Sunday, 5 June 2011

Globalisation of Hollywood - Part 4 (Movie Making)

Extra! Extra! Read all about it !

sunny 18 °C
Globalisation isn't just affecting the themes of Hollywood movies, but the movies making itself. Increasingly, Hollywood studios are quick to make movies abroad. When Fox Studios Australia opened in Sydney in 1998, Hollywood movie producers were coming to town, and was a bonanza to the local movie industry. The relative low production costs and the talented tech-heads and artists was a prime reason for the decision to open a studio here. (In the 1980s to 1990s, the AUD to USD exchange rate was quite low. At some stage 1 AUD = 0.65 USD). Also, remember the owner of Fox Studios, Rupert Murdoch, is an Aussie (he became a naturalised US citizen in 1985). The multicultural population , and the city skylines are also some of the crucial reasons why some films are made in Australia rather than elsewhere. "The Matrix" was the first big budget movie made here making use of the multicultural population. It's a fun experience to watch a movie where you recognise all the backdrops. You can play the game of "Guess where this place is?" while watching the movie, thus creating a distraction and noisy environment that would ruin your viewing pleasure.

Many Hollywood blockbusters were made in this studio since "The Matrix". When I wasn't working as as movie extra, I also came to the Fox Studio for movies, and a couple of my fave restaurants are also here. Eastern European countries may successfully steal some business from Sydney because of their lower labour costs. One thing they lack is the large multicultural population, which serves as extras. Films with global theme, hence with international cast, is the future trend. I guess the Eastern European can have a market niche in producing movies like "Troy" and "Alexander The Great" where the cast of thousands are all Europeans.

"Superman Returns" was shot in Sydney in 2005 where yours truly worked as a film extra. Superman, or more correctly, Clark Kent works and lives in Metropolis, which is based on NY City in the 1930's as the comic was first appeared. This picture was made in Sydney for two reasons (based on my educated guesses) :

1. the multicultural population of Sydney - as multicultural as NY City - provides the film studio a large pool of multicultural talented movie extras like myself to draw from (ok, maybe just the multicultural bit, and not the talented bit).

2. to provide a backdrop that redolent of Metropolis, you need to have a city with inter-war architecture - i.e. art deco buildings. One of the locations that I was involved in the 2nd day shooting of "Superman Returns" was on York Street. The section of York Street between Market and Jamison Streets was condoned off for filming. There're more concentration of art deco building here than anywhere in Sydney. So for people who are art deco fans - I'm one of them - and if you're in Sydney, this is where you should visit. Martin Place also has some nice art deco buildings, and guess what, this is another shoot location for the film.

York St, Sydney, making movie

This is York Street near King St corner. Notice the concentrations of art deco buildings that flank York St (turn your eyes to the right side of the photo). Notice also the time stamp "17 6:19". It was taken at 6:19AM. We were already there before 6AM. And it's 17 of July, it means winter and was a particular cold winter morning. Notice too how everyone either have their hands in their pockets or holding their hands together to keep themselves warm. I was under dressed, and I froze my butts off. Hard work, moving making.

Superman Returns film locatin shoot.jpg

The extras playing the Metropolis Police are having a break. Actually, we don't have breaks. Or to put it another way, for the extras, most of the times are breaks, standing around and waiting for the technical people to set up their equipments like cameras, lighting, etc. It's usually a long wait.

Makeup artists would walk around checking if our faces are too shiny, and applied powder to it (so you can't use the excuse "I like to powder my face" to leave the scene). My oily face meant that this extra needs extra dry powder. The agency suggested that we should bring along a book to pass the time. I did meet some very colourful people, playing as extras. Of course, all these extras have day jobs. They're here for the experience. Australia is too small a market to work as full time extra. If you live in California, things might be different. The Metropolis taxi is a typical NY yellow cab. Sydney taxis don't look like this. This photo can easily passed as a typical street scene in NY City.

Superman Returns, Metropolis bank

This is "International Bank of Metropolis" during the shooting. Normally, this is St. George bank branch locating at the corner of York and Barrack Streets. A sydney local will able to tell from the bits of red and white that exposed behind the green prop sign that this is the familiar St George Bank logo. Notice, too, the red colour in the awning above the door. If this is indeed International Bank of Metropolis, it should be painted green instead. Of course, no audience in their right mind is going to notice things like that.

Superman Returns, Metropolis vehicle lincense plate

The Metropolis license plate. This car belongs to a fellow extra Nikki. Unlike Clark Kent who works in Daily Planet and moonlighting as Superhero who saves the planet, Nikki is Japanese-Aussie who works for an employment agency by week day, and moonlighting as a movie extra by weekend. He told me that this extra was paid extra for having his car included in the shooting scene. I didn't know that. Wouldn't you rather park your car here and got paid than park outside and paying the local council? He told me that he had been in the extras business to make extra money for almost 12 years. Only an old hand in the business gets this kinda privileges. He said he also appeared in one of the TV commercials for a Japanese brand  air-conditioner Daiken. I didn't recognise him because he had his glasses on. When he removed his glasses. I screamed, "So desu ne! Clarku Kento!" Ok, can't help but to dramatise a real event. This is show biz. I made up the bits about the glasses. Everything else I said about him was true.

Superman Returns, Metropolis pub or bar

Like St George Bank, this Irish pub, whose name escapes me, had been disguised as "Jimy Quong" pub for this shooting. If you can squint your eyes hard enough, you'll be able to spot the fine print that says, "the last Chinese in metropolis". For the natives, to find out the real name of this pub, just stroll down to the Occidental Hotel right next door. This is an actual Sydney hotel without disguise. They didn't disguise the sign probably because it does have the look and feel of a Metropolis business shop sign. In fact, if you look at this logo closely (if you can't, you can see it on their own website here). Its logo looks a little bit like the the logo in the license plate above (buildings inside a circle). Imagine that. Even the name The Occidental has a inter-war feel to it. Weird, isn't it? This hotel is made for this movie. This pub and hotel is located at the corner of York and Erskine Streets.

Superman Returns location camera crew
Did I mention filming is hard yakka?

Superman Return shoot location

An actual scene in the movie with a traffic mayhem. A camera was suspended on a cable (shows up faintly on the top of the photo) above the street is zipping from one end to another. The camera captured the view of what Superman sees as he flies over York St (sorry, I mean a street in Metropolis). Everyone you see in this photo are, of course, extras.

I was told that the number of extras working on that day was over 400 strong. The award wage (Aussie legal term for minimum wage) for a film extra was $21.50 AUD at the time. The clock started ticking at 6AM, and we didn't clock off until 7PM. Yep, a long day in the 'office'. Three meals were included. We shot a total of about 5 scenes, which lasted no more than 5 minutes in the feature, If at all). You do the maths. And we were probably the lowest expense items.

When the movie came out, I tried to spot the dot that is me. I didn't expect to see my face appears on the screen at a dimension of 8m x 6m, but I did expect to see my tiny fruit of my labour in the form of a fleeting speck on the screen. Well I didn't really spot it. Etta said I had been completely cut out of the picture. Ummm...Maybe it's there, we just need a magnifying glass for the job. Elementary, my dear Watson. Elementary.

For people who want to organise themselves "The superman Returns" tour, this entry should offer some idea. For people who wants to see art deco buildings in Sydney, you should now know where to go.

Oh, also, for the art-deco fan, a green skyscraper opposite Sydney Townhall on George Street (Bathurst St corner) is built in the late 1990's from memory. I guess unlike the art-deco buildings in York Street, and Martin Place, which were built in the inter-war period, this one is a, I guess what you would call, a retro art-deco tower. I found it quite fetching. Judge it yourself.