When I made the initial shooting schedule, I planned to shoot the most difficult scenes first (the scenes with the most actors and extras in them).
The first scene we shot was in a KTV, also known as karaoke in the west. In China KTV occurs in a private room with your friends. Most of the film takes place at night and since there are no windows in a typical KTV room in China we filmed this scene first, in the afternoon. This scene was relatively easy to film, however, since we were lacking in experience as a crew, there were some issues with getting our audio working properly in the beginning. I had worried that the staff at KTV would tell us we couldn’t film, but fortunately they just watched us curiously instead. It also helped that my brother and I were foreigners. I had been told that if we were not foreigners, they might have told us to stop.
The second scene we filmed was a classroom scene at the college I used to teach English at for three years previously. Thanks to our friends here, it was very easy to get permission to film. Since it was finals week at the college, there was some doubt on my professor friend’s part as to whether various classrooms would be available or not during this time. We had secured one classroom for the shoot, but it was not the ideal place for shooting, so before the extras arrived, we looked at some other potential classrooms.
A couple cleaning ladies pretended they didn’t hear us when we asked them if they could open up some of the locked classrooms for us to use. We then asked a teacher in his office, but he said we needn’t, and that there were some more classrooms upstairs we could film in. We were able to find a great classroom this way and the extras started to arrive soon after that.
The extras, who were to play college students, were supposed to come at 5:00 PM so that we could start filming before it got too dark out (we were going for a late-afternoon look). However, they ended up trickling in over the entire hour, and by the time we had about 20 students at 6:00 PM, those that had arrived at 5:00 PM were telling us they needed to leave so that they could eat supper. Fortunately they were all good sports and stayed for the duration of the hour-long shoot.
The scene showed the main character teaching a typical English class at his college in China, and also introduced a supporting role: a student and friend of the protagonist, who thinks outside the box as opposed to the majority of the students who tend to give similar answers and opinions as their classmates when asked open-ended questions.
The last scene of the day we filmed was at an outdoor late night BBQ known as 大排档 (Dah pie dang) or 宵夜 (Sheow yeh) in Chinese. We also call it late dinner because it is like a second dinner that occurs between 9:00 pm and midnight (and even as late as the wee morning hours for the bar-going people). The often-greaasy food consists of pork, lamb, squid, chicken wings, eggplant, mushrooms, and various Chinese greens.
The late night dinner location we had scouted earlier had put up tents to protect against the rain, which had started earlier that evening. The tents blocked the establishing shot I had planned on shooting, making the location pretty worthless. Fortunately, right around the corner there was another late night dinner spot that would work for the scene.
The scene depicted the main character and his Chinese friend (the one from class) having some food and meeting the female lead/love interest in the film. The character who played the main role’s friend is a good friend of ours from Shenzhen whom I met my first day in China back in 2007. We filmed the scenes with him in them that day because he needed to drive back to Shenzhen the following morning. Once again, nobody yelled at us for filming at their establishment, and they told us to come again (we did eat supper there as well). Most of the lines spoken were all straight from the script, though there were also some lines that were changed to make them sound more natural. While the actors practiced their lines, I usually set up each shot, getting the focus right and directing people where to sit/stand when necessary.
We finally finished all filming around 11:00 pm, and celebrated by having some beers at a different late night dinner reminiscing about old times.
AUTHOR: NICK LENCZEWSKI
Nick Lenczewski (Len-chess-key) writes books and makes movies to help people discover the incredible life that living and traveling in China brings. He believes that listening to music, playing cards and drinking tea with friends is one of the best things in life. Nick is fluent in Mandarin.