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Exploring While on the Clock: Marlboro Cinematographer Captures China

July 19, 2016 GMT

MARLBORO >> A local filmmaker is getting acquainted with China, where he has wrapped up production on two projects and could soon begin a new one.

Tim Lawrence has traveled to China twice this year to film for the Asia Society, a nonprofit based in Manhattan, N.Y. The opportunity presented itself after he met two producers from China Sauce Productions at the Independent Television and Film Festival in West Dover in 2014. They had seen Lawrence’s “Rail Trails of America” series about railroads.

Nearly a year later, China Sauce Executive Producer Howie Southworth e-mailed Lawrence about lending a hand with cinematography and sound.


“He said, ‘We might get commissioned to do work in China. Would you be interested in doing work over there?’” Lawrence said. “We went over there and did the first project.”

A travel series called “China in Plain English” was filmed first. Then a second project — a short film/documentary called “Mianzi,” which is a Chinese word used for describing how one keeps their face or pride — was pitched to the Asia Society and the partnership continued.

“Mianzi” focuses on non-traditional jobs being taken on by natives of China and the effects those choices might have on their lives.

An extension or follow-up to “China in Plain English” could bring Lawrence and Southworth back to China sooner rather than later. The first session looked at the Beijing area of northeast China. The next one would bring them to the country’s southwest regions.

Lawrence had never been China before or any parts of Asia. He currently lives in Marlboro.

“This was a whole new experience for me,” he said. “We have done touristy things. We’d take a full day or half day to wander around some. But it was interesting for me because I didn’t know what to expect when I went over,” Lawrence said. “In America, it’s very touch and go.”

Someone may or may not help you, or allow you to enter into their business with a camcorder in the United States. But in China, he said, it seemed like everyone was willing to assist.

If one person couldn’t speak English, they would find someone who could. And Lawrence couldn’t recall one establishment that wouldn’t let him film.

“People were just very excited for these Americans to be coming in and recording their businesses and asking them questions and knowing it would be taken back to the U.S. to be shown to people,” he said.

Another notable aspect of his trips involved observing ancient and historical sites. Lawrence was able to visit the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.


Multi-storied temples at the top of Mianshan Mountain were thousands of years old, Lawrence said in describing what he considered “the most magnificent and just awe-inspiring” part of the journey. One of the temples had mummies inside.

“They were monks that allegedly died in Lotus Position. What other monks did was encase them in clay then sculpted the clay so it looked like they were still alive, then set them up on pedestals,” said Lawrence. “I was up there with a camcorder afraid they were going to tell us ‘no, no, no.’ Instead they gave us a private tour so we could go right up to these mummies. They were incredible to look at.”

Southworth is no stranger to China. He lived there in the late 1990s.

“The projects only started about six years ago. That’s simply because we decided to turn the camera on,” said Southworth. “It’s fun. We have a good time.”

Lawrence’s wife helped Southworth get his cookbook published and she has been very supportive of Lawrence’s two-week excursions, although the last one came at an inopportune time. Four days before leaving, the couple brought a young foster child into their home.

Prior to meeting Southworth at ITVFest, Lawrence would shoot small-scale corporate videos and weddings. He had his passion project, the railroad series, but no budget.

Getting to travel internationally to make films has taken him by surprise.

“My whole life did a total 180 after I had my first project in ITVFest,” he said. “It’s been such an amazing thing to see.”

As a result of the festival, Lawrence also connected with Vermont Television Network. His shows have aired on the Duncan Cable channel.

For this year’s ITVFest, Southworth has submitted the two projects Lawrence was a part of but also “Sauced in Translation,” a cooking and travel series which was previously shown at the festival. New shows were added since then.

Southworth has participated in the festival since the year he met Lawrence.

“It’s a phenomenal experience. Phil Gilpin (Jr.) puts together a nice show,” he said of the festival’s executive director. “It feels like a family.”

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.