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Zhang Yimou: Ceremonies more complicated than movies
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Talking to the press yesterday, Olympics ceremony director Zhang Yimou said directing an Olympic ceremony was more complicated than directing a movie. He also dropped a hint about the August 24 closing ceremony, the most important feature of which, he said, would be the extinguishing of the flame.


Zhang Yimou (right) at yesterday's press conference [cnsphoto]

Regarding the opening ceremony, he said, "I give our team full marks. They performed brilliantly on August 8."

Zhang said it was the first time anyone had attempted a three dimensional multimedia performance in such a huge space as the Bird's Nest. He speculated that nothing comparable would be seen for ten years at least. He said that mounting such a performance combining the latest gadgetry with traditional forms is "100 times more complicated than making a movie".

In the end the team decided not to use the image of a phoenix lighting the Olympic flame. Zhang said they had discussed it many times but finally abandoned the idea because it contravened the rules of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which specify the ignition must be carried out by an athlete.

Regarding the choice of Li Ning to light the flame, Zhang said competing athletes were ruled out because of tight training schedules and the risk of injury. On the other hand they needed someone of national standing, with a good reputation, and, last but not least, a good sense of balance. An ex-athlete, possibly a gymnast or a diver, seemed ideal.

Two names initially came up for discussion; Li Ning, and Xu Haifeng. Ex-marksman Xu had other commitments and had to be ruled out. China's Sports Administration then recommended diver Xiong Ni as a candidate. Xiong took part in rehearsals with Li Ning until 20 days before the opening ceremony, when Li Ning was finally chosen. "Xiong Ni put in tremendous effort but got no recognition," sighed Zhang, adding that lighting the flame while suspended from a steel wire was very difficult. Stand-ins practiced the maneuver many times before Li Ning and Xiong Ni tried it.

Wang Ning, director of the Operations Center for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies said the idea of firework footprints was one of the first the team came up with.

Fireworks explode over the National Stadium during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games on August 8, 2008 [cnsphoto]

"The plan didn't change, but the number of footprints did," Wang Ning explained. Initially the team wanted 205 footprints to represent the 205 member states; they cut back to 56 footprints standing for China's 56 national minorities, and finally to 29, symbolizing the 29th Olympiad.

Footprint-shaped fireworks over the sky of Beijing during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games on August 8, 2008 [Xinhua photo]

Zhang Yimou said the huge scroll used in the opening ceremony was the team's masterpiece. "It's the biggest performance art prop in the world, and should be preserved for posterity." He suggested putting it in the Olympics Museum or auctioning it to a private collector.

Asked about the cost of the ceremony, Zhang said the total cost of all four ceremonies – the opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympics and Paralympics, would be no more than the cost of the 2006 Asian Games opening ceremony in Doha. "Of course they have oil and are very rich. Our watchword is you can have a good Olympics and still save money," Zhang said with a smile.

See more opening ceremony pictures

(China.org.cn by Hou Xiaoying, August 10, 2008)

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