The last shoot

2006-12-15 - 03:45 | Uncategorized | 3 comments

I lugged the huge, mile-long extension cord we’d gotten for the tunnel scene last year along with the rest of my gear over to Dean’s on Wednesday night, whereupon he, Rowan and I headed over to Heidi’s rooftop to film the last scene. Not the last scene in the movie (we filmed that ages ago), but the last scene in principal photography. It was a flashback (I know: the horror!) and Dean had shaved his beard and arranged his hair in as much of an 80’s style as he could stomach.

It was drizzling when we arrived at the address, which I discovered was just one alley over from where I lived in 1991, in a small room that rented for NT$3500 a month. Heidi’s rooftop is much nicer, as well as six times as expensive. We waited for her dogs to get over the excitement of strangers in the house and went up to the roof to set up. The nighttime view of the city skyline was very nice, and I set up a couple of angles to take advantage of it. We got several takes of each, but the rain was getting everyone wet, and filming on a wet, barrier-free rooftop with electric cords and lights waving around in the wind wasn’t an experience I wanted to prolong. The shots looked great, though, and after the last one I called out, “Ok, I’ve been wanting to say this for years now.” Everyone looked at me. Dean was smiling; he seemed to know what I was going to say already.

“That’s a wrap,” I said. And it was. That’s all the scenes in the movie, now in the can, or at least on tapes and on my hard drives. No more wondering if the weather will hold, no more wondering how to get locations or enough people to fill the scene. Except for the occasional pick-up and sound-catching for ADR, it’s all indoor computer work. Then comes the distribution headaches, but I’m not going to worry about that just yet.

Looking back, it’s hard to believe it took this long, but it’s also hard to believe that we’ve finally made it to this point. As Dean says, we’ve got all the pieces of the puzzle; now we just have to put them together. Welcome to the wonderful world of post production.

I suppose this means the nature of this account will change. Editing, sound, and effects milestones are harder to document than shooting, but we’ll see what happens. As always.


2006-12-14 - 14:51 | Uncategorized | One comment

One of the high points of the movie, at least in the script, has always been the big sword fight towards the end. As we have always tended to leave the toughest scenes for last, this was one of the last things to shoot.

In a way it was a relief after the week before, in that we didn’t have to deal with so many people, and the people who were there were all good friends and dedicated to the task of filmmaking, so that we didn’t have to worry (too much) about desertions.

Though it didn’t involve too many people, it did involve a fancy, involved, and hopefully exciting sword fight. Originally we were going to have Shirzi choreograph it, but Shirzi seems to have disappeared. So it was fortunate when we found out that April’s stunt double, Eddie Tsai, was also into swordplay and was willing to choreograph the fight for us.

Eddie, some of his fighting partners and someone’s girlfriend came over to Dean’s a couple of nights during the week before the shoot, to work out the layout and give Rowan and Dean some things to work on. Dean had bought four or five practice swords in case of breakage. I was more worried about sword shard-related injuries. I also wished we had more time to practice, but time was short as Dean’s departure date loomed.

Early Saturday Dean and I showed up at the university conference room and started setting things up. The others showed up later, and we got just about all of the non-fight shots done with April, Sarah, Rowan, Dean and Bill. Eddie, who was leading a team in a martial arts competition both days of the shoot, showed up at about 6 or 7pm. He and his teammate dressed in Rowan’s and Dean’s costumes and went through the fight for us and the camera a few times. They were very good, going after each other so fiercely that they even broke one of the swords, and I began to wonder how we could get Rowan to look that good. Dean’s character is supposed to be clumsy at swordplay, but Rowan’s character is supposed to actually be somewhat good. That night I shaved my head and face so that I could fill in for Rowan the next day.

Saturday had been a long day, but Sunday was even longer. I managed to subsist on Mr. Brown coffees in between McDonald’s hamburgers and salads. April came back and finished her crawling shots, and Dean got his makeup on. Who knows what the people in the hall thought we were doing in there, between the noise, shouting and the clanging of swords and Dean’s bloody appearance whenever he left the room. One shot required a blood spurt, and as a result fake blood got all over a couple of walls and wouldn’t come off. It looked good, but Dean wanted his room deposit back, so we had to do something about it. We called Paul and asked him to stop by B&Q on the way over to pick up some paint.

Although his shots looked great, Rowan had just caught a cold and was losing steam fast by nightfall. We got everything of Rowan which required his face, fighting against Eddie, and let him go. Then we got everything with Dean fighting against Eddie, and then, in order to get wide shots of Dean fighting, I put on Rowan’s costume and fought Dean while Darrell operated the camera. Throughout this entire dramatic fight, Paul was adding layer after layer of paint over the bloody wall.

We slogged at it until 11 or 12, packed up and went home. It was good to get the sword fight over with after waiting for so long, between all of the different ways we filmed it, it should look fantastic.


2006-12-03 - 16:24 | Uncategorized | No comments

Scene 3 is probably the most complicated shoot in the movie. The reason for this lies mainly in the fact that it has more people and more speaking roles in it at one time than any other scene in this already-complicated script. I knew that expectations were building as we near the end of principal photography, yet we could only budget one afternoon for it due to scheduling concerns.

Dean wrangled a university meeting room for the location. We’d been hoping to find a better location but it never happened. I guess zeppelins are harder to come by than they used to be.

We arrived at about 11am to set up, and other cast and crew started trickling in at about 1pm. Rowan and Alex, the main players, arrived last, and we began filming with me walking backwards on top of the table, dragging the camera on a dolly as I went.

Along with Alex, Jane, Bill, Rowan, Norm and Sarah, we had quite a few new faces just for this scene. Dean had photoshopped pictures of Rowan wearing various costumes into so-called portraits of his character’s ancestors to ordain the walls. They looked pretty amazing.

I was shooting according to the storyboards, but it soon became apparent that unless we cut out part of the scene we wouldn’t get it done without at least one mutiny, as most of our volunteers had simply come out for some laughs and a little light filming. Unfortunately, this meant we had to ax a nice little fight scene we’d all been looking forward to since the inception of this story. It also threw me completely off track as far as the storyboards went, and spent the rest of the time going by pure guesswork.

It’s not the first time this has happened, but it was worse this time because we can usually browbeat our good friends into staying long enough to get all the shots we want. This time, however, the cast outnumbered us and could have taken us in a fight, so that was that. We did what we could and wrapped up around 6 or 7pm. I was disappointed in myself for not foreseeing that it would go down like that, but as I said, expectations were high. They’ll be even higher next week when we have an even bigger scene to film, albeit with fewer people to deal with. We’re getting together with our swordmaster Eddie for some sword practice on Wednesday.

On Saturday we filmed some stuff up in the hills near my place. We found an old temple (I think it was a temple; I’m not sure) for some dream-sequence shots and a nearby patch of jungle for a flashback. Yes, we have dream sequences and flashbacks, two real no-noes according to script readers. Then again, our script is never going to go through that process, so screw it.


2006-11-29 - 03:26 | Uncategorized | No comments

Clay Soldiers

Finally, Clay Soldiers, which swept the international online “Lady X” competition in 2003, is online for general viewing on YouTube. The feature we’re working on is a sequel to this and a finale to the entire Lady X series.

Check it out.


2006-11-20 - 16:43 | Uncategorized | 2 comments

In order to make our story a little less macguffinolicious, Dean and I came up with a new version of the film’s ending that makes use of a kind of dream world. Of course, the first place one thinks of when one is considering surreal surroundings in Taiwan is the old abandoned spaceship village up on the north coast. It must have seemed a neat idea to the Jetsons afficionado who came up with the idea, but land disputes did the place in, not to mention the idea of fiberglass houses alternately baking under the Taiwanese sun and being blown around by typhoons.

In order to carry out the sequence, we needed to find someone to play Dean’s character’s wife, and he found Heidi, who is a little young for the part but looks good. I hauled myself up early Saturday morning and took the train all the way to Danshui, where I met Dean, and we took a cab out to the site. William and Heidi were walking their dogs along the beach on the other side, and we met up in the middle. I filmed a wide shot while Dean and Heidi went over their lines and blocking, while William tried to keep the dogs from running into the shot. He was mostly successful in this.

Heidi and William had to split early, leaving Dean and I to get his half of the conversation, so I read Heidi’s lines while operating the camera.

Here I’d like to interrupt the regularly scheduled blogging for a minor rant: You know those long dramatic shots of characters, where you’re looking at them standing there, feeling the emotion of the scene and listening to the grand swell of the music? You like those, right? But on the set, there is no grand music and people are walking around and talking and wondering when lunch is, and here’s the director with his little camera just sitting there filming and distinctly not saying “cut” or “ok” or “that was good” or “well, I guess that will do” but instead just staring into the viewfinder. I can understand that it’s quite annoying and mystifying, but chances are there’s something really interesting going on, something that will not only make it into the movie but could possibly even raise it to another level and make the audience go “oh!” or “damn!” and send a tingling down their spines.

A lot of what attracts us to a movie lies in the pacing. It’s a lot like music that way. I like to have as much latitude as I can reasonably get when I’m playing with the pacing of a scene. I aspire to cutting down on the talking heads and getting the point across with visual cues.

Ok, that’s enough ranting for now. I’m not so much complaining as explaining why I tend to let the scene play itself out.

As we left the spaceship community and were waiting on the side of the highway for a cab to pass by, we spotted an enclosure with a sign saying “Beware! Electrified!” Inside the fence was an ostrich and several chickens.

We caught a cab back to Danshui and went to the foreigners’ graveyard at Athelia University to do more dream stuff. I climbed a tree and balanced on a limb while filming Dean walking around the various graves.

We had an appointment for more filming in the city later, so we caught the train back to Dean’s house and then headed out to the Outback restaurant at the corner of Dunhua and Nanjing Roads. Dean had talked the people there into letting us use one of their rooms to be part of our museum sequence. April and Mark showed up, as well as Eddie, an acrobat who would be standing in for April in the heist sequence. I set up the camera and let Eddie do his thing while the others munched on fried onion that the restaurant graciously provided.

Eddie was pretty good, I have to say. He jumped and flipped and rolled all over the place. He even brought a sword, you know, just in case. I’m hoping he can help us out with our sword fight later. He seemed surprised that his part was over so soon, but we had more to do in that location. We filmed Mark’s scenes using my monkey statue and then April’s stuff before calling it a day and winding down over a nice meal.

Dean has to be back in Canada by Christmas. Our goal is to get main photography done by then, so I can have a rough cut ready for ADR soon after that, so the schedule’s pretty packed this month. We really only have one major scene to go, plus a few pickups here and there. It’s been a long race, but this is the last stretch.


2006-11-15 - 04:09 | Uncategorized | One comment

After many months of looking for a good torture room location, we ended up about 50 yards from my front door down in Bitan, at the ruins of the old police station that was abandoned when the amusement park up on the hill closed down decades ago. I’d never gone inside before, but it was suitable, full of abandoned desks and chairs, old photo albums and cassette tapes and shelves full of mildewing park brochures. It would do fine if we could somehow get access to electricity inside. I stopped in at the dumpling store across the way and arranged to borrow their electricity in exchange for promises that the cast and crew would eat there.

On the day, however, it turned out that, due to some miscommunication, we didn’t have an extension cord long enough to reach the restaurant. Dean and I knocked on the door of the adjoining apartment next door and talked with a young woman, who gave us permission to run a line out a police station window onto their balcony. It didn’t look as if we could spend time waiting for dumplings anyway.

The room we were originally planning to use was too bright, even with the window coverings Dean had brought, so we used another, smaller room instead. In the end it didn’t matter too much as we spent the entire afternoon arranging things and setting up equipment; we had to remove a mattress and furniture, clean up the more unsightly parts of the garbage strewn across the floor, move a rather recalcitrant desk, and set up a single light above the “torture chair” Dean would be sitting in. As a result, the sun was setting as we got our first shots of the day.

In addition to Dean, Rowan, Sarah and our tortionnaire, Jaques Van Wersch, our guard de jour was Juan, who had agreed to help us out by donning the old red and maroon garb and taking his station next to the door. The dust was horrific, but thankfully Taiwanese never put much stock in insulation, so at least we were pretty sure it was asbestos-free dust.

I started off with wide master shots, as usual. I do this to get coverage, and let the actors get used to the scene being filmed without the pressure of a close-up. Rowan, who was distracted by all the fascinating instruments on display, was having some trouble with his lines so he took a break to memorize them better while I filmed Juan’s reaction shots as he had to leave.

When we got back to the main action, things went quite smoothly. The actual shooting was a challenge as actors moving into and out of the circle of light went from underexposed to overexposed and back very quickly. I tried to keep up by adjusting the shutter as well as the focus, but it was very tricky. Digital video in this format is very restrictive in this regard.

Still, the lighting, when I could keep up with it, was very nice. It will be a challenge to avoid exposure mistakes in the editing, but it should be a pretty good-looking, rather gruesome scene.

Eventually Paul and Darrell had to leave, but Dolly showed up, accompanied as always by Maurice. She was there to don the Lady X hat and glasses for the last time, a true historic moment. She looked great walking in and out of the light, smoking and teasing Dean.

We finished at about 11pm and began the long process of striking the little camp we’d made in the ruins. People left, we returned the lights to Paul, woke up the lady next door to get our cord back, and left the place for the ghosts once again.


2006-11-12 - 17:17 | Uncategorized | No comments

Hi blog readers. Me here. Darrell. “Mr. B Camera.” As regular readers of Poagao’s many blogs, you all know that he was pretty much tied up all last weekend gigging with his jug band, the Muddy Basin Ramblers. So, with the deadline for principle photography just around the corner, I was asked to step in and take the reigns and shoot a quick scene and a couple of inserts for scenes already completed. The negotiations went something like this.

Hey, Darrell. I noticed your camera looks like TC’s Camera.

Yeah. So what?

Can we use it this weekend? TC is busy.


So that was that. The planning began.

The first scene we were to shoot has a long history dating back to when the script was first written. It’s a conversation between our hero, Barns, and his sidekick, Milo. Initially, the scene was to take place in the first class section of a large passenger jet. Great idea! Show a bit of scale, class, and budget. The problem was, as you can imagine, after 2 years of shooting, our film is already overloaded with class, scale and budget, so we decided to get gritty and set the scene on a train. Taiwan’s high speed train. Yeah, baby! Just like Mission Impossible 1. You know the part that really sucked? We were going to do it right! So, where do we find one of these ‘high speed trains?’

Evidently not in Taiwan. Not yet, anyway. We would have to wait to undo the damage that was MI:1. We still needed a cool location. What to do, what to do?

Let’s film the scene in a toilet.

What? Are you kidding?
Wait a second! (a light bulb appears above his head)
There’s something…Yes, I have an idea…
Let’s film it in a toilet.

That’s a great idea!

MAURICE and DEAN hug. They call Darrell on his cell.

So we were all off to the toilet.

When we arrived, we checked it out and began blocking and staging. Basically, we had to decide where Dean and Maurice should be and where the camera would be to catch their performances. As an added touch, I decided to add a little more quality and production value by using my one and only NT$400 DV tape and not use a regular NT$100 tape like TC uses. As the ‘B camera guy’, I feel I owe it to the audience. The toilet was tight and we didn’t have much room to move, but basically no one was hurt and we got our scene in the can.

Up next was our date with Noah, our sniper. We placed him in various sniping positions. For example, in the shade, in the sun, up close, and far away. SPOILER: He needed to get shot and die convincingly, so we worked on his character a bit.

How should I die?

Okay. Here is your motivation. Think back to high school. Were you ever not invited to a party that you really wanted to go to?

NOAH reflects. His eyes glisten with tears.

Roll Tape! Roll Tape. And… Action.

What a death!

Next up was Dolly. We met her in Daan Park around 4:00 in the afternoon and I was getting a little worried because the sun was setting and there was no direct sunlight. I’m a big fan of light in movies and I wasn’t sure how things were going to look. After we found a suitable location and got set up, I could see that we had plenty of light and the quality of the light was actually very flattering. No harsh shadows or blown out high lights. I think you’ll agree the images are very nice! What a camera!

And that’s a rap!


2006-11-05 - 03:39 | Uncategorized | No comments

Last weekend we went around getting pickup shots, as there were no major scenes planned. Dean and I got some sword close-ups at his house and then headed out to get shots of him on the ground in front of a previous location and then running up the stairs at a nearby office building. Then we met Bill in front of Taipei City Hall for some extra shots. The audio was unusable, as usual, thanks to some major karaoke activity going on in the square where we were filming.

We also needed Dean hanging on to some scaffolding or other metal structure for a special effects shot. I’d noticed an air raid warning system tower on the top of a building at the corner of Roosevelt and Shi-da Roads, so we went up there, using the critical weapon of casual conversation to get past the old guard, and climbed up onto the tower base. After I helped Dean apply his make-up, he got up on the actual tower for close-up shots. Then I did the wide and found too many buildings in the background, so I asked him to climb halfway up the tower. Keep in mind that there was no wall or anything else separating us from the edge of the roof and a nasty 20-story drop. Dean looked a bit apprehensive, but he did it. The emotion was perfect for the scene. Later he admitted that he has a fear of heights.


2006-10-26 - 15:29 | Uncategorized | No comments

Dean found a place he liked for the two scenes that take place in the Baron’s study. The problem was that this particular location was a room in one of the most prestigious and secretive love hotels in Taipei, the place where all the politicos and celebrities go for discreet trysts. The management was known for its strict anti-photography policy. And the rooms were expensive.

So we went to take a look. Dean, Rowan and I took a cab over one night the week before and asked about a particular room featured in their brochure, the one Dean liked the look of. We were told that we couldn’t see the room at first, but eventually they relented and let us in for a peek.

It was nice. Opulent, even. All the luxuries, decorated in an extravagant style, with a jacuzzi and large-screen TV. We were told only two people could use the room. We pressed for three, and got two rooms reserved for the weekend.

The next problem was getting the crew and equipment in unnoticed. Since there could only be six of us in there at one time, we made up a plan to rotate cast and crew as much as possible without arousing too much attention. We met up at the McDonald’s across the street just before check-in. Dean, Maurice and I went to take possession of the rooms, and then we gradually brought the cast and crew in, one by one, each carrying a bag filled with equipment. Once we were inside we were ok, as long as we didn’t attract any attention to ourselves. One of the hardest props to get in was the sword, as well as the Gozen engine Rowan’s character is gloating over at one point.

The room looked good, but the lighting was crap for shooting. I had one light and didn’t make terribly good use of it, I’m afraid. We also didn’t have any time for rehearsals, so we did the scene cold, something I reconciled myself to long ago. The performances actually weren’t bad.

We shot from noon to about 9pm. At one point Rowan, wearing a Nazi uniform, is supposed to have a tailor (William) fussing over him. I thought it would be better to start out with him alone, his arm up in a Nazi salute, and then have the tailor walk in and say, “Other arm, please.” I don’t know if this is too much comedy. We’ll see how it plays in editing.

Sarah did her usual excellent Inga impression, and Norm came over later to resume his role as the eye-patch-wearing, cigar-smoking, Hawaiian-shirt-wearing henchman. The part of the Chinese messenger was played by a guy Dean met at the Taiwan Brewery named Jimmy. Jimmy is a Filipino for whom sweeping up at the brewery is just one of his three jobs.

And, of course, Dolly resumed her role as Lady X. Dolly’s actually been in the news lately, with photos from her website appearing in the Apple Daily.

When we were done I almost wanted to let everyone go and just stay in the room until midnight, when the time was up, but instead we all went for drinks at Malibu.

Next up is a series of pick-ups to be filmed this weekend while we figure out the last two big locations: the torture room and the zeppelin interior. Dean has to go back to Canada by Christmas, so we’re on a tight schedule and need to get everything done by then.


2006-08-19 - 04:23 | Uncategorized | No comments

Dean left for Canada a couple of days ago. He’ll be there for about a month, going to weddings and tending to family affairs. I’m so jealous of him, always going off somewhere while I’m stuck here, that I might just take advantage of our not being able to film and make a trip somewhere myself. Nothing huge, just a long weekend (I have to feed his cat, after all) in China or Japan perhaps.

Theoretically, there is one scene we could film without Dean, but it requires a location we don’t have yet: an office or study type room, preferably without too many windows. Maurice has a tip about an elementary school principal’s office that might do; we’ll see if that works out. We also need a torture room (lots of tiles would be nice; you’d think that at least would be easy to find here, but no) and, of course, the rather improbable zeppelin interior. Not to mention an airplane, but at least we can hope to film on the high-speed rail system when it opens in October.

A while ago I had some ideas to change the third act a bit, to make it more emotionally resonant as well as tie various elements of the movie together at the end. Dean seemed to like the idea, though it would mean adding some flashbacks earlier in the film as well as another actor to find. Hopefully that will work out.

In the meantime, I was recently interviewed by Kate Thomas, a reporter from ACT, a film magazine based in Shanghai. Kate heard about me through Prince Roy and thought our little indie project might interest their readers.

We arranged to meet at the Haggendaz shop at the corner of Roosevelt and Hoping Roads, but when I got there the place hadn’t opened yet. We ended up meeting at the coffee shop next door. Kate is from Shanghai, and we talked about the (I think) curious phenomenon of Beijing being the current film capital of China, despite Shanghai’s history, relative proximity to Hong Kong, a climate better suited to filming year round, as well as its more international image. I’ve never been to either city (I really should go take a look), so I’m not really qualified to say. I lived in Qingdao for about half a year, and when talking with Kate, who is from the mainland, I’m afraid my accent got a bit confused, as I didn’t know whether I should speak normally or try to recall the Qingdao accent for better communication. It turns out that she had no trouble understanding me, though, so I shouldn’t have worried.

Apart from that, the interview went well. Kate asked questions that made me think more about objectively about filmmaking. I look forward to seeing the article. I wish she’d been able to come to one of the shoots, but the timing just didn’t work out since Dean just left. He gets back in late September. I’d hoped to get principle photography done before year’s end…I still do, in fact, but it’s not going to be easy.