China Diary

Day 126: Assuming The Control

Sunday meant back to work for us, and ahead of us was a tough week since it would be Andy’s last week, and we would need make sure we have everything we need from him. Rest of the week we would for the most part spend in a set called Command Center – it seems I make a lot of movies which has a command center of some sort, and they are always quite humongous sets.

This set was quite similar in shape and style as U.S.S. George W. Bush’s set in the first Iron Sky – although with the first Iron Sky, we really built only one control table and the actual command post, and then just moved the table around the room to get different angles or multiply characters in it. This time, we had enough budget to build quite a many tables and the actual set was actually built in two levels: Andy’s room was located above the set, with a huge window overlooking at the Command Center. It was, I must say, quite an impressive set.

For the set to work, we needed at least 25 extras there to keep all posts manned, and they had to, of course, be the same extras every time. In addition to this, we needed to have some speaking roles there, but the casting had mixed two roles into one (I admit, they sound very much the same: Male Controller and Mission Control; in translation they both just became Controller), and I only learned about this on the day as I was on my way to the set.

Usually, I’m quite aware on what kind of day players I’ll be working with, usually having chosen them quite carefully, but this time, I had overlooked the casting list and forgot to really put my brains on the matter, and then there was the translation mixup, so we ended up with a day where we were missing one key actor who would be playing the whole week.

I was quite unsure what to do: we had to shoot, that goes without saying. Joe, Andy’s assistant and an actor as well was available, but then we’d have to deal with SAG, which was not possible at the time (I had some twenty minutes to go before the blocking!). We had few English-speaking people on the set, but none of them were really what I was looking for, until someone suggested Victor. Victor is the stand-in for Andy, a Ukranian actor based in Beijing and Kiev, and speaks decent English. For the role, it would’ve been better to have maybe even more fluent English actor, but I decided that the acting skills and the looks are more important than fluent dialogue at this time. The decision was right. Victor proved to be a wonderful guy who really worked hard on the role, and although sometimes the complicated technobabble dialogue was hard for him, he played it with bigger intensity and made the role work great.

The first day at the new set is always a bit tricky, since it’s usually not completely ready, but we made it work in a decent time. For Andy, it was a bit dumb day all in all because he was mostly just standing in his office and looking at the control center while the actual scene was playing in below. We worked hard and after five hours finished the scene; then it was time for Andy’s bit.

While the Chinese actors are very much in control of their emotions when playing a role, the Western actors tend to externalize much more. Andy’s scene was one where he was getting riled up, and it was first a little intimidating to see him get into the mood: the nice guy turned into a grumpy shouting man. We could see he was in the headspace of the role, but still, it’s always a bit shocking to see someone change so drastically in a matter of minutes.

The day played out well and we finished much of it, leaving something still to be achieved in the days to come.

Lighting structure hanging from the roof


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