Thursday, October 15, 2009

Let your NO be NO

I took part in a film shoot just before the National Holiday.  I got paid 1,000 rmb for about 15 minutes of "work" (and 2 hours of hanging around), so I suppose I shouldn't complain.  On a by-the-minute calculation, that's the best rate of pay I've ever made in my life.
But it was miserable - absolutely one of the most frustrating, vexing, depressing experiences of my life.
There was no actual script (there never is).  All the scenes were being hastily - and shoddily - concocted by the director while we were waiting to start shooting.  There was only one "professional" actor, a young Chinese guy who spoke not a word of English.  Poor chap was probably getting paid a lot less than us 'token whitefaces' - but he was dismally bad: not following his direction (such as it was) at all; and not even playing off the other actors very sensitively or intelligently, just charging into his lines while his interlocutor was still mid-sentence.  We improvised our way through it as best we could.
The director was clueless too - hadn't given any thought to how the action was going to be blocked, where and when he wanted us to enter and exit a scene (my line of exit was purposefully closed off by the cameraman, the microphone-boom man, the guy holding the reflector, the director, and the English-speaking production assistant - forming a solid human wall across the sidewalk I was supposed to be walking down).  The cameraman kept jabbing the camera into the actors' faces and then reprimanding us for "looking at the camera".  And ke kept failing to notice bystanders - or the shadow of the boom mike - intruding into the shot (until I, or one of the other laowai, helpfully pointed it out).
It was supposed to be a jokey 'home video' kind of production, just a few minutes long: five or six scenes of 20 seconds or so each.  But the director and his crew were treating it like a Zhang Yimou epic, stroking chins and discussing things for several minutes between each take.  And then requiring take after take after take after take after take - not because the actors had done anything wrong, but because they hadn't properly planned out what they wanted to try and get in the shot.
Complete f***ing amateur hour.  My blood was boiling.  I basically took control of my little segment, showing them how they should shoot it; and then telling them, when they had about 8 or 10 near-enough identical versions of it down, that enough was enough and I was leaving now.
Film-making is always a rather stressful and chaotic process, I imagine; but when you overlay the stupendous levels of incompetence and disorganization of which the Chinese so often seem to be capable, it becomes a little piece of hell on earth.
I've just been offered another similar gig.  The shoot is longer.  The pay is much less generous.  It is an unspecified distance out of town.  It's on a Saturday.  There is no script.
I am desperately short of cash just at the moment, but I can feel that N-word forming on my lips.....

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