. I shouldn’t force them to do something to help me get from A to B. So once I know who the characters are, then I help them. I let them go on their journey. And typically I’ll nudge them or I’ll put something in their way. Throw in an obstacle and then allow them to either overcome it or to succumb to it.”

NFTs

“So I mentioned that the film reflects what was going on at the time, and it kept evolving, adapting to new things and obviously NFTs suddenly came into play, so it made sense that a film about this time should be exploring that avenue.”

Lockdown became the world’s first hybrid NFT feature film and Asia’s first NFT movie.

“I partnered with a company called Marvion Media to mint five NFT copies of the film and we decided in two weeks to auction the first two of those NFTs, and then later the other three.”

Giles asked how Bizhan managed to persuade people to buy these NFT copies of the film, to which he responded: “I see it as a kind of ownership element collectable items. Artists are claiming ownership for their work, but at the same time, giving back to our fans.”

Want more? Of course, you do. Head over to our episode with Bizhan Tong here.

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