Just completed producing a short film by director Efraim Smits. It was interesting to say the least, both of us don’t speak any Chinese and we were attempting to make our first film in China, in Chinese and using mostly Chinese crew.
With a limited budget of RMB 8000 to work with, things were always going to be tough. We had a schedule of 4 shooting days and after I walked off set and never returned the shooting schedule went to 6 days, and they said I wasn’t pulling my weight?
No hard feelings, me and the director are still friends but it was a bust up between the two of us that ensured the filming went into total insanity and chaos in the final two day’s. It wasn’t really the issue of who was working more, it was more a case of the sensitive director not handling shouting and abuse from the insensitive producer during the 3rd day of shooting, when once again the DP had been drifting in and out of a self induced comatose and the director once again discussing the meaning of life with the 9 year old main actress … they were all set to be again 5-6 hours over the scheduled shooting time, when I the producer got a panic attack when told by the assistant producer that if we didn’t finish on time, we would have to pay 5000rmb for the location… meaning NO BUDGET at all.
Therefore I went into AD mode (assistant director) … and started screaming like any good AD would in that situation. My screaming meant that our sensitive souls from Latvia felt abused and therefore: rather than abuse them any more I felt that I needed to make them go their own way – Do their own stuff and be sensitive. Anyway, I’ve never had any aspirations to be a producer, since I’m already a director.
Thing’s were going badly from day one, with our DP being lost on his way to set, the lights not having arrived, the actors being made to wait at a McDonald’s because the filming location had not been opened for us, one actor not yet hired, At 8.00am the director was sent to Beijing Film Studios front gate to find an actor from a bunch of migrant workers who crowd around there every morning waiting to be discovered. He spent about 2 hours going through hopefuls and finally hiring one woman for 100 rmb per day. That was more than we were paying our one professional leading lady, who’s actually studied acting. Anyway, during those 2 hours our cameraman took a taxi by himself, him having just arrived from Latvia a day earlier – that was a big mistake.
After having lost his way and wandered around Beijing for 2 hours the Taxi Driver finally found us. The DP and two of the lights crew then went to the lights rental company to find the required lights for shooting… they would return 3 hours later. Filming had been scheduled to start at 9.00am, we were ready to shoot at around 4.00pm.
Shooting went slow – meaningless discussions (from the director) about life and death and the soul searching of the heart to the Chinese actors, who I felt only wanted to be told if they were good, bad, less or more. I’m not sure the 9 year old understood fully the method of Lee Strassberg. But my Latvian director tried his hardest to make her understand. It wasn’t the director that was the worst in delaying everything. No no … It was the Director of Photography (DP) who had that honor. Mr. Januz (from Latvia also).
It’s amazing how much you can fiddle with a camera? To his credit he had a great relationship with his Canon 5D Mark II, but that’s not the case with his crew, who he left standing around waiting for hours and hours … Then giving them aimless directions on where and how to set up for each scene – ensuring therefore that each day would go at least 4-6 hours over time.
In our first day of shooting (and also the second), that meant MONEY. Each hour we went over the scheduled time, our friendly landlady of the location would confiscate a light, a costume or an item from the set and demand 100 rmb more. In the end we went from having an oral agreement of paying 300rmb per day to paying 500rmb. The next day it would be 800rmb that we needed to pay her, or else we’d not get any of our lights back… And it’s thanks to our assistant producer and her insistence that she knew how to deal with Chinese landlady’s that we were already 700rmb over budget… If I had had it my way, the landlady wouldn’t have gotten a single yuan and we would have escaped from the location the first day and found another one for free the next day. But I trusted the Chinese “inside” information, something I’ll not do again, since you can still be a local and not understand when somebody is FUC**NG you up ass, you can still be a foreigner and understand when people are being greedy. When it comes to basic greed – it’s not about where you are from, it’s about who you are. Greed is greed and stupidity is stupidity … wherever you are from!
I have countless other stories from the shooting, that I might go into in the next few days.
The bottom line, no matter how the movie turns out, this was a real learning experience in how to make a film in China… or how not to do things.
Most people came out the other end fine, including the relationship between me and the director, me and the Chinese assistant producer are not on speaking terms any longer…
More stories from The Bonsai Girl to follow…