Blogs/ Filming a documentary for the Chinese

By Jinwen Li, published on 22 May 2019

Xu Xin, an independent documentary producer. In 2000, Xu Xin’s documentary studio was established, specializing in documentary creation. "Torch Troupe" is one of its main works, and it tells the current living conditions of several Sichuan opera actors in Chengdu, Sichuan. The film brings the people in the drama to the audience and is highly praised by the audience from all over the world. For Xu Xin, the record itself is a way to participate in the construction of history. From "Mapi" to "Fangshan Church" to "Torch Troupe", Xu Xin's documentary has always insisted on his own attitude to pay attention to the living conditions of the Chinese people at the bottom, recording warmth and sadness.

Meet the "Torch Troupe"
Xu Xin always felt that the teahouse culture in Chengdu was very special. So I took the opportunity of Chengdu to find out an old teahouse that can drink tea and listen to Sichuan opera, and then I will meet with friends. "The first time I went to drink tea, I spent three dollars. I went in as an ordinary audience. I went to see it. It felt very interesting. Then I planned to take it down. I thought I could do this. A documentary." This is Xu Xin's first thought. "I told him about my intentions and wanted to take a photo of your teahouse. I didn't know that they were called a troupe. We thought it was a teahouse." I didn't expect this singer's team to be the only "Torch Troupe" in Chengdu. ".
The name "Torch Troupe" came from the Cultural Revolution. At that time, the traditional Sichuan opera repertoire was banned in public performance venues, but the remote rural areas were performing in private. Because of the need to use the torch lighting at night, it was gradually called. In 2001, six national Sichuan Opera Troupes in Chengdu merged into one troupe. The current "Torch troupe" is a folk performance organization that was established after the 1990s, after the state-run Sichuan Opera Troupe gradually disbanded and the actors were laid off.
"I started shooting intermittently in 2005, and I kept shooting until the beginning of 2007. At the beginning of the filming, there was no clear one. I said what I want, what results I took, because nothing is unpredictable, but definitely not It’s very clear that I’m taking a Sichuan drama. I had some ideas at the time, I wanted to pat the relationship between them, or pat the state of their life like this troupe.” Xu Xin wanted to use direct movies. The way is to watch and see, and strive to achieve the so-called reality. Xu Xin said, "It’s ridiculous to think about this kind of problem now. As a writer of a documentary, the director is also good. It is impossible to do that kind of absolute truth. You must have more or less Subjective, even if you have a lens, one of your positions, including your later editing, which lens you want, which one is very subjective. After so many years, now I am doing the film, I simply do what I think. Real, in fact, is my subjectivity."

The clues and arrangements in "Torch Troupe"
"Torch Troupe" is based on the current life of two Sichuan opera actors, one is Wang Bin and the other is Li Baoting. Wang Bin is a person who insists on living in Sichuan opera performance. He runs his own small theater group in the teahouse. His life is extremely difficult. In order to survive, he even went to the door to make a funeral home, but he always kept on the Sichuan opera. Li Baoting began to learn to sing Sichuan opera from the age of eight, but now he bids farewell to the Sichuan Opera stage and turns to perform singing and dancing. Every day he drives a propaganda car and is active in the streets, with the "Southwest Rock Stars Crazy Brothers" and "The Coquettish Girl Tian Tian" as the gimmicks. The program mode is a set of cottage version of the Spring Festival Evening. "I found Li Baoting through Wang Bin. It is actually a choice for these two people. One chooses to keep what he likes. Another real life is very difficult, not for making money, but for To pursue the trend of self-report, Li Baoting thinks that those are art." Xu Xin said. One of the details in the film is that Wang Bin mentioned that the performance of the Sichuan Opera Troupe can only be performed in China, and Li Baoting’s performance license can go abroad. "The average person feels very funny. The real national quintessence is that it cannot go abroad. It is very absurd." Xu Xin said with a smile.
There are not many words of Wang Bin in the film, but there is a saying ‘I don’t like Sichuan Opera, I like to sing’ to make the audience puzzled. For this is not the form of interview, why did Xu Xin not let Wang Bin say his true thoughts, Xu Xin said, "At the time, I thought more about taking his life directly. There was almost no interview. The interview in that section was still in the film. Not a special interview, that is actually he is talking to me, he is not talking to the camera, this is a difference, he gives people the feeling that they are talking to themselves." Xu Xin to Wang Bin The statement also has its own opinion. "The state of the photographer before the camera. Is this truly true? Is it true that his heart is true? I think sometimes it is not. Most of the time it is not. Because he said this at the time, I obviously feel that he likes Sichuan Opera. Why does he say this, he actually feels a bit out of sync with this big environment, he thinks that song and dance is very beautiful. You see him go to see Li Baoting's singing and dancing performance, the expression on the face is very special, but he is not willing to do this. It is like I see the boss is very rich, I will be envious from the heart. I feel very bullish, driving Mercedes or something, of course, you may let me do his thing, I may not want to do it, he may be this kind of psychology. 'I don't like Sichuan opera, I like to sing' I think this sentence is actually a very acidic sentence." So what Xu Xin did in the film is to use the lens record to let Wang Bin's action give the audience an answer.
n addition to the two bright lines, the film also has a dark line, which is the audience. "In fact, the audience will inevitably have a kind of interaction with the crew. It is not very obvious. They watched the film at the time, and Wang Bing (director of "Tiexi District") mentioned you. This piece seems to be a little less. Then why am I missing? Because there was a famous movie in front of it, "Old Man", I especially liked the film "Old Man", so I said that I don't want to make "Old Man", so I have less. Some of this. But I chose a very old gentleman subjectively. I actually only acted as a symbolic one. As a representative. After the Spring Festival, the old gentleman did not appear in the teahouse again, an empty one. The lens of the chair is an understatement. "I don't have any special way to render or seduce his death, because there is no need for it, because people must die. His theater must be dead. His teahouse must be dead. You go and repeat it. He feels too lyrical, I don't like that very much, I still prefer a subtle way."

About the shooting process, lens and later
Throughout the filming process, Xu Xin did not use any auxiliary lighting equipment, all using natural light, Xu Xin said, "Because of the restrictions of funds, I am only alone, so I can only use natural light, and then adjust the composition. I think A documentary can be done by one person, and only a documentary can be done by one person."
There are many shots in the Torch Troupe that are done in the background. The background light is relatively insufficient and the activity space is also small. Xu Xin uses the Sony PD150 for shooting. This camera performs well in low light conditions, coupled with a compact body, which is perfect for background shooting. There is also a button on the top of the Sony PD150 that controls the switch, which is especially suitable for portable use. "I usually have a relatively low position, so it is especially convenient to use.
When shooting, Xu Xin also deliberately added a yellow filter to make the film overall yellow. "The whole picture is like a stage. Its stage is a stage, it is actually a stage - the stage of life," Xu Xin explained. "In fact, my title was originally called "The Stage". Later, because of Shakespeare's sentence, "The world is a big stage," everyone knows it, and it is too straightforward. I still want to compare a neutral name. My title is very neutral, you can't see anything from the title, there is no directivity."
When shooting, Xu Xin also deliberately added a yellow filter to make the film overall yellow. "The whole picture is like a stage. Its stage is a stage, it is actually a stage - the stage of life," Xu Xin explained." In fact, my title was originally called "The Stage". Later, because of Shakespeare's sentence, "The world is a big stage," everyone knows it, and it is too straightforward. I still want to compare a neutral name. My title Is very neutral, you can't see anything from the title, there is no directivity."
In the Torch Troupe, there are a lot of fast-moving shots that change the subject. Xu Xin said, "I have all this kind of lens in the film. I am deliberate. I want this spatial relationship, this coherence. Sex. The documentary and the drama are not the same. I want people to feel the relationship of space."
There is such a scene in the film about the Christmas Eve event at Tianfu Square. Everyone gathered together and frantically used inflatable toys to fight. It is said that it is the characteristic of Christmas Eve in Chengdu. Talking about the intention of this group of shots that seem to have nothing to do with Wang Bin Li Baoting, Xu Xin said, "In fact, I followed them to the group of shots, but I didn't shoot them. I went to the square and turned around. This group The first shot is to explain the time, the second is to show the big environment, the lens is the society that reflects the whole of Chengdu. I want to put the big environment with Li Baoting and Wang Bin who are struggling to survive in the big environment. Record it. You said that in this big environment, who cares about Sichuan Opera, who cares about Wang Bin, no one cares about them."
"If the documentary can achieve the propulsion of the recorded things over time, it is best, but sometimes it is difficult, because the length of the recorded time is not allowed, you can do those things in ten or five years. There was no change during this time. At the very least, there was no big change.” Xu Xin took more than two hundred hours of material, mostly about their performances and some activities during peacetime. "At the time, I thought, 'How do you shoot this thing down?' I feel that their life is very interesting, but if you say that it is cut into pieces for everyone to see, there seems to be no such a powerful content. In it. Until later they met them to be demolished. This is also a particularly interesting part of the documentary, you don't know what will happen tomorrow."
When he knew that the teahouse was being demolished, Xu Xin rushed to Chengdu on the same day, but he regretted that he had not photographed the demolition process. Xu Xin said, "The greatest flexibility of the documentary is that I took what I used and I used so many things to do it. I came out with something, not that I need a radish. I want to buy a radish. I need a piece of beef. I want to buy a piece of beef. Some things have passed and I can't do it anymore, but I think it is enough. Xu Xin used a silent long shot and slowly took us into the ruins of the teahouse after the demolition. Xu Xin said, "The original sound in this shot is my footsteps, but because of the front part of the whole film, a lot of It’s all the noisy things like singing and performing. I think it’s time to quiet down and make it easier to think. From the perspective of the screen, from the perspective of the editing, I think it’s set to be silent. The impact may be stronger."
The film seems to be drawing a full stop here, but Xu Xin found the troupe of Wang Bin again after inquiring. Xu Xin said, "Because I am a documentary, not a drama, I don't want to leave it. Because they are still living, they are still performing, it will not die completely, Sichuan opera will never disappear completely, never say which There is no one day, no, it always has such a group of people struggling. I still hope to leave hope to the audience."
The last scene of the film is also the lens that Xu Xin’s director is impressed. “Wang Bin is sitting behind the curtain. It should be sleepy at the time, rest or think about it. It’s very frustrating, but he doesn’t know me. He. The last shot of him may be the most real, I think that is the most touching."
"Actually, I don't need to take a long time to make a documentary. The main effort is to spend on editing." Talking about the late editing of the film, Xu Xin said, "My editing method may be a little different from other people. I use stupid. The way many people edit it may be, which segment I need, take which segment to take it, and then put the material together. And I usually put all the material on the timeline, then don’t take it. Eliminate and use the culling method."

After the Torch Troupe
"There were a lot of films in front, including "Mapi", including "Fangshan Church". Some people think that 'you are making folk customs', of course, I don't think it is folk custom. So I thought, I will shoot One is not a folk custom.” After the completion of the Torch Troupe, Xu Xin’s filming of Karamay became a “forbidden film” in China. Xu Xinfu seems very calm about this matter. "This has no effect on me. I am not making a movie. The film bureau has nothing to do with me."
"I think this blockage may only temporarily block a block. It can't be blocked forever. Some people will definitely see it. It is more lyrical to say that the documentary I hope is Chinese, I especially hope that it is people desire to watch it"


0:00 0:00