Michel Shane, independent producer and co-founder of Hand Picked Films. Courtesy photo
Michel Shane, independent producer and co-founder of Hand Picked Films. Courtesy photo
Arts Featured Rancho Santa Fe

Producer heads overseas to bring ‘Art of War’ to TV screens

In 525 B.C., renowned Chinese military commander Sun Tzu penned “The Art of War,” a military treatise that describes the nature of warfare in painstaking detail. 

Despite the long-lasting influence of both the author and his text, however, Western civilization has never honored the legacy of either, be that as a television series or even a film.

But when 2014 comes, those years of silence will finally be broken, because Michel Shane (“Catch Me If You Can,” “I, Robot”) will take on the responsibility of bringing the iconic masterpiece, as well as the man who wrote it, to life.

Shane, a prominent independent producer and co-founder of Hand Picked Films, had read the book in university as well as other renditions of it when he was just starting up his production company. It occurred to him that, during a trip to Shanghai while the World’s Fair was still ongoing, delving into Tzu and “The Art of War” would be the perfect project to tackle next.

Much to his surprise, no Western adaptation had ever been made before, which further cemented his eagerness to jump at the opportunity. When he pitched the idea of turning “The Art of War” into an epic television series to Japan through Flamingo Pictures, they responded with enthusiasm. Apparently, both samurai culture and Sun Tzu’s book share many similarities.

“They (Flamingo Pictures) took the initiative to find Chinese partners and enter negotiations with them,” Shane said. “I felt that two Asian cultures would negotiate much better than the ‘ugly American’ coming in to discuss how it should be done when our thought processes are completely different from theirs.”

For those unaware of the source material, “The Art of War” contains 13 chapters—each of which examines a specific aspect of warfare. Because of the chapters’ thematic complexity, Shane intends to break down their individual philosophies and divide them into multiple episodes, which make for, as he stated, “hundreds of hours of TV that could very easily be put together.” This approach will enable the project to tell Sun Tzu’s story, and therefore construct China as it was in 525 B.C. and the experiences that compelled him to create “The Art of War.”

Along with leading player Flamingo Pictures and Taro Maki, founder of anime studio Genco, Inc., the People’s Republic of China has set up a government board to oversee the production, and various internationally acclaimed directors will be called in to direct each episode. From what Shane understands, this co-production is designed to “make sure we’re telling the story in a thoughtful manner.”

“They’re not telling us how to shoot this,” he continued, “and they’re not telling us what we can do. All they’re doing is allowing us to shoot there, to review scripts to make sure they’re historically correct. But the series will be shot in China, post-produced in America, and delivered from here.”

At the end of the day, for both him and his international collaborators, it’s all about creating the right result with the right management. And with three nations cooperating to create a media adaptation of the story of a man and his legacy, there is great potential to be discovered.

What makes “The Art of War” such a timeless masterpiece of civilization is its ability to apply itself in fields not necessarily related to the military, such as sports, business, legal, and even academia. Shane has known this for years, and he hopes to convey the book’s versatility through this project.

“It’s really looking at this man’s philosophy and how it’s applied to life. It is an action drama, it is about conquering and success and understanding,” he acknowledged. “But at the same time, it’s not just about blood and gore and who’s going to win. And hopefully, the television series will come off to be able to apply the theories we look at through the seasons of the show so it’s relatable to everyone.”

As with any project of such scope and importance, Shane looks forward to seeing people cultivate a newfound appreciation for Chinese culture, not to mention encouraging them to think as a direct result of this TV series.

“I’m not looking to change the world with a TV series, that’s for sure,” he said. “But I am looking to create thought and passion from the show.”

Filming for “The Art of War” will begin in July 2014, with principal photography taking place in various historical locations throughout China. After centuries of confinement to the pages of an influential book, the story of Sun Tzu and his legacy will at long last be seen in a visual form for viewers everywhere.