China Diary

Day 102: Night Shift

Slowly, the sky turns from black to ultramarine as the light of the approaching dawn fills the set. The crew is running fast and furious, as the last day at the factory location comes to an end. We still have one complicated stunt to finish, then two shots with actors – one of them a 5-year-old toddler – before we can call it a wrap. Mika goes around trying to match the changing lighting but the truth is: what started as a night shoot is now a day-to-night, and there’s not a lot we can do about it. But for the first time, I’m happy for a polluted day; the sun doesn’t make its’ way over the smog, so although the day is already dawning, we’re still able to do a bit more. But yeah, we burnt all the midnight oil and are now running against the daylight. I’m thankful for my actor for being so precise, fast and understanding; sometimes, the cast gets all pissed off when the crew is in a hurry, but these kids are true soldiers, they understand how important it is to work fast.


I’ve found Chinese actors a bit different from Europeans and Americans I’ve worked with. While both are hard-working by definition, the Chinese question the director and the script much less than the Europeans. This makes shooting slightly easier; you don’t have to engage into lengthy debates for every line and the actors listen more carefully the director. Of course, if a scene doesn’t work, they will let me know about it, but usually at that point I’ve realised myself as well and we are already fixing it.

Nights are cold, even colder than in Helsinki, here in Qingdao. So better wear a hat!

Directing a language you have absolutely no grasp on is pretty much the same as directing in any language. Of course, you can’t stop and ask the actors in detail to work on a specific word or the way it’s pronounced, but usually that’s anyway nitpicking – in directing actors, the same rules apply: talk about the character’s intentions, not your intentions; try to find the reasons for the action from inside, not from outside, and so on, and so on.

During this block – which I call the Night Shift – where we shoot from 6pm to 6:30am for 10 days in a row, I’ve found a nice way to unwind. I go to my car, grab a little breakfast and call Annika a 45 minute call during my car ride. She’s usually sleeping then, but knows to wait for my call and wakes up to babble with me until I arrive at the hotel. I usually arrive around the time of breakfast, so I grab something from the breakfast room and then head to bed.

We still have quite a lot to do before the Long Night is over. After the factory location we will move over to the highway. We already made the local owners of this location rather annoyed with us, riding with motorbikes and buzzing with drones all night long, so they for whatever reason seized some of our lighting equipment. The production is negotiating with them, but yeah, it’s time for us to change the location.

Suddenly, the set became a scene of a horrible tragedy.

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