Born In China – Interview with Producer Roy Conli

 

It’s Earth Day y’all and  Disneynature’s is right on time with the release “Born in China” hitting theaters today  I’m so excited for you all to see this magnificent piece of art on-screen. Ever wonder how filmmakers are able to capture animals in their natural environment? Well, Producer Roy Conli broke it all the way down on those issues and much more… Here are some excerpts from our interview.

 

ROY CONLI:

“Early in my career, I did a little live action stuff…but I’ve been in animation for twenty-four years and fell in love with this format.”

 

BLOGGER:

Will you be working more on nature versus animation?

 

ROY CONLI:

“I actually have two animation projects I am working on currently.   It’s a funny thing coming from the theater. For the first half of my career, I probably thought of myself as a theatrical producer working in animation.  Since I’ve been working with John Lasseter,  I really feel like an animation producer…although this is quite different…so incredibly important and strong.”

“When you work in animation, you start with whole cloth,script and you start boarding.  Then you start putting up sequences.  Here, it’s almost exactly the opposite. You start with an image, work back meeting somewhere in the middle and you create the story.”

 

“You’ve got these amazing cinematographers, who are out in some of the most remote places in the world, filming this stuff and journaling everything that they are seeing.  So you depend on those incredible cinematographers to help feed you with the information you need to tell that true life adventure, because they are the ones that are actually experiencing it.”

NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 08: Producer Roy Conli, Dr. Jane Goodall and Director Lu Chuan attend Dr. Jane Goodall, Director Lu Chuan And Producers Roy Conli And Brian Leith Arrive At The New York Premeire Of Disneynature’s “Born In China” at Landmark Sunshine Cinema on April 8, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images or Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

BLOGGER:

The footage must be amazing and extremely raw, because you are sitting for hours trying to create a certain story…looking for that right scene.

 

ROY CONLI:

“…And that is where the absolutely incredible cinematographers like Shane Moore, who was the cinematographer, for the snow leopard unit are invaluable.”

 

BLOGGER:

That snow leopard story is so sad….

 

ROY CONLI:

“It’s part of life.  Shane was shooting for 253 days shooting, over four trips and  over six seasons. He was living in a little shack next to a monastery in the Sichuan, Shaanx Plateau. He and his very small team, would leave before dawn and get back after dark… literally shoot straight for the length of their visas. Now, they were coming in on journalist visas and essentially had to leave after three months.  The first shot of snow leopard that we got was ninety days into his first stay. He had to leave after the first day he got the first shot.  It’s a testament of what kind of perseverance they had, but also speaks to what kind of professionals these guys are. They really tracked these animals to get an understanding of their movements, understand their thought process, and what their habits and customs are.”

 

“Same thing with the pandas…. Pandas are 800 pound, incredibly isolated animals and don’t like a lot of companionship around them. So a mother panda with her 800 pound cub, can be somewhat dangerous.   What the cinematographers on that crew did, was essentially put on panda suits that put panda scent on them.  You can imagine what panda scent is and they literally kept a significant distance away.”

 

“As you build a relationship with these animals, and as those animals see that you are not a danger…they start getting closer and closer. So Shane for instance, on the Snow Leopard front, started about 400 meters away, with telephoto lenses and really focusing and building that relationship.   By the time he ended, he was somewhere between 40 and 50 meters away, which is comparable to like 130 to 140 feet away.  Really amazing… Sometimes you look at the shot and you see the mother looking straight at  camera. She’s looking at Shane and saying, “You’re not coming any closer to my kids.”

 

All:

All the blogger burst into laughter…

BLOGER:

Can you talk about the importance that perhaps the Disneynature series is going to have for children and families nowadays?

 

ROY CONLI:

“It’s interesting, because we really refer to these as real life adventures as opposed to documentaries.  In the sense that these are more narrative, and yet we shoot with the concept of documentary.  We won’t go in and set up shots. We wont go in and alter what is actually happening in nature and we are journaling what the actual true life adventure is.”

 

But I think for me, I grew up watching the true life adventures that Walt Disney actually produced from 1948 to 1960, which won Academy Awards through the sixties and seventies, on “The Wonderful World of Disney” specials.   I grew up in the suburbs in Los Angeles. So my introduction to wildlife was through these films.”

Anytime we make a film, we want to make sure the adults are getting the good stuff as well. It really introduces children and adults into the wonder of this world and helps them understand what an amazing world that natural life has to offer.    We would just be in awe, because it’s incredibly beautiful and it’s incredibly important to protect.”

 

BLOGGER:

Now that you talk details, tell us the details of the monkeys.

 

ROY CONLI:

Well the monkeys in comparison to the snow leopards and the pandas…they wanted to come up and say hello. They actually performed for the cameras.  One of the things that you need to do when you are working with monkeys, is trying to divorce yourself because you don’t want them to become too familiar.  Because, then all of a sudden, you’re doing the exactly opposite of what you are trying to do.  Let nature take its course.  They want to involve you in their tribe and you have to kind of reduce that as much as possible.

I think what I love so much about this film, and what I love so much about having worked with Chuan, he is a master storyteller. As we were watching the footage, it became really important to us and would have been very easy in these films to solely depend on the relationship of mother and cub.   In this particular case, it was a brother and sister relationship, that we were able to talk about.  Who hasn’t had an older or younger sibling that hasn’t felt that sense of hey wait a minute, where do I fit in now? So, within the structure,  I think Disneynature has a kind of inspirational and educational mandate, but also an entertaining mandate and when you look at that story, you start to understand humanity as well.

The imagery is stunning and just like Roy said the humanity in the relationships between mother/cub and siblings will warm and break your heart all at the same time.  Support EARTH DAY and Suppot the World Wildlife Fund.  During Born In China’s opening week (April 21-27, 2017) film proceeds will benefit the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).   Based on opening-week attendance, Disneynature, via the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, will make a contribution to the WWF to help protect wild pandas and snow leopards in China.

BORN IN CHINA is in a theatre new you TODAY!!!

 

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