Exclusive Interview | Yao Xiaofeng, Director of "The Wind Chaser": Creating a Period Drama with a Grainy and Historical Feel

    The TV series "Storm Chasers" is a hit. This legendary story that cuts into the history of the Republic of China from a financial perspective has aroused the curiosity and attention of many viewers. Its production level can be regarded as one of the best works of 2024.

    Director Yao Xiaofeng admits that he has always been interested in the history of the Republic of China. "This period of history is actually very distressing. During this period of history, the ups and downs of the fate of this country, the people who participated in it and those who went with the flow, what kind of experiences and feelings they had, I think it is particularly interesting."

    Poster of "Storm Chaser"

    Yao Xiaofeng is a cinematographer by profession, and has an extreme pursuit of images. In the play, an old street in Qibao was built and rebuilt in another place. The producer was under great pressure, but Yao Xiaofeng insisted, "I think Qibao Street is the residence of a group of poor workers living on the edge of Shanghai. Its texture should be more messy, crowded, and more full of life." For this reality, the crew spent a lot of budget to present a convincing atmosphere of the old street in the play.

    In addition to the visual presentation, the performances of many actors are also quite wonderful. Yao Xiaofeng confidently said: "The actors in my play will definitely give one of the best performances in their careers." He is a director who is very good at communicating with actors and bringing out the charm of actors. The lead actor Wang Yibo also contributed a commendable performance in "The Wind Chaser" this time.

    It was the first time for Yao Xiaofeng to work with Wang Yibo, and he recognized this "kid" very much. "I put a lot of thought into Wang Yibo this time, and he was very active and devoted himself to me during the process. He also believed in me." He said, "There were no distractions in our cooperation."

    The history of the Republic of China, from 1911 to 1949, contains so many major events, countless stories and directions to explore. In Yao Xiaofeng's view, it is a very large treasure trove of materials. "I have been paying attention to this period of history over the years, so when this script appeared, my eyes lit up." He said, "Entering a spy war story from a financial perspective is something that rarely appears in past dramas."

    Yao Xiaofeng on the set of "Storm Chasers"


    Trust each other and be serious

    The Paper: It is actually twice as difficult to innovate in a mature genre and create a more exciting story. During the creative process, what are some of the things you and your team may face that require breakthroughs and efforts?

    Yao Xiaofeng: Spy war dramas are my favorite genre, and I have been researching them over the past few years. How can I find a breakthrough within the framework of spy war dramas? One of the things that this drama gave me was the perspective of financial economics.

    In the past, when we filmed wars, we rarely filmed "where the money came from". Where did the war funds come from? What role did the economy play in the war? What did the people on the economic front do? In film and television works, these aspects are almost blank. I happen to be someone who is interested in both history and economics, so I think that looking for breakthroughs in this area may be a direction.

    "Storm Chaser" focuses on economic war through the identity of the protagonist, the Kuomintang Central Bank employee

    The Paper: In the first episode, the male protagonist is dragged into the stock market by the landlady. On one side is the female protagonist's hail of bullets, and on the other side is the male protagonist's stock market turmoil. This contrast is quite interesting.

    Yao Xiaofeng: The male protagonist is an ordinary person. When an ordinary person is involved in chaos and bloody storms, he goes from being at a loss to being calm and making a choice. I think this is very interesting. The real reaction of an ordinary person when facing a world that he cannot control may be the highlight of this play. So there are the first few scenes. I first created the atmosphere of his life so that the audience can accept what kind of person he is. Talking about the relationship between an ordinary little person and the big era and the big world is my forte.

    The Paper: I seem to have seen you express your appreciation for Wang Yibo in a previous interview. I would like to hear you talk about the collaboration process, including some of your observations on this young actor?

    Yao Xiaofeng: When we met, I could feel Wang Yibo's sincerity, and I said I wanted to pass this sincerity to the audience. No matter what kind of play you are facing, you don't have to act, you just have to tell me your most real feelings in front of the camera. The good thing about this kid is that he easily believes the scenes I give him.

    I think this kid is very good. He sees things very clearly. He comes to the crew to shoot a play. He regards himself as an actor and completely entrusts himself to a director. As a director, I also explain my ideas to him and let him play them. I often say that there should be mutual trust and mutual respect between actors and directors. From the moment I met him, I only talked about the understanding of the characters and the play between the two creators, so there were no distractions in our cooperation.

    In my play, the actor will definitely give one of the best performances in his career. As a director, what I have to do is to magnify the charm of the actor and help him complete the role. This time I put a lot of thought into Wang Yibo, and he was also very active and committed, and he trusted me during the process.

    The Paper: How to build this trust?

    Yao Xiaofeng: It's about equality. I don't "pretend" to be a director, and he doesn't "act" as a star. We are just two ordinary people. He is a young man, and I am older than him, so of course he respects me. But at the beginning, when we were not so familiar with each other, I talked more about the script with him, without any director's airs, and communicated with him in a normal way. After slowly breaking through the barriers between people, there were no problems later.

    His smile is so lively. I once made him laugh. After he laughed, I said he laughed so cutely, and we were both very happy. Later, he would often smile. I think he smiled the most in my play.

    Wang Yibo (as Wei Ruolai) has many breakthrough performances in the play

    The Paper: Seeing the effort put into photography and art in “Storm Chasers,” could you please talk about the audio-visual aspects and some of the considerations of the team, including the creative process of the aesthetic style?

    Yao Xiaofeng: Because I am a photographer, I can quickly grasp the creation of lighting, atmosphere, and color. We first determined a basic tone: in a dark era, in turbulent Shanghai, the first thing we need to create is a sense of cruelty and bloodshed. Our tone is very calm, but there is human warmth in the calmness.

    Our film's photography, art, modeling, editing and music composition are all experts in the industry. Our teacher Wu Jiakui is a very senior art director of Shanghai Film Studio, our teacher Ma Defan is also a very good stylist, and there is also the props teacher Huang Yuguo. Without them, it would be difficult for us to restore the old Shanghai flavor of that era to its current appearance.

    Our photographer Zhou Wencao is my junior. This is our first collaboration, but the communication is smooth. He is a very talented young photographer with a very strong creative impulse. I respect him very much. We want to make a TV series with texture, it must have the texture of a movie, and this time he used retro lenses to shoot, to create a grainy and historical sense of the past era.

    The Paper: In recent years, when people praise TV dramas, they often say they have a movie-like feel. From a professional's perspective, what do you think of this?

    Yao Xiaofeng: What is the sense of film? Simply put, it is the aesthetic pursuit of composition, atmosphere, etc. I used to be a cinematographer. The monitors at that time were not good enough and looked dark. Therefore, only the photographer could see the most complete and clear picture in the camera frame, and the director could not see it. Therefore, the photographer has a great responsibility for the picture.

    I remember that when I was making movies, every time I looked at the sample film, it was the most nervous time for the photographer. After the whole crew had worked for a while, everyone looked at the recently developed sample film together. Every blemish, every dirty spot, every improper light handling, and inaccurate exposure in the picture would make the photographer want to crawl under the chair. But my eyes were well trained, and I could find all the problems by scanning the viewfinder with my eyes.

    Now as a TV drama director, I find that TV dramas are different, the audience's taste has improved, the shooting technology and equipment have improved, and the investment has increased. Under such creative conditions, the content presented by everyone is richer. To work in this industry, you have to break through your comfort zone and make progress.

    “A director must have willpower”

    The Paper: Qibao Street, one of the main scenes in the play, is particularly well done. Can you talk about the story of this street?

    Yao Xiaofeng: We invested a lot just in setting up and modifying the scenery of Qibao Street. After the art was done, I went to see it and told them that we had to start over, because I think Qibao Street in the play is the residence of a group of poor migrant workers living on the edge of Shanghai. Its texture should be similar to the urban villages of previous years. You all look very good, it should be more messy, crowded, and more lively. Just listen to me, let's make adjustments.

    We chose another street and rearranged it. What kind of environment are these rental houses on Qibao Street, and what kind of people are there? What kind of business do they do, and what kind of people do they employ at home? This is not in the script, and it is the homework that the director should do. How can I make this place richer? I specially set up a schedule, who will wash clothes for people and when, who will dye cloth for people and when, who will iron clothes for people. Everyone knows what kind of position and role I have in this street, and what kind of tasks I have to undertake every day, so they are in a natural state. When everyone is in a state, they can get into the role quickly. I also specially found a few gasoline barrels, boiled water in the yard, and boiled cloth in them. All kinds of people are busy, which makes this scene always have its real life atmosphere, and it is very "alive".

    Wei Ruolai and his neighbors on Qibao Street

    Many important plots happened in the pavilion where Wei Ruolai lived.

    The Paper: The pavilion where the male protagonist lives on Qibao Street is also very rich in details.

    Yao Xiaofeng: When Wei Ruo came to the room, I also said it was not shabby enough. At the beginning, I also made a loft. When the scenery of the loft was completed, I went in and said that you have no experience living in a pavilion. It is too high and too big. The room is not shabby enough. But the photography team was also worried that the space was too small and it was difficult for the photography equipment to enter, so it would be difficult to shoot. But I gave the photography team a problem. I wanted a small space where people would hit their heads when entering.

    If the space is right, we will discuss every detail of the character's life, such as what kind of lights they use at home, where they eat, where they cook, etc. The staff of the costume team are relatively young now, and they have no idea about the "torn" clothes of that era, so I let them make them as old and torn as possible.

    Everything was ready. Wang Yibo put on a torn cotton jacket, entered the booth where he would hit his head, and bent down to shrink his body. The small quilt on the bed could only cover his head but not his tail, so he could only shrink up. We shot in winter, so his most real reaction was stimulated. If you feel it in this real atmosphere and environment, you can bring the character to life.

    The Paper: The pursuit of perfection in details requires that you convince a team of hundreds or even thousands of people to listen to you. People who work in the arts are very proud, and it is difficult to bring so many proud people together to work on one thing. As a director, how do you convince the crowd?

    Yao Xiaofeng: Photography, art, they all have their own ideas at the beginning, especially their ideas are very good and sophisticated, so I have to make them understand me and recognize my adjustments, which is better for the project, and then everyone will obey you. The director must have willpower. Whether I can persist and convince everyone to persist and follow you in a direction is very important. On the one hand, this requires the trust brought by long-term cooperation in the team; on the other hand, in the new cooperation, you know that Zhou Wencao and I are running in for the first time, but I gave him the lens instructions and the adjustment and scheduling of the play. He thinks you are great, so there is no problem for our cooperation.

    The Paper: Often, a big problem between screenwriters and directors is whether they have the same understanding of the text, especially the director's ability to convert the text into pictures is very critical. So I would also like to talk to you about the director's ability to judge and understand the text.

    Yao Xiaofeng: Whether the understanding of the text is consistent is the basis for the cooperation between the screenwriter and the director. If they are inconsistent, various problems will arise. So far, I can say that my understanding of the text is usually consistent with that of the screenwriter.

    As a director, imagination, perception and understanding are very important. If the director has a major deviation in his understanding of the script and cannot understand the screenwriter's expression, then the play cannot be done.

    In TV drama creation, the best cooperation between the screenwriter and the director must be that the director adds the icing on the cake based on the screenwriter. This is an indisputable fact. No director can say: This TV drama is good, it is entirely due to me, the screenwriter is a mess.

    The drama "Storm Chasers" is quite special. I saw the script six years ago. At that time, I thought this subject matter had great potential, so I retained the plot of the script, but restructured all the characters and ideological confrontations in it.

    After witnessing the war and the corruption and darkness in the KMT's financial sector, Wei Ruolai found his own faith and joined the Communist Party to seek the welfare of the people.

    The Paper: I saw you cry during the interview, and I really want to hear you talk about your feelings about this drama. What do you most hope to convey to the audience through this drama?

    Yao Xiaofeng: I think it is "seeking the way" and "faith".

    Our generation was born in the late 1960s, grew up in the 1980s, and entered society during the reform and opening up. We have a lot of feelings after decades of experience. We want to connect young people of different generations through the story of "Storm Chasers" and let them continue to explore and choose for their beliefs. We hope that this drama can influence young people today to think about their own lives and choices. We also hope that this drama can help young people today live more passionately, strive to find and determine their goals, and build a positive and optimistic attitude towards life in the era.


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