The first building to go up in the film studio complex, besides the eye-catching palace, was a hotel, but it was a hotel with a retro design based on an ancient Chinese inn, not one of the skyscrapers that were ubiquitous in the New Era.
The cast and crew felt a sense of novelty staying at such an old-school hotel for the first time.
"This trip was worth it!"
This was what the members of the cast and crew were thinking. Even though they weren't used to planet Wai, there were many inconveniences, and they wouldn't see their families before shooting wrapped, as far as filming locations went, this one was decent. It was a form of alternative tourism.
There were no tall buildings, and they were surrounded by lush mountains and pristine waters, as well as the faux-ancient buildings that were being completed over time. All their anxiety had gone out the door.
"I have a hunch that this place is going to become a popular destination," the director predicted while standing on the second floor of the hotel.
Just from initial appearances, you could tell that this wasn't just another run-of-the-mill investment. Silver Wing was in it for the long haul, not to mention the fact that there were investors from other continents.
Just as the "Beauties" cast and crew settled into their hotel, Zaro had returned to his turf on a neighboring mountain dressed like a vampire, his entourage in tow.
He checked out the progress on Silver Wing's imperial palace every day, followed by a tour of all the neighboring projects.
He was upset that construction on his own project was slow in comparison to the Silver Wing palace.
"How come it's still not done? Silver Wing is about to finish their Phase I. I visited their construction site today—they're getting ready to start Phase II. How come our Phase I hasn't even kicked off?"
Zaro's agent had no answer for his client's grievances. He had been working in earnest with their design team for days now. The complexity of the project had just become apparent. "Who knows why Silver Wing is so quick. Maybe they prepared ahead of time."
Everyone was overwhelmed with work. Only Senior Master Zaro had the time to dillydally.
Even though Zaro's agent had opposed the investment initially, he had felt more reassured after meeting other investors when they had arrived on Wai. He still believed there was a profit to be made.
In which case, they had to do things properly. The design of their building had to be meticulous. This was the hardest part.
"Silver Wing is in a hurry because they need to start shooting their TV series," the agent added.
Zaro sneered. "You mean that period drama you were talking about? I hear it's just about a bunch of women bickering and fighting. It's bound to flop, haha."
Zaro's agent wanted to tell his client that this was a project handpicked by Silver Wing's CEO, that she had better taste than he did and that her decision was most likely based on in-depth market research, but considering the obnoxiously confident look on Zaro's face, he shut up. Anything he said would fall on deaf ears.
In fact, they all knew there were few period TV dramas being made. Everyone was reluctant to make them because they were typically scrutinized by academics relentlessly and were derided as being historically inaccurate or having crappy props and special effects and whatnot. The number of period dramas that had won prizes at the major award ceremonies in recent years could be counted on one hand. Most were of the art-house variety and didn't strike a chord with mainstream audiences.
When Zaro had first arrived on Wai and found out that Silver Wing was shooting a new TV drama, he had felt that his company was obliged to follow suit. They were building a film studio, after all.
Let's do it!
Let's make a period drama too!
But Leizhou's historical sequence of events was different from Yanzhou's, both during the Old Era and during the ancient times prior to that. So Zaro had done quite a bit of research and found out what other investors in the film studio complex were making. Woo Tianhao and his uncle were going to shoot a kung fu series with a lot of wire stunt work, and Barbara was going to remake a few children's plays from the Old Era. When he had visited her yesterday, Barbara had been ordering a pumpkin carriage and glass slippers from Earth. Zaro had thought she was insane.
After extensive research and intelligence gathering, Zaro had decided on a genre: a vampire film.
"We're not going to make a typical vampire movie. Weren't there movies about vampire dukes and whatnot during the Old Era? I built myself a castle, so let's make a 'vampire duke' movie."
"Have you decided on the cast?" Zaro's agent asked.
"The last leading man you picked didn't cut it. All he had to offer was a pretty face. What good does a pretty face do? It takes talent to carry a movie," Zaro complained.
"Talent? What kind of talent do you mean?"
"..." Zaro's agent went silent. From where does Zaro's boundless confidence come?
Zaro had decided to star in the movie himself. That was why he was running around in a vampire outfit. In his own words, it was part of getting into character.
"I think I need to come up with a stage name for myself." The idea had struck Zaro after chatting with a few of the Silver Wing actors today.
Zaro's agent didn't bother to lift his head. "Celebrities use stage names when they join the industry to improve their fortunes or for other purposes, such as drawing attention."
"But from what I hear, more than 90 percent of the most influential actors don't use their real names. I think it's better if I come up with a stage name. Who knows, it might change my fortune and lead to major box office success."
"What do you have in mind?"
"I asked around. Folks like to add syllables to their own names. My name is Zaro. We can spice it up into Kaizaro or Pizaro or Bizaro."
The agent silently cursed. Why don't you just call yourself Zaro the Idiot?
"Or I could follow Woo Tianhao's lead and get rid of my surname," Zaro continued.
"What difference does that make for you? Zaro Renault minus the surname is still Zaro."
"True. Then which name should I use?"
Zaro's agent was in a ruthless mood. "Forget it. You're too famous in Leizhou, Senior Master. No amount of disguising will make a difference."
Zaro pondered the response and found himself in agreement. It's true. I only have myself to blame for being so famous in Leizhou. This thought pleased Zaro mightily.
"When will construction finish on our end?" Zaro asked.
"The design has to be meticulous. It's going to take a while. Silver Wing must have prepared in advance. Who knows how far in advance their planning started. And now they're in a hurry to shoot. You can understand why they finished construction quickly, but take a look at the others. Has anyone else finished as quickly as Silver Wing?" Zaro's agent asked.
"That's true. Woo Tianhao's uncle's rooster crown palace isn't ready yet."
"It's called an amusement palace."
"Whatever. Our castle has to be completed before theirs is."
"The blueprint will be finalized in the next two days. Then progress will be quick. Send someone over from company headquarters first and let them decide on the cast. Have them send the cast and crew over as soon as possible."
Talk of the new film got Zaro excited again. His underlings would also bring along his new costumes and props. The outfit he had on didn't feel aristocratic enough.
"Let's make the surroundings a bit spookier," Zaro critiqued while examining the design.
Zaro's agent ignored him.
"I noticed Fang Zhao's name is among those engraved in the stone monument near the entrance to Silver Wing's palace that honors the designers. Remember to engrave my name on our monument," Zaro barked before he left.
"Got it," Zaro's agent said, but again, he was secretly cursing. Fang Zhao's name was included because he made an actual contribution. What have you done? All you've done is boss people around even though you don't know jacksh*t. But of course your name has to be engraved, given your personality, and it has to be listed first. Well, let's credit you as the owner of the castle, not a designer, then.
On the internet.
Silver Wing's official social media account posted another update.
"Epic imperial court drama 'Beauties' kicks off shooting!"
Silver Wing's filmed entertainment department also posted nine pictures. The first was a picture of the creative team, the backdrop being a grand imperial palace. The other pictures included stills of the palace and shots of the leading characters in costume. There were also pictures of the actors posing inside the palace in character.
He Lisi was resplendent in emperor's yellow, oozing imperial authority and presence.
The female leads were decked out in elaborate costumes and accessories, looking either elegant and dignified or shapely and flirtatious.
Because it was such a big-budget production, the creative team paid incredible attention to the wardrobe and accessories. The production had a completely different feel compared to the low-budget period dramas of the past. Add to that the good-looking and talented cast and it was a mouth-watering prospect for eager fans.
The last picture was an aerial shot of the imperial palace set. The caption noted the set was an exact replica of the actual palace.
"An actual 1:1 replica!"
"No special effects? They built an actual ancient imperial palace on planet Wai?"
"No wonder they had to shoot on Wai. Silver Wing built a friggin' palace there!"
"I'm floored. Silver Wing has really gone all out."
After the photos were posted, the reverberations weren't limited to Yanzhou. Fans from other continents were also blown away by the scale of Silver Wing's investment.
Prior to Silver Wing, no one had actually built such a massive set on a foreign planet. Even if there were examples, the scale was smaller.
The Silver Wing publicity team was also fanning the flames behind the scenes. In no time, news of Silver Wing's massive set dominated entertainment headlines in Yanzhou. Silver Wing got major global exposure as a result.
Just as fans were engaged in fervent discussion about Silver Wing's Wai set and pundits analyzed whether or not it was a wise investment, film studios from other planets made their moves.
Tongzhou's Legend Pictures issued the following social media update.
" 'Mountain of Immortals' cast and crew head to planet Wai."
The update was posted with a picture of the cast and crew posing for a picture at the entrance to a space port.
Soon, Zaro's Wireless Media from Leizhou posted an update.
" 'Vampire Duke' cast and crew en route to Wai for upcoming shoot."
The accompanying photos showed a similar backdrop—another space port.
In Lazhou, Cinderella Entertainment announced:
" 'Cinderella' cast and crew heading to planet Wai."
The accompanying photo was also a group picture at a space port.
The three updates were bombshells in the entertainment industry.
"Cinderella Entertainment? I've never heard of them before."
"Word has it the company is owned by Barbara Lakalina. Lakalina!"
Even if folks from other continents had no idea who Barbara was, the Lakalina surname gave her instant credibility.
"Is there a space port flash mob going on?"
"These are all well-connected movie studios."
"Come to think of it, shooting on Wai is suddenly the cool thing to do."
"I just want to know when these studios started investing in planet Wai. I'm curious what else is being built on Wai."
"I'd like to check out Wai for myself."
"I'll spare you the trouble. I'm looked into it already. You can only reach Wai by freight vessel for now. None of these flights are open to the public."
"Isn't S4 based on Wai? Did they mention these movie sets during their live broadcasts?"
"No. Woo Tianhao's got tight lips."
Many folks were puzzled that the film studios had started pouring money into planet Wai, and why Wai?
The entertainment headlines were dominated by news of the new TV productions on planet Wai. As hard as the publicity teams for other new TV shows tried, they couldn't escape being overshadowed.
Fans were obsessed. Every time they saw an announcement about a new TV series, all they asked was where the show was being shot and why it wasn't being shot on Wai.
Other competing entertainment companies were at a loss, their bosses bewildered by the headlines about the upcoming productions on Wai. They had no idea when Silver Wing, Wireless Media, Legend Pictures, and the newly formed Cinderella Entertainment—studios that had previously had nothing to do with each other—had secretly joined hands for a new venture on Wai.
We gotta get to the bottom of this. When did they form an alliance? What exactly are they up to on Wai?