China Diary

Day 145: Sleepless in Qingdao


I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m unable to sleep anymore during the night, and during the day I’m shooting, so I’m mostly just a walking dead for the most part of the days. It started about a week ago, and after that I haven’t been able to really rest in the night properly. This leaves me with a constant nagging headache which I’m trying to cure with coffee and painkillers, but that’s not a really good recipe for anything.

Insomnia has been a problem with me for quite a many years. Not sure how it works with others, but in my case it’s just the inability to sleep. The business of the day goes rattling in my brains at high speed when I try closing my eyes, the scenes we shot keep popping back up and I start going through the list of possible missing closeups, glances, bits of dialogue and so forth… Or going through the list of things to do, the ideas I forgot to write up, it doesn’t matter what, but it just means my brain doesn’t want to let go the day’s work.

I’ve tried everything (well, not everything) from melatonin to some a crude version of autosuggestion, meditative music and so forth, but nothing really works. And even if I get so tired that I fall asleep early in the evening, I wake up one hour later head buzzing with things.

But what I’ve also learned, interestingly, is that it happens twice a year, around the same time of the year every time. It lasts few weeks and then I get to reset my sleep rhythm again. So, all I can do is just sit back and wait for the sleep to come, and the rhythm will come back at one point, sooner or later.

So yeah, that’s what’s going on with me now: sleepless nights. Last night was quite rude: first time I really got to sleep was 6am, with wakeup call at 9am. With this three hours under my belt I was really cranky the whole morning. The day itself seemed quite impossible to reach – a lot of pages of script with endless amount of location- and makeup changes around the studios, small splinter bits of scenes to fill up and so on and so on, and in the end we were shooting two scenes simultaneously in two different rooms – while setting cameras for the other one, the other set was filming, and vice versa.

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Mika checking his emails on a break.

It was the shooting day 64. That leaves us only just a little over ten to go, out of which two are in Finland, so I can nearly see the finish line. There’s still the most complicated stuff coming up, so no need to celebrate just yet…

Oh! There’s one interesting thing I’ve noticed with the Chinese actors, something that I haven’t seen anywhere else before, and I wanted to talk about it. There’s always someone behind the camera recording with a cell phone the monitors as we shoot, an assistant of some of the actors, and after the take the assistant runs back to them and shows what we shot. Then, the actors take a look at their performances and makes assessments on what to change based on what she or he sees.

That’s kinda understandable, sort of. It’s not news to have an actor come over to the monitors and requesting to see a playback of something and depending on the actor I’m happy to show what we shot, maybe even sometimes inviting them over to show what to change and how. But this kind of sneaking behind the monitors and recording takes is really getting on my nerves, and I’ve had to say about it a few times over to the actors. I learned that it’s typical in Asian film industry, especially if you are a bigger star, but there’s few reasons I don’t like it at all.

What’s problematic about it is that first, it distracts the actor to think every take as a take, and forget the role they are playing. It heightens their insecurities and even if they claim they only look it to see what’s our framing, it also prompts them to perform to the camera and alter their performance based on what they think is relevant to the character, not what the director thinks. That’s easily a very poisonous loop, since the whole basis of director-actor -relationship is that an actor trust the director to guide them the right way so that it serves the story. In many cases, “perfect take” is not what you are looking for – it creates a very unorganic and staged feeling on the film quickly – but the natural one, born from the moment of playing the scene out.

Of course, it’s also slowing things down: while we would be getting ready to take another take, some actors are sitting and judging their performances on their phones.

And the last thing is, actually the sets are a no-film -zones for anyone else but the appropriate people – that means the actual camera crew, and maybe making-of. Even if these materials are not distributed anywhere, what if the assistant loses his or her phone, and suddenly half of the actors’ takes are out there on YouTube a year before the film comes out… It’s also a security issue.

But, like I said, it seems to be the norm around here. Right now, with mere two weeks left of the shoot it makes no sense for me to make a full set of new rules but if I come back here to shoot another film, that’s the first thing I will demand from the actors to not to do.

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