Anna Leask was one of six student-producers from the University of Lincoln School of Film & Media who were selected to take part in Looking China 2015. ‘This was the biggest adventure I have ever had and I will remember every minute of it’ – that was the last entry in her diary to record her time on this global film -making project, which aimed to enhance cultural communication between China and the world through the art of film. Anna said: This is a ten minute documentary film I made in Chengdu/China for the Looking China 2015 project. I worked with two Chinese volunteers who helped to organise locations and translate for me. I was cinematographer, sound, director and editor. My film is about Sichuan Embroidery in Anjing Town. It focuses on the workers and their stories.
Anna will be in her third year studying Media Production in the new academic year 2015-16 at the University of Lincoln (UK). She has shared her diary during the Looking China Project. 30-06-15: Today was a long day of travelling! I caught a coach to Heathrow where I met with Emma, Bryony, Granby, Lucy, Tara and Mikey. We made our way through security and got our 5:30 flight to Chengdu. The flight was 10 hours long and we wouldn’t be arriving until the next day. The nerves were kicking in but there was plenty of time to pull myself out of it to get ready to arrive in Chengdu and meet Aki and Shirley my volunteers.
01-07-15: This morning we arrived in Chengdu. We were greeted by lots of Looking China volunteers when we got through security, they gave us a warm welcome and took lots of photos and videos of us. We got to meet our volunteers who would be helping us during our time in China. My volunteer Shirley met me at the airport it was great to finally meet her after chatting online with her before getting to China. I met Aki my other volunteer when we got to our hotel which was on the University campus. When we got to the campus they gave us a chance to settle in and then later we had an introduction meeting with all the teachers that we would be cooperating with during our time in Chengdu. In the afternoon our volunteers got to show us briefly around the University campus, it’s huge!
02-07-15: Today breakfast was at 8:30, it was quite strange because I am used to a simple bowl of cereal, whereas there were a lot of savoury items like, dumplings and vegetables. After breakfast we had our official campus tour. It was really cool to see all the facilities they had at the university.
The TV studios especially were really impressive, they had fully kitted out newsrooms which we got to have a muck about in getting pictures behind the news desks and on the TV screens. As part of our tour we were taken to the room we would be editing our films in, they had Premiere Pro which I’m used to using which was good to know. After the tour we had lunch which was yummy, and afterwards we went to the official launching ceremony. It was a great ceremony we were welcomed by some of the teachers from the uni and one of the volunteers Burt made a really nice speech along with Mikey who compared us (filmmakers) to the Lincoln Imp.
After the ceremony we had a meeting with the heads of the project. I was really nervous pitching my idea in front of everyone but it was good practise for the future. There was no need to be nervous though I think they liked my idea to make my documentary about Sichuan Embroidery but it’s open to change just in case I see anything on the tour tomorrow. Later in the evening after dinner we spent more time with the volunteers. We all went to the sports ground where some people played football. Me, Bryony and Granby learnt some tai chi which was really fun 😀
03-07-15: Today we went on our tour of Chengdu. It was pouring with rain in the morning but that didn’t stop us we donned our waterproofs after all we are used to the British weather. We visited the water project this morning. We didn’t really know what to expect but it was really interesting. We learnt about the water irrigation system in Chengdu that is very historic to the area and got to see some traditional buildings and temples (we also crossed a very wobbly bridge which was hilarious, I attempted to video it but nearly fell over) Next stop on the tour was a traditional tea room for lunch. We got to try lots of Sichuan dishes, and Shirley made me try a bit of every dish. It was great experiencing a traditional tea room and trying different foods that I probably wouldn’t usually try.
Next we went to see the pandas at the sanctuary. We were all very excited about this and we weren’t disappointed we got to see lots of pandas and they were all so cute (but extremely lazy). We were even lucky to see a 16 day old baby panda in an incubator, it was so tiny, hard to believe it will grow up to be a giant.
After seeing the pandas we were short on time for the rest of our tour which was a shame, but we headed back to the university for dinner. After dinner we went to go an collect our equipment from the media loans department on campus, however it took over an hour as there were a lot of us there getting equipment all at once. After this we had a meeting with Mikey and the other teachers to confirm our ideas, I was given the go ahead to film about Sichuan embroidery, we will start location scouting tomorrow.
04-07-15: Today we started location shooting around Chengdu, and I was keeping my eyes open for people we could interview. We had an early start to get the local bus to the metro station, from there we took the metro into the city. We visited the brocade and embroidery museum, this seemed like a good start and would have been a great place to start shooting. However when we got to the museum there was another camera crew filming for a city advertisement. The museum would have been great because there were workers making the embroidery in the back who we could have interviewed but we will arrange to come back another day if we don’t find anywhere else. The trip wasn’t wasted though because a woman who worked there showed me around and told me a bit more about the embroidery which was really interesting to learn more.
After visiting the embroidery museum Shirley suggested visiting the Sichuan Museum which was not far from where we were. She thought it would be nice for me to learn more about their history and she also thought there might be something embroidery related there. When we got to the museum we were immediately approached by March, a man who volunteered there on the weekends. He told me how his son was in Norway studying so sometimes he gets quite lonely so likes coming to help at the museum, he was such a nice person and offered to take me round the stone exhibit and shared some traditional stories with me (my favourite being about the story of valentine’s involving a cow). He also shared some bookmarks with me from his printing shop, it was lovely to meet such a good hearted person.
After meeting March we went upstairs to find the embroidery exhibit. Luck was with us that day because there were actually embroidery workers upstairs. I got some footage of them sewing and we will come back tomorrow after Aki and Shirley try and arrange us some interviews with them.
Next we went to the wide and narrow alley, we were on the hunt to find some embroidery shops to film in, but most of them had a no camera policy. We decided to have a bit of fun instead, we took photos outside the traditional buildings, I wrote a postcard home (which was fated never to arrive) and we bought some ice cream. As it turns out me and Aki both have a very sweet tooth and decided we couldn’t settle for just ice-cream and so followed it with some chocolate cake from a patisserie. We then headed back to the bus to go back to the uni. Later in the evening we went out for some pizza. The shop was closing but they stayed open to serve us and even though it didn’t taste as good as pizza back home, it was still yummy.
05-06-15: Today we took the metro down town to take a look at People’s Park before we started more location hunting. It was such a relaxed atmosphere with so much going on from rowing boats, tai chi, dancing and tea. After we headed to Jinli, there were lot of traditional Chinese buildings here which had been converted into shops. We visited an embroidery shop were we managed to get a couple of interviews with some of the customers about Sichuan embroidery and their opinions about how lasting the tradition will be in the future.
Later in the day we went back to the Sichuan museum however when we got there I was disappointed to find out we wouldn’t be able to get any interviews with the workers because the company were being approached by a lot of different people about getting interviews and only wanted certain publicity. At this point I was getting a bit panicked, although we had started filming small bits, my documentary idea relied heavily on getting worker interviews because they were my main focus.
Tomorrow I have suggested to Aki and Shirley if we can visit Anjing town. I am hopeful about visiting here because when I was doing my research in the UK I found out there were a lot of workers there preserving the art of embroidery, so fingers crossed.
06-07-15: Today we got to go to Anjing town, it’s in the Chengdu countryside so we took the local bus to get there. When we arrived we found the embroidery place and it turns out Anjing is the hometown of Sichuan Embroidery so it sounded promising. We found the manager and he let us film and interview the workers. It was great we interviewed two women and they told us some really great stories about why they embroider, how long they have been doing it, etc… One lady showed us an embroidery she was doing in her own time, she was really eager to show me after realising I was British because the embroidery was of a British woman from around the 1920’s. It was really impressive and she let me film some nice close up shots to use in my documentary, the detail of her work was incredible.
After the interviews we got to go and have some lunch at a local restaurant which was really yummy and some of the best food I’d had so far. After lunch we went back to the embroidery studio so get some filler shots of the embroidery work that is displayed around the studio. After filming we went back to the uni, I was really pleased with the footage we got today and think there is a lot of useable stuff, we might have to go back another day though to get some extra after reviewing our footage.
07-07-15: Today we had a bit of a lazy day. After collecting a lot of good interview footage yesterday it was important to get it translated before carrying on with more filming so that we could see what else we needed or anything that had to be redone. Aki and Shirley worked on the translations today while I reviewed our filler footage and made notes of what else I wanted to film. I think we will probably go back to Anjing tomorrow because although our interview footage is good I think I would like to get an interview with the master who owns the studio and maybe a couple more interviews as back-ups. I feel it’s better to have too much footage than not enough to avoid having to go back and re-film.
08-07-15: Today we went back to Anjing town. We got an interview with Master Wu, who has been doing embroidery since he was a boy and owns the studio. He showed us his current work, it was really impressive and double sided of Aristotle and Confucius. We also had time to get another interview with a worker of embroidery. This lady was a bit shy compared to the women I spoke to the other day, so she didn’t say very much. Her interview might be unusable but at least now I definitely have enough footage. To say thank you for all their help I gave all the workers and master Wu a London keyring. They were really pleased to receive them and in return gave me a key ring too which had a little embroidery flower on it, I was very happy to receive such a lovely gift from them.
09-07-15: Today I got a lie in after a very busy week of filming. At 11 o’clock we headed down to the edit room. I got a bit of footage on to a timeline but it mainly consisted of sorting through my footage and picking out appropriate bits.
After editing and dinner, myself, Tara, Emma, Bryony, Granby, and Lucy all went to a café called Hugo’s. It reminded me of the coffee shops back home which was nice as I was beginning to feel a tad homesick. It was really homely inside and I got a chocolate milkshake (yummy). Later in the evening we all decided to play Uno with our volunteers. All of us squished into one little room but it was a great laugh. Mikey suggested we should play knock out rounds to find an ultimate Uno champion, and I came 2nd in the Uno finals, it’s funny how competitive everyone was.
10-07-15: Today was just a full day of editing. After selecting my footage yesterday it made it easier for me to start pulling it together. I started by cutting down all my interviews, selecting the best bits that I wanted to be included. Aki helped me to select the right bits from the translations she had given me. It took the whole day to select and order the interview footage, tomorrow I will start adding the cutaways and filler.
In the evening myself, Aki, Emma, Mikey and Apple, all went to have our interview. Mikey went first and nailed it, Emma and Me were really nervous about being filmed and were a bit worried we would mess up. I went next and it wasn’t as bad as I thought they asked me a few questions about my experiences so far and at the end asked me to say a Chinese phrase. One was the Chinese word for awesome which I managed to say first time and another phrase was ‘Looking China, Looking Chengdu’, but I was rubbish and didn’t say it very well, they had to write it down for me 🙂.
11-07-15: Today was another full day of editing. I already had my interviews in place from yesterday so it was just a case of adding all the filler and making it all fit together so it would make sense. Also I had to make sure it ran to ten minutes as this was the specified length that we were asked for. I managed to get most of it done, just a few tweaks tomorrow and I should have a rough cut ready for the first screening tomorrow to show our progress.
12-07-15: Today we needed rough cuts of our films to show the teachers in the evening. I managed to finish mine in time and am happy with it. I really hope I won’t have to make too many changes to it as I am really pleased with how it has come together.
Today we had a western dinner, Aki and Rebecca took me and Emma to get spag bol from an Italian restaurant on campus, It was really yummy but could never beat my mum’s 🙂. After dinner we went to the meeting and showed all the rough cuts of our films. The feedback I received was really positive so now I will need to add the English and Chinese subtitles, and do some colour grading and sound correction.
13-07-15: Today I worked more on my edit. Me and Shirley have been working on the English subtitles together and managed to get them all finished. We worked really well together, I wrote out the English subtitles on Premiere and then Shirley listened to the interviews to help me put the subtitles in the right place, so that the text matched the voice. We had a bit of trouble because the Chinese into English translation was not 100% correct, Shirley had changed the sentences of the interviewees so that they made sense to me but in doing so jeopardised the Chinese translation, as apparently they spoke in a very old Chinese language and were not always very concise. However I had to explain to her that I needed to know the exact thing they were saying because otherwise even though the footage would make sense in English it still needed to make sense for a Chinese audience too. Shirley fixed the problem by listening through our interviews again and telling me what to add or delete so that the Chinese would make sense. Working together we managed to fix the problem and so I think it has improved my problem solving and teamwork skills.
14-07-15: Today we were editing again, me and Emma were almost finished so we planned to go shopping and sightseeing with our volunteers tomorrow if we manage to finish by the end of the day. I finished the English subtitles yesterday so I only had to do the Chinese subtitles which Aki added in from me from the translations she had already done, therefore the Chinese subtitles didn’t take as long. After all the translations were finished I edited my sounds and colour corrected my whole documentary. I also had to go back through my subtitles making them more readable, they had to be white however this sometimes made it hard to see depending what was in the background, so I put a shadow and outline around the text.
My second edit is now finished and ready to be watched by the teachers tomorrow. I am really pleased with it and hope I won’t have to make too many changes to it. The good news is me and Emma both finished out edits so we will be going out to see more of Chengdu tomorrow.
15-07-15: Today myself, Emma, Aki, Shirley, Apple and Gabrielle went out into the city centre. We went to Chunxi road which is a very built up shopping district that reminded me a lot of London. We went to a posh department store with a lot of branded stores that we definitely couldn’t afford. The main reason we went there was to see the giant panda statue that is on the roof hanging off the side of the building. After grabbing some lunch we went to the Wide and Narrow Alley, where we did a bit of shopping.
We then had to head back to the University to get some feedback from the teachers. They liked my film and had no changes apart from something in the credits that was written wrong that needed correcting, but this wouldn’t take too long to fix. We made the changes and I was going to export ready for tomorrow’s final screening ceremony. However this was not as easy as I thought for some reason my video wasn’t exporting to any of the file formats it needed to be in. None of the technicians knew how to fix it and it was starting to feel hopeless as we kept sitting for an hour uploading for it to suddenly cut out at its last 10%. Something that should have took max 2 hours, ended up with me staying in the edit room until 2 in the morning but luckily with the help of one teacher he managed to help me and a few other people that were also struggling to upload. We got there in the end!
16-07-15: Today is officially our last full day in China. We went shopping again this morning but this time more of us got to go. We made it back to the uni in the afternoon where we changed into our extremely yellow tops and went to the cinema where our films were being screened. At the beginning of the ceremony we all got awarded a certificate and a panda teddy it was such a nice gift. We also got given a fan from one of the volunteers, he had personalised each one with our names and something to do with our film in the ancient Chinese language it was such a thoughtful gift.
We then got to watch the films, it was strange seeing my film on the big screen but really cool and I was really proud of myself, Aki and Shirley.
After watching our films we got shown the film that they made about us. It was really nice and not as embarrassing as I thought it would be, I’m used to being behind the camera not in front of it 🙂. We went for our final dinner with our volunteers, where we had some Sichuan food. After dinner we dropped of all our equipment then rushed back to the hotel to get changed as we were going into the town for the evening. We couldn’t stay out for too long though because a lot of us hadn’t packed yet, (it was probably the most last minute packing I had ever done). Now we will be heading back home tomorrow 🙁 .
17-07-15: Today it’s time to go home, it is so strange to be leaving and we will miss everyone. Aki came with me to the airport along with other people’s volunteers. We checked our bags and then got ready to head through security but first we had to say goodbye. Everyone was so sad to say goodbye and some people were crying. I was trying to hold it back because I knew if I started it would be hard to stop, but then one of the volunteers Burt made a speech, he has a way with words and whoever wasn’t crying soon was, including me. I was horrible to think that we wouldn’t probably see our friends again that we had been working with over such a long time. I hugged Aki goodbye and then it was time to go through security and catch our plane, where our long 10 hour journey awaited us but I was greeted in England by my mum and dad who were glad to have me back 🙂.
This was the biggest adventure I have ever had and I will remember every minute of it.