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Zhang Yimou reveals Olympic opening ceremony secrets
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Recently, Shanghai Morning Post had a chance to interview Zhang Yimou, the famed Chinese film director now in charge of the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2008 Olympic Games. Due to a confidentiality agreement with the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG), Zhang answered most questions with a "sorry." However, he still managed to reveal some secrets about the performance, which he said had greatly satisfied the IOC officials in the appraisal.

Q: What did Steven Spielberg do on the directing team?
Zhang Yimou: Steven has a deep affection for China. When I invited him two years ago to help me bid for the directorship of the opening and closing ceremony, he agreed happily. Now, we are both in charge of the work team. To be frank, it is difficult for a man as busy as he to spare time on all these trivialities, but he still insists on participating in every brainstorm meeting. As a foreigner, he provides us with special insight into the elements we are not accustomed to. His opinions are extremely valuable.

Q: What programs are involved in the opening ceremony?
Zhang Yimou: Including the countdown ceremony, the whole event is expected to last three and a half hours. Currently, the event includes the prelude, the countdown ceremony, the opening speech, a series of entertainment programs, the flag-raising ceremony, another series of entertainment programs, the marching procession of athletes and the final Olympic flame ignition. Of course, we may make some subtle adjustments at the final stage, but that's the general picture. From this point on, any changes we make must be examined and approved by the IOC.

Q: What is the most innovative part of the opening ceremony?
Zhang Yimou: As long as you dream it, any part can be innovative. The IOC also encourages us to give full play to our imaginations. But of course, there are rules that we should adhere to. For example, the march-in ceremony will take one or two hours. Some people may feel it is too long. Can we cut it into two sections and put in some entertainment programs like dancing or singing? Of course we can't. On one hand, the time wouldn't permit. On the other hand, such a change would not be approved. There is enough room for imagination but we must remain in the basic framework.

Q: Are you confident of the feedback from Chinese audiences?
Zhang Yimou: China has the largest number of entertainment programs in the world. As a result, the Chinese audiences, especially those on the Chinese mainland, have developed a growing sentiment against the programs that stick to routines. A merely "good" ceremony will not satisfy their needs. We are now focusing all our efforts on providing them with a splendid party.

Q: Did the Bird Nest (National Stadium) change its design to cope with the ceremony?
Zhang Yimou: When we started to design the opening ceremony, the construction of the Bird Nest was in full swing. When we finally produced the plan, the construction was almost completed. In view of the strict deadline, the technicians and workers at the construction site had to do many extra projects to cope with our needs. This added a great burden on them; however, they were always ready to help when we needed changes in the structure of the stadium.

Q: Is there a climax during the three-and-half hour ceremony?
Zhang Yimou: Of course, there will be climax, which I would like to call the unforgettable moment. When we discussed the opening ceremony with foreign specialists, they kept reminding me that the event would only be an inch-wide photo in the New York Times. Which scene would they choose? They would choose the most magnificent and eye-catching one. It would be the whole impression China conveyed to the rest of the world. It would also be the only moment people could remember in years to come. Whenever we talked about this, I told our foreign friends that we were working hard to provide foreign journalists more options. It would delight me largely if they had eight photos at hand but were unable to make the choice.

Q: What will you do with all the "smiles" you collected around the globe, now that you have already used them in the short film to promote Beijing's Olympic bid?
Zhang Yimou: In front of the smile of the innocent children, everyone, no matter which country or which race he or she belongs to, will feel touched from the bottom of heart. I am sure such a feeling is universal. As you said, I have used the method before. But I think the Olympic games will provide us with a larger platform to communicate with audiences. We spent a whole year collecting smiles around the globe. You can imagine how many families have been involved. The parents in foreign countries will suddenly feel closer to the games when they see their children's faces on the screen. I will choose a proper time in the opening ceremony to show the world these happy young faces.

Q: What Chinese element will you use? You always surprise audiences by using salient Chinese elements in your films. Many people predict that the success of the ceremony depends on your application of such Chinese characteristics.
Zhang Yimou: I am more concerned about the details. Precisely, the entertainment programs last 50 minutes to one hour. What should we provide the global audience within such a short time span? What is the real essence of Chinese culture? It is difficult to choose. We have invited many specialists and leading scholars engaged in the study of Chinese culture to discuss this issue. The elements used in the ceremony must meet two standards: First, they must embody the profound Chinese culture; second, they must be easy for foreigners to understand. Elements with salient Chinese feature are easy to be found. The difficulty is how to make the foreign audiences understand what we want to tell them. If they can't grasp our ideas, all the efforts we made are worthless. China cherishes a long history and a profound culture. To make people from all corners of the globe understand our culture, we must approach the profound in a simple and explicit way.

( by Chen Xia, November 1, 2007)

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