Behind The Scenes Of Born In China
The snow leopard is one of the most elusive animals on earth surviving in the harshest of conditions. It lives 16,000 feet above sea level in China’s Qinghai Plateau – the highest in the world. In order to get close to the animals for Disneynature Born in China, cinematographer Shane Moore and his crew had to travel for 10 days from Beijing going slowly in order to acclimatize. Once there, Moore lived in a 2 -bedroom hut with only a fire to keep him warm. It took 90 days to get the first shot, said producer Roy Conli (Big Hero 6) during a recent interview in Beverly Hills. But there was much more to film. The crew was traveling on 90-day visas, which meant it took 4 trips over nearly 2 years to get the footage.
The footage he captured is incredible and tells the story of the snow leopard mother, Dawa, as she struggles to find food for her young. Born in China also visits a Giant Panda mother, Yaya, and her cub in the Sichuan Wolong National Nature Reserve in Central China and a snub-nosed monkey family in the Shennongjia Forest near the Yangtze River.
The monkeys were easy to film because they would walk right up to the camera, Conli said. Not the case with the Chiru, also known as Tibetan antelope, which scare easily. Cinematographer Rolf Steinmann would dig a 36-inch hole in the ground, climb into it and cover himself. He would sleep and shoot from there to get what he needed without scaring them away.
Conli has worked on Disney animated films and said he’s fallen in love with the process of making nature documentaries. “For me it was just a little bit of magic and stunning just how incredible these cinematographers are.”
It’s directed by Chinese filmmaker Lu Chuan (Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe) and narrated by John Krasinski (The Office). Conli said he was a fan of Krasinski, especially after he saw the film he directed, The Hollars.
“I knew for this that we were going to have comedy, we were going to have drama, we were going to have heart. And I wanted to find someone who really could embody those three things,” Conli said.
The comedy and drama come from the situations the animals get themselves into. The filmmakers went through hundreds of hours of footage and then Chuan created the structure of the three main stories. We watch as the situation for Dawa become more and more dire and we feel for Tao Tao, who is at the heart of the snub-nosed monkey story, as he is thrown out of his family after his sister is born. “(Chuan) is an amazing narrative filmmaker from China, probably one of the stronger directors in China right now.”
Born in China opens this weekend and if you see it the first week, Disneynature will make a donation to the World Wildlife Fund in your name to benefit wild pandas and snow leopards.