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Take a ride along the Silk Road with producer Dixie Chan

Have you ever asked yourself what you would do if money were no object? How would you choose to spend your time? Are you an artist? Or a poet? Do you like working with children? Or do you prefer caring for seniors? Would you write? Would you go back to school? What is it that drives your soul? If you could quit your job tomorrow to pursue your deepest passion, what would it be? Where would it take you?

Oftentimes, in Western society, individuals torment themselves with the thought of what they might choose to do if they were not restrained by social norms. Typically, when it comes time to choose a career, students opt for professions with a stable income, balanced hours, room for growth, etc. In this decision-making process, they tend to compromise the things they’re truly passionate about in order to make ends meet and live a comfortable life. This was the case for Dixie Chan, when she landed herself a job working in the civil service. As time progressed and as she advanced through her career, however, Chan couldn’t seem to silence the voice within her that was begging her to foster her creative talents and follow her dreams. The now esteemed producer feels satisfaction when she looks back on her decision to switch professions and pursue a career in the film industry.

“I was in a comfortable, well-paid job in the civil service before I switched fields. I thought I could settle for making short videos in my down time but I knew that it would not entail the same level of creative satisfaction or growth that I was looking for. I wanted to be better at telling stories with visuals, especially stories that give us a glimpse into the realities of the world around us,” told Chan.

It isn’t difficult to imagine the level of apprehension that would come with sacrificing a reliable source of employment in pursuit of an unpredictable field; however, for Chan, the decision was inevitable. She knew that the only way she could ever capitalize on her creative talents was to use them to become the best film producer she could possibly be. Since then, she has gone on to establish a strong reputation as a resourceful, skilled producer and has become a highly sought-after commodity in her industry. In order to maximize her full potential as a producer, Chan decided to focus in on the art of narrative documentaries and with that, she has earned herself work on a number of prestigious documentaries for both the Discovery Channel and National Geographic.

In February of 2016, Chan was working for a production company involved in the making of Expedition X — Silk Road Rising. For this high-profile production, Chan’s management team were looking for an experienced producer with the networking abilities and skill set necessary to make the project a great success. Given the fact that highly established companies, such as BMW Automobile, would be involved in the project, it was imperative that their prospective producer would be able to keep up with corporate demands without sacrificing any of the creative elements needed to tell this story in the most honest, authentic way possible. Fortunately for Chan, her reputation had become well known amongst her co-workers and following her success with the widely received National Geographic documentary, China From Above, Expedition X — Silk Road Rising’s senior editorial team was confident that Chan would deliver above and beyond all expectations.

Expedition X — Silk Road Rising is a feature documentary commissioned by the Discovery Channel and BMW Automobile. For millennia, the Silk Road has been the economic conduit between the East and the West through which Empires were forged and ideas were exchanged, sometimes violently. With that, this documentary follows the journey of award-winning presenter, Denise Keller, and adventurer, Liam Bates, as they travel from China, through Kazakhstan, to Turkey along the Silk Road, discovering a new generation of explorers, entrepreneurs, and innovators. Chan, having learned about the Silk Road in her school-aged days, was fascinated by the opportunity to showcase the cross-cultural interactions that flourish along the Silk Road and the way in which it inevitably influences art, architecture, cuisine, history, and more, in today’s society.

As a producer, Chan was responsible for proposing which types of stories and characters would be featured in the show, and ultimately, securing access to those locations and individuals. In addition, she coordinated three different teams simultaneously and ensured that she communicated the needs of the project to each team effectively in order to keep filming on track from the start of the show to the finish. To do so, Chan made it her top priority to thoroughly grasp the needs of the film herself so that she would be able to translate those needs into understandable terms for everyone else involved. Given the grand scale of the documentary and the volume of individuals who worked on it, this was no small feat; however, Chan has a natural affinity for planning and problem solving as they pertain to the creation of narrative documentary style films and these skills, coupled with her strong communicative abilities, made her pivotal to the success of Expedition X - Silk Road Rising.

Expedition X - Silk Road Rising’s Director of Photography, Simon Nicholls, took a great personal stake in ensuring that the documentary did justice to the cultural intricacies embedded in the journey along the Silk Road and felt an added sense of comfort in knowing that he had a producer like Chan on board. For Nicholls, knowing that Chan was always planning ten steps ahead of the rest of the cast and crew kept him at ease throughout the filming of the project. Seeing her in operation reminded him that Chan was the best candidate for the job and he considered her to be an irreplaceable member of his team.

“Dixie is an intelligent and fiercely determined producer. She has proven herself to be a valuable team member in the field, as well as in the production office. Myself, as a DOP, and the rest of the crew, were confident with Dixie’s guidance throughout the project, as she was the chief researcher. Her competency and experience on set even led to our Director, Kenny, trusting her as his Assistant Director,” remarked Nicholls.

For Chan, the pleasure was all hers. Knowing that Expedition X - Silk Road Rising was unlike any other project she had ever worked on only motivated her to dive even deeper into the planning process and to ensuring that she matched her skill set to the unfamiliar tasks at hand. She is a proactive learner and quickly adapted to the pace of the project. Ultimately, however, she was driven by the importance of the story and takes great satisfaction in knowing that she had a hand in educating the world about some of the hidden cultural treasures within our historical and modern-day society.

“While I enjoy working on documentaries, I was also eager to broaden my work experience with corporate clients through this project. Ultimately, however, I was driven by the importance of the story. Above all, it informs us of the importance of cross fertilizing ideas and how it can advance us as a society. As the saying goes, we study the past to understand the present; we understand the present to guide the future. This film is not about harkening back to the romantic past of the ancient Silk Road, but how that spirit of adventure and cross culture exchange continues to live on in the modern age through architecture, design and engineering,” concluded Chan.

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