China Diary

Day 76: Keep on trucking

“Hurry up and wait” sums up a shooting day pretty well – and everyone knows it. Yet, what people don’t know is that the kind of “waiting” is not really doing nothing, it’s kind of being in an active idle mode, where you have to wait, but you have to be ready to react every second. Thus, even though actively you may find yourself – well, as a director at least – sitting most of the time behind the monitors watching the camera crew setting up the cameras, it’s still very alert situation which demands 85% of your constant attention. Thus, doing anything else while waiting is impossible – it’s probably like driving a car: you don’t need to be aware of everything on an active level, but on a subconscious level, you are there the whole time. So for those who haven’t tried directing and would like to know how it feels like, I can say it’s like driving for 12 hours straight. And doing that six days a week. So the glamorous ideas of likening the work of a director to the one of a painter, or a musician, or a performer is bollocks: it’s more like being a truck driver.

Three camera setup!

So, there I was, in the cockpit of my 18-wheeler, racing down the highway, observing as the second shooting day unfolded, slowly but surely. One of the big delights of working as a director is when you get to work with a really, really experienced actors. This helps everyone’s life delightfully: they are always on time, they are capable of small adjustments with few words from the director. I enjoyed working with this older lady who plays mother of one of the main characters, a seasoned professional who has done both TV and films in China all her life. Her whole existence was all about professionalism – and it comes out usually first with a total respect towards the crew, each and everyone. I bet people of such a long history of work have learned that the nicer you are to people you work with – the better you are able to do your work and enjoy doing it. It’s not really rocket science, though, is it? But I can tell you, not everyone in the business thinks like this.

We shot like maniacs, but although the first four days in Beijing studio are pretty clear sets and supposedly easy days, they are also the opening scenes for two main characters, and those always need much, much more coverage than some other scenes might. Thus, we found ourselves shooting even closer, even tighter shots, doing even more angles and the schedule kept on dragging and dragging.

When we finally wrapped, it was already a bright day outside. I spent some time talking with Lei, which was a mistake – the morning traffic was just starting and I got stuck in the middle of it, and what usually is 20 minutes ride to the hotel turned into one and half hours of sitting tight in a car. I dozed off, and woke up only enough to stagger upstairs to my room and then I was out.

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