Director's Blog
The Bund at Night
by
November 8th, 2011

At night, the most beautiful place in Shanghai is the riverfront district, called “The Bund.” Here you can marvel at an endless row of grand colonial buildings bathed in a warm glow, while across the river the skyscrapers of the Pudong district light up the night sky.  (These are the Shanghai skyscapers in our website banner image, above.)

The location is breathtaking — and yet I have NEVER seen it in a movie.  So I wrote it into the script, as a location for a scene between Sam (DANIEL HENNEY) and Amanda (ELIZA COUPE).

Here’s how we got one of the most gorgeous shots in SHANGHAI CALLING.

Director of Photography ARMANDO SALAS and I scouted the Bund, armed with Armando’s still camera and accompanied by our production team.  The challenge was to show off the grandeur of the location while framing our actors in a cinematic fashion, rather than san image from the pages of Lonely Planet.  Now, the Bund is crawling with photographers, most of whom point their cameras to the east or west.  Armando, on the other hand, pointed his camera to the south and found a far more interesting frame — a long-lens shot with an original composition and a lot of depth.  This is why Armando earned the big bucks.  (Not true, they didn’t pay me much at all. -Armando)

After seeing Armando’s framing, I got an idea about how to stage our actors, but I needed to see it in a photograph first.  So we grabbed two of our local crew members, Stefan and Taylor, put them on marks, and had them wait there as Armando swapped a lens and snapped this shot from about 50 meters away:

Our makeshift stand-ins. Stefan is not as tall as Daniel, and Taylor is not as blonde as Eliza.

After several more weeks of pre-production (and permit delays — ask me about that another time), we returned to the Bund to actually film the scene.  Now, there’s a lot of stuff on a director’s mind during filming.  You have to communicate with each of the department heads, constantly re-explain things to your extras, deal with costume and makeup problems, worry about finishing the scene in time…

It’s also a good idea to tell your actors where the camera is.

I had forgotten that Daniel and Eliza weren’t with us on the location scout (actors never come to location scouts… there’s something about spending all day in a hot van full of sweaty crew members that doesn’t appeal to them), so after setting up this shot and putting the actors on their marks, I hiked down to video village, sat down in my chair and looked at the video monitor, where the actors should have been — but they were gone!

“Uh, Daniel?”  I turned around — Daniel and Eliza were suddenly right behind me, looking very confused.  “Where’s the camera?”

Apparently, after I put them on their marks and left them, Daniel and Eliza glanced around and couldn’t tell what angle they were being filmed from, because the camera was sitting on the ground, in total darkness, fifty feet away.  So they followed me back to video village to figure out what was going on.  I realized my mistake, took them back to their marks, and we rolled the shot.

Momentary confusion aside, it came out pretty well.  Go to our PHOTOS page for a downloadable, full-size version of this still:

Next week: Paxton takes me to school.

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