When it comes to filmmaking, director Gil Kofman subscribes to an ambitious philosophy. “You make a movie three times,” he states. “Once when you write it, once when you shoot it and once when you edit it.” So when Kofman set out to make his recent film Case Sensitive, a digital-age thriller about a young Internet personality that develops a stalker (which was recently sold to HBO Asia), he planned on adhering to his philosophy step by step. The only problem, Kofman wasn’t making his film in the taken-for-granted confines of the Hollywood film industry. Instead, he was hired to film the movie as a foreign production in China, a country where Communism and the color red reign supreme.

To document his inevitable struggles to overcome language barriers, culture shock and a few intrusive Chinese production companies, Kofman and co-director Tanner King Barklow filmed Unmade in China, an unapologetic behind-the-scenes documentary that, among other things, allows Kofman to express his frustrations as he writes, shoots, and edits his film amidst a bevy of obstacles. Wading through the good and the bad, Unmade in China finds Kofman fighting for the reins of his own production and slowly uncovering what truly drives his vision for filmmaking.

Kofman spoke with GALO about these struggles and what it was like to be an American fish in the China Sea — an experience that led to personal and creative growth, as well as more than a few headaches.

GALO: Your film is fascinating in that it is tremendously honest about the struggles of making a film in China — from the language barrier to the incompetency of some of the crewmembers. What made you want to film this production process and make it a separate film?

Gil Kofman: When I first got to Beijing, I had no idea what to expect. A few minor cultural changes were discussed, which was to be expected at the very least given the disparity of lifestyles. Violence and language had to be tempered; certain scenes rewritten to placate censors and make government officials happy. But before long, vast liberties and abuses of the script were being insidiously enacted under the aegis of some chimerical cultural imperative, this need to comply and conform to the “China Way” — which in fact was just another slogan/tool deployed by the producers to muddle with the script and production. At some point, they carelessly tampered with the script to the point of violating it, and I considered going home. Without ever consulting me, they had changed the script wholesale, adding scenes that were entirely out of keeping with what the film was about. Look, I told them, either we get rid of the villain killing puppies (which he later feeds to the heroine) or I’m out. Eventually, they retracted/rescinded these changes, but for me, the red flag was irrevocably raised, and I was happy when Tanner offered to come out and document the process of the compounded absurdity that followed from one day to the next.

GALO: Do you feel it was vital to include all the frank and honest confessionals from yourself and your crew (sometimes about each other) in this film?

GK: Absolutely. This is a first-person account of one person’s experience. Very much suffused with a certain tone and point of view. Either you cotton to it or you don’t, but it’s not meant to be compromising or overly ingratiating, nor is it overtly educational in the bland didactic way we have grown so accustomed to. No, instead this was about filtering everything through our weary optic. Tanner and I were performing more for each other than for anyone else. But that’s the point, it’s meant to be refracted through these lost individuals — in this case, me and my cohort — and you either find that charming or annoying, depending on your take. Sometimes the insights have validity or are provocative; sometimes they are just emotional conjecture, impulsive and opinionated. It’s not meant to be dry and academic, rather observational and open, creative whining taken to new extremes, textured by the surreal ordeal that anneals this abject character trying to make his film. The confessions of other cast members are there to offer counterpoint, as well as illuminate certain scenarios outside my given experience. They nuance and provide respite as well as perspective.

GALO: The film is very much about the clash of cultures between the American way of filmmaking and that of Communist China. For an American director, what was it like to make a movie in that kind of society? Was there a cultural shock just in terms of how the country was run?

GK: Filming in Communist China offered several surprises, some good, others shocking. But first, I need to mention that this was a full Chinese production, not a co-production, which made a big difference in terms of how things worked. To begin with, the script needed to be approved by the government at its various stages, as well as during the shoot, and then again once filming was completed. So there was always the danger of having the movie shelved, which induced a dire sense of fear and paranoia for everyone on the shoot, especially from the top down.

Consequently, a lot of second guessing was always going on by the producers and those who worked directly below them, often focusing on issues that were in direct conflict or irrelevant to the narrative. Added to this, there was a strong sense of nepotism involved. To make sure the script was approved — ours was especially sensitive since it dealt with the Internet, a touchy subject in China with Google just being kicked out — certain members of the production were directly linked to high people in the government, although they were grossly inexperienced for the jobs they needed to perform. Surprisingly, this strict code of government intervention was sometimes also a marked plus. Say you needed a location, like a mall, or an office building, the centralized power structure could really facilitate your cause. One phone call and it was done! No unions either. So, we worked seven days with no break. As long as needed, without compensation. Again, fear of censorship kept the crew from embracing slightly edgier, messier, ways of covering a scene.

(Interview continued on next page)