Monday, July 04, 2005

Car chase

We've been doing little things here and there, and I've been too busy to really give them each updates. This last weekend, however, we got a major action sequence in the can: the car chase. I mean, every spy film should have at least one car chase. We added the challenge of lighting over the car chase in the last film, as this one takes place at night and involves more complicated manuevers. For example, in the still shot next to this paragraph, Dean is driving backwards as he shoots.

Ah, but I digress. Let's start at the beginning:

On Friday, Dean and I hauled all our equipment from the office to the car rental place, where we picked up a couple of Toyotas, one Camry and one Vios. We'd been told the Vios had a sunroof, and I was looking forward to utilizing it for shooting. 'Twas not to be, though. They said they had another car that had one, but it was way too expensive. Dean had cut out magnetic lettering for the Vios so it could be the security chase car. He also got a flashing, revolving red Kojak light for the top.

We drove down to the NTU campus gate where we were going to meet Paul, Darrell and Pierre, a friend of my friend Zoe's. Pierre was going to play one of our pursuers, and since the scene purportedly takes place in France, we wanted some native French speakers. The other one was Nicholas, a co-worker of Dean's. After a little drama when we lost Dean in traffic, we set off.

We drove through some of the afternoon thundershowers we've been having lately, up north to Danshui and past it to Shalun, where a network of broad, well-lit avenues lies waiting for development that never came out there. On the way we rented a scooter at a shop across the street from the Danshui MRT station. We'd gotten a call en route that Nicholas couldn't make it, so we revised our plans accordingly by having Pierre speak into the radio instead.

We arrived to find very light traffic in the area; fireworks were going off constantly over on the nearby seashore. I had a look at my storyboards, and we started filming Pierre in the chase car. Paul and Darrell drove the "hero car", as we called it. We used fluorescent lights attached to styrofoam boards, plugged into the cigarette lighter. They seemed to work well. Then we tried out the clamp, which is used to attach the camera to the window of a car. I think it's meant for still cameras, and it made me a bit nervous to have my video camera up there, so I sat in the back seat and kept my hand on the strap in case anything happened. Nothing did.

We then set up for the "crash", which I plan to create with reversed footage and angles. Dean set off a smoke bomb in the Vios' engine compartment, and he must have known what he was doing, as the car didn't, in fact, catch on fire.

During this, young punks on scooters would periodically tool by, lying down on their rides as they cruised along. Thankfully they didn't take too great an interest in us. A large moving truck with guy on top chugged up to adjust some nearby signal lights. Occasionally a guy on a scooter laden with fishing equipment would pass us on his way down to the coast.

Paul was quite tired by this point, so I drove him and Pierre back to Danshui to get cab, while Dean and Darrell got some stunt shots. It was only when I was on my way back that I realized that for some shots we needed at least four people: two to drive the cars, one to drive the scooter, and one to shoot. Now we only had three.

No matter; we improvised. We filmed the two cars separately doing some things. Dean drove a car while I rode on the back of the scooter, driven by Darrell, and shot. Sometimes I sat backwards. Then Dean and I drove a car each while Darrell shot from the side of the road. At one point Dean was driving backwards, with me following a few feet away in the other car. We also took some corners at speed and did some straightaway, camera-in-the-middle-of-the-road stuff. We also hung the camera out of one car and filmed its side along with the other car. One time Dean was in the Vios, with Darrell driving the Camry, and I filmed and drove the scooter at the same time. It's shaky, but it works.

It was about 4:30am by the time we finished what we had to do. We parked the scooter near the one solitary apartment complex nearby, and departed as the sky began to lighten. Dean took the Vios home with him, while I took the Camry, dropping Darrell off on the way. The sun had already risen by the time I got home and found a parking spot.

I slept until 10. So I was already a little tired by the time we met up again at Dean's house the next afternoon. Shirzi decided to make an appearance, so he piled into the Camry along with me, Dean, April and Maurice; Paul and Darrell came along in Paul's old Corona, as Dean had returned the Vios already. We were planning to use the Kojak light on Paul's car instead.

We stopped at Athelia University in Danshui to shoot some shots of April sneaking around in her cat burgler outfit, but the guard at Danshui High invited us to take a stroll on that campus first, so we did. The cicadas are extremely loud out there.

The sun was setting, so we proceeded to the AU campus, where I set up, Shirzi and Dean looked for a place to film a grappling hook (they couldn't find one), April reluctantly put on her heavy, hot gear, and Maurice sat down to what looked like a delicious salad.

I got some good shots of April, but after we were done, everyone was so hungry from seeing Maurice eat that we decided to have dinner down by the riverfront before heading out to shoot. We found a seafood restaurant and ordered mostly vegetarian fare. It wasn't bad.

It was after 9pm by the time we finally got out to the shooting site. Since Paul wanted to leave early, we decided to get the pursuing shot first. This meant somehow attaching the camera to the hood of the Camry. We used bungie cords, a pillow and duct tape to rig something up, and then did a test. Condensation was fogging up the front window for some reason, so we had to turn off the A/C in the car. The actors were, of course, not thrilled at the prospect of doing the scene in a hot, jouncing car with madman Dean at the wheel. April got rather carsick, in fact. Luckily there were some shots we could get of Maurice while stationary, and April went to lie down on the side of the road. I have no idea what passers by were thinking when they saw this.

The test went well, so I pushed the record button, and off they went. The rest of us followed in Paul's car with the Kojak light on top. I could see Dean throwing the car around rather violently. Later, when I watched the tape, I heard him say to April and Maurice before pulling over, "TC's going to tell me to slow down." Sure enough, I did. The camera was fine, though, and we got great results. The lights kept going out, however, and we found that the adaptor plug was actually melting and deforming in the cigarette lighter socket. Fortunately there was another socket we could use inside the center armrest.

We got some more clamp shots, some running shots and backwards driving/shooting shots. Darrell and Paul went home, and we wrapped up at around 2am or so. We drove out to Dazhi to drop April off, and then to Banqiao to drop Maurice off. By the time we got to Dean's house, climbed his stairs and put the stuff away, I was really, really tired. I threw myself in a cab as the sun rose. This time I slept until 2pm this morning. Now check the posted date on this entry. Looks like I'm changing time zones, doesn't it?

In the previous weeks we got some other scenes, such as one of April and a random Chinese fellow, played by former news co-worker named Vito, in an elevator. It's supposedly in Beijing but in reality it's in my building, as well as some pick-up shots of security guards, one played by another co-worker, Hyatt, etc. It's hard to say exactly where we are in the production, but I think we're around halfway done. We've got a lot done, but there's still a lot to do.

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