Sunday, October 14, 2007

Live from Nanjing

Pre- shoot:
2pm- We board the fast train from Shanghai to Nanjing- it leaves 5 minutes early which is a promising sign. After having been awake since 6.30 this morning, and looking at being awake until tomorrow evening, we are eager to get this started- and therefore finished- as soon as possible.

4pm- arrive at Nanjing. We are quickly streamlined out of the train station and into a waiting taxi- a major accomplishment in China- and after some difficulty finding the ground plaza, we arrive at 4.45.
It is at this point that we are told that contrary to the promise the hotel gave over the phone, the windows in our room on the 40th floor do not open- and it is impossible to shoot through the glass as it is tinted and a little dusty.

Dirty window

By 6.35 we have been shuffled from guest relations back to the manager again, and looked at 3 different rooms from standard suites, to executive serviced apartments on the 53rd floor with a terrace (but the view is obstructed). We have just found out that the photos will be a time lapse segment in footage about Nanjing commissioned by the Nanjing Government. The helps grease the wheels (slightly) though to be fair the staff we are talking to now are trying everything they can to help. Eventually Phil settles on a suite on the 52nd floor which has a window that opens horizontally outwards about 4 inches. With the right maneuvering he can JUST fit the lens out the gap to get the shot. Phil takes a test photo to send to the client for approval.


6.40pm- we get approval and move into the suite. By the time we set up and overcome logistical issues (balancing the tripod on the windowsill, power outlets, internet connections, etc) it is 8pm.

8pm- Phil has set up the camera connected to a laptop computer that will automatically (fingers crossed) take the photos every 2.5 minutes. After some technical issues it is sorted and ready to start.

24Hour shoot:

Hour 1 / photo 001: 8.31pm Friday. The camera is taking the photos every 2.5 minutes and the photos are being sent to the laptop to be stored. Although the process is automatic (knock on wood), however we have to stay awake to make sure the camera is continuing to capture the photos, that they are indeed being sent to the computer, that the camera batteries don't die (a probability and we have back-ups ready to change in 2.5 minutes between shots), and that it doesn't start raining!
We have ordered room service for dinner, and we have brought a DVD player with us which Phil has just set up in the same room as the camera so we can stay awake as long as possible. We have also brought a PS2, Monopoly, Uno, Backgammon, playing cards, and my laptop, however at some time we will have to take shifts to sleep. We have both worked a half day this morning and the kerfuffle at the hotel check-in was mentally and physically tiring (although the Guest Relations Manager was very helpful).
Yet we are only in the first hour out of 24 hours of shooting, and I am already feeling sleepy. 15 photos done... 561 to go. Coffee here I come!

Hour 2 / photo 028: 9.30pm. As I only finished the last hour's entry 20 minutes ago there is not much else new to say. Our dinner has arrived, we've cracked open a beer and are watching Star Trek Voyager (and as I write this log I keep hearing my own thoughts in voice-over mode: "Captains log, hour 2....")... with a glance at the computer every 2.5 minutes after hearing the camera click to check that the latest photo has been sent to the laptop.

Hour 3 / photo 047: 10.30pm. Phil said earlier: "Why is it so hard to fall asleep when you have a big day ahead of you, but so easy to fall asleep when you are supposed to be staying awake?"
I am getting more and more sleepy, and it's making me feel pathetic and old- after all, it is only 10.30pm on a Friday night!! It doesn't help that I was listening to the 'O Brother Where Art Thou' soundtrack yesterday and the one line keeps repeating through my head: "Go to sleep little baby. Go to sleep little baby..."
It looks like I'll be taking a nap while Phil takes the first shift awake, and then I'll take over in a couple of hours. The next log entry will probably be from Phil.

Hour 4 / photo 073: 11.30pm. Phil here. Lou's quietly sleeping in the next room as I watch the lights from different buildings slowly twinkle away from frame to frame. Night is settling in on Nanjing, and since it's not the Big Apple style of life around here, I think the night will be fairly quiet. I wanted to take over the first shift to oversee the first few hours, since it's the most likely time to have some kind of a mess up happen. (until now, nothing to report on the technical side... we like that and are keeping our fingers crossed!)
I can't help but think that all this work, this time (!!) will be tightly compressed and zoom by audiences at insane speeds (24 frames per second), amounting to maybe 20 seconds in the final cut of the film. It astonishes me sometimes how much work we put in (videographer and photographer alike) in our final products. This attention to detail, or the insane amount of work we'll put in just for this "cool" effect.
I'm off for a shower. The city is sleeping at my lens and it's starting to get to me.

Hour 5 / photo 0098: 12.30am. The shower was good (I'm quite sure you were all dying to know!) I feel awake again. But, for how long?! We'll just have to see. This is pretty much the most boring part of the shoot. Middle of the night, nothing happening. Lou's still napping. I'm looking forward to sunrise... not only because it'll put a bit of life in the frame again but also because I can't wait to see the results.

Hour 6 / photo 119: 1.30am. Lou just got up, she's grumpy. I booted the PS2 up... still not much to report really... erm... it's night outside and, erm, well yeah that's it.

Hour 7 / photo 142: 2.30am. Lou went back to bed. Apparently two hours isn't enough sleep for her. Oh well! It'll be my turn soon to take a quick nap, a few hours. Looking forward to seeing the sunset.
As for myself, not beating any records on the PS2, but keeping my mind busy and awake. Since the computer is doing most of the work, at this point it's just a question of making sure everything runs smoothly - I expect Lou to wake me up in a panic as the camera batteries die or something... in the mean time, I'll enjoy the chaos-less shoot!

Hour 8 / photo 165: 3.30am. This is Lou again. I finally got up at 2.45am, though I can't say that my mind is awake really- I just put my sweater on backwards, which was a little problematic since it has a hood. All I can say is that I probably shouldn't be operating heavy machinery.
I left Phil to choose some DVDs to bring here from home- we had a whole stack of them sitting on the coffee table- and I was looking forward to watching a crappy chick flick while he is asleep... but of course he didn't bring any chick flicks... at least I can't find them if he did.
It is amazing to flick through the photos taken so far and see the changes in the city. It is getting darker and darker as not only all the lights on the buildings go out, but also all the neon advertising is extinguished. I have been in China so long that seeing a city without its advertising lights flashing as subtly as a hammer to the head is a little disconcerting. Almost apocalyptic.
My eyeballs feel like they have dried up inside my head, and I desperately need some coffee.

The actually view through the small space in the open window as viewed by the naked eye (ie. not a wideeangle lens)

Hour 9 / photo 186: 4.30am. Crap!The camera's batteries are dead- have to wake Phil.

Hour 10 / photo 215: 5.30am. The computer will not recognise the replacement batteries in the camera. Phil sets the camera to manual and as he is dead tired I tell him to go back to bed. I have to take the photos manually every 2.5 minutes until the original lithium batteries recharge.
The window the camera is pointing out of is high up near the ceiling and there is luckily a very deep window ledge. The camera is set up on a tripod in that ledge, but when I climb up into the ledge the camera is still too high to reach comfortably from a seated position, but there is not enough room for me to stand.
I move a cushion from the couch onto the ledge and settle in. Pretty soon I have to get down and in the 2.5 minutes I have between shots (which I am timing on a bedside alarm clock) I scramble to put on Phil's hoodie sweater and his sock, wrapping a bath towel around myself for want of something better. The weather lately has been nice, but at 4am on the 52nd floor, sitting on a cold marble window ledge with the window open and the wind howling through, it is pretty cold.
All goes well for the first half hour. Phil is asleep and I am managing to read and time simultaneously and haven't missed a shot by more than a couple of seconds.
*pat pat pat*
"Huh? What the....?"
Oh shit it's starting to rain. The window opens horizontally out above the camera bu there is a gap at the top where the rain is coming through. I dash into the living room to find something to cover the gap. Just when I accomplish this I realise that the rain is falling harder and the wind is whipping it straight into the lens. Rain drops in the photos are highly undesirable so I wake Phil long enough to get him to pass me a small notepad from the desk. He stumbles back into bed and I start the process of holding the pad in front of the lens to keep it clear, timing, and removing it long enough to take a photo before covering it up again. My arm is hanging out the window at an awkward angle above my body to do this and it quickly goes numb. I cannot sit down, and I cannot stand up. Every two minutes I alternate between kneeling and stooping. My back is killing me. My hand is cold, wet and numbing fast.
After 45 minutes I can see that dawn is coming. It is 5.45am. I wake Phil from a deep sleep. He stares at me from the bed- his eyes are wide open but no-body is home. Talking as if to a child I tell him to go splash his face, and when he comes back he is comprehending enough to take over the technical details.

Hour 11 / photo 240: 6.30am. The camera's original batteries are re-charged. Phil's brain is barely operating on two hours of very interrupted sleep, and the poor guy has to figure out some of the most technical details of the night- how to set up the computer again to take over the camera, to get the photos I took off the cf card and into the camera, and to renumber them so that the stream continues in order.
I make him coffee while he mutters obscenities in Quebecois at the non-complying program.
Phil has finally got the computer set up, and is talking less like a robot. I'm feeling ok, though a bit seedy. We decide that as soon as the shops open I will go searching Nanjing for some replacement lithium batteries. We can see some department stores from the window, and I hope to hell they have what we need- I don't fancy traipsing around a strange foreign city on 3 hours of broken sleep.
Time for more coffee.

Hour 12 / photo 267: 7.30am. Everything is back on track and I have settled in to watch (in 5-10 minute installments) the DVD I started at 3am this morning. Phil is off checking out some information with the concierge. As soon as he gets back I'll have a long hot shower and try to shake some of this seediness, as well as the dull ache that is still pervading my right arm. It's still sprinkling- hopefully it doesn't rain to hard or we will have to be back up at the camera again. And more importantly, hopefully the client accepts the photos regardless of the less that perfect weather or the whole thing will be a waste.

Hour 13 / photo 284: 8.30am. Half way there. I had what must have been the longest hot shower I've had in years, and the neighbours probably heard me groaning in relief. Still watching the camera and the DVD while Phil has gone downstairs to have breakfast. When he's back, I'll go eat and then head out to find some new batteries.

Hour 14 / photo 302: 9.30am. This is Phil again, invading Lou's blog while she's out for breakfast. More than 300 photos done, and some 275 to go, or so. Morale is not at an all time high as I see the grey, cloudy, depressing skies of Nanjing - apparently the first weather like this in a long time, just my luck - and the possibility of the client asking for a re-shoot looms over my head. It's standard, our contracts define that weather is out of our control and if it requires a re-shoot it's done at the client's cost. So, that's fine, but it's the pain of staying up another 24 hours, this time alone for the most part as Lou will have to go back in town for work. *grumpy sigh*

Phil doing his best Quasimodo impression.

Hour 15 / photo 326: 10.30am. Lou's not back. She must be having difficulty finding the batteries. I hope she can find them and come back soon. In the mean time, I've found out that while playing Need for Speed on the PS2 trying to escape the chasing police cars by turning in a circle in a parking lot doesn't work. I guess, there's still 9 hours to find a better strategy!

Hour 16 / photo 362: 11.30am. I've been on the phone with my boss, with the client and my producer. There's a possibility of extending the shoot by another 12 hours in the hopes of better weather conditions, hoping my body and batteries will hold. We're both exhausted. I'm going back to the client. (Lou's back, and seem to have had quite the adventure out there).

Hour 17 / Photo 377: 1pm. Lou's sleeping, which is good, because I have a feeling I'll be crashing fairly soon myself. By the sounds of it, though I don't have confirmation from the big boss of the film, it looks like they're going to say it's fine... maybe I'm too much of a perfectionist. (This is the point where Lou would jump in to say "MAYBE?!?!?! honey, don't flatter yourself, you totally are!")
Since the beginning of this whole thing I have this little dialogue going on in the back of my head, all the way back to Shanghai, maybe even before, where I imagine there's a documentary team following us. Not that I'm taking myself seriously or anything, but I can here them make voice over comments when things go wrong. "tensions rise as the batteries fail and Lou desperately tries to wake up Phil. Confused, shocked and still in his dream world he has no clue where to start. If he doesn't rectify the problem quickly they might have to start all over again... this is a defining moment that could change the outcome of the whole movie."
I'm probably just insane. But I don't have the stamp on my hand, so I'll believe myself innocent until proven guilty.

Hour 18 / Photo 402: 1.30pm. Lou is still crashed on the bed and I'm back to playing PS2 waiting for the response from the client.

Hour 19 / Photo 422: 2.30pm. This is Lou again. I just had an hour and a half nap, and I feel a little less like curling in a ball and dying. The "adventure" I had this morning would have been frustrating enough on a full night's sleep, but as it was it was excruciating. I am almost too tired to write about it now, so I won't go into much detail. I tried to look in 3 different department stores for the batteries we needed. They are all within about 15 minutes walk from each other, so that wasn't so bad. However, internally all the department stores were a mess- the electronics always seem to be on the top floor, but the access there always seemed to be an after thought. We had calculated that we probably had until 1 or 2pm to change the batteries, however the new batteries would need to be charged for at least an hour before that. So I was somewhat in a hurry when I kept finding that the lift in each store would only go to the 3rd or 4th floor, then I had to get out and walk to another corner of the store for an escalator, which too stopped at the 5th floor, at which point I'd have to find another escalator to the top floor. The third time this happened, I finally got to the top floor only to not find any Canon equipment anywhere. I asked the saleswoman at the Sony store and she informed me that the Canon store is actually on the 1st floor with the cosmetics. She then took a little nervous step back from me and I can only assume that it was at this point that my eyes began rolling about in me head. Stopping short or foaming at the mouth- and noticing that it was 11am already- I ran down the stairs, pushing people out of my way, to the first floor.
I ran up to the Canon store and tried to think of the appropriate Chinese in my sleep-deprived state. The conversation (translated) went like this:
Me: "Do you have the Canon blah blah blah battery?"
Sales Woman (SW): [nervous twitter] "Sorry I don't speak English"
Me: "I spoke to you in Chinese."
SW: "Oh."
Me: "So do you have it?"
SW: "Yes..."
Me: "Well can I see it?"
[she shows me a generic Chinese brand version of the same Canon batteries]
Me: "I need the Canon version. Do you have it?"
SW: "Yes we have it."
[pause again]
Me: "Well can I see it?"
SW: "Oh we don't have it. It will be here on Tuesday."
ME: "But you said you had it! Ok, fine give me two packs of this one."
SW: [Nervous twitter]
Me: "Do you have another one of this one?"
SW: "Yes we have it."
Me: "Well give it to me!"
SW: "Oh but we don't have it here NOW..."

By this stage I was sure that I was on candid camera or that the entire 24 hours had been set up as some kind of bizarre and twisted psychological experiment. Eventually I waited 30 minutes while they had the extra battery run across from another store.
I eventually got out of there with two batteries, and made my way (somewhat confusedly) back to the hotel. I had to stop at the lobby to get my room key card fixed. During this process I had to tell them Phil's date of birth for security reasons... I almost cried from the effort of remembering that small detail in my exhaustion when I wasn't even sure I could remember my own name.
All I can say at this point is that I take my hat off to anyone who has suffered this kind of sleep deprivation after having a baby and still managed to maintain some sort of cohesion in their lives- you are my new heroes.

Hour 20 / Photo 445: 3.30pm. I only finished the last entry about 10 minutes ago (my fingers are typing almost as slowly as my brain is clicking over) and am back to trying to watch the same DVD I started at 3am this morning while Phil has gone out in search of the KFC I saw in my travels. The difficult thing about the set up we have here is that as the window in the bedroom opened about half an inch more than the one in the living room, we have had to set up the camera/laptop in the bedroom, which means sneaking about if someone is sleeping, and not being able to watch TV/DVD/PS2 in the same room. However that extra inch mattered more to the photos than the logistics of it so we had to sacrifice from the perfect situation.

Hour 21 / Photo 470: 4.30pm. Phil is back and we are both feeling much better after having had some good ol'greasy food. The camera is working without a hitch (at least for the moment) and we are watching DVDs.

Hour 22 / Photo 493: 5.30pm. Nothing new to report... other than the fact that we are getting giggly and delirious...

Hour 23 / Photo 518: 6.30pm. Phil has finally crashed and I am on guard duty for the last leg of the shoot. I have instructions to wake him at 8, and he'll be able to check the technical details of the last few photos. So far things seem to be progressing smoothly... I'm keeping my fingers crossed as the last time he went to sleep it only took an hour for everything to go to hell. Wish me luck...

Hour 24 / Photo 542: 7.30pm. Soooooo close. We will have to go into a little bit of overtime to make up for some lost minutes during the battery fiasco of this morning, but we are very close to the finish line. Phil is still asleep, I am still trying to finish the DVD that I have been watching all day (it's The Namesake, for anyone wondering), and the camera and laptop are still behaving. All quiet on the Eastern Front.

Hour 25 / Photo 568: 8.30pm. We are nearly on track- just 20 minutes more- we've gone a little into overtime, but in any case we are close enough that there will be no visible difference in the end result. We are getting ready to celebrate, though still keeping everything crossed in the meantime...

Photo 576- FINISHED!!! We are off for a drink in the lounge...

9.30pm Friday night.


Dan said...

Talk about suffering for one's art! Or rather suffering for the art of one's spouse in your case lol

Girl Clumsy said...

Fantastic post, guys!

Well done. A very enjoyable read, although I think I need a nap too now I've finished!

Cheers, Natalie.

Mignon said...

That was fun! I couldn't help thinking about Lost in Translation the whole time. And your description of the Chinese department store stairs/elevator/escalator situation cracked me up!

Mia said...

That was a great post! I've had to break nights like that due to work more than once. At least you got through it with no bumps or bruises. Once pulling a 24 hr shift I got home dead tired and decided to jump in the shower. Turns out I fell asleep standing up...I woke up when my face hit the tub. Then because of the knot on my head my mom refused to let me fall asleep for another 8 hrs! By that time i was singing tongues.