Posts in Behind the Scenes

Darkly Dreaming – Meet the Writer Behind Midnight Bites

“Food and sex are the two most important things in life. They’re primal. They come from darkness.” Screenwriter Jiao Yue is sharp, intuitive and maybe just a little sinister as she muses on the creative process behind Midnight Bites. The Inner Mongolia native is dressed in her customary black, with an elegant blue trench coat. There is a constant kindness to her face, as ideas swirl beneath the dark glass of her eyes.

“Many food shows on television are about ‘the good life,’ the ‘warm, easy life. Eventually it’s so boring! We’re doing something different.”

With blood soaked dishes and a sociopathic lead character, Midnight Bites certainly is different. The show was originally conceived by director Luo Tong as a delectable social satire with a foodie twist. Each episode is spat around the writer’s room by the creative team to beat out the concept, but it is Jiao Yue’s scripts which give it the eponymous bite. She then coaches star Nic Xu through the extensive monologues, work-shopping the nuance of the gags until they’re right. This collaboration is a process of discovery for them.

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“We are not as we think we are,” she muses. “Being fake or pretending to be someone else is a fact of Chinese life. Find a wife, a job…have a baby. Someone like Nic is supposed to ‘be a good man.’ But you’re not really that way.” And what about her?

“I should be a good girl!” she laughs.

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Writing had always been a hobby for Jiao Yue, and from a young age she had written poetry. She studied Journalism for seven years, first in Chongqing and then Nanjing, before moving to Shanghai. “I was a bad student, but I was very lucky,” she confesses. “But I’ve always wanted to see more.” She calls Shanghai the ‘dream city,’ a place brimming with opportunities for ambitious creatives like herself. She quickly joined LP Films as a copywriter, and two and a half years later, finds herself challenged by each new project. She is responsible for the scripts for LP’s commercial clients, as well as developing our in-house films. Those of you who follow LP Films on wechat will know her as the writer of the never-boring weekly updates.

“I love my job, and I love Midnight Bites. But we should be constantly striving to be better. The darkness of the show is all imagined. None of it really happens, so there’s plenty of scope. We’ve got a lot of exciting ideas, some quite twisted, but always honest and true.”

It’s a principle by which Jiao Yue lives her life. “True freedom is to be yourself. To dream, but to also face yourself.”

Where does she see herself in the future? She plans to keep writing, and hopes one day to make a theatre play or even her own feature film. “Or maybe I’ll open a restaurant…something dark and sexy.”

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Eating Shoes and Interviews

There’s a story that Errol Morris, Academy Award winning documentarian (The Fog of War, 2003) once convinced Werner Herzog to help him dig up a dead body for research. Morris never made it to the graveyard, and the departed stayed in the ground. Herzog would later lose a bet that if Morris actually completed a film, he would eat his shoe. Notorious for his early inability to finish projects, Morris has gone on to be one of the most respected and influential documentary filmmakers in the world.

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Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (Herzog, 1980)

There’s an intense edge to the man Morris, and there’s an intense edge to his films. He is known for perfecting the ‘first person’ interview technique, where the subject looks directly into camera whilst talking. Unlike most interviews, which place on onscreen or off screen interviewer as an intermediary, ‘first person’ removes the block and puts the viewer in an active role, claims Morris.

When someone watches my films, it is as though the characters are talking to directly to them… There is no third party.

But it is easier to talk to a person face to face than to stare into the cold hard eye of the camera. Morris’ early films saw him attempt to counter this by placing his head directly next to the lens. This meant that when shooting Gates of Heaven (1978) and his groundbreaking The Thin Blue Line (1988), the director of photography would have to try and keep Morris’ head out of shot by pulling on the back of hair, something which the director admits he quickly grew tired of.

Errol-Morris-splash-642x362The Fog of War (Morris, 2003)

The solution presented itself in the form of teleprompters, commonly used by news anchors so that they can read a script and address the viewer at home directly. Instead of projecting a script, Morris and his contemporaries (including Steve Hardie) would project the face of the interviewer onto a glass, meaning that the subject would be looking at a face placed directly over the lens. Morris called his system the Interratron, using it on numerous acclaimed films, and successful commercials for companies like Apple and the US Democratic Party.

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Two weeks ago in the LP Films office, we set ourselves the task of building our own version of the Interratron for an upcoming commercial project in which we want the viewer to connect with the subject like an old friend. Here’s the basic principle sketched by Steve Hardy, one of the system’s early innovators.


One camera points at the director, the other at the subject. The image from the director’s camera runs to a screen mounted face up in front of the subject. Above that, an angled piece of glass reflects the image so that the subject can see the director’s face, an image which is lined up so that by making eye contact, they are looking directly into the lens of the second camera. A feed from there allows the director to monitor the shot.

The project is being undertaken by Arthur and Andrej, and is still in experimental phase. The biggest challenge we’ve encountered is the type of glass to use. Clear glass produces a doubled image (with both the front and back of the glass, only millimeters apart, reflecting the screen) Mirrored glass removes this problem, but has greater opacity, meaning the image is darker.

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But the guys love to experiment. Just this morning, a box of glass samples arrived for us to play around with. Perfection comes from trial and error, and like Errol Morris, we are working towards a system which works for our specific purposes.

What’s it like to use? Morris’ producer Ted Bafaloukos said,

The beauty of this thing is that it allows people to do what they do best. Watch television.

We’ve enlisted the help of staff from surrounding offices to model and test the prototype, and they’ve been surprisingly comfortable. The Interratron removes the barrier between audience and subject whilst being as strange to use as a telephone. When will it be ready to shoot with? We’ll be using it in an upcoming commercial shoot, but not everyone is convinced it will be ready…