A personal note from on the ground in Beijing...
Can it really be two years now since I was asked to hop on-board this documentary film project? My decision then to join the team was likely based on the same reasons that many of you will have decided to pledge money to make this film happen; I was won over by the combination of compelling characters and subject matter that seemed to hold infinite scope for exploration. It was a film I wanted to see made.
Two years on, I'm glad to say the making of this film has been the most rewarding project I've ever worked on. However, as first-time directors of a feature-length project it's safe to say none of us could anticipate how mentally exhausting a film project of this size and duration would sometimes become, and how important our team would become to each other in terms of sustaining motivation through fallow periods and staying focused amid the distractions of having to take on other work. We'd previously thought we would be finished filming by 2015 and the film might be edited and released by now, but it hasn't worked out that way. The more we've read about the working processes of other documentaries of this kind, the more we're realising that it's almost impossible to produce a timescale. Some documentaries that follow characters lives in this way take several years to make. One of the advantages of raising money through a crowd-funding platform like Kickstarter and then self-funding the rest is that it gives the filmmakers the freedom not to rush the process, so for that we are very grateful.
Since the last update in December we've spent about 20 to 25 days filming; a weekend here, four days here etc. Obviously more time is spent in planning and discussion to make these shoots happen. Originally we had chosen to follow subjects who were based in or near Beijing because that's where we are based, but neither our subjects lives nor the Chinese MMA scene remain static, so as it turns out we've mostly been filming on the road in 2016; making trips to cities like Shanghai, Chengdu, Zhengzhou and Ningbo. We even hired a videographer to shoot behind-the-scenes footage of an MMA event in Jakarta, Indonesia because we felt it was key to a character's story. These trips out of Beijing have not been ideal in terms of convenience and cost, but we've always kept the attitude that the needs of the film come first and everything else should fit around that.
How close are we to finishing filming ? Quite close I think; we already have a 20-page treatment written out in quite some detail. One of the most difficult things in this sort of film-making though is knowing when to stop filming. As directors we have to construct a sense of closure for the needs of our film, while in reality the narrative of our characters and the Chinese MMA scene will continue beyond the end of the film. For some characters, we feel we already have a sense of closure for them, whether it be a career-defining event, or a moment of personal realisation. For other characters, we feel our material is not quite strong enough yet to provide an ending, but a little more time and patience should provide us with what we want. Additionally, as we are closing in on an idea of the structure the film will likely take, we're reviewing footage and finding sections that might benefit from further filming, e.g asking an interview question in a different way to get a better version of a soundbite. So aside from sitting and waiting for events to happen, we have a couple more trips planned over summer to go and dig a little deeper into certain issues.
Thanks again for your continued support and patience,
Co-director & Co-cinematographer
The New Masters