China Diary

Day 134: Lost In Translation, Part 3

Working with a bilingual script has it’s perils. Sometimes things that seem completely negligible might turn around to be the huge problems. This week, we’ve had our share of translation issues that have required us to reshoot quite some bits indeed.

On Monday, after the day off we came back to work and started to put together a new scene. Getting things in shape was quite complicated, since we had shot the first part of the scene the earlier week with Andy, and then on Friday we had a stunt unit shooting one specific shot for the scene, as we were on location elsewhere working with the main cast, and now we would come back to finish the scene.

The scene itself had a direct connection to another scene which would take place some 40 scenes later, that’s around 30 minutes on the final film, and the translation problem which affected the current scene started actually there, in a scene which would take place much later in the movie, but one we had already shot.

See, shooting a film very rarely happens chronologically. It would be ideal for the actors, and also for continuity and directing, as well, but in reality, there are many other things that are playing a big part there: cast availability, location / set availability, set building restrictions and plain old scheduling and money. Thus, the schedule needs to be broken down into days that are easiest to achieve, and that means the days get all messed up. I personally hate to shoot the last scenes on the beginning of the shoot, because then the characters are not quite there yet, but sometimes there’s nothing you can do about it.

Nevertheless, the said scene had one sentence in English which suggested something else than the Chinese original version, but since I don’t really speak Chinese, I relied on the English translation, and shot the scene the wrong way, in a way that wouldn’t make sense for the scene that would happen earlier in the movie. Yeah, complicated. And add few broken phones in between and you get into a real mess indeed.

The continuity issue was spotted by our youngest actor Ling Yi, and as we looked into it, it started to snowball bigger and bigger until we had quite a conundrum to solve indeed. Solving things on the set of this scale is usually quite chaotic, and when the producer heard of this he started calling Lei and things got even more desperate. The only solution we could do at this point was to reschedule a reshoot for the scene we had already shot – which, given our ridiculously tight schedule – is already nearly impossible.

After solving the issue, we had the next issue in our hands: four pages of script to shoot, plus a full-fletched action scene whom nobody had choreographed. So, 45 minutes remaining of the day, we started to set up a shootout without any idea what to do. Luckily, that’s when my brain seems to usually kickstart the most effective way, and I gained control of the situation through a very clear and precise set of instructions I came up on the fly, and acted like I knew exactly what I was doing. It’s one of the director tricks: if things get desperate, act like you know exactly what you are doing. This gets the team stop thinking, wondering and questioning and just blindly following your lead. If it leads to a bad result, at least you gave it a try – but usually, the energy of such situations create value of its’ own, and you’ll get a completely passable scene done anyhow.

In the end, we got (almost) everything we needed, and although few days later we recognized because of yet another translation error that actually there was one more shot to be done, I walked home pretty happy about the day’s results.

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