Yesterday we got an intriguing message from Jason Wishnow, the filmmaker whose dystopic sci-fi film featuring Ai Weiwei was jeopardized after the legendary Chinese artist briefly put a stop to fundraising efforts. The message invited Facebook friends like myself — along with those who had donated to The Sand Storm’s $101,065 Kickstarter campaign — to show up at the York Street subway station at 2:05 a.m. for a 15-minute guerrilla shoot.
The last time Wishnow convened a flash mob, it involved zombies doing yoga in Williamsburg — and this shoot was no less exciting, even if only a dozen people ended up showing. (Okay, maybe a little less exciting: 2 a.m. on a school night? Not all of us are on Beijing time, dude.) Wishnow had instructed volunteers to dress in grey, black, or white winter gear (“it was BELOW FREEZING when we shot in China,” he explained), and to bring face masks: “If you have your own respirator or World War I gas mask, now is finally the excuse you’ve been waiting for all your life to wear it in public without being judged.”
Participants were also asked to tote water bottles, as befits a film about an H20 shortage in which Ai Weiwei plays a water smuggler. Designer Bill McMullen was packing the prop of the night: a bulky ’80s-style mobile phone.
The plan was to film in the long, desolate passageway leading to the train platform — a plan that was foiled exactly as filming was due to begin, when a cop settled into the surveillance booth in front of the corridor. These black-clad futurists weren’t about to don their respiratory masks in front of law enforcement (not with this ebola scare, to say nothing of bed bugs in the subway), so Wishnow instructed everyone to jump on the next F train and hoof it one stop over to Chinatown.
As the train rumbled into Manhattan, the director explained that the hiccup was actually a blessing, since he’d now be able to fulfill his dream of wrapping his China movie in Chinatown.
Truth is, the East Broadway stop looked just as apocalyptic as the York Street stop — as evidenced every time an extra shrieked when a rat scampered under foot.
With everyone gathered on a landing above the platform, Wishnow finally elaborated on the scene he was shooting: “There’s a shot in the movie where all of the water goes out [in the city] early on in the film and Ai Weiwei’s character pulls out his phone and he looks at it and it’s a newscast – on a split screen, there’s a newscaster saying ‘Nothing is wrong, everything’s fine, stay calm,’ and on the other side there’s people panicking.”
To simulate the riot, the director divided the scrum into two groups and had them run toward each other and back a few times. “It will look almost like we’re doing a comedy scene,” he said.
And that it did, though the folks who had worked up a sweat running around in ponchos and fur muffs in the middle of August looked none too amused.
After what will probably be the film’s final take (it’s expected to be completed later this summer), Wishnow invited everyone for a drink at the appropriately named Clandestino, just above the subway station and a stone’s throw from his apartment.
Everyone’s drink of choice? Water.