China Diary

Day 113: On Directing Actors

I just woke up to a bad dream at 4 am. I haven’t had them in a while. I believe it’s the nerve endings who’ve accustomed into having your loved one next to you, screaming for those responses it got used to now that you’re all alone in the bed. That, and the heavy dinner last night. Nevertheless, here I am, wide awake feeling wretched, watching as the sun slowly creeps above the horizon, lighting the Stringed Instrument Isle, as Qingdao is literally known, with brilliant greenish haze.

The second working day with one of the key actors of the movie dawned beautiful and clear. This also marks the end of our location shoot stretch, and we finally get to move in to the studios for good. Many of the sets are still unfinished, but the one we’re shooting in today has been made ready, and although I do feel the walls could use some more texture, it’s already amazing to see how beautiful the world of Iron Sky: The Ark will form into as we move into the controlled environments of the studio. Not to say there’s anything wrong with the locations, but they are the world created by others, this is the world created by us, solely for the purpose of this movie.

Annika is sleeping back at the hotel for the most part of the day for the jetlag is really kicking in bad, but that’s fine since my brain is only booked for the afternoon to this small but tremendously important scene, and just as we start blocking it, I already know it’s going to be a though day. Sometimes, what seems very simple on the paper can become very complicated when you get the actors on the set and start blocking. If the scene doesn’t fit right, no matter how small it is, it can turn into a real struggle to get it working.

And not just that, the other scene we shoot turns out to be even more troublesome. The performances are not to blame, it’s just a scene which really clears way for the main relationship of the movie and building those kind of things is really tricky. You don’t want to give in too much too early, but you don’t want to end up being too abrupt with the actual emotions when they do kick in. I was trying to get there with the actors, and simultaneously, I found myself running constantly into the Asian/Western storytelling and characterisation clashes. I could write a full blog post on the differences alone, but let’s just leave it to further observations: I don’t claim to understand anything about this, not yet at least. I just shoot the way I find believable.

Anyway, I felt I was locked in with the scene and couldn’t find a way around it until finally I did what usually works in this kind of situation: ask the actors how they would play it. It’s easy to get stuck up your own ass when trying to solve a scene, and the actors who trust you will follow, but usually just asking: what would you do in this situation is the right key. It’s probably not good for the beginning of the scene, when everyone has too much loaded expectations, but after few tries there’s quite a lot of truth in it, as soon as the actors are familiar with the lines, the basic blocking, the set and the actors they are working with.

Nevertheless, when the day was done, so was I and we went with Annika to this beautiful Schezuan restaurant, where we also had my assistant to join us. We had few beers and some remarkably spicy food, like they love to have it at the Schezuan province, and loved every bite of it. Truly, the thing about Chinese food is that probably nowhere in the world you’ll find so many local dishes that are so good, each one of them. Almost never in my last five months altogether here in China have I had anything but the most mind-blowing food experiences in a restaurant.

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