Sam Voutas, director of the Chinese indie hit “Red Light Revolution,” has started work on a new project – “King of Peking.”
The film takes place in 1998 China and is set in the world of movie piracy, though it seeks to tell a moving story of fatherhood, struggle and personal evolution. The main character is a traveling film projectionist who starts a small pirated movie business to be able to keep custody of his son.
Voutas recently kicked off a Kickstarter campaign for his project, and Greek Reporter decided to interview him to get the full scoop behind “King of Peking.”
What motivated you to make a film like “King of Peking?”
I was born in 1979, so I’m part of the first generation that grew up with piracy; my parents didn’t have it.
In 2013, I was visiting some relatives in Athens and trying to decide what my next project would be. I found myself drawn to this story I had imagined about this man struggling to get by and turning to piracy, so it had a personal connection for me.
The fatherhood angle of the main character came in once I found out my wife and I were having a child. I think that for me it’s an interesting question posed in the film – what lessons do we give to the next generation and how do our actions affect them?
So in your own words, what is “King of Peking” about?
This movie is about a father whose main goal is to bring up his son, and he’ll do anything to accomplish that. Sometimes doing anything isn’t always the right thing though, because extreme acts can have certain repercussions.
Tell us more about the morality of the film. How do you see it?
I’m drawn to the theme because what starts as a very innocent act can easily lead you down another road. Growing up, we were dubbing cassette tapes and bringing them to school. We would create a mix-tape of our favorite hits, and it was all very innocent. Then it’s only a small step forward from that to selling the disc to my classmates.
I was very fascinated by the idea of how a very innocent and creative act can devolve, for example, it can lead to running a torrenting company.
How is movie piracy evolving in China?
I bounce between LA and Beijing, and it’s interesting to see the differences between their entertainment and piracy industries.
In China, the change has been more that the market has evolved to cope with piracy, and less that the rules have changed. Many of the sites and companies that started out in piracy have become more mature. They have started developing their own content as they get more on the straight and narrow. Now, they are sustainable business operations, they are actually earning money as film production studios.
However, your film focuses more on the main character’s personal journey. How did you make that decision?
Well, what really interested me wasn’t so much the dark side of copyright infringement, but more the personal side of it. Very human stories of people who have to make a decision – when someone on the street makes that decision to sell a bootleg disc, they’re not even thinking about copyright, it’s just a question of, “I need food on the table, is this going to make me more money than selling noodles?”
We heard about a collaboration with Sundance. How are they helping you and your film?
I went to the Sundance Labs on another project about two years ago now, and one of the great benefits of the Labs is that they have a department called Artists’ Services, where they sort of take you under their wing so they can advise you on Kickstarter. They’ve been very helpful in providing advice and support.
How do you see the issue of piracy?
My last film, “Red Light Revolution,” actually got pirated, and when I saw the copied product, I realized the artwork had been completely redone, they had created a new cast list, and a lot of hard work and creativity had been put into pirating the movie. The amount of effort bootleg distributors put in surprised me, they worked even harder than some regular distributors.
It’s fascinating how these things have knock off effects – a sex toy has been made that’s been named after our movie in China. We don’t get a cut, but obviously that takes creativity as well in regards to design and marketing.
With this movie though, I didn’t want to make any bold argument against piracy – it’s not a rant against piracy at all. I see myself as more of a storyteller because ranting is not going to accomplish anything.
I just want to tell the stories associated with it, rather than necessarily making it focused solely on the bigger picture.
On your Kickstarter, you state plans to “take your movie on the road.” How exactly will you go about that?
The independent film model has very much taken the same road as the independent music model. Artists rely less on actual revenue from the product itself and we actually have to go on the road and perform.
Take your film, go to a town, maybe do a Q&A or a seminar on filmmaking, and that’s how you get revenue.
So how do you see the future of the film industry, and your own filmmaking evolving?
Similar to the music industry, as piracy has diminished revenues, we have to look for other ways to make filmmaking a sustainable business operation, a sustainable career. The more technology we have at our fingertips, the more grassroots we have to get in terms of how we operate, and the more personal we have to get with people in order to bring them an experience they can’t get online.
As more and more content is going online, it’s easier for filmmakers to get lost in the giant stream of information. Films are increasingly moving to a subscription-based model such as Netflix, so if an individual is paying $6.50 a month, how much of that goes to an independent filmmaker?
Overall, it’s very simple: I have to evolve the way I make and distribute films, or I have to stop making films.
“King of Peking” is set to shoot in August and Voutas plans to submit it to festivals in the early months of 2016. Read more about “King of Peking” and support it on Kickstarter.