Apple tapped director Lulu Wang to showcase the cinematic features of the tech company’s latest iPhone.
Wang, who wrote and directed 2019 feature film “The Farewell,” directed a new short for Apple in celebration of Chinese New Year, “Nian,” which puts a fresh twist on a well-known Chinese folktale. (Watch below or at this link.) The 11-minute film was directed by Lulu and her team from “The Farewell” and shot on an iPhone 12 Pro Max.
Apple, which just reported a blowout holiday 2020 quarter with a record $65.6 billion in iPhone sales, has touted the iPhone 12 Pro models as the best smartphone it’s ever made for filmmakers. They’re the first iPhones that can record HDR video in Dolby Vision, as well as provide the ability to edit 4K video at up to 60 frames per second directly on the phone. During the launch event last fall, Apple showed a 60-second film shot in HDR video with Dolby Vision on an iPhone 12 Pro by Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki (watch at this link.)
Wang and her crew worked on “Nian” remotely in the U.S. with a mirror crew on the ground in China because of COVID travel restrictions. The team used the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s Dolby Vision, low-light, ultra-wide lens, telephoto lens, stabilization and time-lapse features. The production featured hard-to-shoot night scenes and scenes set inside a cave, where space and lighting were limited.
“Nian” tells the story of a brave young girl’s determination to find — and confront — the widely feared Nian beast. When she comes face to face with him, she discovers that Nian is not at all terrifying and the two strike up a beautiful friendship based on acceptance.
“It’s really exciting that we have this opportunity to retell this ancient story, to capture these incredibly cinematic images with the iPhone, this very versatile device,” Wang said in a behind-the-scenes feature accompanying the film. She said the “Nian” team had “a lot of fun just trying to figure out where else can we stick the phone so we can get angles and perspectives that are just a little bit more unique.”
“We thought, ‘Oh, why don’t we just put the phone inside of the Nian’s mouth?’ I think the size of it allows us to get all kinds of cool, specialty shots that would be much harder to get with the traditional camera,” Wang said.
Wang, whose parents emigrated from China to the U.S. when she was 6, added, “As a child, my parents wanted me to go further than they have ever gone. And yet there’s also this fear that I was going into the unknown, and so I wanted to bring that theme into this film.”
“Nian” was produced by Iconoclast in association with Apple ad agency TBWAMedia Arts Lab (Shanghai). The film features an original score by Alex Weston.
It’s the fourth year in a row that Apple has commissioned a film to mark the Chinese New Year, following “Daughter” (2020), “The Bucket” (2019) and “Three Minutes” (2018).
Watch Wang’s “Nian”:
Here’s the behind-the-scenes clip on the making of the short: