China Diary

Day 60: Striking The Balance


Every actor works differently. They approach their roles from a very different perspectives, their methdos are vastly different and their process of acquiring the character are all very unique. Some think their characters very deeply, requiring a lot of information, discussions and challenging the director at every turn, some are more accommodating and require only information on where to stand, what to say and where to look.

Also, every director works differently. The director’s job is to meet with each actor individually, and try to find out their method, and then guide the actor to the role the way you want it to appear on the screen. There’s no one right way, since everyone works their craft differently, but in general, the more clear, confident and informed the director is, the better it is for everyone.

But it’s not just that. Also, every producer works differently. To some, a film is merely a business venture where they hire professionals, find the money and the let the people work their magic. To some, the kick is in the marketing. And to some, especially those who are also writers, the line between a director and a producer is blurred.

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Tuesday, we all sat around a big table with four actors present, producer and writer on the other side of the table, first and second assistant directors and me on the other side, and the actors lining the sides of a big meeting room, and begun a two-day procedure known as table read.

In short, it means you read the script through with the actors for one time, and everyone discusses their thoughts on the dialogue and action on the script, before really starting to act it out in front of the camera. This process can be a quick in-and-out, or – as it was in our case – a big, tedious job that took all the energy and attention I was able to muster.

One of the actors, a very well-known actor on Chinese market, is exactly the type of an actor I described in the beginning: he was challenging everything. And my producer Max, whom I’ve so often described on these pages, is a very… involved producer. They’ve known each other quite some time already, and engaged in lengthy, lengthy conversations about every line and moment in the script. I found myself listening Lei and Maxine trying to translate a huge discussion about the way another character knocks on the door that went on for half an hour, in Chinese. Trying to get involved there was almost impossible: Max’s fast-paced rambling that goes back in the backstory ten twenty years before the film begins and the actors’ need for background details was daunting. At one point, the ADs stopped translating as the conversation went on and on, with other actors trying to understand the point.

On a break I sat down with Max and told him we have to establish a method. I love the fact that he, as a writer, knows the story, characters and backstory so thoroughly, but I have to be the one everyone turns over for questions. He agreed, but also brought up the point that I haven’t worked with Chinese actors, and since I don’t share any kind of a language with the actor, it’s much more efficient that he explains in his way, instead of me trying to work with translators, where always information is lost, misunderstandings happen and things slow down. We both agreed that this is and will be a challenge, mainly for language and also cultural reasons, and although it remains to be seen how this part works on set, I think we managed to strike a good balance.

Nevertheless, the vibe was strange for the most of the first table reading. On another break, one of the actors came to talk to me, slightly worried about how everything was progressing, but I told her this happens every time, the first table read is a chaos. More than reading the story, it’s about the questions and the answers, and this is the time to present those questions, doubts and ideas, since on the set we already have to be very, very clear on what we are going to do. We can’t sit down talk hours about something while rest of the crew is sitting around waiting for something to happen, so even though it was a harsh start, it was essential for the project I felt.

We went through the first half of the script, and agreed to continue the next day. Just as I was on my way out of the office, Maxine grabbed me and sat me down for another hour of costume change details (for some reason our costume designer had thought every character has only one costume throughout the movie, and I had to correct her that no, there are most likely seven to eight costume changes for everyone through the movie, which of course sent her into a screaming fit since there is only two weeks left before the shoot…)

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