Monday, December 15, 2008

Shooting Film in Hong Kong a.k.a. My Run-In with Run Run

I'm preparing to shoot an independent feature film here in Hong Kong.

As part of this process, I call a bunch of film labs to find out where I can get 16mm film processed in Hong Kong. I'm calling to find out what film stocks can be processed and what the rates are. The person who answers the phone at Mandarin Labs in Kwun Tong connects me to a different person, who passes me on to someone else. Eventually, I get the ear of a film technician named Paul Wong.

I tell him I am an independent filmmaker. He gets me right away and gives me the scoop and a rate. He tells me that Mandarin is the only lab in Hong Kong that handles 16mm. He also tells me there is no film lab in Shenzhen but there is one in Guangzhou. He adds that they probably don't do 16mm. As for reversal film, this cannot be processed in Hong Kong any more and suggests I look at labs in Australia or the U.S.

Overall, the guy is informative and down-to-earth. I'm talking to a human being and not a robot or a recording. The experience is the same as if I'd called up a small mom-and-pop film lab in the States. (These are mostly dying out, by the way...)

Then, I call a bunch of other labs to see whether Paul Wong is on the level about his lab's being the only lab that does 16mm processing. Some other lab tells me to try Shaw Brothers Lab in Sai Kung.

So I do, only to find that the receptionist who fields the call is completely confused by my inquiry. She keeps asking me what company I'm calling from and I keep repeating that I am an independent filmmaker, which just confuses her more. I tell her that I produce and shoot my own films. This baffles her. It's not the English that confuses her, but the concept, as the woman's English is quite good.

I ask her over and over if Shaw Brothers Labs processes 16mm film. Instead of giving me an answer, she asks what country I'm from. I ask, why does that matter? She says it doesn't, but keeps asking what country?

Finally, after talking in circles for too long, she gives me another number to call. I do and get a person who tells me she is "the one who can handle (my)inquiry." I ask her whether her lab does 16mm negative processing, and if so, how much it costs per foot. Most film labs in the U.S. have that info on their web site. And if they don't, that's what the phone is there for.

The Shaw Brothers Lab woman says she cannot tell me this information over the phone and tells me I must first make a formal written inquiry.

I can't help but shiver. It's as if she's used some special kind of Sai Kung feng shui to read my mind and knows that I'm about to make an epic film, my magnum opus celebrating the life and times of his true majesty, the one and only Dalai Lama. --- (For those without a sense of humor and the 30,000+ Chinese censors trolling the Internet at this very moment for objectionable content, that was a joke. I am not making such a film.)

I explain again to the lab person that all I need is a YES or NO and a figure per foot as I'm trying to estimate a budget for a small film shoot.

She says, "I understand. But it's better you make an official request in writing."

Finally, I give up and ask if it's okay to e-mail such a request. She says fine and gives me her e-mail.

I e-mail a request because frankly, what choice do I have?

I find the whole experience a bit strange. Granted there probably aren't that many people calling about 16mm processing, but a film lab is a film lab. And this is Hong Kong, an alledged world city with a proud filmmaking tradition.

All I can say is, Sir Run Run or whoever is running the empire over at Shaw Brothers has created quite a bizarre institution.

Of course, having sent out a formal request in writing as instructed, a part of me already knows what will inevitably happen next.

In a day or two, I'll get an e-mail in official-sounding yet slightly-botched and stilted Queen's English from some stiff at Shaw Brothers Labs "regretfully" informing me that they "no longer process 16mm film, especially for any production that portrays the Dalai Lama in a positive light."--( Note to censors: That was another bad joke.)

Anyway, if anyone else out there is thinking of shooting 16mm in Hong Kong, this is the low-down on available labs. One lab. One system.

POSTSCRIPT: I called back a few times the next day, and again talked to the same person, who this time told me she had received my e-mail request but "couldn't respond because I hadn't included my phone number."

She then asked that I submit dates when I wanted the processing done because "the price depends on the schedule."

After getting off the phone with this ridiculous person, I got fed up and called back on a different extension and finally got someone on the phone who instantly gave me the info I needed.

$1.20 HKD/ ft. She then explained she'd been out of the office and someone else had been getting her calls for her.

Basically, the joker who I'd talked to initially had had me jump through hoops instead of simply saying, "I don't know. The person who knows is out of the office. Please call back."

Is it that hard to say, "I don't know"? I say this all the time. Geez!


Ed said...

I'm also a budding filmmaker, well, more so in the documentary field nowadays. Or rather more precisely, have shifted my focus into photography.
My email addy is (on Facebook too).
Keep in touch! Maybe we'll get to collaborate some day!

Winifred said...

Have you visited the Govt. website that tries to promote film making in HK?

It's called The Film Services Office:

I went there & looked in the menu under "Production Services" and then under "post production services" and under the category of "Film Labs and Stores" they list some:

In addition to Mandarin there are two others:
Company: Cine Art Laboratory Ltd
Address: Unit C 4/F Freder Ctr
68 Sung Wong Toi Rd
To Kwa Wan
Tel: 2363 8325
Fax: 2764 6796
Contact Person: Mr CHIU Sin-wai or Ms LAI Sin Chun
Services: Established in 1971. We provide film developing and printing services.
Credits: Since establishment, our company has been developing and printing films for a lot of film production companies. Among them, Golden Harvest (HK) Ltd is our major client. We also provide services for overseas film production companies and advertising agencies.

Maybe you contacted the wrong people at Shaw Brothers?

They have this info. - w/ a contact name:
Company: Shaw Brothers (Hong Kong) Ltd - Film Laboratory
Address: Lot 220 Clearwater Bay Rd
Sai Kung
Tel: 2335 5111
Fax: 2335 1103
Contact Person: Ms Wendy NAM
Services: Film processing for feature films and TV commercials, printing copies with subtitles, film restoration, computer editing, digital colour-grading, digital restoration, digital effect and film output.

If you do come out to Clear Water Bay, let me know - I'll buy you lunch (I work next door to Shaw Brothers)

mao365 said...

Thanks for the info, Winifred.

And I'll be sure to look you up if I'm ever at Shaw Brothers.

Winifred said...

Glad that you got the right person at Shaw Bros. How frustrating 'though.