Friday, 16 May 2014

They Lie | A diary

They Lie | A diary

December 8th, 2013, Taichung
Adrian, Keith and I were wandering the streets of central Taichung before the opening of the first exhibition of the Hush...! series. We found a very cosy and vintage looking coffee shop which was featured as one of the cool and arty places to visit on a map we were given. Indeed the place was lovely. Taichung has not yet been plagued by this frenzy of modernisation that has seized the other Taiwanese cities, and lots of old buildings have remained. For how long? The staff of the coffee shop took us out to have a look at a very interesting spot behind: an old dilapidated market with barely more than the marks of what used to be the walls decades ago.
As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to do something with it. The idea of a music video came rapidly to me. The marks on the ground reminded me of Lars von Trier's Dogville. Why not do a one take music video with one character on each ghost room, as the camera slowly moves past them? I still don't know yet on which song.

December 10th, 2013, Taipei
I told Zed about my new project and he promptly replied positively. Now, I have to start organising the schedule. Whom with, when, how... and which song? I opted for They Lie.
Like lighting striking, it was clear in my head that the violin interlude in the middle of the song as well as the very ending with the strings and harpsichord would go with a long shot of the sea. Perhaps with me walking away on the beach.
Ching Yao once took me to the north of Taipei to a large and wonderful beach. That was after our visit to Pinga at the hospital.
These scenes at the beach... I don't know why the image came to me so vividly. I may not know, but I will do it. Never contradict a strong intuition!

Since I'm not yet familiar with the city of Taichung, I have no clue how I'm going to find my actors. Time will tell. As I was taking the bus back,

March 13th, YiLan
Now the fun truly begins! First day of shooting in YiLan. We started with the seaside views. Long shots of the sea. A rainstorm was about to explode, the sky offered us a dramatic painting of dark and grey shades, punctuated with flashes of sunshine. Magnificent.

March 14rd, Keelung
I may have challenged myself a lot mentally and psychologically in the past years, but not physically. Beside riding my bicycle, swimming and going to the gym, my physical activities have never pushed beyond the limit of my comfort zone. Not until today!
In the last scene I envisioned for the video, William is the last person I pass at the market. I see him, the market, put down my suitcase, and slowly walk toward him to eventually dissolve into him. Since William could not come to Taichung, I had to find a device. Cherie astutely suggested that I could film him anywhere then match his scenes to the rest with the editing. After all, the music video is a memory. The idea was good, so we looked for a spot where that last scene could be shot. All I needed was a clear sky as a background. He sees me coming from the market, I see him by the sea.
We found a beautiful location in Keelung. During on of our love escapades, William took me to the area and showed me scenic beauty of the seaside near Keelung. We eventually found a spot where people would come to go fishing. The land was shielded from the sea by high walls and giant concrete tetrapods. I didn't realise what was on for me until I walked on the narrow ledge, on top of the wall. The fact that I had vertigo had completely slipped off my mind... On my right, the tide was up, the wind was blowing harder and the waves were crashing noisily against the concrete blocks. There was a gap between the tetrapods and the wall. The sight of it added to my growing discomfort; on my left, there was nothing. The walls were not designed for people to walk on anyway. I would just fall from an eight-meter high wall.  
William and Zed were laughing. They didn't expect me to have fright of height. Put me on a ladder and I'm already ill-at-ease!
That's the reason I admire martial art athletes, dancers or acrobats so much. I thought of the stuntmen performing in all these action films... For me it was just about walking on a narrow ledge.
We shot a couple of scenes. I tried to overcome my vertigo and focus on my simple task.
When Zed showed me the footage, we realise there had been a mistake: I was to walk past William, not stop in front of him! I cursed Zed and climbed up the wall again for a final scene. The waves were now crashing more violently against the wall. Zed had moved his camera away from its original spot so it took him time before he found the same frame again. The sound of the waves covered the curses I threw at him. I was laughing at myself. It was exciting. I was alive, doing what I love!

March 15th, Taipei
Cherie has just announced to me that all the actors she had casted for the video will not be able to come for the planned shooting set on Sunday 23rd, as they will have to attend a dance rehearsal on the same day...
I welcomed the news with unexpected relief. There was too much going on at the moment: the piece with Huang Yi, my upcoming trip to Japan and the music video.
Yet, I can't help thinking of an alternative. To relocate the shooting in Taipei? That would make it more convenient to find the actors, although that would also mean a total change in concept of the video, as everything was generated from the sight of the old market in Taichung... What to do?
Zed was fine with any decision I would make. His only advice was to not rush things. Better wait and do things as we intended.

March 19th, Taipei
My last minute casting call on Facebook didn't produce any result. No one seemed interested enough. Or they were simply busy with their lives. I decided to postpone the shooting to next month, after I return from Tokyo.

March 22nd, Hsinchu
In the science lab... Adrian told me his dad's lab would be perfect for what I need. Weekend days were preferable, since no on would be there. Since were not going to shoot in Taichung yet, Zed and I hopped on the bus to Hsinchu.
Mr. Feng works in a large science complex. I wouldn't be able to say what they do exactly. We walked through and endless series of rooms of various sizes, from one floor to another, looking for what I wanted: a large table. Mr. Feng was shaking his head, realising that the kind of table I had in mind was more likely to be found a chemistry or biology lab. But we found it. In one of the countless empty rooms we saw a metal table which matched my idea perfectly.
The scene at the lab were to open the video, and show me lying motionless on the table, pale and livid, almost like a corpse, occasionally saying some of the words of the lyrics. I asked Zed to use a blue filter to add a more metallic and clinical aspect to the image.

April 2nd, Taichung
At last it is happening!
I always follow this theory according to which the first intuition is always the best. In the life we live, listening to it is the most difficult...

April 3rd, Taichung
Shooting at the old market.
I came one day earlier to meet the new actors that Cherie had picked for me. From what I saw on the pictures she showed me, they were all very young and cute.
"But they're all drama students!" Cherie replied.
Drama... students! I was wondering what I would do with them. Cherie was currently working on a theatre drama for which she had accepted to write the music.
She drove me directly to their school right after I arrived at the train station.
Yes. High school students. Two boys, one, more athletic with a melancholic expression in his eyes, although his outgoing attitude would distract people from it, another one, whom I would later dub Mister Chameleon, a very active and dynamic lad who got the lead part in an important play at the school,  and two pretty girls. None of them was yet eighteen... "Oh but the other actor I have called is a dancer. He is a college student!" Cherie said.
"How old is he?"
The video was dangerously gearing toward a teen-pop vehicle...
The students had neatly displayed their costumes on the table. I had told Cherie I wanted a retro look, although I wasn't sure whether my notion of retro would find any resonance in them.
The only concern of mine was the market where we would be shooting the next day. It may be abandoned but still belonged to the government. Breaking into it was illegal - not that I did mind really much. We only had to climb over a fence to get in, and since it was in the middle of a cluster of houses, no one would see us.
Cherie didn't feel it that way. She was deeply concerned about the safety of the students. Now that I know her better, it is obvious that she is not in the least the transgressive type, not in her thinking nor in her life.
The students climbed the fence happily. It was like a game for them. When it came to Cherie's turn to climb, she shook her head in distress. "I can't do it!" In spite of my attempts to reassure her that she wouldn't risk her life, she still refused to do it. Right at that moment, we heard a voice coming from the other end of the market. An old man had been observing us and asked what we were doing. One of the students told him about the shooting. "Why didn't you get it through my house?" he exclaimed with big grin. Everybody laughed. Cherie sighed with relief.
The students showed an extraordinary focus. I was pleased to work with them. The down side was that they too lovely to look at. I originally had in mind a gallery of characters whose face would show their life and struggles, like the photos of Diane Arbus or Richard Avedon.
Zed was sick. His cheeks were so swollen he looked like a hamster. I deeply appreciated that he would still come and do the shooting.
The scenes looked fine. Ming, the athletic boy and ChengWei the dancer performed really well. ChengWei remained very quiet during the whole day. I took a few on the set pictures. He obviously has some star quality.

April 15th, Taipei
Editing begins!

April 20th, Taipei
Finished the editing with Zed. After he showed me what we have done, I just felt frustrated. The result lacked edge. The images would drift aimlessly, the story line was fuzzy. It was just not exciting to watch. And the final scene with William where I walk toward him and disintegrate as I come closer, made the actual relationship we had together in real life much too palpable. My 'love letter to William', as I would joke during the filming. But that was not the purpose here. Zed didn't feel highly convinced either. He nevertheless left me a copy of the video, so I could watch it again after a good night sleep. But I knew it was not right. I decided to shoot additional scenes and change the angle. Didn't Zed joke about how I looked more like a professional killer while we were editing? That could be the key...
That WAS the key!

April 24th, Confucius Temple
Impossible to get someone at the very last minute for the new scenes.  Whether they are to shy or too busy. I wanted a couple, an elderly man and a woman. I suddenly remembered David Hsiao, a dancer I had met several times, who studies at the TNUA in Guandu.
Why him and not anyone else? I only understood why once he was in front of the camera. Though not an actor, he exuded a natural ease in his movement and action that one would believe he had spent his whole life in front of the camera.
My idea for the video now was the memory of a professional killer. Something between film noir and Korean action films like A Bittersweet Life. David was perfect. I asked him to play it mysterious and menacing, he gave it to me. Even though I didn't have anybody else, his scenes would be enough to give coherence to the MV.
Now the new version was starting to shape up. Zed was beginning to show his excitement as well.
We then shot a series of scenes with me in front of one of the walls that encircles the Confucius Temple and went back to my place to work on the new edit.

April 27th, Taipei
Rain storm today. Zed and I took the bicycle to find spots for the shots of the photographs. Those were the last ones I needed for the new version of They Lie. I had the photos of each characters blown up on paper and use them as visual memory splattered across the city.
I thought we would be done once and for all when we got back to my place until I heard a heavy rain starting to fall.
"Let's go out and film some rain shots. I had this in mind for some time!" I told Zed.
Two minutes later, we were back to the alley where we filmed the scenes with David a few days ago. Rain was now pouring. The atmosphere was perfect. I stood there for half an hour until we had all the scenes I wanted. The video started to look more and more like a film noir. I loved the thought of it.
We were both exhilarated.

May 3rd, Zed's flat, Taipei
As expected, the new scenes completely changed the narrative of the MV. Memory of a killer. David was a client who commissions one ultimate murder. And it turns out it is the killer's brother, or best friend (why not lover?). The scenes under the rainstorm depict his dilemma. And eventually, he decides to throw himself from a cliff into the sea.
"Now, I feel excited about it again!" Zed said as we were editing the newly shot scenes.

May 12th, Zed's flat, Taipei
Colour correction took a long time. The mistake I did was to ask Zed to shoot directly in high contrast image. Jay explained to me that people would usually film in neutral tone and work on the image once in the studio.
"But they can see the desired effect right from the monitor. It would be silly and useless to show the shot in normal tone."
Since Zed and I worked on a non-budget budget, having a monitor didn't even come into ... the picture!
Zed however managed to come to a satisfactory result.
We spent five long hours working on the credit. Everything looked good to me. I was both relieved and excited.

May 16th
"Show us your new MV!!! I still haven't seen it!" Adrian cried out. We were having a very pleasant friends gathering at my place that evening with Patrick, who was spending a few months in Asia and staying at my place during his visit in Taipei, Leona, whom I met through Adrian during the Face Off exhibition and was now becoming my project manager, and Van, whom I had been dating for a couple of weeks.
I had not showed my last labour of love to anyone yet. I was thinking of organising a little party to show it to my friends this coming weekend. But with Patrick being there, I hardly had any time to do anything else than being a host.
I set up the big monitor and connected to the big speakers, for a comfortable sound. All the lights were turned off, and the MV was screened.
There was an awkward silence at the end. I didn't know how to interpret it.
"Well... now you've seen it!" I managed to utter.
Leona said how she liked the song, Adrian mentioned the rain scenes which he found very cinematic, Van was deeply impressed by some shots, particularly the ones at the science lab and at the market. Patrick didn't say anything.
Only the next day did he mention about it.
"I didn't say anything yesterday about your music video... But I must tell you that I didn't really like it..." Patrick and I had been having long talks until the wee hours of the morning these past days. being a strongly opinionated person, he would often speak up his mind in all frankness, perhaps unaware of the violent impact of his words.
But what he told me resonated in me, and despite my defensive reaction, I knew he was right: the narrative was (still) unclear, every scene was put as the same level. He didn't know where I was getting at.
I had to swallow the criticism.
I later told Zed about it and he agreed. Would we have to shoot new scenes, re-edit the video, work on the visual effects...? Patrick said that all the images were presented on the same level, which made it difficult for the viewer to understand what was going on.
"Bring in more details, work on the image and the colour. Blur certain things..." Patrivck advised.
"Let's spend one session reviewing everything" Zed offered.

And the story continues...


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