Born in China, also known as Shēng zài zhōngguó, is an American-Chinese collaborative documentary film that follows the path of a snow leopard and her cubs, a young golden snub-nosed monkey, a panda and her daughter, and a herd of chiru. The footage collected shows us a different side to China that Western audiences have never been able to see, especially with the footage of the elusive snow leopard. Born in China will be coming out on Blu-ray and HD on August 29, 2017.
Screen Rant got to chat with producer Roy Conli on press day, where we discussed how he got involved with Disneynature, what additional features we can expect from the Born in China Blu-ray, and what his next project is.
Born in China is about to come out on Blu-ray and HD and it’s an amazing film. You have quite the career. You told me you started with theater.
Roy Conli: I started in theater.
And then animation.
Roy Conli: Yeah. They found me. My first film was Hunchback of Notre Dame back in nineteen ninety...I’ve been with Disney twenty five years now, so I’ve done a lot of animation. This was my first film in this kind of nature documentary thing.
That’s my question. How did you get involved in the nature aspect of Disney? I remember when I was a kid there were these Disney Adventure nature shows.
Roy Conli: Yeah. The Real Life Adventures.
Right. So how did you get involved in that?
Roy Conli: Well, I had just finished Big Hero 6 and Paul Baribeau, who helps run the label, approached me and said, “Would you like to come on and help us craft a story?” And it came right at the perfect time when I didn’t have my next project yet and I said, “Yeah. I’ll come on.” Next thing I knew I was producing and it was a brand new adventure for me because I had never done anything like this, but it was such an amazing fit. There was an amazing director Lu Chuan, who is a brilliant Chinese director, and it kind of utilized everything that I had done through my life and pulled that all into this project.
Can you talk about the contrast between because obviously producing animation and producing a documentary are very different, but as you said it is similar at the same time?
Roy Conli: Yeah. Well, the end product is similar, so you are working from two sides. You’ve got the one side where in animation you are developing a script. You are storyboarding it. You are designing characters. You are doing the whole thing until you finally come to a story. Here you have all of the footage. You have all of the characters. It’s almost like this is painting and a nature documentary is a sculpture. It’s kind of taking away the things that are in the way to tell a story.
So one thing I didn’t know about pandas actually. I just found out in this film is that they only eat bamboo. Is that correct?
Roy Conli: Yes. Yeah.
Now is there anything that surprised you about some of these animals? I fell in love with the snow leopards by the way. I love that story.
Roy Conli: The snow leopard for me is the most amazing and it’s funny because I am a big animal rights advocate. I’m a big conservation advocate and I’ve been giving to this organization called the Snow Leopard Trust for the last fifteen years and to get a chance to work with them and then to work with the World Wildlife Fund, who partnered with Disney to actually help in the saving of the species. It has just been a great treat.
That’s amazing. Now can you talk to me about some of the special features that are going to be featured on the Blu-ray?
Roy Conli: Well, you are going to see a lot of making of. You are going to get behind the camera so to speak...
Which I am excited about because at the end of the film, there’s that great reel that is showing you a little bit of an extended cut. I’m really excited about that.
Roy Conli: I think for me one of the aspects that I love most about the Disneynature films is that the end when you show a little bit behind the scenes. You’re going to get further in depth. You’re going to find out more about these animals. We filmed 400 hours in order to distill it into 75 minutes, so you are going to see some incredible footage.
Is there any story beats that maybe you wanted to tell in this film that couldn’t quite fit?
Roy Conli: Yeah. It’s fascinating because as you go through and start working these stories, things fall away. You go in with certain ideas of, “Okay. This is the story we’re going to tell.” But then as the story evolves, you go, “Oh. This is really the story we need to tell.” So initially we were going to tell the story of Tao Tao’s sister and we looked at the footage and we read the notes that were coming back from the field and we found Tao Tao, this young male monkey who was being displaced by his young sister, was really the more compelling story and, for any of us who’ve had younger siblings, it totally made sense. And I think that’s the thing when you are working with animals, when you find how close we are emotionally to those creatures, that is what you want to tie into.
That was an amazing part of this because you don’t really, I mean, you can relate to every single one of these animals on a personal level, which is pretty crazy.
Roy Conli: Well, if you have dogs…
Roy Conli: You know that these guys are sentient. These guys are emotional. They will try to trick you. I mean, they have every emotion going on. Generally, they are happy and they are just wonderful creatures. Same thing with any other animal. They all have some sort of emotional structure.
I talked to you last night at dinner and you said that throughout this process, you fell in love with making these nature documentaries and you said that you are going to be working on some more. Is that correct?
Roy Conli: Absolutely. I’ve been helping out. The next film coming out is called Dolphins and it takes us into the sea and under the sea. It features dolphins. It features incredible humpback whales, orcas, and then I think the most visually stunning is we actually go down and meet all of the reef creatures and so crustaceans, and these incredible little fish. You may see Nemo. Who knows?
[laughs] And it’s an area that is not explored a lot, so it’s going to be quite interesting.
Roy Conli: It’s always amazing. It’s always amazing. For me, I love the ocean. I’ve been an ocean guy. I scuba dived when I was a kid. I sail now and I love going to the ocean and so the idea of being able to do this and it’s so important again. One of the things that we try to impress with Disneynature is this conservation effort. Understanding the world, the nature of this world is so spectacular and you get underneath, we forget. We have to keep these creatures happy and healthy.
Born in China hits Blu-ray on August 29, 2017.