Soaring China

70mm dome ride film

Chasing a flying dinosaur over various grand locations in China.


the Premise

To follow the trend of soaring theaters, similar to soaring over California. We were to chase a flying dinosaur. Others had already chased a dragon, so I guess we needed something else that flies.


We were to shoot several classic spots in China by air. These kind of shoots are fraught with problems that can and do affect scheduling and content. These days we could shoot nearly everything by drone, but this was just before drones became practical. We were shooting 65mm film. Helicopters are still faster, but drones are catching up.

Travel was a challenge. The helicopter would meet us at the location, shipped by truck. We shot from Changbaishan in the North to Hong Kong in the South. Weather was mostly kind to us until we got to Hong Kong where the smog was quite heavy. In fact on a helipad on top of a building the flight coordinator asked me why we were shooting in the most smoggy month. Oops.

assembled helicopter. mounting the camera in Shangri-la (S China)
Things were extremely cold in Changbaishan (N China), including the film

If you know of Changbaishan you know it's a holy mountain to the Koreans. You may also know that the border between China and North Korea goes right through the middle of the beautiful lake in the crater at the top. What we learned on our first flight, much to my dismay, is it's illegal to shoot with a professional camera across the lake because it looks into N Korea. At least that's what the army pilot flying our helicopter told us. This is why you only see ravines in the film, not even realizing this was our location. So much for our amazing caldera shots.

A town in the frozen north. This was downtown.

A similar thing happened when we were in Zhangjiajie, or should I say "Avatar Mountains". We got some nice footage for sure, but whereas I had wanted to be surrounded by the spires, the pilot refused to go down between them except in the very widest valleys. His reasoning was the danger of possible wires strung between cliffs. I didn't see even one, but I take his point. I wondered why we couldn't do a recon to make sure, but he wouldn't hear it.

One might notice the helicopter shadows. In post we were busy removing these when the exec producer (and self appointed co-director) insisted we leave them in. He had decided that the audience not gliding but rather flying in a big helictopter. Ok, just wanted to make sure you didn't think I was being lazy.

We invented our own dinosaur, since we didn't know why he was there in the first place or why we were in fact stalking him. I had written a cute script with a "back to the future" kind of mad scientist in the pre-show, giving a reason for the dinosaur (it escaped his lab) but it was tossed in favor of... no story. He claimed Chinese audiences wouldn't care, ha. But wouldn't they respond better if they did have a story?

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