China Diary

Day 144: Blocking, Blocking, Blocking.


That’s what it’s all about, the director’s work, blocking a great scene. Rest comes easy.

I’ve learned quite a lot on blocking during this production. Before, I’ve been used to block in very great detail every scene, directing everything the actors do with utmost care, but this production has taught me that the best way to block a scene is to keep an open mind, unless you’re absolutely chasing for something very specific.

The best way is to get the actors in the scene, tell what needs to happen, what kind of mechanisms the set might have and how do you want to end the scene, and then let them come up with the blocking by themselves. This gives the actors the possibility to experience the scene through their characters, find organic solutions and create a scene which feels natural, flows nicely and is fun to play. Of course, there will be moments when the scene gets stuck and you ask the actors to do something very specific, but by keeping the mind open for the blocking suggestions results in a much more interesting performances.

Oh, yeah, and blocking itself, it’s the time the actors and director spends together going through a certain scene and how to play it out before shooting it. Usually it’s also a chance for the DOP to check the scene out and come up with good camera angles to tell the story. After you’ve blocked, all they have to do is just to repeat it some ten to fifteen times, depending on the camera angles and camera setups and it’s done. In those terms, directing is quite an easy job.

But it can be also hard. In addition for the actors and the sets and everything around them, we have now also our writer, mr. Yu on the set, supervising the Chinese dialogue since it’s truly out of my control. Having a writer around has some advantages, but it also creates easily a very confusing situation with the actors. Director starts directing the scene, but if suddenly a writer pops around and suggests changes into the characters, lines and actions, the messages for the poor actors get very muddled. I had to stop mr. Yu from directing the actors few times, saying that the only person I allow to direct on my set is me, and if he has suggestions, they need to go through me. It’s not really about the power struggle between a director and a writer – the board is already quite simple in that respect (director interprets the writer’s text and turns it into a movie) – but more it’s just about the actors and the work you’ve done with them during the production, building the character out of the lines on the paper into a real-sounding human. Some decisions are made based on the kind of a character you have created during the shoot, which may differ from what is exactly on the paper, meaning some actions, dialogues and reasoning doesn’t really work anymore. We had our clashes during the first few days he was around, but as soon as we managed to set the boundaries right, it’s actually great to have him around. The film has few very logical challenges which we have been solving as we have been shooting, and he’s good to be around as the second pair of brains thinking the whole big picture as a story.

Anyway, Wednesday shoot was surprisingly smooth. The blocking found the right rhythm instantly, and we were shooting a great scene. That’s the best feeling for a director in the world: knowing you’re working on a great scene. Sometimes, you know instantly that no matter what you do, the scene isn’t going to be the highlight of the movie, and covering that kind of material pisses everyone off. You may even find yourself shooting material that you already know won’t end up in the movie, and that’s quite a depressing thought.

But yesterday wasn’t like that. Yesterday was great fun, for everyone. We didn’t finish the callsheet, but luckily we still have many days in the same set so we are not in huge troubles even if we didn’t manage to go through everything.

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