China Diary

Day 75: First shooting day!

Same shit, different day.

That’s a quote our producer Max loves to repeat, and it sits well with filmmaking.

So there I am, in a big set built on a green screen studio, with smoke machines, huge lighting setups and loads of extras swarming around. The crew is getting ready for the first shot: a big crane shot coming down from far above the people and descending down to a long street, along which we then travel to meet our main character. It’s going to be the first shot of the film, and setting it up has taken forever. The whole preparation has culminated to this moment. After this, we are actually shooting the film!

This was two years ago today, when we shot the first shots for Iron Sky The Coming Race. Coincidentally, it was also exactly the same setup today – same cranes, same movements, same everything – but for a different film, called Iron Sky: The Ark.

Same shit, different day.

My trusted Sentinel by the Monitor, Captain Picard, my totem, found a new friend in the bust of Peking Man. These two – the ideal man of the future, and our ancestor from half a million years ago now overlook my work as a director telling a story about the future of mankind.

When I left to China to shoot, I was expecting a completely alien experience, in a magically wonderous China where nothing is as in Europe (or Australia), with a crew operating a completely different way. But here I am, sitting behind a monitor, staring at the small figurine of Jean-Luc Picard, watching as the guys (and here it actually is mostly guys) in their black army pants and equipment belts run around, praying either the cinematographer or the first AD would tell me what’s happening and how long it’s going to take.

But of course, there are differences.

First, the Chinese crew is fast. In Europe, when something needs to be done, people walk. In China, first they yell something at two to three people, then they run to do it. You need to move a wall? *YELL* BELLOW* *five guys running* and boom the wall is GONE. Really fast. Really efficient. Well, sometimes they shout and run and do something completely different than what you asked… Lost in translation, I guess.

Second, there is no way to communicate with the cast. For a director, that’s pretty huge. So there I am, behind a monitor wanting to say something to my actor, my first AD is somewhere running the set and I only have my 18-year-old-assistant who has no idea how to talk to an actor close by. So it’s better I don’t say anything. Maybe I just go, look them in the eye, gesture with hand and say something like “pow-pow-pow… you know?” (meaning: “let’s do the whole dialogue faster, more on top of each other, responding quicker”) and they maybe know what I mean – or then not. Let’s see.

Third, there’s no catering. Yeah, that’s a big one too. I mean, there is food for the crew at certain time, but no catering table where you can grab a sammich when needed, or a coffee or whatever. The Chinese system is that you eat once on the day and after that, not at all. We do have our own ice box filled with some drinks and chocolate and whatnot with Mika, but for the rest of the crew, they are there just with what they have brought with them, and when the lunch time comes, they order something in. And it doesn’t seem to bother them at all. In Europe, there would be a full-on riot for this.

And lastly, the sanitation is pretty horrible. In the case of our first location, there’s a concrete shab with seven holes in the ground, so you can squat there and chat with your pals in total darkness while taking a poop. No western toilets, no privacy, no running water. I can’t wait to get out of the Beijing studio and to Qingdao, where my trailer will be, with a porcelain throne waiting for my sweet asscheeks.

Oh, and as I mentioned, the crew is 90% men. The only women you meet are the script supervisor, our 2nd AD and the ladies from the costume and makeup, and of course the cast members.

Having said all that, the crew is experienced and very well organized. It’s also relatively quiet and respectful for everyone’s work. There’s no horsing around, everyone is super focused on what’s happening and doing their part – however small – really well. The first days are a bit sluggish, yes, but that’s always the case when getting your bearings in any new job.

So, first day down, seventy more to go! Stay tuned!

PS. Due to the National Congress here in China, everyone is experiencing some Internet troubles. Thus, it may sometimes be hard for me to get online enough to blog, and especially to add photos (trying to add this one photo at this blog post took me 3 days) to the written blogs, so do forgive me. Trying my best to keep the pace up, though!

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