China Diary

Day 7 – Fonzie

I woke up after only few hours of sleep and stumbled to the office feeling confused and unsure of what I had written last night. I had done a huge job, but I had no idea how people would respond to it. So as I came in my room, I found Lei sitting on the couch, reading it. The first thing he said was that they had actually sat down with Max until 2 am last morning, listening to his monologue on what to do with the script. The mood dropped instantly. Then, Maxine the 2nd AD gave me Max’s notes, and they were completely different from my own. I felt wretched.

But I’ve been there before. We had had some feedback from some people that the story was not clear enough. This leads naturally into the need to fix it, but when reading a feedback, you have to be like Fonzie.

What’s Fonzie like?

He’s cool. You gotta be cool.

First, identify the core of all the feedback.

Then, identify the source of feedback. You need to use it as a frame: if it’s an actor, they read different things. If it’s a screenwriter, they read other things (usually they hate other people’s writings anyway). If it’s the general audience, they understand only the end product. Usually, other producers are a pretty good source for feedback: they understand quite well the status of the film, but have no strings attached, so they can freely say their mind.

Third, remember what made you fall in love with the story. Make sure it’s still there, and build around it, because it’s the truest thing in there, the thing that’s the unique selling point that the actors, the producers and the heads of department will get from you. Everything else is disposable, but the one thing that you as a director think is important, needs to stay.

And then, respect the story. If you’re in it knee deep, you are there because you like the story. If you read a feedback from someone who didn’t, that’s not a reason to change the story – if it’s good, it’s good because you know how to realise it into a good end result. It’s only in your hand.

If I could’ve had a dollar every time I heard someone shitting on Iron Sky scripts over the years, I’d be filled with shit and few dollars in my pocket. But starting to lose your own faith in a story is the only, clear death blow to it. So, whatever you do, stick with the story, have a little faith. If it’s a good one, it can be solved. If it’s not, you probably aren’t this far working on it anyway.

So, I had a solution written down on paper which I knew was pretty damn good. Max had another approach, which wasn’t bad at all, but would’ve thrown one of my favorite characters to the sidelines and focused the story on another one. I knew that in order to convince him and the production team in general, I needed to put up a good show.

We went to Max’s office, and at first, I complimented his notes, but requested that he would hear me out on my point of view. He agreed, and I knew I had my moment right now to get him on my side, but I had to get him excited. Just reading the text written at 5am then quickly translated into Chinese would’ve been a suicide, so I decided to go through the whole script and act the film, scene by scene, in front of an audience. Lei was translating, Max was there, the writer, mr. Yu was there and Max’s assistant.

The good thing about having done so much presentations over the years is that my stage fright is gone. I have no problem making a fool out of myself in front of a big group of people.

So I let it all out.

Screaming, bouncing around the office, changing voices, acting out explosions, fight scenes and painting out the pictures in front of my audience I embarked on a five hour monologue on how I believed the story should go.

And bit by bit, I started to get there. First, it was a bit suspicious. “Hmm, aha, OK…” “Mm-hm…” – but then, there was the first laughter, the first “Yeah, that’s good”. And scene by scene my enthusiasm found its’ way into their hearts and the story unfolded, and in two hours mark, when Max had to run for the toilet, I got the thumbs up from Lei. It’s working.

We finished the pitching late in the night, and Max and everyone else was very pleased with the changes I proposed. They had made some additional remarks here and there, but finally, after working on the script for one and a half year, I felt that we had the story, the inner logic and the rhythm there. We spoke deeply about the characters and about their motivations, the motivations of different factions in the film and the whole backstory to which it was based on. It was an extremely fulfilling script meeting, although I was completely beat afterwards, like being ran over a ocean liner.

I staggered home after a hasty meal with Lei and passed out nearly instantly when my head hit the bed. I was dreaming about a weird CG production with Samuli (Torssonen) as a VFX supervisor, Jeremy Irons as the lead and me as a director, somewhere in a weird office building…

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