The following are thoughts, memories and background information on the shooting period of SQUATTERTOWN. I try to structure them by using each shooting day as one blog entry, but the stories might deviate a little. So when you think the text makes no sense please feel free to comment/contact me. This production log is another piece to our large SQUATTERTOWN universe and I hope you like it. But be aware, the text holds several spoilers!
The following Saturday afternoon we climbed one of the roofs within the Kwun Tong Town Center to shoot the opening sequence of Webisode #1 were the BUM faces an unfortunate incident. Set as a three hours shoot without any permission, once again, but with an even smaller crew, just the cameraman and our sound recordist, this shoot should involve a large number of props and some costumes for myself as I was going to play the very BUM. At the time, I hadn’t shaved for three weeks and didn’t had a hair cut ever since the fundraising campaign for SQUATTERTOWN started, only to have the right squatter look for this scene. Also, during the past 7 days I prepared the costumes and applied a variety of dirt layers as well as cut/ripped all kinds of holes in them. The white shirt I am wearing in that scene was given a thorough treatment of oyster sauce, vinegar and soy sauce. The smell was accordingly and it took six weeks hanging outside my apartment window to get off that harsh fragrant.
During our location scouting and research process we know the buildings where we shot at are under regular surveillance by safety guards. Each staircase holds a registration point with a small book in which the guards have to sign and track their beats. According to the data we were able to detect the time window in which we could sneak upon the roof, shoot and wrap before the next guard comes along. We went into the front block as it got a free access to its roof from the street. No doors, nothing. Everything seemed clear and the patrol book said we had 4 hours till the next beat. Through a hole in the fence between both building roofs we climbed over to the next block and set up the first scene.
As opening shot I planned to have a cockroach running through the image and the BAD stepping on it while walking into frame. My initial thinking was that a real, live cockroach would bring the best effect and it would be no big deal to get a bunch of them since we are in Hong Kong, hometown to each cockroach in South China. One of our production assistants advised me to build a simple trap: an open bottle filled with honey. This would catch the cockroach but keep it alive which was the prior objective. I build two of those traps and set them out on places of my apartment building where I knew those fellas will definitely show up. As I checked the next day, the only thing the trap caught was a bunch of brown ants. I tried to set out new traps on new place for the entire week before the shoot but failed. Supposedly the “cold” winter climate was working against me. We ended up visiting the bird market in Mong Kok right before the shoot, hoping they offer cockroaches as food supply for bird lovers. As none of the vendors had anything else than crickets or worms we decided on large white worms that looked like maggots.
After 90min we got half the shots, incl the maggots and were perfectly within schedule as suddenly the door to the staircase opens. The small guard wanted us to leave the roof asap. We tried to stall and discussed several options and strategies how we can deal with him. Eventually he would not let us shoot anything else and would not leave until we left. He radioed someone and one minute later another guard showed up on the roof next door. We felt surrounded, gave up and wrapped our equipment in disappointment. The shots we got were just half of what was planed, sometimes even just half of a movement, missing the reverse shot. And we all know whenever we come back to this roof weather and light will not be the same, thus creating a huge continuity problem.
However, we had to go. The stubborn guard was making sure we really left the building and were back on the street. On the way we still discussed whether it makes sense giving it another shot, sneaking back in another entrance, but time was running out. During December and without additional external lighting we always had to finish by 5pm, latest. After 5 the loss of light was too apparent and could not be compensated by the camera. It would have taken us too long to re-set up so we called it a day. What bothered me personally on this whole situation was, additionally to the extra preparation of another shooting day, the fact that I needed to continue with my BUM appearance for another couple of weeks, all the way through Christmas.
Of course, we learned from this incident and eventually never had to halt production again till SQUATTERTOWN wrapped. About three weeks later, just Diogo and me sneaked back on to the roof during a cloak-and-dagger operation at 7am in the morning. We were lucky, light and weather were almost matching the previous shoot and we completed all shots without being detected by any guards. As you may have figured out by now, there was only one actor for the opening sequence. So, basically, I was playing both roles, the BUM and the BAD. The angle where the BAD stands right behind me was played by Diogo and the camera was running on its own.
Another small production secret: the first pictures of Webisode #1 are a shot of a PA system. This was the last shot we took within the entire production, made in beginning of June 2011. Thus, it is not included within the preview versions. We felt the propaganda sounds in the background needed a physical link to make sense. Only problem was, old horn shaped PA loudspeakers were extremely hard to find in Hong Kong. Finally we took those cylinder shaped ones as they seem to be more common around here.