China Diary, Opinions

Day 204: Five Stages Of Screenings


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On Wednesday, we sat down together with editor’s assistant and finished the latest cut of the movie, and then went out to screen our film with Max.

There are five stages of screening a work print that I’ve observed through all the films I’ve worked on:

  • Assembly cut: The first screening. Usually, the film is too long, gets jarring and boring and is full of mistakes, plus all the VFX is missing so it’s also very confusing – but you get a great feeling of the characters and the story, if they work overall, or not.
  • Director’s cut: Now, you’ve had a chance to work on the film with an editor, and this version is something you are happy with – given the early stage VFX and sounds you have at use. Usually, this film will work for you the director very well, since you reference it to the assembly cut, but the producers are usually a bit more suspicious at that stage. A good producer can smell at this point whether or not the director has lost his or her’s mind, and either allow him/her to proceed – or find another editor to help.
  • The Uncanny cut: This is the cut which you’ve worked hard with every department. You have 70% finished VFX, preliminary sound work, early stage music and more advanced edit. Now this here is the hardest cut to watch, since usually for an outsider, it looks just terrible cheap TV. The reason is because, well, nothing is ready, but they appear to an unexperienced eye like they could almost be finished, but just don’t do anything to you emotionally. Also, during this time you also realize that you indeed need one more round of heavy editing. The film is 70% done, but the last 30% is what really counts!
  • The Locked cut: At one point, you will have to lock the cut and then nothing can be done to it anymore. After that, you just have to wish you’ll be able to guide the film towards a favorable outcome, but it’s tricky, since what you see as the locked cut will probably be still very heavily in the uncanny valley, and getting it right might feel like an almost impossible task. But as things progress – you get the dialogue premix, you get more advanced VFX, the actual music starts to find its’ tone and place – the film just turns better and better.
  • Final film: At this point, you have no more any idea whether or not your film is worth anything, or just a confusing mess. You’ve stared at the cut, the sound edit, the music edit and the thousands of changes to VFX for so long, it’s really hard to see the big picture anymore. All you can do is focus on getting the details right, and hope the big picture works. If you’ve paid enough attention to the four previous steps, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about – but if you’ve skipped one of the steps above, you might even end up jumping back to uncanny valley and re-opening the cut again.

I feel that with The Ark, we are now stepping from Uncanny Valley towards the Locked Cut. There are still few things I’d like to tweak, and Max has also few things he wants to try out for the beginning of the movie, but I had a great feeling after our Wednesday screening, and I’m hopeful we are pretty well in the way of making the film rock solid.

After the screening, VHQ had arranged a party for the clients, and while I was hopelessly late from there, there was still good vibe going on with loads of people hanging around, having drinks and talking shop and non-shop. I sat down with Chris over a bunch of drinks and chat, but headed back home around midnight (after a quick McD night snack) because the next morning would be an early one for me, as I would be heading back to Finland.

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The China Diary continues when I go back next time, so until then, thanks for reading! And don’t forget, Iron Sky The Coming Race is starting its’ theatrical run in our world fan premiere on 16.1. – stay tuned!

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China Diary

Day 203: About done


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We decided that on Wednesday we’ll screen the film to Max, so Tuesday was our last practical working day. Knowing the time is tight, we started to slam through the cut, make fast cuts and slices through the film until it was already 6 pm, and we were both feeling fluffy and headache-ish. Mrs. Fang didn’t feel too good in the end of the day, and we were still not done, so we decided to call it a day. Actually, for mrs. Fang, it was the wrap – she would start another movie the day after and this was her last day at work for us. It’s hard to let good people go, but that’s the nature of the business. I thanked her thoroughly and we agreed to do the last adjustments the next day with our assistant editor.

Mr. Zhu, our line producer, invited me and Tanya and one other person for some great hot pot a short walk away. We donned up in our winter clothes, since Beijing is really cold these days, and walked in the brisk evening air a bit, finding ourselves in a nice, new hot pot place. I’m still contemplating that if I had money, I’d set up a hot pot restaurant chain in Finland, it’s just such a great way to enjoy your dinner. I let go of my vegetarianism for the evening and enjoyed huge slices of fresh, red meat dipped in boiling, spicy water and sesame sauce. It’s heaven, I tell you.

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We finished the dinner and I was still aching for a quick night cap, so I drifted to the good, old trustworthy Moli, which was empty as usual. I sat by the bar, had a bourbon and chatted with some people back in Finland, then headed back home.

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China Diary

Day 202: Balancing


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Clip clip clippety clip, snip snip snippety snip; take that scene out, put that scene back in; remove that character, add that character… It’s really all about only one thing, and that thing is “balance”. Easy mistakes to make when making a film is you overcharge it with information in the front, and then make it all about action in the end. It’s also easy to write too many characters in, characters you later realize you don’t need, but find hard time getting rid of.

But the golden rule of editing still applies: you can basically do anything you want in the edit. Only thing you can’t do is change the essence of the story you have. What you shoot is what you have on the screen, and that can’t be altered or tweaked too much, or you end up with a bucket full of plastic.

We started our Monday in the afternoon, as I returned with some videos I had edited for temp use during the night, and inserted them into the cut. Then, we went through the film in great detail, adjusting scenes, until at 6 pm we called it a night. As my knee was truly killing me, I didn’t feel like heading out too far for dinner, so I wobbled back to this big restaurant close by, one where nobody speaks any English, and enjoyed some sizzling egg plant.

That place has one annoying feature: a huge fish tank which’s heating or water filter engine or whatever seems to be slightly broken, so there’s this headache-like high pitched whine constantly in the background that’s slowly creeping into your backbone and resonating through your skull, making your ears bleed internally. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough…

Again, sorry, no picture. I just don’t live a very pictoresque life on this trip I can see…

China Diary

Day 201: Another long night


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The jetlag isn’t going anywhere this time.

I woke up at 4 am, after few hours of sleep, as my knee started to hurt. Then, of course I couldn’t sleep anymore, so I was shuffling through the Internet and proof-reading our upcoming book about the production of Iron Sky The Coming Race. These nights, they just stretch on. No matter how much I try, I just can’t sleep. It’s making me insane.

And when I finally get some sleep, I already have to be downstairs, editing the movie, clear-headed and ready to take down the world. Which I’m not. So, it’s just quite frustrating in the end…

The day itself wasn’t much to write home about. I woke up somehow, dragged myself downstairs, we worked on the edit (I think it’s coming together nicely!) and at 6pm called it a day. I limped upstairs, changed my shoes (with a lot of discomfort and loud yelling – bending the knee is like pushing a knife through it) and dragged my soon-to-get-amputated piece of shit leg to the restaurant nearby, and ordered some egg plant and rice.

Then, back home and back to bed (to work), editing The Coming Race book and working on the cut for The Ark.

So, not an exciting day. Doesn’t deserve a picture. Not that I had taken any, either…

 

China Diary

Day 200: Two Hundred Days In China


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Holy moly, it’s already been 200 days since I embarked on this journey – meaning, since last 1,5 years, I’ve spent 200 days in China working on The Ark, and written 200 blog entries since my Moist Landings arrival here quite an eternity ago!

Yesterday was Saturday, and Chinese food was starting to flow out of my ears, so I started craving for a good old pizza. I called Chris in the morning and we agreed to head down to Bottega, a great pizza joint in Beijing for some heavy duty pizza action.

First, we worked with mrs. Fang on the edit, of course, for a bunch of hours, honing it and tweaking it to become better, clearer and niftier.

The unfortunate factor here is that my knee has started to hurt again. I don’t know exactly what’s wrong with it, but it’s been like this for nearly two months now. It started on a biking trip with my son, after which it got worse and worse, up to the point of me first going to the doctor in Finland asking for help, but then, as I was traveling in Germany and USA, I was forced to go to a doctor in the states, too. Nobody really can tell what’s wrong, other than it’s nothing serious, but since it’s practically invalidizing me, making my moving really hard and painful, it’s truly frustrating.

It got better few weeks ago, and I thought it was done for, but then it came back – not yet with a vengeance, but it’s really hurting me, making sleep and work both really hard…

Anyway, we went out for the pizza. It was delicious. We spoke of many things, of gods and kings, as the song goes (although I found out the Chinese are not much of a pizza-eaters, Chris could barely finish one third of his, while I munched mine down with a good appetite and left craving for more).

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Chris looking worriedly at his mega pizza. 

After that, we walked to a local pharmacy, and thanks to Chris I was able to buy medicine I needed for the pain, and then we found a small little bar that was just around the corner, a Chinese bar with some Metallica in the background, had a drink and headed back home.

I hadn’t been sleeping well, and after few glasses of wine I was absolutely done for. Not to say I slept long, but at least I slept for few hours, which was good…

 

China Diary

Day 199: Go Vege!


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Yeah, the editing is progressing nicely. We have now a nicely flowing construct in our hands, the first half of the movie is ready, and already knowing that the second half is pretty much in shape, it’s mostly the last part we have to focus on, which still has one thing that I’m not too crazy about. Let’s see how to tackle that…

…in the meantime, nothing much has happened other than that. I went for a hefty breakfast – my food routine here is heavy breakfast, no lunch and then heavy dinner. I’m sure all nutrition experts HATE this new, amazing diet that gets you fit in less than 36 hours!

No, truly. I love the breakfast here. It’s pretty Chinese, but there’s one thing you never find anywhere in China: a big plate full of CHEESE. Man, I love me some cheese. I shouldn’t really eat it too much, I have high blood pressure, but in China, the land of No Cheese, it’s just amazing. Even now, as I’m laying in my bed, knowing that breakfast opens in 3 hours, I can taste the salty, sweet, greasy cheese on my tongue.

Ahh.

I really don’t have too much to tell you about my adventures at this point, so that’s the reason I’m just listing the food I’ve eaten. Indeed, yesterday I went to this small, dinghy hole in the wall -type of an establishment and received the typical: “what’s that huge foreigner doing here” and then the “what, you’re going to order THAT…?” nonverbal communication round I’m so used to… But since I’m trying to cut off meat from my diet, at least for the most part, I’m on a mission to find out if it’s possible to eat decent vegetarian meal here, and let me tell you, it’s possible, but some assembly is required.

In the end, I found myself sitting with a huge bowl of noodles, a big pot full of tofu pieces and cold cucumber. Admitting that this dinner makes no sense would be a sign of weakness so I just nodded and chomped the food happily. Never admit you don’t know shit what you’re doing, number one rule of being a director, or being a foreigner in China.

Really? Cutting off meat from your diet, you might be asking?

Indeed. Now let me tell you why. It’s got nothing to do with health or even individual animal rights. It has a lot more to do with two things:

  1. We humans have written ourselves a mandate to completely subject the world we live in to our use. The most blatant show of this is the way we treat other living animals: we either kick them into extinction, or if they are worth the protein to us, we mass breed them to be slaughtered endlessly, without any care of the sustainability of the nature, or in any way caring about the well-being of the animals. This has been necessary to human evolution, but to us Westerners, meat industry is no longer necessary. I’d prefer stepping out of that machine, at least in a way that I reduce my meat input to say one meat day a week.
  2. There’s really not enough reasons to eat meat, other than it tastes good. And that’s not good enough reason for the total rape of planet Earth we do for that sake. Our tastebuds can be taught different, but Earth can’t fucking handle the mass production of animals sustainably. It’s just not a good idea. Thank god for Indians who don’t eat meat that much, or Muslims who don’t eat pork. If they were pigs like us Westerners are, eating  everything that moves, the bigger the better, all the resources of this planet would be diverted into trying to keep red meat on table for each of the 6 billion people on planet Earth, every morning, lunch and dinnertime. Not possible.

There’s third reason, too. It’s really what I’ve seen here in China. See, every time you go to a restaurant, you are just in awe on how much uneaten food is thrown away at every dinner. We in Finland have been taught to finish our plates, or at least “eat the meat”, but in China, this is definitely not the case. The table is ordered FULL of stuff, and one third of every dinner is tossed out as uneaten matter. It’s incredible! And that time 1,6 billion people, every day, the amount of food thrown away every year, the amount of animals born, raised, fed, kept warm, kept moistured, transported, slaughtered, transported again, packaged, transported once more and eventually delivered to stores and restaurants just to be thrown in the garbage, every day, is impossible to understand.

Saving planet Earth doesn’t begin with China, but it ends here. If the Chinese learn to recycle, eat less animals and throw less food out, the effect will be seen throughout the world. While it makes absolutely no sense for a Finn like me to not eat meat every day, it is some kind of a social experiment and a statement that, when multiplied by millions, can also be heard over here.

Well, I have spoken.

Ugh.

PS. One more thing, the less I eat meat, the more I lose weight. Which is good for my blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Now, there’s no scientific reason to that, but maybe it just has to do with the fact that if you start paying attention to what you eat, and even if it’s more about whether or not you are eating meat, you are already paying more attention to things you might not pay that much attention to, and start making subconsciously more healthier decisions. Maybe that makes sense. Maybe it doesn’t.

The hell I know…

China Diary

Day 198: Self Care


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Traveling takes a toll on your body. Sitting in cramped planes and wandering around the airports leaves your body sore, and eating irregularly, unplanned meals with very little chances of exercise, and spending the nights in your hotel room bed mostly idly fiddling through the internet leaves you fat and lazy and dull if you don’t take care of that.

Thus, I’ve tried to have at least one self-care day a week when traveling, more, if possible. This means hitting the gym, finding the sauna, watching a movie and eating relatively healthy. This I did today.

First, we worked few hours with mrs. Fang, and made pretty good progress with everything. We laid down our plans on cards on table and went through each scene deciding what works and what doesn’t and how to improve it all. This helped us to identify our core issues and how to work on them, and that’s what we did.

There’s not that much more to be told about editing process, so I’ll leave that be. But after the work day, I went to a closeby restaurant and had some sauted mushrooms and rice for dinner – struggling to get my English-language requests to the kitchen (imagine, “rice” isn’t a known word in China, nor is “water”…). Finally I got what I wanted and ate a delicious meal (albeit a bit one-sided, a huge bowl of mushrooms and nothing else) and then went on to a small shop across the street to buy some snacks for my long, lonely nights.

After that, I went to the gym. They have a nice one at the hotel, although not really part of the hotel, but better than regular hotel gyms so I was able to do a good workout and then headed downstairs for a surprisingly hot and decent sauna, where I fried my skin off.

Relaxing sauna and good workout under my belt I went back to my room and watched Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid  (1969), admiring probably the best male duo in film history – Paul Newman and Robert Redford – killing it in this Western classic, and while I admit dozing off for few minutes, I managed through the film properly. Then, I blogged about an hour and now I’m here planning to try to sleep through the night.

Oh, and it’s the Independence Day in Finland today – so congratulations you 101 year old country, I’m sorry we seem to have a small nazi infestation there but we’re working on it, rest easy ol’ girl!

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My home turf
China Diary

Day 197: Pig Brains!


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We started our actual work yesterday on the cut, and right from the start we went back in time, opened an earlier cut from the summer and started working on that. My editor, mrs. Fang, seems to have lost a part of her spirit, and I really need to keep encouraging her to push this one last round of editing; I understand her, though – we did a lot of work and delivered a killer cut in the summer, then it got changed and turned into something completely different, and now we need to creatively undo the changes. It’s not a job every editor loves, but it’s not a surprise, there are wrong turns in every production, and you just have to steer the boat back into the right way and soon we’re on the best way again.

Another thing we really need to focus on is the VFX. I just finished my work with The Coming Race, and the visual effects are just mind-blowing there. We need to make sure this mind-blowingness continues with The Ark, otherwise I feel I’ve failed. As a filmmaker, I’m first and foremost hoping to give the audience something they haven’t seen before, scenes and shots that are really cinematic and amazing – those are the things that keep me thriving and inspired. The human story is of course the number one thing, and everything else is secondary to that – but human stories can be told in songs, books, TV-shows and on theatre stages, but mind-blowing visual orgasms can be delivered only properly through the medium of movies. And that’s why I’ve chosen films as my medium.

So, it’s gotta be big, beautiful and bombastic. That’s what I want to go for.

As my sleep schedule is bad, I only have few hours of actual working time with the editor, since she has another show she’s working on, too, and thus we have to be economic. We started yesterday to advance one idea, but I already had my doubts on that. The problem is, the order of the scenes is already there, and altering things just makes it more confusing. We can operate within the scenes slightly, but they’ve already been cut pretty tightly and have been well-balanced, so there’s not that much to do there, either. So it’s really trying to dig out and look at the big picture and find small solutions to make that flow better.

Simultaneously, back at home work with The Coming Race continues, but since the internet here is atrocious and VPN works like a potato, I’m unable to download and check through the last adjustments to end and front credits, so they are finishing the film and I’m a bit blind with it, crossing fingers the credits are correct. I’m sure they are, we have a thousand pairs of eyes already checking through everything but still.

Well, that’s that. Like I said, a lot of work ahead, but strangely, the work is sort of already done. I guess.

After the working day I went to get my hair cut at Daniel Hair Studio across the street, where I’ve been going on the last about a year (they are good, they cut for about 10€ and do nice job, and it’s convenient). Then, I had a little dinner at the hot pot place across the street. This place is one of those stick hot pot places where they put meat and vegetables on sticks or small plates, and charge you by how many sticks you’ve had. You pick the sticks from a freezer, boil the food in the hot pot pan in your table and eat it. My favorite kind of dinner.

But man was I shocked when I saw a small pink lump in the freezer. I looked at it closer, and that it was, just a neat little set of pig brains, just like human brains but smaller, sitting in a freezer on a cup, ready to be picked up and boiled and eaten.

I noped out of that quickly, but had a delicious (vegetarian) hot pot dinner nevertheless. I finished the evening off by having a drink at Moli’s bar across the yard, and then headed home for some mostly-sleepless night.

China Diary

Day 196: Back In Action!


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Hey ho, followers! It’s your favorite friendly neighborhood China-goer, and I’m back in the ground in China, jetlagged and ready to rock! I’m continuing my China diary for the duration of my current stay, which should last until mid-December, so buckle up!

Let’s go!

Ah, hold it. Before we actually “go” anywhere, maybe it’s better to reel back and quickly check what happened since the last time I was here.

Firstly, I finished off one movie, Iron Sky The Coming Race, back in Europe, just days before I left to this trip. That was a huge relief, since The Coming Race has been on the menu since 2013, and finally getting that off my hands truly felt like a huge stone off my chest.

Simultaneously, we decided to push back the release date for The Ark – the film I’m doing here in China – and instead of me being back here finishing off the film, I’m back on the drawing board with editing. Our idea was to get the film ready for Spring Festival, but the fact was that we just weren’t ready. Too much to do, and we needed to have one last look at the edit in order to get everything in shape. So we decided to find a better date later in 2019, and that works well for me, because this way we also have some time and space to release The Coming Race properly…

…Nevertheless, I’m back in China, and we are back editing with mrs. Fang. Only 10 days altogether, but there are few things we are attempting to solve with our last push, but I must be honest I’m not totally sure we can find solutions to everything. And even if we do, I’m not sure if the solutions make the film better.

Because truth be told, I already think we had a good version of the movie in the summer. A version that rocked, kicked, had heart and worked nicely. After that, we’ve adjusted few things along the way, and suddenly some issues have started to show up, and we haven’t been able to patch them up and push them back in, so my solution eventually is to go back and open up an edit which still worked, and start working from that moment onwards.

Beijing is being cold again. I’m staying in a different hotel this time, one which is more convenient (but not as comfortable as New Otani, where I’ve stayed before) because it’s located right in the same building as the offices. I’m able to go down the elevator practically straight to the edit suite and back, without having to dare outdoors at all. That’s nice.

First night, we had a discussion with mrs Fang the editor and Chris, our VFX supervisor, and went out for a table full of hot pot in the nearby hotpot place with Max. Nice evening with some beers and great hot pot – I’ve tried to ditch meat from my menu, but had to succumb to the beautiful, red flesh the table was overflowed from – and good talks. Max left to another province to leave me be and figure out the edit myself, and we agreed to screen the film some time next week as we are finished with our work and see if that’s where we are supposed to be headed for.

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Anyway, that’s us having a dinner, and more updates coming during the coming 10-something days!

China Diary

Day 195: Kindling The Flame


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I’m writing this from the confines of my home, but my heart travels back to China for week plus I spent there. We worked hard on the movie’s post production in all the aspects – we went through the visuals, the picture post production, sound design, and discussed premieres, schedules and marketing. It was delightful and progressed nicely.

The last day we finally tackled the black dog I had been talking about: the scene which needed my directorial input, I finally grabbed it by the balls and spit it out in the open. I had been having nightmares about it for quite some time, and truly, the great stroke of inspiration never came – like it sometimes does – so the only thing left to do was to bruteforce the inspiration out and carve the fucking scene together, by all means necessary.

First, we had a talk with Max, and one of the great things was that Lei, who is now working on other stuff, happened to come by the office – and of course, he was instantly asked to translate between us. That made things much, much easier, since – while I love Tanya and everyone at the office – Lei’s English is just better. He understands me better, and he’s able to transmute my ramblings into coherent thoughts in Chinese, and present them to Max in a way that a he’s onboard – and vice versa. With him in between, I can understand Max much better, and he can understand me.

So we spoke about the scene and I spilled my thoughts to him through Lei, and we agreed that this is the right way to go. We grabbed Lei with us and went to VHQ, and gathered everyone together at the big meeting room. They have this huge whiteboard covering the back wall, so I took a pen and started to draw, like a cave painting, or like drawing runes, on the wall, while speaking through the scene. Picture by picture, scene by scene, moment by moment.

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After a long and exhausting presentation, everyone was staring at me, and I was trying to read their minds, whether or not they got my idea of the scene or not. Max helped by talking in great length about the philosophy of the movie (in Chinese), and Lei translated my presentation. We were eventually left with loads of notes and whiteboard full of pictures nobody from the outside could ever understand, but hopefully, also kindle of enthusiasm for the team.

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After the meeting, I swooshed out to meet the distributors of Iron Sky The Coming Race in China, to discuss our release strategy. As you can believe, releasing two films around the same time is not an easy puzzle to solve, although only the other one carries clearly the name Iron Sky – Iron Sky: The Ark is called in Chinese “The Hope Island” (I’ll add the Chinese markings here later when I get them correct), but yeah, two scifi films with Moon playing a big part in them, and me as a director, we’ll have to make sure the market understands which one is which. And find the best release date, too.

The next morning we jumped on a taxi with Mika, and flew back home. Even in the business, the little coffin they stuff people is not big enough for me. Enviously, I was watching the much lighter weight and smaller Chinese sleeping soundly, while me, the huge Nord with my 6 foot 7 frame just couldn’t do much but try to fit any way possible.

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But yeah, now I’m back in Finland! This diary continues again when I come over next time to China, probably sometime mid-November!