China Diary

Day 87: Troubleshooting

For me, shooting at mundane locations is rather boring. I’m more a big studio set or industrial factory lot kind of a guy and I ain’t ashamed of admitting that. Thus, every time we shoot in a more “grounded” location – like we did today at a cruise terminal dressed up as an airport, I had to kick myself few times in the butt to get into the right groove. Of course, when on the set and with the actors, the scene blows out of the set and becomes alive, but the first time walking around something as ordinary as an airport, it’s always hard to imagine how to make it work. (Maybe it’s also because I really dread airports these days…)

We did, and that’s what counts.


One of the things each filming day consists of is facing a set of challenges that at first seem overwhelming, but bit by bit get solved. Today, the day begun with us walking to the set and seeing as one big set piece was in an unfavorable place, and apparently built so that it can’t be moved. We decided to shoot the other direction instead, to get the best out of the set piece, but as we started to shoot, the guy running the location came to tell us we can’t shoot that direction, because passengers will be coming in and out until 2 pm.

So of course, we started to shoot the other direction, but that meant we had to drag all our stuff and do a turnaround without having shot one shot, and that’s one messy business. The crew were not happy about this useless work, and we spent four hours of the day just lighting one direction, and then turning to another, before the first shot was in the can. Not ideal.

The second obstacle were the costumes. It’s getting really chilly out here, but the airport is supposed to be a Thai airport, so we had asked the extras to dress up as they were going to a Thai vacation. This is fine when we shot the interior shots, but the exterior… these guys were freezing! I felt bad about it and did my best to shoot outside as little as possible, but there’s only so much you can do…

And at last, in Thailand, they have the left-hand traffic, while China is right. Thus, the hero cars had to be modified to match this. I’ve actually done this before: in Australia, which is also left-hand -traffic we had huge trouble after finding the right kind of VW Beetle for Wolfgang Kortzfleisch to flip it from left to right. The only solution is to have a fake wheel on the left hand side and have a driver and a secret wheel on the other side. In this case, it had to be the other way around: the Thai taxi we had was right-hand traffic modified, and needed to be modified into left-hand traffic. Luckily so, because we were shooting the right side of the car, so we could hide the smaller driver behind the bigger fake driver and operate the car, but still, that was a headscratch right there.

After the day, we had a quick peek at the Wanda Studios where we had built the huge Hope Island set, where we would be shooting the next two nights and one day. Again, my expectations were exceeded, production designer, mr. Wang, had done a terrific job, and I know the schedule pressure is unbearable for him. Still, the set was there, green screens were being built and everything looked just beautiful.

Also, walking around the set, with towering Tesla coils reaching the skies above me, after shooting in airports, canteens and universities, I said to myself: now it’s starting to look like Iron Sky!

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