Director's Blog
Locations, Locations, Locations! Part 2
by
January 31st, 2012

Every time we screen SHANGHAI CALLING, audience members come up to us afterwards and say: “This movie makes me want to go to Shanghai.”

Shanghai looks gorgeous in our film, and much of the credit for goes to our location manager, MR. ZHOU, a Shanghai native who knows the city like the back of his hand. I probably spent two weeks criss-crossing Shanghai in his Buick minivan (Buick minivans are status symbols in China) searching for the perfect locations.  In addition to finding us the brand-new office tower and apartment building I mentioned last week in “New Shanghai,” Mr. Zhou also found us picturesque locations that we will now discuss in…

Part 2: Old Shanghai

Shanghai is unique among Chinese cities for its European-influenced architecture.  During the early 20th century, French, German, British, and Japanese colonists divided the city up into districts or “concessions,” building streets, housing complexes, and mansions for their countrymen.  If you go to Shanghai today and wander up and down the tree-lined streets of Luwan district (the former French Concession), you will see that many of the brick facades and art deco buildings from that era still stand.

In SHANGHAI CALLING I wanted to feature these areas as a stark contrast to the steel-and-glass towers of “new Shanghai,” where expat Sam (DANIEL HENNEY) spends most of his time.  We accomplish this by following Fang Fang (played by ZHU ZHU) from the law office, through the streets of Shanghai, and into a neighborhood that is older and less spacious than the areas we’ve seen so far, but nevertheless beautiful and rich with life.

This neighborhood was absolutely gorgeous, inside and out.  But, being an older home, the only air conditioning to be found came from a tiny unit that could only cool the person standing immediately in front of it.  Temperature became a huge problem — between the humid summer heat of Shanghai, the heat generated by our lights, and the body heat of twenty sweaty crew members jammed into this tiny space, the conditions were pretty unbearable at times.

We took many breaks that day, to de-sweat the actors and purchase ice cream and sodas for the crew.  But the biggest surprise was when the camera overheated and shut itself down!  Ice packs had to be placed on the camera body in order to cool it down enough that we could resume filming.  Definitely not something that happens when you’re on a climate-controlled sound stage in Hollywood.

The alleyways of “old Shanghai” reappear later in the film, during a chase sequence involving Sam and another character.

Luckily, we filmed these scenes much earlier in the schedule, when the weather was still very pleasant.  But this location proved challenging for another reason: crowd control.  As I’ve said before, we were a small production, so having a “closed set” in which we could control all pedestrian traffic was never an option.  Furthermore, Chinese people LOVE to watch things.  Seriously.  Ask any westerner who has lived in China, and they’ll confirm that any public incident, no matter how minor, will immediately result in an enormous crowd of people gathering around… and just… WATCHING.

It’s pretty funny — unless you’re directing a movie and dozens of people are swarming around your video monitor, blocking your view of the shot.  At one point a crowd of onlookers gathered so tightly around Director of Photography ARMANDO SALAS that he was unable to turn the camera.

The crowds were an inconvenience, to be sure, but I couldn’t really get upset at them. Ultimately this neighborhood was their home, and I was the asshole dragging all of this equipment and manpower in there, blocking the walkways.  We got through that day without any big confrontations and walked away with some great footage.

Next week: Locations, Locations, Locations!  Part 3: Expat Shanghai

@danielhsia

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