It’s important to be well-prepared for the challenges of filming on location, even more so when the location in question is about as remote as you can get: Ürümqi, Western China. Guinness Book of Records lists Ürümqi as the most remote city from any sea in the world and it sits close to the Silk Road.
Shuaiyu (Lance) Liu knows all this, he is actually from this part of the world – which is why he wanted to honor the area and its culture with a simple story “Hairan, Hairan” about a boy and his horse. But filming even a simple story would pose some unique difficulties given the terrain itself and the winter weather.
Liu traveled to Ürümqi three weeks before principal photography and he hired a locally-based Unit Production Manager. This was a smart move, as the UPM was also the father of the boy who stars in the film. Six crew members traveled from the US, and remaining roles were locally-filled.
Liu and his crew used horses to bring all the film equipment up the mountain for the production. In all, it took a week to get set up for the following 10 days of filming. During that week, the crew built a tent-like structure to film in, utilizing traditional methods of construction, in keeping with the culture of the area and the story they were telling.
Ürümqi is near the Chinese border, where there are many military bases in operation, and every location needed a completed filming permit. The paperwork didn’t deter Liu in any way – he said taking all of Ken Ornstein’s advice on the challenges of filming in this location really paid off. Liu reported to police wherever he filmed, to six stations in all, but the area being so remote, the filming was something of a diversion from the regular day-to-day patrols. When Liu needed to close a road for a critical scene, for instance, the police were happy to allow it and even provided uniforms for the actors!
As the photo indicates, the weather was the other great challenge of this location. Not only was there snow, it was bitterly cold, hovering around zero Fahrenheit every day. It was so cold that the microphones needed to be heated up before they could operate as intended. Similarly, the cameras gathered condensation easily in the exteriors and the screens started to fail.
All the trials were worth it in the end, added Liu, now busy with the next phase of the project in the edit suite.