Myanmar Diary – Part 11

15 November 15 Sunday – DAY NINE

I begin the day by making stupid sound effects with Tinmar Aung. After she sets her own mic (which is beginning to be a morning ritual for us both) I have her do a test level, show her the meters, and often put the headphones on her so she can listen. Today I keep the boom on and begin to make weird noises with my mouth for her amusement. The one that seems to hit the hardest is my crappy Donald Duck impression, which makes her laugh out loud and call for it a number of times until my face hurts.

The morning finds Tinmar Aung in a bit of a feisty mood – long takes of the same repeated action do not help. More Bebot helps calm her down some. But the persistent low light and Shogun problem is back, and we’re worried about possible issues in post production as a result.

Namely this: that if the weird diagonal line issue shows up only on the monitor then we will ignore it. It means the Shogun needs repair, but we can live with it for the shoot. If it shows up in the footage, we are doomed. There is not such a thing as a “get rid of wiggly line” filter in any software I know of. So far we’ve not taken a shot that we see the problem in, but none of us remember when we started seeing it. Everyone has been watching dailies (besides me, that is, I’m still sweating the night away in a low grade fever that is not leaving me) and no one has seen it in our images so far.

But it’s showing up in the footage now, and this slows us down some trying to locate it once and for all.

While Sean futzes, I will muse on

A propos of yesterday’s Shan noodles, and while I wait for the problem to get solved, the ethnic and social makeup of Myanmar could use a little musing about. As detailed yesterday, Myanmar is made up of a number of somewhat diverse racial and ethnic groups. These range from the Bamar people (who gave the country the name “Burma” for so long) to the Kayan people, noted for the custom of having women war brass neck rings that seem to stretch their necks out.

The various ethnic groups in Burma have been in a constant civil war for years, and even while we’re in the country there is fighting up north in the jade mines. The groups who actually do get along are sometimes terrorized by the military regime. It’s a bit of a mess over here. There are something like 14 individual states in Myanmar, and most of them are in some kind of conflict it seems.

Much later, after the film was completed, the ethnic violence against the Rohingya people made world news.  It must be kept in mind that what the rest of the world was calling “ethnic cleansing” and depicting as genocide, was perpetrated by the Burmese military – who still hold quite a bit of power.  And that it was the most brutal but not the only instance of such violence in the country.  Myanmar is considered to have been in a state of perpetual civil war since independence.

So it was strange that in Pyin Oo Lwin an unusual amount of social and religious tolerance is on display. One wonders how far that extends, and those around me assure me that most Burmese are tolerant and peaceful. Pyin Oo Lwin is one region that is very tolerant of Muslims, who the military regime frowns on. There are a number of mosques in town, and we often hear the periodic calls to prayer during the day. Not far from the sewing shop are Hindu temples as well as Buddhist temples.

Curiously, though nominally “Communist,” the military regime endorses Buddhism, and it’s sort of the state religion. Except not. It doesn’t seem like anyone enforces that all over the country, just in certain areas. Here’s an interesting tidbit from the world of internet information: Myanmar ranks 157th out of 177 countries in terms of corruption. It’s considered one of the most abusive regimes in the world. There is periodic ethnic cleansing against the Shan and the Karen besides the much publicized Rohingya.  The point is that the military, which continues to operate a kind of second government in Mynamar, has been ethnic cleansing for some time.

Everyone we meet knows these things. Few talk about them that much. And this is because in Pyin Oo Lwin little if any of that is happening and lots of diverse groups actually are getting along without much issue. It would be like a visitor coming to my city of Los Angeles and wondering why I did not arm myself because of all the riots happening in Detroit.

There is a general feeling of helplessness about the abusive regime. No one really can do anything about it, and political action is crushed severely. That’s why the election is so important. Because at some level the Burmese really just want to be left alone and want to take care of themselves and their families, like anywhere else in the world. There’s a reason why the NLD swept elections with their socialist-democratic platform.  Years later, however, we can see that the transition of power is fragile and weird, with NLD holdin`g power in name but unable to stop he violence.

But Pyin Oo Lwin seems an oasis in the middle of this. As it has been for some time, what with the mix of Anglos, Burmese, and Indians, it’s a bit of a melting pot. We’ve all noticed how there seems to be a wide range of racial groups in this town, and yet everyone seems to be getting along fine. Skin color, long that foul determinant of superiority in the Western world (and especially America) seems to be fairly unimportant. There is a wide enough range to provide us with cinematographic challenges when certain people get into frame.

Of course our hosts are not dragging us into the worst the country has to offer. Of course the upcoming balloon festival is an occasion to be joyful, not mopey. And of course the election makes everyone feel the promise of a new future. These things are just as true as the abuses and the human rights violations. It’s important to see them all in perspective.

By this time, the team has sorted out the issues, perhaps for good, and we start in with it. Today’s scene has a remarkably mature Tinmar Aung telling a grown woman, Victoria, that she does not need her help in the sewing shop, and the she will take care of Grandma herself. Victoria is a voluble, cheerful person, and we all like having her around. I cannot understand a thing she says, but she laughs long and hard, and everyone seems to like her jokes. We all take a shine to her immediately.

The shoot is progressing rather smoothly today. Tinmar Aung is especially focused and Victoria meets her energy level rather naturally.

“Tinmar” means, among other things – “beautiful” and “success.” This much Thiha tells me on a break when I ask him. That ole softy is fairly charmed by our little star. He’s still a bit shy around us, though. Everyone likes Thiha, and we especially like his great stories. Once a merchant marine, he’s sailed everywhere but he says he has been alone in his heart for most of that time. From the outside he looks like the kind of guy who might rough you up in the streets. Inside he’s a serious Buddhist who likes children and animals.

Buddhists have the best religious paraphernalia right behind Mexican Catholics – and talk about your local Saints – hoo boy! I love that Buddhist shrines go straight for the gaudiest decorations they can. Few Christians would festoon their idols with the kinds of blinky lights and swirly halo discs that Buddhists seem to go for. Christians are downright unfun and austere in comparison. I guess this makes sense. Christians always want to be dour. Whether it’s Catholics trying to make you feel guilty about everything or Protestants preaching hellfire, there’s not much joy in Christianity except that which Christ has to sit on and suppress. Listen to hardcore Christians some time. They can’t just enjoy a meal, they have to thank Jesus for it. They can’t have a good marriage, it’s got to have Jesus looking over them in the bedroom while they are trying to conceive.

The Buddhists are perfectly happy to decorate with crazy colors – they don’t have a guy dying at the center of their religion, so they don’t have to always be in mourning or contemplating how bad it can get. Of course there’s all that meditation and blanking your mind business that I can’t get behind.

But I can follow the reasoning behind it: don’t get caught up in your life, because existence is ephemeral and transitory. For the Hindus, too, the message is not to be worked up about things. Not because they are “of this world” and God insists on a Platonic split between body and soul. Crikey, no. Because life and existence is an illusion, so getting serious about all this fake stuff is probably not going to get you anywhere.

Hindu Temple in Pyin Oo Lwin

My reveries are interrupted. Gavin wants to re-shoot scene 33. At first we groan. Why re-shoot when we have so much left to do? But Gavin’s wisdom wins out in the end. It truly is better after we go back to it. But sadly, the seams are still showing and the holes in the second act are pretty apparent now.

Had we not already shot Tinmar Aung in certain outfits, we could have done something about telescoping the days indicated in the story and simplified things in editing.   But she is clearly wearing the same clothes in certain places, which will indicate that we’re on the same day for those outfits.

A few solutions I propose for clearing up some duplication simply cannot happen because it would require massive re-shoots. The trouble is that we all feel that the movie is still too short, despite our story conference and despite the new scenes.

Late afternoon in the Sew Shop kitchen

It’s evening now – the sun has set and we’re readying for a Gilbert ghost shot. Gilbert is our young actor playing Tinmar Aung’s father. His ghost visits her and she talks to him rather matter-of-factly about Grandma and her obligations. Gavin is thinking there are digital effects involved in these shots. Oh joy – more work for me. But since there is no release date for this film I guess we can take nine years to finish it. Maybe by that time Tinmar Aung will be an adult and she can go on talk shows decrying our film and complaining about all the child labor laws we broke.

Gilbert is only 19, but we all believe he can do the part. He auditioned really well for Gavin. Victoria is his guardian (I’m not sure what that story is here) so that explains why she was on set and why we decided to cast her. Gavin sure has been lucky with casting so far.

But it’s another late night for Tinmar Aung and I know we’re burning her out. I tell Gavin and we discuss what we’re going to do – it’s the second long day for her and by the end she’s become quite irritated. Never fear, she’s a pro. She’s on for every take and gives it 100% . But she’s also doing things like sneaking all of our food and snitching small objects to take home. I see that as a sign that she’s bored and that she feels like she should get a little more out of this arrangement. It’s a familiar pattern – I do it myself when I steal office supplies from work. We are at a diminishing returns point here. Our snacks and iPad games are now the real focus of her time with us – the movie is the cost she endures to get the fun. She needs a break. Maybe a day or two off.

I actually make it through dailies tonight – that’s rare these days. Answer a little email, also rare these days. The cal time is early enough – we have to get to the set early, so we can block it out for night scenes.

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