Myanmar Diary – Part 9

13 November 15 – Friday – DAY SEVEN

Friday the 13th is unlucky, but seven is supposedly lucky, so what does that mean for our film today? Nothing so far. I still have this virus, and a bad, bad hacking cough. There’s no telling if it’s bronchitis.

In truth, I ended up ill and wheezing all the way through the first quarter of 2016.  It was already walking pneumonia and I had no idea.  My instinct to get penicillin was correct.

But by the time we got to the set I was somehow clearheaded and alive, which was better than most times in the last few days. Fever was down, but not entirely gone, and could flare up at a moment’s notice. I found that I could be suddenly sweating – the back of my neck dripping into my collar, for example. Always the back of my neck. To be honest, I’m a bit spooked by it, but there is no time to do anything about it. As I understand things, I can either go to the somewhat backward Burmese hospital like Eric and have them swab me with copious amounts of iodine and give me dubious medicine from India or Thailand which is probably counterfeit, or I can tough it out. And since I do not feel like I’m dying – it’s just a stupid incessant cough – I choose to tough it out.

Then there’s this guy, who hangs around and hopes to be in the film

I’m all wired up in the first 15 to 20 minutes of the day and ready to go – that is until all the batteries die later in the day and then I have to swap them all out. Most people don’t realize how easy sound is – you set up, you go. There’s a lot that has to be done in the moment – placing the boom right, mixing sources, choosing the right gear for the scene… it is a demanding job. But often times once we get it right we can go for hours without worrying about changing setups. Sound rarely if ever holds anything up. And yet everyone expects it to be there. So whereas sound waits for an hour for camera/lighting to be done noodling, the very second sound is not ready, people roll their eyes and complain.

Sadly I’m finding the same lack of respect for sound on this crew as on any other. The other day, while feverish, I waited around for 20 minutes on standby while director and camera muddled about. The very second I left the set to go pee – an operation which couldn’t even have taken a minute, mind you, they started without me and had Minshi boom the shot. Couldn’t wait the one minute I’d be gone, plus the possibility that I return to set not knowing they had started and could have ruined shot.

Oh well. The position is hard to respect, I guess. Everyone loves good sound when they hear it, though. All this to explain that when my batteries go out prematurely (The Watson brand rechargables lasted 12 hours, but Power-X brand were good for about four. Maybe.) I have to endure the usual eye rolling and complaining that I’m holding everyone up for… less than one minute.

That’s not where the difficulties end, however. The constant car and motorcycle traffic plus frequent calls to prayer from the mosque make it kind of tough to get any kind of clean tracks. There’s a lot of post work to be done. If I’m even doing it, although let’s be honest, I’m probably going to. Booming in a tiny space with a low ceiling (maybe 7 feet here? I think more like 6 and a half) while every shot is super wide does not help, either.

Gavin has chosen a rigorous aesthetic for this film – short lenses but short depth of field. This is somewhat technically difficult for a quantity of reasons.

#1. The very short depth of field requires that the AC is particularly good at getting critical focus. There’s no leeway.  Minshi has an external monitor and the camera has focus peaking, so we’re doing all we can.

#2. But this look is also hard to achieve because normally short-lenses have a huge depth of field. Gavin is compensating with aperture, which means this film is largely shot wide open – often at f1.4, which is very open.

Tinmar Aung contemplates the wide angle lens

Unfortunately, the wide angle also means no place to hide the boom. And it’s really hard to mic these kinds of shots for other reasons. There have been several times today where the combination of super wide angle lenses and glass reflections has meant that I’ve been kicked off set a few times – mostly by myself – because I was seen in the frame, either at the edges trying to hide or in the glass. Since it was nothing but more traffic noise to record from the only positions available, it did not seem like it was worthwhile. Nevertheless, I aimed the mic at traffic, and recorded ambience. I know I’ll be happy I have so much to choose from in the end.

Minshi insists on writing “and Minshi is useless” in this diary. He must be feeling like there’s nothing going on right now.

Today I introduced Tinmar Aung to the joys of “Mew Mew Tower” today, an iPhone game in which you drag cartoon cats out of a “kitty box” and build a tower to the moon. Who does not love to stack cats? Later she asks to play it again by making a swishing motion with her finger and a cat’s meow with her little voice. We’re definitely not going to let language stand in the way of stacking cats.

Only the best for Tinmar Aung

The day is a grind in general, and Gavin keeps us all late again, until 9PM. It’s very bad not getting our diminutive star back to the orphanage on time. I worry we’re really asking a lot of her. And the crew is exhausted, as well. When we looked back at it, Gavin had taken 6 to 7 takes of every set up instead of his usual 3 to 4. Some scenes seemed ridiculously overdone. It was those damn reflections of course, but we all got the impression we were slowing down. Yes, we’re exhausted, but we have nothing else to do here BUT make the film, so it’s not as if we’re taking the end of the day and drinking it away.

By the way, our crew is so stacked with teetotalers and wimps that the total amount of alcohol consumed so far may have been two cans of beer, and that was early on in the process. We end the day with dailies and then all crash out for the sleep of the dead. The illness is part of it, but we’re also old. None of us is in our 20s, and we all feel it.

Cecilia and Gavin decide we will make the set call a few hours later in the morning so that we can wedge in a story conference. Gavin’s running out of things to shoot – apart from obvious events like the balloon festival.

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