Myanmar Diary – Part 12

16 November 15 – Monday – DAY TEN

The shoot is halfway finished. Since we leave November 29 it’s more like just over the hump, timewise. Gavin is worried he doesn’t have the film yet but that seems totally normal at this stage. We are quite sure that whether or not he does have a film, he will continue to believe he does not, and that this is probably some kind of distortion field he must live in while he’s making a project.

The virus is still with me – I’m still coughing, still sniffling. I have spent almost half my time here sick.

Tinmar Aung has two friends with her today because we’re shooting the scenes with the school friends. She’s so clearly the ringleader. This is good – in lots of ways we do not have to entertain her so much. The friends are suitably impressed by everything, notably Tinmar Aung’s comfort with the unusual situation, and she is having a ball showing them the ropes and explaining how everything works. I’m asked to do the Donald Duck voice for them which Tinmar Aung has misinterpreted as “a cat fighting a mouse.” Makes sense, I guess. I did say it was kind of a crappy Donald. Between takes she giggles with her friends – she introduces us all and lets them know all the various rules and tricks of the trade. It’s a relief – I think she will get through the day fine.


We actually pound through quite a few setups today – it’s a record number of wire-ups for actors. A few costume changes, lots of weird booming. I think my mic technique is just about perfect now.

The friends end up in a scene – which is why we brought them – and they do great. They’re all three very natural in their scenes and seem to take to it pretty easily. We’re not requiring a lot out of them, of course, but that’s besides the point. We don’t require much out of some of the other actors and they are struggling.

The friends again

A scene with Victoria takes 13 tries – not due to her, she’s fine. It’s Grandma again. Grandma’s very nice, but certainly “not the best,” as we say in my country. By dusk we shoot a happy and compliant Tinmar Aung closing shop. She’s spending a lot of her time playing Salai’s infernal bubble-pop game he has on his Samsung fake iPad device. It’s some version of “Bejeweled” or “Candy Crush” that requires one to click on floating bubbles that have the same color. That thing is an electronic lotus if I ever smelled one. I can feel all those kids’ brains drying up as they play this dumb game in the kitchen. I will certainly defend Bebot over this, because at least with Bebot you’re making some kind of music.

Damn that bubble pop game

Now it’s Grandma’s bruise time, and a whole new set up. In the story a doctor is supposed to inspect Grandma’s giant bruise from her spill at the waterfall. Cecilia does a bang up job on the bruise. Before we left she had a quick study session with our talented friend Rod Maxwell. Rod was a contestant on “Face Off,” the reality show about special effects makeup, and had spent years making his own incredibly complicated short “The Wishing Well” which featured Rod playing dozens of characters. So doing a simple bruise was child’s play to Rod. It may have been child’s play to Cecilia as well, because her bruise looked so good everyone was a bit worried.

Tinmar Aung’s traditional mic #1 dies suddenly – the wires shorting out at the connection I resoldered before we left. I guess my solder job was OK, but not the best. Good thing I have a spare mic. Hone Hone is beside herself giggling over our translator John. He has been drafted to play the doctor, and she finds him hilarious in the traditional white doctor’s coat. I can’t even keep the headphones on, everyone is mocking John so severely, and making so much noise doing it. They do it because they love him, of course. Perhaps they love him a bit too much in some cases.

But at a quarter after six we are scrambling to get the scene in the can. That makes something like 50 or 60 shots today – about average for this shoot. A few things today – the girls, chiefly – are fixes for the second act issues. So we feel pretty good that we’re addressing the Second Act Hole, even though we still have a few to patch up.

The days have been going by so fast, and we’ve been working incredibly efficiently. You must keep in mind that this film is a micro-budget production. We have a camera crew of two, a sound crew of one, a director and a producer. That’s five key technical positions. We have a few people employed locally – two drivers and a translator. There are some key witnesses, notably Eric and Hone Hone. But they come and go as they please, like cats. We have actors, but even they are a limited bunch and are not all there at the same time. This thing is SMALL.

This comic book is also small. I drew it then and there to keep Tinmar Aung’s friends busy. She seems to like it.

Furthermore, we have a TINY camera by American filmmaking standards, and an even more minimal sound setup. We have lights that are only powered by batteries, no wall current whatsoever. This is the state of filmmaking in 2015 – the gear is just getting better and smaller, more flexible, lighter weight, and more affordable. I feel like they must have in the late 60s and early 70s when decent looking 16mm film and the Nagra meant that all sorts of low budget productions were suddenly possible. And yet the barrier to entry is SO low and the level of expertise is similarly rock bottom that we simply are not getting an influx of incredible films. We’re getting the opposite.

American studios make fewer and fewer films each year. It’s getting so that the number of films made in a year is so small that every one of them can be nominated for some kind of Oscar for something. The average film production budget is close to $140 million. The Hollywood Reporter claims the average cost of marketing a feature film globally is now $200 million. That’s not even counting having made the thing. The high cost of saturation TV advertising is to blame, with spots on favorite TV shows costing more than 100 times our entire budget.

More and more is being sent on incredibly expensive films accomplished by brute force and the incredible power of huge money. At the other end is the increasingly large ghetto of exhibiting your work online, which is the same as making copies and throwing them in the dumpster for all that anyone will see them. The online world is so glutted with such a wide variety of quality it is impossible to find anything. The poorly shot cat video (much as I enjoy these, because I do) has the same value for the audience as does a well-made feature film we sweat over. It’s a bit depressing.

There still is a middle market, even though it is shrinking. We do hope that our little movie will end up being bought and sold to some market somewhere, and we hold out hope that we can recoup production costs somehow. There is still cable, video on demand, and foreign sales. An acquaintance of mine recently sold his terrible looking crappy feature to weird isolated markets like Egypt and Panama – nowhere else. Another couple I know sold their horror film to video on demand companies and at least got their mortgage sorted out. So it can happen.

Gavin contemplates world supremacy

But the landscape is depressing. For the first time in my life it has been possible for some loser like me with no money and tons of big ideas to actually get them on screen. And this will happen in the absolute most hostile environment to make anything.

Nevertheless, our tenth day ends well and our spirits are high – we’re ready for the next challenges. Forget all that depressing information about the state of filmmaking today.  We are, right now, making a film, and we’re pleased with the results. All you can do is do what you do, and try to do it the best.

Even Tinmar Aung is in a great mood having spent the day with friends. For once we feel like we’re not pushing her too hard.

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