Producer Wonnie Shen - shot by Photographer Haitao Zeng
When it comes to implementing change into how international films are being made, there’s no denying the fact that cultural diversity is one of the leading contributing factors. In today’s generation, global filmmakers are driven by the unique opportunity to use their heritage to strengthen the universal ties with the modern-day gatekeepers of Hollywood.
With the rapid growth in global box office numbers, a recent PEN America study showed that China is fast tracked to become the world’s largest movie market, effectively shaping the way future films are written, financed and censored to appeal to the universal market.
With his trilingual expertise and outstanding deadline-driven work ethic, emerging Chinese film producer Wonnie Shen is the ultimate winning formula when it comes to modern day filmmaking.
He says, “As an international producer, I've been working with China and Korea as a bilingual so that I can bring all connections to the table and combine Asia with the American market and culture.”
His skill behind the scenes was widely recognised on the 2020 critically acclaimed Chinese film “Lost in Russia,” a bitter-sweet generational comedy about the loving yet testing relationship between a smothering mother and her rebellious son.
Directed by award-winning actor and producer Xu Zheng (“Dying to Survive,” “My People, My Country”) who also stars in the film, “Lost in Russia” is the third instalment in the award-winning “Lost In” franchise, following “Lost in Thailand” (2012) and “Lost in Hong Kong” (2015), which earned a combined $473 million dollars worldwide.
Shen worked as a producer on the US side of the film production where he aided smooth and clear communication between all departments and ensured every foreign cast and crew member understood exactly what their roles were.
“Mr. Xu Zheng is not just a comedy superstar, he's also a very experienced comedy director,” says Shen. “It was a great pleasure working with him, to learn from him and also overcome the difficulties during the production together.”
Considering the Chinese film was shot in New York, it was Shen’s strong leadership and cunning multilingual finesse in Korean, Chinese and English which inevitably drove the faultless production shoot.
“The most difficulties during the production were the language differences and also the different ways of working in the U.S. and China,” says Shen. “What I did was translate in between to make sure everyone understood each other while also coordinating different departments to make sure everything went smoothly.”
The film was slated to be one of the biggest theatrical blockbuster screenings for the Chinese Lunar New Year festival season, and was forecasted to generate as much as $1 billion dollars in ticket sales in the opening week. However, the festivities were unexpectedly cancelled due to the global Coronavirus outbreak earlier this year, leading the highly anticipated full length feature to be released via Huanxi’s in-house streaming platform.
As a creative and effective way of promoting Covid health and safety responsibilities, Huanxi released the film for free to encourage eager cinema-goers to "stay safely at home and watch ‘Lost in Russia’ with your mom."
The striking promotional strategy was a raging success, resulting in more than 600 million streams in the first three days of its digital release.
Shen says, “The film itself brought a lot of joy to the audience who watched it, and I feel honored to be part of it and to be able to send a good vibe message to everyone in this hard time.”
Official "Lost In Russia" (2020) Movie Poster
Born and raised in China, Shen’s phenomenal decade-long career spans across both film and television and includes working on the fan-favorite series “Dream Harmony” in 2011, as well as the production producer for “Biggest Loser China” (2013) for China’s largest production studio, Enlight Media.
In 2015, his multi-lingual mastermind secured him a role with the leading Korean production enterprise, Show Time Media, after being scouted by the company’s producer Shinhyo Lim to manage the international divisions between China and Korea.
Through his phenomenal work with Show Time Media, he co-produced the award-winning Youku-Tudou web drama series “Ten Deadly Sins,” which received over hundreds of millions of click throughs on the popular streaming platform Youku.
After relocating to the states in 2017 and graduating from the New York Film Academy, home to Hollywood legends Bill Hader (“Trainwreck”) and Aubrey Plaza (“Parks and Recreation”), Shen used his noteworthy production credits to score a full time position with the esteemed film company Rollin Studios (“The Last Fair Deal,” “Mojin: The Lost Legend”).
“At first learning to put together two opposite cultures takes a lot of time and patience, this was a great challenge for me,” says Shen.”I had the advantage of knowing both the languages to be able to communicate back and forth. I also had the patience to make two cultures work together.”
Through his profound stature with Rollin Studios, he landed the role as line producer on the 2018 critically acclaimed film “Pulse,” which was written and directed by award-winning filmmaker Luxi Xiao (“Etude,” “Mapplethorpe”).
The emotional film is based on the dire true story of a struggling mother’s mental breakdown, who’s grieving from the sudden shooting of her husband and desperately trying to repair her fragile relationship with their son.
Shen’s role as a line producer on the film landed him at the heart of the production where he acted as a safeguard between all departments to ensure consistency throughout the entire filming schedule.
His effective coordination and thorough multitasking skills allowed each department to focus solely on their task at hand, while helping to boost production morale and cultivate the film's award-winning results.
It was Shen’s outstanding leadership flair that drove the film to take home multiple award wins, including the Best LGBTQ Film and Best Director Awards at the 2019 Los Angeles Film Awards, amongst several other credited nominations and wins from acclaimed ceremonies around the world.
“First and foremost, before even knowing Wonnie, his unique skills to write and speak in Korean and Mandarin was already impressive enough,” says Rollin Studios founder and “Pulse” producer Anthony Argento (“Devoured”).
“In addition to this, his work ethic is on top of his game. He is always helpful and gives to every task. However, I think the best thing he brings to the table is his attitude and dedication toward the film industry.”
Producer Wonnie Shen - shot by Photographer Haitao Zeng
But it’s not only his trilingual intelligence and adaptable work ethic in film and television that sets Shen apart from the rest.
His dynamic and advanced technical knowledge was the driving force behind the success of the 2020 commercial for the prestigious vehicle company Cadillac, which is manufactured by the billion dollar luxury car enterprise General Motors.
The five minute commercial, which was released in August, was filmed during the pandemic and relied on Shen’s diligent troubleshooting skills to lead the narrow team to create profound achievements.
He says, “This commercial came to us during the pandemic, which means we needed to use limited crew members to make the same quality product for the Chinese clients.”
Considering that the international clients were restrained from travelling due to the pandemic, it was Shen’s clear online communication via Zoom and Skype that ensured the high end profilers were completely blown-away with the overall result.
With his unique ability of bringing artistic expression and cultural relevance to filmmaking, it’s more than fair to say that Wonnie Shen is the influential power force that is shaping the way Hollywood films are being made.
“I see my role as a Chinese producer in the U.S. being a strategic role in the industry because my background in China is from high-end film and television studios like Beijing Enlight Pictures,” says Shen. “I aim to achieve the same level of production while being in the U.S.”