Myanmar Diary – Part 5

9 November 15 – Monday – DAY THREE

Captain Ahab gets us up at 4 AM for a 5 AM breakfast and out to the set before six. The production’s very own cold virus has got me now, only three days in. I was struck down with a painful sore throat in the middle of the night.

Of course that’s minor compared to the real action. The locals here had been tuned into Facebook all last night, which informed them all about NLD candidates winning in the majority of provinces. It’s ridiculous at this point, with the NLD having taken 86% of the seats, which gives them far more than the supermajority needed to do whatever they like.

Our driver Thiha, whose pithy sayings and insights only increase with every day, tells us “we don’t want the government of this military man. We had this – what do you call. Crony? Every country in Asia has reformed. Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam (even Vietnam!). We’re sliding. We’re going backwards.”

Thiha is absolutely correct. Myanmar has gone from being one of the most modern and richest countries in Southeast Asia back in the 50s to arguably the poorest and least developed. His history is correct, too. Each of these other countries has flirted with dictatorships, despotisms, puppet communisms, and other failed systems. And they have all reformed while Myanmar stays preserved in amber.

The feeling us high there – they all want change. I tell Thiha we have cronyism too – but I did not elaborate how bad our system is. And in 2015 things were serene compared to the disaster that would befall us in the 2016 election.  Apparently the US is a beacon of freedom and all that. No sense in snuffing out the Burmese candle by telling them how our country fails on climate change or how American business stifles the everyday life of the people.  Holy crap they must be really puzzled now looking at who we have in office.

Later we drive out to “B.E. Falls”. They’re actually called Pwe Kauk Falls, but the signs all say “B.E.” for reasons we cannot discern. This location is a picturesque waterfall where our film’s “Grandma” is supposed to be vacationing when she takes a fall of a different kind and injures her leg. It is all white noise here, and I was still getting bad signal on transmitter 3. I hoped I had packed the extra antenna, because I thought I might have to solder a new one on the unit.

Satellite image of Pwe Kauk Falls

Later I realize that I was trying to transmit a fair distance because of the incredibly long shots we kept setting up.  The weak-ass antenna of the Sennheiser G2 units was probably what was at fault.  I’ve read since about a modification to the transmitter that uses a standard SMC mount like you’d find in wifi units.  That would have increased my range.

Pew Kauk Falls

The falls are beautiful. Moss covered, ensnared by gnarly trees, and buzzing with so-far friendly insects. Bucolic. A black dog tries in vain to cross the bridge, but our party blocks him at the top the stairs. He spends the better part of an hour trying to work past us because he is so shy, but we keep shooting the same shots over and over so he has to wait. Just as he thinks he can get through, our actors climb the stairs once more and he’s trapped. He’s too nervous to get close to any of us.

Finally he gets his chance, and when we wrap the shot he bounds through. We’re all relieved for the poor mutt.


Gavin, that cruel bastard, is still forgetting to tell me when we are shooting and when we’re not. I’m still having trouble with transmissions since the shots are all super wide, so I’ve been hiding in the frame, crouched below stairs and hiding behind tree trunks. In one particularly tight spot I cannot move an inch due to arms and legs sticking out, and I cannot hear the crew even if they were making the proper calls. Knees buckling, body sliding slowly towards imbalance, they are so slow to making decisions I end up waiting in the most cramped positions for way too long. Add to that the annoying tendency Gavin and Sean have of calling for sound, rolling the camera, and then spending upwards of two minutes either fiddling with the framing or arguing about something before actually calling action, and you have a recipe for pain.

Later, at lunch, we try to shoot at one of the restaurants at the falls.  This inevitably ends up another bribe/buyout situation. For 10,000 kyet the place is ours. That’s about $10 I think, pretty good for a location fee. Keeps the idiot grinning tourists out though, and since there are quite a few of them standing around getting in our shots, it’s just as well.

Gavin likes to show the kids what we’re doing

Tinmar Aung is her usual delightful self. I make her get her own mic, and she likes to put on the headphones. Later in the day I show her BeBot on the iPhone and she taps at the screen happily. It’s a pretty heavy day at the falls – by the end Gavin is shooting happy kids playing in the water getting themselves soaked. But we run out of light and are left wondering why we never finish what we plan. Gavin vows to be better, but it’s probably a combination of things including a vigorous and overly hopeful schedule.

Plenty of time to shoot a pic of this fat katydid, tho

That night we plan story and schedule. It’s my suggestion that they write out every scene on a post-it note and affix it to the wall – the blank one above my bed. It’s an old screenwriting technique, but it’s also akin to animation storyboards. These scenes they place beneath another row of post-its showing the dates, and thus the schedule is born. I had attempted to keep things on track using Movie Magic or some other method, but the post-it on the wall technique has many advantages, not the least of which is that everyone can sit around and plan with it.

Gavin and Hae-Jin spend some time yelling at each other about who’s doing what wrong. Jumping into the tiger den is awkward, but I try several times. I tend to side with Hae-Jin, not just because we’re married, but because we see eye-to-eye about most of these issues. I’m more of a planner in general – it’s my animation training. Gavin is working day-to-day and hoping it all gets done, and I’m worried it won’t. He’s got a kind of Wong Kar-Wei/Altman thing going right now, which I think might be better sited to a project that is not taking place in limited time on limited budget in a language we do not understand.

When I suggest they should have made the big board a week ago (it is taken them less than an hour to do it) I get snapped at. I guess I deserve it. I’m on cold medicine – that’s my excuse.

In other Myanmar news, NLD takes the victory, unconfirmed but obvious. It could be the start of brand-new Myanmar. Or the military will crush everyone, no matter how they vote.

That’s certainly a worry around here.  In 1990 the Green Party allowed an election and then refused to abide by the results, staying in power.  So they’ve done all this 25 years ago.  They must have some idea how they’re going to work things out when they lose, which they must have known they would do.

This dawg, however, DGAF

My personal theory, and I will admit I’m taking a lot of this from Eric’s wife Jennifer, is that the Green Party knows they screwed things up. In 50 years they have pretty much ruined the country.  In that time they have established themselves as the masters, owning all the industries and utilities anyway.  So if they let the people’s party run the show they still own everything, are still “rich” in some ways.  But they can get out of the government business.  Plus, the NLD is likely to open the doors for things like foreign investment.  On the way to B.E. Falls we saw signs proclaiming the coming of a Starbucks Plantation.

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