Last night’s shoot at a Chinese restaurant in Roanoke was an exercise in being flexible. All writers I think have had the experience of changing their minds about a line of dialogue once they finally hear it coming out of somebody else’s mouth. That’s what happened to me at several points while we were filming Rob and Jennifer’s first date and the movie’s opening scene, when Jennifer opens a magic fortune cookie.
At first, it was little things. When the waitress, played by Noelle Tremblay, delivered the line, “Oh, oh, yes. I’ll tell her,” it just sounded awkward. She sounded like she was reading a script, and that’s the last thing I want. So we adjusted the line to something like, “Oh, yeah. I’ll get her.”
The real dialogue challenges came later, when Pearl Fu arrived to play the role of the restaurant owner. She’s a lovely woman — 70-ish, originally from China, and the coordinator of the Local Colors cultural festival of Roanoke — and she brought exactly the right touch of authenticity that I was looking for. We had a good time discussing the Chinese mythology I mined for The Organ Donor. But I noticed the same problems with her lines: just, something sounded wrong. So we started dropping in more and more Mandarin. And then Noelle, who is half Chinese, had the brilliant idea of also saying a few Chinese lines as they entered their scene. (“Here is the woman who wanted to speak to you. Thank you, Grandmother.”) Awesome stuff.
Did you know that Chinese fortune cookies didn’t come from China? They were invented in San Francisco. Between takes, Pearl (whose maiden Chinese name is Dragon Pearl), told us about one time when she hosted visitors from China, and she took them to a local Chinese restaurant. When the fortune cookies were served after the meal, the visitors asked her, “What are these?”
Next on the schedule are a whole bunch of special effects shots in a park clearing, and Jennifer’s side of some phone conversations that I think are called “second unit” shots, but I’m still learning the jargon.