The Forbidden City Has Come to the River City


Onset on Richmond’s Manchester Bridge

How do you stop traffic on the four-lane Manchester Bridge in downtown Richmond? Easy. Outfit someone in a historically accurate 18th century, Qing Dynasty soldier’s uniform, with a bow, quiver of arrows, and sword, and have him ride a very large horse across the bridge.

If you’ve seen VMFA’s “Warrior” TV spot promoting our newest special exhibition, Forbidden City: Imperial Treasures from the Palace Museum, Beijing, you can probably imagine the startled looks . . . and the challenges.

Most of what you see in the spot, proposed and produced by Spike Communications in conjunction with VMFA Director of Marketing & Communications, Bob Tarren, was filmed on the bridge several weeks ago. There were a lot of challenges. For example, the horse, Clyde from Goochland, got spooked by a train passing under the bridge and started bucking. With production effectively halted, we filmed the remainder several days later on a green screen. (Bet you can’t figure out which part!) Likewise, the pennants along the bridge weren’t actually waving on those poles. A single pennant was filmed in a parking lot with a fan beneath it and edited onto the bridge’s poles in post production.

The preparation for the shoot was no small feat either, starting with the uniform. Based on the curator’s direction, Spike Communications, who produced the spot, worked with a movie set costumer and designer to create an authentic warrior uniform, including a top tunic with “frog” connectors, bottom cover with splits in order to mount a horse, large round collar, and a neck piece which connects to the helmet. The helmet was handmade to be lighter than the actual helmets worn by Chinese warriors, which were made of leather and metal.

The bow and quiver and sword came from Los Angeles prop house with the approval of the curator for authenticity. The bows’ feather ends were handmade by a prop master. While the horse stirrups were the real thing, they were used with a contemporary tack that was a perfect match for the tack that would have been used by one of these soldiers.

“Our exhibition strategy is to bring the world to Richmond. This TV spot for Forbidden City creatively reinforces that idea,” says Claudia Keenan, Deputy Director of Resources and Visitor Engagement. “It also demonstrates how the Forbidden City exhibition explores the mystery, grandeur, and power of the Ming and Qing dynasty emperors.”

And believe it or not, much of this bigger-than-life production was done gratis. Spike used their connections to secure the services of a director from Los Angeles, the post-production edit house, the uniform and prop stylist, location services, the voice-over talent, the horse and rider, music/sound design, etc. for absolutely free. One of the few services that had a price tag attached to it (and was worth every penny!) was traffic management by the Richmond police, while we closed a couple lanes for several hours.

“For me, working with a cross section of people, all giving so much of their talent and time at no charge was the highlight of the project,” says Hal Tench, Art Director & Partner with Spike Communications.

It’s not every day that a Qing Dynasty Chinese warrior crosses the Manchester Bridge, but it’s also not every day that an art museum in the United States has the treasures of the Palace Museum on display. The Forbidden City has come to the River City. Don’t miss it!

In this season of giving thanks, we would like to thank the following organizations and people who have given their time and resources to help in the production of both this TV spot and the entire Forbidden City marketing campaign:

  • Spike Communications
  • Karnes Coffey Design
  • Bertholet Integrated Content
  • TPSC Entertainment
  • Mad Box
  • In Your Ear Audio and Music
  • Alice Blue
  • Dreams Factory
  • The Branching
  • Tinsley Film and Video
  • Dogtown Lights
  • Bird’s Eye View Jibs
  • Movi Systems
  • Radio Communications of Richmond
  • Enterprise Rent-A-Car
  • Filmcats
  • The Omni Hotel
  • City of Richmond Events
  • City of Richmond Police
  • James River Park System
  • PD Brooks
  • Armistead Wellford
  • Tom Maher
  • Shane Guild
  • Max Fisher
  • Eric Wakefield
  • Julian Ashby
  • Rinny Wilson
  • Dianne Gunter
  • And, of course, Clyde the horse.