China Diary

DAY 666: Qingdao Style


The Qingdao way of doing things is … interesting, to say the least. The location managers are quite an interesting group, to be honest. There’s the older gentleman, and there’s the even-older and grumpier-looking guy with an mohawk haircut and a face that looks like the one of a cellmate from hell. Then there’s a guy riding a brand new Mercedes convertible, who actually owns a brewery that makes probably the best beer in town – and being in Qingdao, that’s a lot. The guys work … weirdly. The location process doesn’t begin with “here’s what we need”, but with “here’s who we know”. They don’t have a data bank of images, rather they wander around the town and chat with the people they know, then ask them to snap a few photos for the production to see. It’s strange, and sometimes quite frustrating – but in the end, we have found the locations we need and that’s what counts.

The other thing we found really strange are the permissions. Usually, you ask for a permission for something – like flying a drone in certain area – and the answer from the local officials is either a direct “no” or “yes”. But in Qingdao, it depends when you ask it, how many times, and how much of a firm “yes” you’re able to live with. So for example, one of our locations is near the Qingdao airport, and we want to fly drones there. Usually, that’s a no-go, but in Qingdao, the location manager knows a guy who knows a guy and suddenly a “no” becomes “well, maybe, as long as we don’t find out about it”. Lei already told me: “Timo, prepare to be disappointed sometimes – things will change in Qingdao.”

And then there are some absolutely ridiculous denials: we can’t have blank-shooting guns because the national congress meeting is happening in two weeks in Beijing. We can’t use a completely dead stretch of street in a neighbourhood because we just can’t. We can’t paint an unused motorway ground black because we shouldn’t raise too much attention – as if bringing fifty stunt cars, motorcycles, lighting a set and doing big stunts isn’t drawing all the possible attention anyhow – but we can’t paint the street. It’s strange, but we’ll have to work with what we have – and as I said, we have what we need. We just need to be flexible on the day.

Last day of tech recce was excruciatingly detailed, going through a good heap of locations, eventually ending up in an old soda factory that’s going to serve as a great location for a big set of scenes in the movie. These old factory buildings with pipes snaking around the concrete structures are beautiful and impressive – and interestingly enough, they have been made with only functionality in mind: absolutely no kind of aesthetics went into the process. Yet, they are in many cases much more beautiful and amazing than some buildings designed by architects with great visions of beauty in their head. What is that called? Beauty through function? Accidental art?

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