Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Before Day Breaks

The streets of New Taipei City are largely empty at 4 A.M. I've driven my motorcycle at such an early hour before, but I'm usually heading home after an evening in the city. Last Friday morning, I rode from my home in the hills of western Xindian to a railroad station in a tiny village in the former coal mining region of Pingxi. As the crow flies, it's only a distance of approximately 30 kilometers, but I didn't get there by crow. I was on my Kymco.

Do watch the video in HD. 

The purpose of my journey was not to go sightseeing, nor was it to shoot the video that accompanies this post; instead, I was heading for a film production office set up in a community center across the railway tracks from the Lingjiao Train Station. I had volunteered to serve as a production assistant, and I was supposed to meet the members of the cast and crew at 5:30.

When I parked in the gravel lot outside the community center that was serving as the production office, the front door was open, and inside I saw someone preparing sandwiches for breakfast. Soon, crew members who were staying in a hostel in the village showed up, and a few minutes later, vehicles carrying everyone else began pulling into the parking lot. After dawn finally broke, equipment was carried along the railroad tracks, down a slippery brick staircase, and into the jungle, where filming took place until 1 P.M.

As a newbie in the film world, I was eager to help but almost clueless about how to go about it. Fortunately, I can stand still for long periods while holding a microphone boom above my head. I can also coil cable, set up a C-stand, carry sand bags, load and unload bulky equipment, and rig up a tarp to keep the rain from destroying valuable film gear. I won't say much about the film that was being made, except to say that Taiwan is standing in for Vietnam, and that the people making it are a cool bunch. I wish them all the best in their project.

I wasn't only there to hold and carry equipment. Before filming began, the line producer had asked me if I could procure a scooter to appear briefly in one scene. At first, I asked scooter riders if they would volunteer their smaller steeds, but ended up offering the use of my own. Lots of them had doubts about whether their scooters would survive the journey to Pingxi. I was happy to lend mine, but I didn't expect that its relatively large size would be a problem.

After filming in the jungle finished for the day, the crew headed to an abandoned brick building nearby to shoot the scene with the scooter. Although there were a few bumps (falls on slick brick surfaces) before filming began, the scene finally came off, and I hope the results are found acceptable. I know non-essential shots can easily get cut out of a film in the editing process, so I am keeping my fingers crossed that audiences watching this film see a woman in a pink jacket riding a black scooter through a village in the Vietnamese countryside.

The last scene of the day was filmed inside a hostel run by an older couple in the village. From this experience, I learned what butter and coffee grounds look like when smeared on someone's body. Before long, we were loading and unloading the equipment again, and finally saying our farewells. Some of the crew were heading home or to their hotel in Xindian; the rest were preparing for another night in the hostel where we had been filming earlier.

I put on my rain gear and began the return journey, traveling over the same route I had taken in the early morning. Within the hour, I was back home. I peeled off the five layers of wet clothing I had been wearing all day (the topmost covered in mud) and jumped in the shower. All in all, it was a mighty fine Friday the 13th.

By the way, the music that accompanies the video is Banana Nap by the Muddy Basin Ramblers. It's a recording of a show they gave in Taipei in November 2013.