China Diary

Day 103: Highway Blues


Sometimes, filmmaking is like watching a 12-hour-long train wreck. Yesterday way was exactly one of those days.

For months, we had been preparing for one of the key scenes of the film, a big motorcycle race, and one of the key parts of that scene would take place on a big highway location, which was out of use and built slightly out of Qingdao center.

The reason people shoot films in studios is because shooting in location is just unpredictable. First, there’s always the weather issue – it may rain, or may not, or there may be too much wind, or whatever. The other issue is – the owner of the location usually is not a film professional, so although they allow you to use the location, they may get very jumpy when you see what you actually do there. There may be local politics involved, or government may have their say on the lot… So much can go wrong, and the one thing that each shooting day is for sure is that there’s absolutely no time to start fixing external issues, since all the time goes trying to solve how to make a scene work.

As the Long Night – the ten day night shoots in a row -schedule hell – continued, the nights were getting colder, and as we moved to the highway location, I admitted to being underdressed, big time. The problem is no longer my upper body, I found a great Black Yak jacket from the mall nearby, but the lower: I can’t find long johns that fit me from China. Actually, nobody can. The costume department tried. The production tried.

So there I am, literally freezing my balls off, standing in the roadside watching as this train wreck unfolds in front of my eyes. What was supposed to be a perfectly planned shoot just waiting for execution becomes more complex, more restricted and harder to achieve as the night grows old. First, we are denied of using any kind of cranes to put up lights to light up the scene. Then, solution by solution we are reduced of any lighting chances but a strange, low-light highway set which, luckily, turns out to be working but wasn’t our first choice.

Then, the stunts take forever to prepare with all the stunt drivers and motorbikes zipping in the traffic, and since these days are mostly just stunt shots, there’s not a lot anyone else can do while they are prepping. So much of the night goes just sitting around waiting for the preparations to finish – and even still, as we shoot the main stunt of the evening, there is an accident (the road is too slippery) and a stunt is whisked away to a hospital (luckily nothing more but a bruised leg, the guy is back in the game the next day), with the ambulance nearly driving over Mika as he just steps out of the video tent as the ambulance roars past.

Not that there’s much more to do anyway, the dawn is already breaking and the local officials inform us that it’s time for us to go. Now. Quickly. We make ourselves scarce in a matter of minutes before the local officials get any more antsy, to make sure we still get to shoot here tomorrow night.

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The Break of Dawn at the Highway

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