DP Creates App To Help Film Crews Working In China

ipad englishFeature film cinematographer and CrewOfOne reader Dean Head wrote to share with me an intriguing app  that he has created. It is called “Hollywood in China,” and Dean describes it as “an App that translates more than 1,000 film & video terms and phrases with pre-recorded voice files that can be heard and played face to face over a phone or walkie talkie.”

Since I have never been to China, I asked Dean some questions about the app, and his background. It turned out to be quite a fascinating story! I hope you enjoy it.

Q. How did you get the idea for this app?

A. Language is a hobby of mine and I right words down on paper phonetically to learn them. In 2004 I had reams of paper with loads of phonetic translation in Cantonese so I decided to write a book called Fonetic Cantonese (with phonetic spelt fonetically). I wrote three of
these books and they sold out in HK, Macau and Southern China. Then Apps came along and I realised I could make an App that people could ‘hear’. So we released ‘Fonetic Cantonese’ the App with more than 3,000 words & phrases you can hear as well as read. http://bit.ly/wgAUrZ  (sometimes the link doesn’t work)  or http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/fonetic-cantonese/id485248885?mt=8
After that I realised I could do the same for the film, video and photography industry and help crews better communicate plus have fun chatting with each other either face to face, over a walkie talkie or a phone so Hollywood in China and Hollywood in Hong Kong were born.
There are also the reverse engineered versions for Chinese people to use, searching in Chinese then translating into English. More than 1,000 film terms & phrases such as ‘how many times over exposed’, ‘what T stop’, ‘please don’t look at the camera’, ‘have you already done that’, how do you say ‘achromatic’ or ‘aberration’ in Chinese?

Q. Tell us a bit about the types of problems this app will help people avoid.

A. Lost in translation is a key phrase when working in countries where English is not the first language. I’ve asked for ‘one more’ and the crew have started packing up ready to leave… or you ask for a water and instead get a coffee. Sometimes it can be the simplest of things and sometimes it can cause a very big problem such as a driver not understanding the call time, arrives late and the day’s schedule dominoes out the window.




Q. You clearly have a strong film background. How did you create an app?
A. I was very lucky, when I was 15 I knew what I wanted to do, when I was 16 I was a trainee cameraman with the Nine TV Network of Australia. That was 33 years ago. I still love being producer, director and DP plus I love challenges. My friends call me an inventor and entrepreneur. I call myself an ideas person, plus I always need to create. My per-requisite is that all the products I make must help people. I have 32 different ideas we’re working on… not sure I’ll get them all in my lifetime! Before I started Fonetic Cantonese I didn’t even know that App was short for application. I knew less than zero about it all but after a year of constant research and chatting with people I started making the right connections and off we went.

Q. What are your future plans for this app?

A. Future plans include a chat function where people can say or copy & paste a text entry and then send it over our own network the same as WeChat and WhatsApp work. We’re also planning an area for drawing pictures that can also be sent over our network because  ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’.

Q. What advice would you offer to a Westerner who will be working in China for the first time?

A. Speak slowly and clearly. Use simple words / explanations and stay away from colloquialisms. Don’t ‘ever’ assume you’ve been understood, confirm it. Always carry a pen coz there’s always a form to fll out and always take toilet paper with you, there never seems to be any in
the toilets… it’s an expense companies pass onto the individual. Never make a Chinese actor / actress the fall guy, never put China in a negative light and smile a lot, it makes the locals feel a lot happier and at ease.There are fantastic crews in China, diligent, keen, respectful, fast, professional… if you get the right ones. There are also junior people you may work with. It all depends on who your local producer is. I love shooting in China because of the great crews there, the stunning landscapes and the delicious vegetables!


Q. Tell us a bit about your favorite projects.
A. I’ve just finished shooting as VFX & 2nd unit DP on Transformers 4 in HK and also worked on Batman the Dark Knight, Spy Game, Rush Hour II, Double Impact and I was the 2nd unit DP for the flying winged suit / parachute jump off the tall HK building, the IFC II, on Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider II – The Cradle of Life. That was fun!

Also I’m about to release “HSR” a fun packed TV show on historic sportscar racing at Sebring in Florida, hosted by AC/DC’s lead singer Brian Johnson. He and his wife Brenda are friends and we’re releasing the show together.

[See a preview of “HSR” here.]

Finally, I give talks to the ACS and also at Universities and schools so I’m happy to answer any questions from any of your followers if you like… I may learn something new…

I was friends with Sir Freddy Young, David Lean’s DP, (Lawrence of Arabia, Battle of Britain) and also David’s camera operator Bob Huke (in fact I now have the apartment here in HK that Bob had) and at the age of 96 Freddy had turned his skills to oil paintings.. and quite nicely too.. he said, “we never stop learning” and that is one of the best parts of this life 🙂

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