I was still unsure what to do with my short visit in Hong Kong. My father had already entertained the idea that I come out and spend a few months out there before I return to Arizona and shoot Cory Malkin's Leviathan TV series. I've visited Hong Kong practically once every summer since I was 12, spent a few weeks there, usually for piano purposes, but never had I spent more than a month, let alone two months on the other side of the planet. The plane tickets were booked and I began to hatch a few ideas for what I could shoot out there even though film was not my primary purpose of traveling to Hong Kong. I'd meet up with my cousin Brandon Eng and we would stay out there together for the remainder of the trip by ourselves in a rented out apartment in Sheung Wan. Two months inched by. Two months of editing small videos for a random Italian film festival, two months of commuting to work, two months of crossing the Hong Kong - China boarder to visit my dad, two months of camera in-hand filming Brandon, documenting every little thing we did. With little spurts of company with Kristie and Emily, and with my flight back to the US on the horizon, I realized I might go home feeling like I missed an opportunity to make something.
Facebook during the summer. A place of endless "oh look what I'm doing" photo streams that litter your newsfeed. Facebook during the summer in Hong Kong. A place of endless "oh look what film set i'm on in LA that you aren't on because you are halfway across the world" photo streams that litter my newsfeed. Scrolling further I come across Dan Hwang's new profile picture. Under it read:
"People-watching and journaling. I firmly believe that if everybody took 20 minutes to sit down and just observe the humans walking past us, we'd think and act differently.
"'Every Human is their own little world.
Everybody has their own families, upbringings, experiences, stories, and scars. Everybody.
If that's the case, how precious is very human who walks past us?
Love Furiously, care deeply, show grace.
Let's change the world, one beautiful human being at a time."'
Something about this spoke to me at the time and it stuck with me as I was commuting to my work place on the metro. Glancing around, looking at all these strangers, all these stories, all these families, upbringings, experiences, scares... I started writing. I don't recall having much difficulty getting my thoughts onto paper after that. It just was a matter of whether or not I had the time. As soon as I finished writing I was suddenly hit with a sense of fear. I didn't want to show this script to anyone. I found the script becoming more and more personal to myself the more I wrote it. It was tough enough for me to let Brandon read it (even though he was set to play Aaron the main character) It was to the point where I had written myself into Aaron, the main character in a sense. I don't know how much of that actually came through in the final product, but I definitely felt rather vulnerable sending this script to anyone. After reluctantly sending the script to she who won't be named, I was sent back a barrage of negativity and misunderstanding regarding the story. Discouraged.
We were headed to The Vine (a church) one Sunday morning. My dad had step ahead of us and was already inside. Me and Brandon lagged behind as I vented my thoughts on Strangerland. Before heading in, Brandon stopped me and said, "You know what? ...Fuck what they say. Just do it. Don't listen to what other people say." It was possibly the first time I had ever heard Brandon curse. Needless to say, after we got back from church that day, I began making all the necessary arrangements to make Strangerland happen with a renewed sense of determination.
Kristie jumped on board as soon as she read the script. Another relief. Meeting up was hard, but we found places to discuss in person casting choices (aka Kristie's friends) and where to shoot. Tori would be played by Tiffany Stevens. I coordinated to meet up with her. Two things came of that meeting. One, she couldn't do the part because she was leaving before we were planning to shoot. Two, I would end up destroying my camera in a freak rainstorm while shooting a dance music video with Tiffany the day after. Now cameraless, I borrowed Kristie's camera for the actual shoot. (A Canon 60D)
Megan Chan who was originally going to play Sarah, was now going to play Tori and Emily was now going to play Sarah (against Emily's wishes lol)
I told myself before the shoot began that I would roll with anything that happened on set. Being that this would be as guerrilla style as guerrilla style got, I knew I had to let go of any "vision" I had for the film and work with what we got especially being in the less than familiar streets of Hong Kong. Not to mention I was directing while being cinematographer, so I made a point to rehearse with Brandon and Megan and really get their performances where I wanted them before we went out to shoot.
Shooting on the metro was difficult but not as difficult as I had anticipated. We had scoped out which stations to go between for the maximum window of shooting time while the train was moving. While we shot, no one stopped us, they just gave us looks. Continuity started to become more and more of an issue with people coming in and out of the train constantly. Rides between stops weren't as long as the takes lasted, and we had to time the lines so that they didn't land on any of the metro's loudspeaker announcements. We finished a few takes and got out of the train to take a break. Suddenly we stumble upon an overpass walkway that looked rather beautiful. (And by beautiful I mean, dark, grungy and secluded but well lit) First thing I thought: Just roll with it. We gotta shoot here. We shot the whole train scene on the walkway and I made a mental note that I should experiment with having the edit cut between them on the train and them walking down this walk way but keeping the conversation unbroken. We wrapped and took the last train home.
The same mentality carried through the rest of the shoot. Slowly realizing that I really could put my camera anywhere I wanted in Hong Kong because so much of the public areas were "tourist locations." Having a camera out with a tripod wasn't unheard of. Again, no one stopped us when we shot at IFC along the bridge to the ferries and caused quite a scene with Ingrid screaming in Canto at Brandon and Megan.
Our streak of not being stopped ended when we were shooting the final scene in the metro station at Mong Kok. A gorgeous location by the way. (And by gorgeous I mean, dark, grungy and secluded) It was possibly our most secluded shooting location yet aside from the walkway. Everything was running smoothly until an abnormal announcement on the loudspeaker. A Metro employee approached us and told us we had to leave. WE WERE ON THE LAST TWO LINES OF THE FILM. We told her that we would start packing up and we got her to go. But we knew that they were now watching us on the security cam system waiting for us to leave so Kristie began packing up our equipment as I continued shooting the rest of the scene on glidecam. 30 seconds and we were out. I grabbed one last shot of them across the tracks and that was it.
Not sure how I felt at that time. All I knew was that we just had to roll with it. Something would come of it. And if it doesn't work, I'll make it work. Me and Brandon got back to our apartment that night and I immediately began editing the final scene together trying to see if we had everything we needed to make the final bit work. Did we? No. We missed the last line. THE LAST LINE OF THE FILM. THE LAST FREAKIN' LINE. But I thought, okay... roll with it. I started sifting through all the clips upon clips of footage I had shot of Brandon over the 2 months I had been filming us do random things in Hong Kong when suddenly, I came across some footage of Brandon in the hallway right outside our apartment. It was a grungy hallway which was a stark contrast to the inside of the flat. But boy did it look nice on camera. An idea sparked in mind. I spliced in the clip into the edit and a totally new perspective for the story arose from adding that shot. What was super wonderful was with this new perspective in the film that took place in the hallway right outside our apartment, we could shoot pick ups there anytime we wanted. Rolling with getting kicked out may have ultimately made for a better film.
Post was a totally new beast especially for this film. The actual picture edit finished rather quickly. In fact I edited a good 40% of it before leaving Hong Kong. Sound was what I was missing. We were missing the wind sock for the H4n recorder we were using and that meant all the production sound was virtually useless. Before leaving Hong Kong I grabbed Brandon's ADR (in less than ideal settings-our apartment that had construction all around us) And totally could not get Megan's ADR. This resulted in a year of me on and off getting pieces of sound / ADR from the very kindly willing Michelle Hantman to replace Megan's voice. What's funny is that a few days after we recorded Michelle's lines, I was walking through SCA and bumped into.......... Megan Chan. WHAT!? HOW?! Definitely a crazy coincidence that I could not get over. Unfortunately she was only staying for a really short amount of time.
In the end, I'd say there is 2% production audio in the film and the rest was fabricated. Yes, there are some obvious dubbed things but after a long while... (almost a year) I knew this project needed to be done. NOW. It wasn't worth going back and re-dubbing them
One night Jane and I were talking about past film projects that we were all involved with in the past. "Never Gone", "Trenches" etc... and of course our 310s. She said that she felt most proud of her 310 not in the sense that it was the most well produced, shot, acted film, but it was a film that was complete and fully released. Not to say that we never finished those other past films, it just took such a long time to see come to reality that the pay off of releasing it didn't feel as satisfying. There is value in saying that you have accomplished something. Yeah, maybe rushing something means it won't be "perfect", but it is still more satisfying in the end then saying that you "almost" accomplished something. That night, I went home and recorded the rest of the foley for Strangerland and a week later... it was done.