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China’s Zhihan Zhang explores what it’s like to be ‘Behind the Spotlight’ in hit show

Zhihan Zhang has always been a natural-born storyteller. As a young child in China, he loved going to the movies, indulging himself in classic films and feeling the power of telling a unique and enchanting story, building a connection with an audience. With such a passion for filmmaking from a young age, it felt like fate when he began pursuing a career as a cinematographer, dedicating his life to telling the kinds of stories that enthralled him in his youth.

Now, Zhang is an internationally sought-after cinematographer, known around his home country as a leader in his industry. His resume is decorated with many successful projects, such as fashion films D-Express, The Lady in White, and Speciality Dishes, for NOWNESS and Elle China, and award-winning films like Them and Troy.

The highlight of Zhang’s prolific career came in 2017 when he began working on the television series Behind the Spotlight. Putting a spotlight on the true masters behind the scenes - from distinguished Hollywood executives to the countless Below the Line crew, this show provides an in-depth profile of Hollywood's masters in a documentary style. Each episode features one-on-one interviews with knowledgeable Hollywood individuals. Through these interviews, the show provides a comprehensive exploration of filmmaking. The show mainly targets fervent Chinese movie-lovers and professionals in the Chinese film market, hoping to be a source of inspiration for these particular demographics. Among the broadcast platforms are CCTV6, iQIYI and Tencent Video. Interviewees include Sidney Ganis, James Gunn, Christopher Meledandri, Sharen Davis, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Craig Kyle, Ve Neill, Randy Spendlove

“It’s basically an international project. The crew are all from China and the US and working together is like learning from each other. Also, our guests are all the masters from different fields in Hollywood. It helps me learn a lot about filmmaking in Hollywood,” said Zhang.

Zhang’s job was to represent and document every guest’s characteristics in terms of their major or craftsmanship, to show the story of behind the camera in Hollywood that the audience doesn’t often have the opportunity to see. It was challenging to create such a show because the celebrity guests often had a limited time frame. In order to save time, Zhang would previsualize the shots by scouting the locations and doing research of the guests’ backgrounds. He would also use different camera techniques in each episode, whatever would work best for the guest and the location they were shooting, which is when his research was extremely valuable to save time. He was an essential piece of the puzzle in making this show the success it became.

Behind the Spotlight is extremely popular in China because it unfolds the background of Hollywood industry production system and craft by documenting the masters from different fields. It is distributed on CCTV6, IQIYI, and TENCENT VIDEO. The show promotes the discussion of filmmaking in China and the United States. The show also entered Shanghai Film Festival as a discussion panel by inviting some of the guests from Hollywood to communicate with Chinese filmmakers.

“There is a gap between the American film industry and Chinese film industry. Chinese professionals and audiences are very interested in knowing the secret behind Hollywood. Our show has very in-depth looks on every detail of our guests from different fields in Hollywood,” Zhang concluded.

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