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!

Day 4

The 4th shooting day was the official start of principal photography and involved seven crew members and three actors. Plan was to shoot on three roofs and one staircase, all together five full scenes.  Location was, once again, the Kwun Tong Town Center roofs. Since we collected a great deal of intel during our previous expeditions within those locations we had a strict time schedule to follow and could not allow falling behind. Each scene had a specific spot on the roof to a specific time that would hopefully dodge the patrolling security guards.

[Kwun Tong Town Center area]

We met early in the morning outside the first building and waited until we saw the morning beat guards exiting the building. Then, we went up the roof in small groups of three, not to raise any attention by residing vendors who had their street shops within the house’s entrances. One team started setting up the “Laundry Forest” set on that same roof while I went over to the next roof, together with two actors and both cameramen to shoot the short Tower scene.

In Webisode #1 during this Tower scene you might actually recognize the actors breath and some rain. In fact that day was one of the coldest in this year’s Hong Kong winter and the rain just wouldn’t stop. It was quite a tough situation for cast/crew as well as for the camera equipment. Both held up pretty well 😉

[shooting in freezing rain]

The clock was running and we had to keep going despite the harsh weather. After finishing the Tower scene on schedule we went into one of the stairwells to shoot the Prison scene. This was a bit tricky as it was right the very staircase the mean guard that shooed us away came from the other day. As we set up the scene’s lighting with a couple of LED light panels our line producer set post two floors down, alarming us in case someone would come along. Hence, this situation meant we had to be prepared to flee set with all equipment and props at hand at any times. Luckily we finished this scenes without any disturbance as well, even 30 minutes earlier than planned.

The shooting team returned to the other roof where the set design team almost finished their set-up. As the time was close to the next expected security patrol we wrapped all equipment and left the roof, except our line producer who kept roaming around the building, checking the situation for us. Rest of the team set up a temporary post inside a McDonald’s that was located in the first floor of the very same building. We waited until we got word from our “roof spy” that everything was clear. While waiting one of the production assistants mixed the fake blood for the next scene and I went through the script with the actors.

[mixing “blood” at McDonald’s]

After a 45 minutes break part of the team went back up, only taking the equipment necessary for shoot. During pre-production I prepared a large number of bags for props and equipment. Each SQUATTERTOWN character had a designated bag with his costume, tools, props and accessories. Same for the departments camera and sound. Which means every morning I usually just grabbed the very bags that were labeled and packed for the very day. This system made us very mobile and flexible, there was no unnecessary equipment on the roofs. This thorough planning, of course, also holds the danger that you cannot change or deviate much from your original plan. Improvisation and extensive experiments were not possible. However, the system turned out to be so efficient that we usually had a couple of minutes on each scene where the cameramen could try out some different shots apart from what I had envisioned.

Despite some practical special effects work we were able to wrap the Laundry Forest scene on time and started moving to the next building across the street. In fact we were running quite ahead in schedule and decided to postpone lunch to finish the last two scenes. However, this last location change was also the most risky one of the day. Our line producer and me had visited the building a couple of days before the shoot, trying to find out whether we can get a shooting permission from the residents as most the building is still occupied. As we attempted to go up to the roof we were stopped in the staircase. An unfriendly barber threatened us with calling the police if we not leave immediately. So, we went out, around the building and back into another entrance. Like in most of Hong Kong’s old residential buildings the ground floor is always used by commercial shops. In this building small shops were even located directly inside the entrance areas for staircases. After talking to several shop owners, no one was willing to help us. Finally we found an entrance that was less observed and was leading up directly to the roof. We discovered, that there was an ideal access to the roof away from angry protective shop owners. Only problem, a locked door from the staircase leading to the roof.

So we came up with a tactical strategy. One of us would go through the shops, up the staircase and opens the door of the other staircase from the roof side. That way we could bring up all crew and equipment without anyone ever realizing we were actually up there. The strategy worked and we finished all two remaining scenes. Finally we wrapped our first big shooting day way ahead of schedule. The months long preparations had paid off. No one got hurt, no equipment damaged. It was an exhausting day but a good one. A day that gave me confidence and strength for the two days to come that would be much more demanding.

Just a little note on why we actually were sneaking on all those roofs without shooting permission: During location scouting and pre-production we got in contact with Hong Kong authorities, property developers, residents and even a professional location scout. Usually residents living directly on the roof were all very helpful and open towards our project. We even could shoot in one resident’s yards and his self-build house. Kwun Tong Town Center is supposed to be the biggest urban renewal project in Hong Kong and will change an entire city quarter. The development process already began last year and is actually quite simple. A large number of old building blocks and streets will be demolished to make room for a bunch of shiny tall skyscrapers with large shopping malls. Most the old buildings here already belong to the governmental authority agency. This authority is responsible for moving residents out of their homes, provide compensations and all kinds of related issues. As we started asking the agency for a shooting permission we were told that they have no authority on this issue as there are still residents living in the respective buildings. This message was most surprising since there are barely people left still living on those houses and every door holds an official eviction poster. The residents then told us to contact the property developer. So I pulled quite some strings to get in touch with someone high up at the property company. Their answer was simple: Ask the gov authority! So we went in circles for weeks without a solid result. The relationship between authority agency and property developer is quite complex and hard to define. But fact is, the security guards are paid by the property company. So you can image the bureaucratic mess we found ourselves in. Eventually we followed the advice of the professional location scout: Just go there and shoot, don’t ask for permission.

[official eviction note]

Kwun Tong link collection:

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!

 

Day 2

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.

[patrol books]

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.

[bottle trap]

[maggot shoot]

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.

[stubborn guard]

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.

Day 3

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.

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!

Day 1

The beginning of our SQUATTERTOWN shoot was rather a stealth start and actually supposed to test if concept, crew, preparations and the production itself were up to the real life situation and could handle all big shooting days to come. On mid December 2010 I set out with a small crew, Diogo (DoP), Seth (2nd camera) and Marc (sound recordist) to the designated Shek Kip Mei location. Within 3 hours during this cloudy Saturday afternoon we were shooting a large number of empty and atmosphere shots from three residential building roofs. Also, Marc was supposed to pick up as much typical roof sounds as possible. Whatever he found and heard on the roofs as well as in the back alleys he recorded. That included also on-set foleys like rubbing an abandoned bamboo mat on the floor or clanking empty gas cans.

The Shek Kip Mei locations is unlike the other squatter housing locations. The three housing blocks from the 1950s are home to a large number of Indian/Pakistani residents and shops. Most apartments are evicted and empty already. The roof is primarily not used as regular apartment space. Hence, there are no informal structures on the roof. Most residents dry laundry, use it as storage room or simply as dump for rubbish. However, some people have build themselves a little private garden with all kinds of plants and even a seating area with sofa. One resident is using his part of the roof as playground for her Husky dog.

You can find a short video giving some more visual insight on the Shek Kip Mei location here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7H2uswWgs4

While we were shooting, one of the residents came onto the roof. First we thought she might want us to stop and leave, as we got no shooting permission whatsoever, but it turned out she was quite interested in what we were doing. She also started telling us that all the three housing block are being bought up currently and will be demolished soon.

All shots we took that day can be found in Webisode #4 during the dialog scene between the BAD and GARDENER. Also the shots locking up a metal door with a chain in the beginning of Webisode #2 were made that day.

 

 

24.11.2010 Finanzierung des Low-Budget-Films über www.mysherpas.com fast abgeschlossen

München – Ein Western über den Dächern Hongkongs: Dieses ambitionierte Projekt hat sich Marco Sparmberg, ein Trans-Media Filmemacher, zum Ziel gesetzt. ” Squattertown wird ein Mix aus Genre- und Bildsprache werden. Gedreht an atemberaubenden Orte, die man so noch nie aus Hongkong gesehen hat und auch kaum noch sehen wird. Die meisten unserer Drehorte werden bereits im kommenden Jahr nicht mehr existieren”, sagt so Marco Sparmberg. Deshalb drängt die Zeit. Das hat Marco Sparmberg dazu bewogen, mit Hilfe von Crowdsponsoring (www.mysherpas.com) sein Vorhaben finanzieren zu lassen.

“Ich sehe mich täglich mit dem Problem der Filmfinanzierung konfrontiert und hatte bereits mit allen traditionellen Finanzierungsmodellen zu tun. Heutzutage, wo Geldmittel rar geworden sind und Investoren extrem vorsichtig, greifen gerade diese Modelle kaum noch bei Independentfilmen mit Low- oder gar No-Budget”, erklärt Sparmberg. Auch deshalb hat er sich entschieden, Crowdsponsoring für die Finanzierung seines Projektes zu nutzen. Somit betritt er nicht nur mit seinen Projekten, sondern auch bei der Finanzierung Neuland.”Von all den Finanzierungsmöglichkeiten die es für Filme gibt, hat mich bisher Crowdsponsoring am meisten beeindruckt, da es den Unterstützern die Chance gibt, aktiv und von Beginn an bei einem Filmprojekt teilzunehmen.” sagt Marco Sparmberg weiter. In der Tat ist die finanzielle Unterstützung eines Projektes nur die halbe Wahrheit über Crowdsponsoring. 

Mit mySherpas bieten sechs Münchener nun allen Freunden der Independent-Filme die Möglichkeit, Projekte zu unterstützen, um im Gegenzug ideelle Prämien zu erhalten. Auf der Plattform sollen Menschen mit kreativen, innovativen oder sozialen Ideen andere so stark von ihrem Projekt überzeugen, dass diese zu Sherpas werden, also Geld und Mut spenden und so helfen, die Ideen zu verwirklichen.

Das Projekt Squattertown hat bereits über die Hälfte des benötigten Budgets über Crowdsponsoring erreicht. Nun gilt es in den letzten Tagen noch mal kräftig für das Projekt zu werben, denn nur dann heißt es: “Shoot some Dim Sum”.

 

Über mySherpas

mySherpas.com ist eine Crowdsponsoring Plattform, die anderen bei der Verwirklichung eines Traumes oder einer Idee helfen will. Wer eine Idee hat, stellt diese per Video, Fotos, Text oder Audio auf der Plattform vor. Dann legt er ein Budget fest, das zur Realisierung notwendig ist. Zudem denkt sich der Projektinhaber Prämien aus, mit denen er sich bei seinen Sherpas bedankt. Anschließend rührt er die Werbetrommel, um möglichst viele Sponsoren für sich zu gewinnen. Jedes Projekt bleibt maximal 50 Tage online. Nach dem Alles-oder-nichts-Prinzip muss der Projektinhaber in dieser Zeit sein Budgetziel erreichen. Schafft er dies, bekommt er die gesponserte Summe abzüglich einer Handling Fee von zehn Prozent von mySherpas.com ausgezahlt. Für die Realisierung seiner Idee ist er dann allein zuständig. Denn da es nicht um Investment, sondern um Unterstützung geht, behält der Projektinhaber die 100-prozentige Kontrolle. Allerdings darf er das Sponsoring-Geld nicht zweckentfremden. Wird ein Budget-Ziel nicht ereicht, bekommt jeder Sherpa sein gesponsertes Geld zurück.