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a secret sci-fi film shot in china • THE SAND STORM (沙尘暴)'s video poster

When the air is toxic … you make a SHORT film and you shoot it FAST. *UPDATED* *UNFROZEN* Read more

Beijing, China Shorts
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This project was successfully funded on June 7, 2014.

When the air is toxic … you make a SHORT film and you shoot it FAST. *UPDATED* *UNFROZEN*

Beijing, China Shorts
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About this project

WE’RE BACK! Below is our original Kickstarter campaign, updated to reflect the latest.

THE SAND STORM (沙尘暴) is a dystopian science fiction film set in the not-too-distant future. It is a low-fi sci-fi short, made in China, telling the story of a city on the brink of a water shortage through the eyes and interactions of four main characters: a woman, a man, a lover, and a water smuggler.


My name is Jason and for the longest time I wanted to make my own films, so I left my job and my home to fly from New York to a city I’d never been to before, Beijing. I chose China for creative solitude because I’m easily distracted and had heard the Internet would be blocked for me, perfect for writing. Next thing you know …


Beijing felt like the future, not cool and sleek (that’s Shanghai) but dim and gritty. 

The story centers around human dramas within a city in turmoil.

It was the start of 2013, and all of China was about to shut down for the holidays. We had two weeks exactly to assemble our cast and crew or we would be forced into production limbo indefinitely. The weather fell below freezing and on a scale of 1-500 (smoggy days in Los Angeles register 60-90), pollution indexes hit a record 800. This was the climate in which we operated. 

We shot under extreme circumstances, entirely in Chinese, independent all the way. No fundraising, just us. Eventually, we started crowd funding. Then we stopped. Then we started again.


Our plan has always been to release the finished film online, for free, to the world, but we need to pay for it.

We wanted roll-out of the movie to be as much of a revelation as possible so we agreed to delay crowdfunding until after we wrapped.  

NOW WE NEED YOU because to finish the film, pay back everyone, and break even would require over 300% of our initial ask but, honestly, anything helps. Shutting down early would have stopped us cold in our tracks and left people unpaid. Restarting for less than a week means we have a unique opportunity to build a critical mass, together.


THAT WOULD BE AMAZING!! If you fund this project beyond $33k, you’ll help cover our remaining production expenses.

NEW : Our first stretch goal was 1000 supporters, our second $88k, now it's how many people can come on board. Can we reach 2000?

We still have hard costs related to visual effects, sound design, music, mix, color correction, subtitles, festival submission fees, and … is your head spinning, too? Every contribution counts. Even now.

We went at it alone, building sets, renting equipment, hiring a local cast and crew … some payments were deferred, others covered by short-term loans.


There won’t be any WARS OVER WATER for at least a decade but this film can be ready in a matter of weeks.

So many wonderful people have helped make the impossible possible. Incredibly talented industry professionals (not just in Beijing, but in London, Shanghai, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, with credits ranging from “The Hobbit” to “Lost in Translation”) are donating their time and resources, scrambling to finish so we can project on the big screen at a film festival … and reach the world online.

WE RECORDED AN ORIGINAL SCORE with a 28-piece string orchestra at London’s landmark Abbey Road, a studio kept historically and acoustically identical to when the Beatles last used it. One performer (pictured) is playing the viola from “Eleanor Rigby” (sitting somewhere in the middle). We’ll be sharing more details in a future update.

NEW : As an additional thank you, all supporters of THE SAND STORM (all of you!) will receive a free digital download of the latest album by Philip Sheppard, our film’s composer. He's collaborated in the past with James Lavelle, Jarvis Cocker, Jimmy Page, David Bowie (who’s name may not begin with the letter J but who’s real last name does: it’s Jones), and conducted for the Olympic Games (Beijing and London). Hope you like it!




We kept our production discreet and for over a year told no one what we were up to … then we teased without spoiler alerts, mainly with backstage photos and clips from the cutting room floor … expect to see more during our final five days.

Your support has made it all worthwhile.

Thanks (in advance, even for reading this far), and at the risk of sounding like every other Kickstarter campaign, we’re giving away special gifts connected with the project: SUPER ARTSY REWARDS … custom action figures (!!!) … access to behind-the-scenes footage … still frames … and other surprises. Hair.


Even today, water shortages, poor air quality, and information obstruction exist around the world. These complex issues provide the backdrop for an open-ended story, and our art house sci-fi short is the set-up for more to come (perhaps an eventual full-length feature film). But first, we need to finish the short.

Whatever’s next, it's going to be awesome, especially if we go at it together. We hope you will join in our adventure as we wrap and release THE SAND STORM.

– – Thank you! – –

Jason Wishnow and the entire 尘暴 Team

Risks and challenges

THE GOOD NEWS is we’ve already wrapped principle photography (unusual for a lot of movies on Kickstarter) meaning the hard part is over. But we’re not done yet. It’s no longer a question of WHETHER we finish the film, but WHEN we finish, and that part is up to you! (UPDATE: release and reward delivery dates may be pushed slightly. We will keep you informed.)

Speaking of risks and challenges…

I OWE AN APOLOGY. Our Kickstarter campaign is back after vanishing for a month and I must navigate the choppy waters of crafting a singular explanation for both an audience of one in China and many others elsewhere in the world.

DEAR AI WEIWEI: Recently, I erred as if THE SAND STORM (沙尘暴) was an average project with average players, even though everything about it was extraordinary. I see how my actions could be perceived as disrespectful to your status as a world-class artist, supporter of the arts, and human rights defender. Your image and identity are precious, so I should have known better than to take at face value an early conversational nod on your part to make and market this movie as I saw fit. Promoting your involvement in the film while failing to fully include you in our Kickstarter preparations was careless. You demonstrated foresight and fortitude by stopping the fundraising campaign before it may have potentially wreaked damage to your public image, and for that I am humbled. Thank you for taking time, earlier this month when I visited, to speak with me about it and for all your previous encouragement with the film. Ai Weiwei, it has been an honor to work beside you and Du Ke Feng – I can imagine no greater artistic and cinematic Dream Team. My intent was to honor you, not exploit you. Despite missteps in fundraising strategy, I hope you might renew your faith in this project, but more than that, I hope you will find it in your heart to forgive me and to consider me your friend. I continue to admire you tremendously, as a person, as a creator, and as a crusader of art and justice. 谢谢您

TO EVERYONE ELSE: Your encouragement has meant the world to me. Thank you.

When I finally started talking about THE SAND STORM (沙尘暴), after waiting until we nearly finished the art-house sci-fi short we'd been making in China, it was because I wondered how we might complete it with the same quality we brought to our initial shoot, done under unusual, perhaps extraordinary, circumstances – for which I already drained my savings and borrowed from close friends. "If you can launch a Kickstarter campaign within ten days," a stranger overhearing my story at a party said to me, "I'll pitch in your first $5000 because this sounds like a movie worth making."

Two thousand supporters signed up for the adventure. What started as a dare, fast-tracked to one of the most successful short film campaigns in Kickstarter history – we might almost break even, and we could at last share our project with the world.

From inception, our plan was to release THE SAND STORM online, for free. Crowdfunding made that a real possibility. The majority of backers pledged $11 to watch THE SAND STORM one day in advance plus see their names in the credits, the digital equivalent of lining up for a blockbuster and getting a hug for it. The Guardian wrote: "far from a Hollywood blockbuster, it is a short film funded by Kickstarter, so it's all very artistically pure." The highest compliment.

The flood of interest in a project we'd kept hidden for so long felt invigorating at first, but then, five days before our scheduled end, the historic campaign went on ice. Why? I alienated the friend and collaborator who inspired it all, and who, up until that point, had been hugely encouraging. Until this happened – FAST CO. EXIST (April 30).

Except when we meet in person, Ai Weiwei's studio mediates our correspondence, and I hastily sent advance-links via my usual, casual contacts, rather than his standard channels for such matters, without follow-up on my part, interpreting silence as approval. From our opposite sides of the Great Firewall, things that sometimes seem straightforward can be fraught. Creative endeavors with artistic titans should not be treated lightly. An easily avoidable mistake on my part led to an unpleasant surprise on his: discovering our fundraiser secondhand, through the invasiveness of Google alerts and press inquiries which eclipsed any fun we shared on set. Having waited for a finished film, he instead got chaos coupled with inaccuracies (the distinction of his acting debut belongs not here but to 1993's CCTV series "A Beijinger in New York"). How do you say "I'm sorry" to the Never Sorry Guy?

The day after the campaign-freeze, I hopped on a plane to China for a week, we met three times, and he requested I tone down emphasis on him for fundraising purposes.

To clarify – he is still in the film, same as ever. Our edit is "locked" but because there's more work to do, our release date is in limbo. We've given you our word we will finish THE SAND STORM. And we will. Soon. Movies are meant to be seen.

When our campaign went viral to a degree I had only dreamed of for the finished film, I expected the discourse to naturally move away from the topic of celebrity on its own … but that is not how public conversation works. Nobody needs be singled out as an isolated star: the characters of THE WOMAN, THE MAN, THE LOVER, THE WATER SMUGGLER are equally deserving of recognition, as are each and every member of our expertly talented crew. Now, as we re-launch for five days, let me overtly hijack your focus to a topic far more meaningful, namely, the rise of super-cities and their potential for the decay of health and safety.

This movie isn't about making a movie star out of an artist — it’s about making a movie star out of an idea.

Sci-fi, as a genre, allows us to speculate about possible future choices, but when the present moves faster than fiction, action is also needed. We shot this short drama with its backdrop of water rationing while on-set pollution levels skyrocketed above international standards for measurement and safety (on a scale of 1-500, smoggy days in Los Angeles registering 60-90, Beijing indexes hit a record 800). The script called for our day players to wear air filter masks to look "dystopian," but the crew wore them as well; we had to. When we edit, I can hear myself coughing on the sound track. This problem is not only endemic to China but in super-cities rising all over the world.

We hope THE SAND STORM will encourage new conversations about environmental degradation, and how we can create a better future … but, mostly, entertain.

Until then, welcome to the *final* final five days of fundraising, another part of our journey – part of what you get as a supporter of THE SAND STORM (沙尘暴).


Learn about accountability on Kickstarter



  • You selected
    Pledge $1 or more

    211 backers

    EVERY CONTRIBUTION COUNTS – Thanks! You'll get behind-the-scenes updates, stories, stills, and videos (no spam, we promise!) – we know how it is, we're indie filmmakers, so we're thrilled whether you give a little or a lot, with your name, anonymously, or as a gift.

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    Pledge $11 or more

    1,406 backers

    EXCLUSIVE EARLY ACCESS! – You’re making this movie a reality, so you deserve to see it before anyone else – plus THANKS IN THE FILM!! The end credits will include the line "Kickstarted by" with YOUR NAME. (Access to a digital pre-screener via time-sensitive password before it goes online for the rest of the world.) You’ll get all the updates, too.

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  • You selected
    Pledge $55 or more

    160 backers

    A FLOOD OF FOOTAGE – See the alternate ending! And an alternate beginning!! And more!!! In every film, from first assembly to final cut, lines change and shots are rearranged. Along with the updates, special advance access, and thanks in the credits, you'll receive unprecedented, immersive access to FIVE distinct (and discarded) edits of THE SAND STORM. Films rarely open themselves up to this kind of scrutiny, and for those who care about process it can be fascinating (humbling for the filmmakers, so there will be a time limit for you to watch how we work).

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    Pledge $100 or more

    161 backers

    COME TO OUR SCREENING – PLUS POSTCARDS FROM A WORLD LOW ON WATER – we're printing postcards so classy you won't know whether to send them or keep them so you'll receive TWO sets of each: 3 film stills plus 2 behind-the-scenes snapshots. Also: thanks in the film, advance online access, updates, and an invitation to attend any or all of three special screenings in (1) New York, (2) Los Angeles, and (3) someplace in China TBD. By the way, when we say special, we mean we'll make an event out of it. We can't cover your travel, but we will save you a place!

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  • You selected
    Pledge $333 or more

    33 backers All gone!

    ARCHIVAL FILM STILL (approx image size 48 cm x 20 cm ~ 19" x 8") – A limited-edition Kickstarter-exclusive frame of footage can be yours. We will print to archival standards and keep you informed of the image production process. And you will receive updates, postcards, advance access, a real-world screening invite, work-in-progress links, and thanks in the credits. (Update to this reward: In the event that the exact image we originally offered you becomes unavailable, we are instead going to provide you with a choice from one of several new and arguablly equally stunning images depicting different moments from the film which we had previously hand-selected as possible alternate Kickstarter rewards.)

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    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $555 or more

    15 backers Limited (7 left of 22)

    THE WATER SMUGGLER ACTION FIGURE! – Wait. What!?? Forget all that other stuff! We are producing limited edition 3 3/4" action figures inspired by THE WATER SMUGGLER character, designed and hand-cast by artists Charlie Becker and Bill McMullen (google these guys, seriously), totally in the style of classic 70s/80s Star Wars toys, numbered, in an exclusive run for Kickstarter supporters. (We will post updates with sketches and mockups over time.) Also: *SPECIAL THANKS* IN THE CREDITS (an upgrade from regular thanks), advance online access, reserved seating (!) at a real-world screening, a few postcards, early cuts of the film, all the updates. (Update to this reward: The degree to which any toy we make is closely modeled after or merely inspired by characters and props from the final film may be subject to change, but the quality will remain consistent.)

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    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $999 or more

    1 backer

    **NEW/WEEK2** MYSTERY FRAME (image is 48 cm x 20 cm ~ 19" x 8") – We will hand pick and print to archival standards a limited run (each) of nine of the most striking frames from the cutting room floor (which might otherwise never see the light of day!) then individually wrap and pack for shipping. You will receive ONE blow-up, selected entirely at random, along with a short note about the shot, from director Jason Wishnow. Whether the still frame is a moment immediately before or after a cut, an alternate take, or perhaps from an entirely different angle or scene, it will be, without a doubt, incomparably beautiful. (Inspired by two classic TED Talks: Barry Schwartz on the paradox of choice and JJ Abrams' mystery box.) Along with this very special Kickstarter exclusive, you will receive updates, advance access to see THE SAND STORM, a real-world screening invite, postcards, work-in-progress links, and *SPECIAL THANKS* IN THE CREDITS.

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    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $1,000 or more

    4 backers Limited (7 left of 11)

    THE SHADOWBOX! (*NEW* for unlocking Milestone #1) – In case you were wondering, yes, we gathered the intermingling hairs from the ground once one of the actors sheared the director's and cinematographer's heads, and no, we may not quite understand why you'd want them, but, in recognition of our MOST DANGEROUS BARBER IN THE WORLD on-set hairstyling incident you will receive an ACTUAL LOCK OF HAIR, framed, on display beside a striking production image. In case of emergency you can break glass to wear it round your neck, test paternity, create clones (should eithics and technology finally catch up), or do what you will, that's up to you. An exclusive numbered edition for Kickstarter supporters. You will also receive updates, postcards, advance access, a real-world screening invite, work-in-progress links, and *SPECIAL THANKS* IN THE CREDITS. (Update to this reward: This reward pretty much stays the same.)

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    Pledge $5,000 or more

    6 backers Limited (5 left of 11)

    YOU ARE AN ASSOCIATE PRODUCER. YES, JUST LIKE THAT!! As a BENEFACTOR OF THE ARTS: (1) Your name will be included in the end credits of this film; (2) Your name will be listed (under the title “Associate Producer”) on IMDB. As a MEMBER OF THE TEAM: (1) You will receive one reserved seat at our premiere festival screening (in 2014); (2) You will be informed of all 2014 screenings (empty seats may become available on a first-come basis); (3) You (and your guests!) have access to any special screenings (see above) as well as any premiere parties connected to the film’s release. IN ADDITION: You will receive three 4"x6" photographs, film stills of: (1) the shared frame with your name on it; (2) an image from the film; (3) the movie title. NOTE: This position and these privileges will be shared by up to ten contributors, only. Select members of the crew will also receive this title. (If you'd care for a more exclusive title, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER is also available, but we'd have to talk about it in the car.)

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    Ships anywhere in the world

Funding period

- (33 days)