Director's Blog
Your SHANGHAI CALLING Questions Answered! Part 1
February 27th, 2013

Who loves Shanghai Calling? These guys do!

THANK YOU to everyone who made the theatrical and online premiere of Shanghai Calling a success! Small films like ours rely on fan dedication and word of mouth to spread awareness, so my gratitude goes out to all our friends, fans, and film festival partners, as well as a special group of ladies known on Twitter as #TeamHenney.

Now that a good number of people have seen the film I’m finally able to blog the answers to your most frequently asked questions! I will also field any additional questions you may have as comments below, on our Facebook page, or our Twitter feed (@shanghailicious), and I will answer them in the next post.

QUESTION #1: Was censorship a big obstacle to filming in China?

This question has been coming up a lot recently, possibly due to the media hype surrounding Hollywood’s interest in the Chinese film market. Just Google the words “Hollywood” and “China” and you’ll see what I mean.

Any domestically produced film in China (including US-China co-productions such as Shanghai Calling) must get the script approved by SARFT (the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television) in order to get the filming permit. Later, the finished film must be submitted to SARFT so they can see if you listened to their script notes, and to get more comments before they grant the public exhibition permit.

Our script had two main problem areas:

A) The “legal story” within the film, which was about technology piracy. In the original script, Sam (DANIEL HENNEY) offers legal advice to his client (ALAN RUCK) which results in a new mobile phone being produced illegally by another manufacturer.

The groundbreaking new mobile phone featured in the film SHANGHAI CALLING.

Because piracy and other illegal activities are not allowed to be depicted in Chinese films, I had to rewrite this story to make it more of a business misunderstanding that was still the fault of Daniel Henney’s character.  By making this change and striking the word “piracy” from everywhere in the script, we got the filming permit.

B) Comedy scenes that the censor’s didn’t “get.” Shanghai Calling is funny. But comedic tone is difficult to convey on paper, especially when your story was written in English, translated into Chinese, and then sent to a government bureaucracy composed of (what I imagine to be) very serious people. They’re not reading the script and saying, “Ha ha ha! Oh man, that’s going to be so funny when Daniel Henney gets lost in the taxi. I can’t wait to see this on the big screen!” They’re reading it and worrying about the movie leading to an uproar or a riot that will destabilize the government and get them fired. Producer JANET YANG and I made the conscious decision to stick to our guns and film the comedic scenes as intended, so that SARFT would see the tone as intended.  Sure enough, the comedy notes went away after they watched the film.

Obviously not all movies can get through the censorship process as easily as we did. It depends on the story, but it also helps if you understand Chinese culture well enough to make changes that are palatable to them, and are able to read your SARFT notes in Chinese. I read our notes in Chinese and English, but the English version of the notes didn’t make any sense. A lot gets lost in translation.

QUESTION #2: How did you find your actors? 

We hired two terrific casting directors who did most of the heavy lifting for us. LESLIE WOO was our US Casting Director, who helped us get our US-based actors: DANIEL HENNEY, ELIZA COUPE, BILL PAXTON, and ALAN RUCK. Leslie and I actually grew up together in Chicago, so it was a real pleasure getting to work with her on my directorial debut.

DANIEL HENNEY and ELIZA COUPE at the Los Angeles premiere of SHANGHAI CALLING.

Our China Casting Director was POPING AUYEUNG, who is extremely well known to Hollywood producers for being the “go-to” casting director when you need bilingual actors in your US-China co-production film. Because we only brought the four actors above from the US, Poping had to cast the vast majority of the parts in China, from Fang Fang (played by ZHU ZHU)…

ZHU ZHU at the Los Angeles premiere of SHANGHAI CALLING.

…to Jensen (CHARLES MAYER), the rival lawyer Sam meets during the movie.


Charles is a really talented actor and was a joy to work with, plus he plays his role with such vigor that I can’t imagine anyone else having done it. Thanks for finding him, Poping!

QUESTION #3: Where can I buy that phone?

You mean the transparent, touchscreen phone that you can feel the keys on?

You can’t buy it, it doesn’t exist.  The phone is a prop created by production designer YU BAIYANG, enhanced by the excellent visual effects work of NATE WHITSON.

Interestingly, we’ve been getting many tweets and emails about a transparent phone that is currently in development and may be on the market as early as 2015. But the Shanghai Calling phone is still cooler, because it has tactile feedback, something that real-world engineers haven’t figured out yet.

That’s all the answers for now. Send me any and all questions you have about Shanghai Calling by commenting below, on our Facebook page, or to our Twitter feed (@shanghailicious), and I’ll answer them in future installments.

In the meantime, keep telling everyone you know to watch Shanghai Calling, on demand everywhere including iTunes!


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