filming in beijing: from hell to heaven without stairs    Landing in Beijing in mid-summer is like going down into a wet sauna inhabited by 20 million people. Sweat leaves not a scrap of you unvisited and your clothes stick to you. When you breathe in you get the sensation that the air in your lungs in second-hand. You never lose the sensation of fear and not being able to keep still. As if you were looking at a mountain top from your base camp. However, this film shoot isn’t a top level mountaineering expedition. There’s no time to get acclimatised and you have to start work right away.

Get the technical and artistic team together. Use the buses, the metro, taxis and your shoe-leather to find locations and then negotiate with the people in charge there, keep on finding solutions to cover your ignorance of the language, ask for permission to film in many places (you soon realise that if you want to film somewhere the last thing you should do is ask for permission. There are no cracks in Chinese bureaucracy). Doing all that in the unending spiders web of concrete, steel, glass and roads, without stopping
for a rest, is what you have to do in the scarce hours of daylight. Thanks to my friends who live there. They’re my Sherpas, ropes and oxygen bottles.

And when it’s time to film, and someone who should show up doesn’t, and you think nothing’s going to get done, you start filming, press rec, and suddenly, within the four walls of the visor, you’re somewhere else. Lights, shadows, forms, spaces, the actors’ eyes and gestures... it had been chaotic until now, and it becomes perfect on the screen. It seems as if everything that had been working against it is now working for the film. As though what’s in front of the lens were your exclusive world. Just like when you have the beach to yourself after a storm. You’re god for a brief moment. You don’t want to press stop. You know that then, when the screen goes black, the truce will be over and you’ll go back from paradise to hell. You’d rather have the camera running 24 hours a day and just look at Beijing out of a little window.

The city’s sounds seem like an eternity for that brief moment. That’s why I’ve never enjoyed filming anywhere as much as I have in Beijing.