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 seventh and last day of principal photography was more than a week after our Tai Kok Tsui adventure and a rather spontaneous set-up. The only scene still open from the script was the Mahjong game sequence in webisode #2. Originally planned to take place at the Tai Kok Tsui location too, I decided to settle for a less risky choice due to the amount of cast, crew and props involved. Also the sequence turned out being a bit more complex than expected and needed some more preparation on my side. Hence, the final location choice fell on a small fisher village named Lei Yue Mun. Almost matching the squatter roof landscape perfectly this village offered a variety of different spots suitable for this project. However, none was really on a rooftop.
[natural lighting test on designated location – day before shoot]
A couple of days after the previous shooting I went over to the village to check out which spot would be best. I knew the village from previous projects. We shot our first Dim Sum Western attempt Due Parole, Tre Bugie (http://vimeo.com/7887640) here, along the village’s coastline back in fall 2009. Now, however, I was looking for something more hidden, something that can easily cover as rooftop setting. The day before the actual shooting I visited the village again, together with my DoP Diogo and ShelB, one of our production assistants. We narrowed down the spots I had chooses before and finally settled for a small canopied intersection of two back alleys within the village’s backside. Residents used it as a place to dry their laundry and it actually seemed to be the front yard of a house entrance that had been blocked for years. We tried to get permission from the residents, but couldn’t find the man to whom this place belonged to. In hope he would approve we left a note.
[location at back alley intersection]
On arrival at the next day, the man was at home and first did not wanted to talk to us. He actually did not care much about the whole situation. We brought some fruits as token of our appreciation, but he did not care about that either. Eventually he came out, grabbed his drying laundry, cleared the place and left. We took that as approval. To set up the scenery we found a bunch of old, rotten stools and borrowed a small table from another neighbor.
[set set-up & choreographing the “attack” scene with actors]
One thing we learned from previous projects was that the actor’s faces, costumes and props had to look not only dirty but also used and worn out. Our special squatter make-up this time was charcoal and incense ashes. Every actor and every piece of clothes got a short rub-over with it. As we wrapped this short 4hrs shooting day principal photography was completed. Now post-production began from end of January 2011 till end of May 2011. Several minor shoots for empty shots, pick-ups and ground material for the visual effects works all over the city took place during that time, but none with actors anymore.
Along this post-production period sound was probably the most important aspect, simply due to the fact that we had little on-set sound recording. Since we were shooting with DSRL cameras external sound recording was necessary. However, the locations usually had all kinds of sounds that were not suitable for the story. Sounds like car noises, construction sites, people talking on the streets and so on. All those would destroy the post-apocalyptic atmosphere of what was intended. So we recorded only the dialogs directly on the set, trying to get them as clean as possible. All other sounds were specifically mixed, separately recorded and tailored during the 7-8 weeks of sound editing. Between April and May we did a series of on-location foley recordings. For the most important of these sessions we had to return to this very village.
[narrow back alleys of Lei Yue Mun]
During the editing process I realized none of the sound libraries we had access to was holding sufficient sounds on footsteps. I needed gritty squatter footsteps and most material I had at hand was simply too conventional. Hence, I ended up reenacting all footstep sounds of SQUATTERTOWN. Mark, our sound recordist was following me with a mic through the back alleys of Li Yue Mun for about 3hrs. Biggest problem we faced that day were cicadas. Back in January there were none whatsoever. Now in May their sounds were penetrating, all over. Additionally, barking dogs, crying babies and taking residents gave us a hard time getting clean footstep sounds. But why were we recording at this troubled place. Simply because it was a place that matched the conditions of rooftop floors. The grounds and stairs were of concrete with gravel and occasional plants. The alleys had perfect reverbs and there were no car noises due to the remote location of the village. Especially the latter one is hard to find within Hong Kong.