Walking out on the balcony of my hotel room here at Mangrove Tree hotel in Qingdao is every morning quite an amazing experience. On a foggy day, the sea blends into the horizon and it feels like you’re staring into the gray abyss – or, more like you’ve went past the designed area in a game and are now floating in the nothingness. The difference between these two is, actually, rather small.
But on a sunny day, that’s a whole different story. Living on the 22nd floor, the sunlight pierces my eyes painfully as I step on the balcony. Below me, the people walk on the beach as small dots, while the sea, gleaming in the sunlight, drifts to horizon, changing to the blueness of the sky in an inimitable manner. It’s a glorious way to start the morning, stepping butt naked to greet the scenery. Hello, Sun. It’s me, and I’m made mostly out of particles from you. Hope you have a great day dying the speed of hundreds of millions of tons of hydrogen a second!
Today’s agenda was pretty rigid: we had two hours drive ahead of us to a small, desolate island located far out of Qingdao, a location we’re hoping to use for Iron Sky: The Ark. We packed in the car and dozing on and off, I enjoyed the world slipping past me, reading a new book (“What Do Women Want”, by Daniel Bergner) and listening to some music. Mika was fast asleep next to me for the whole time – which is mostly a necessity for him, since his motion sickness doesn’t allow him even to glance at a phone when he’s riding in a car, let alone to read or work on the laptop.
The island itself has an extremely interesting composition of rocks, which make walking on it extremely painful, even with good boots. The surface is uneven with jagged stones digging into your feet, and just to get there, you have to wait at the tide that’s opening a walkway for 6 hours a day, then closing it again. With these elements in mind, you might already figure out what kind of production problems the location might prove.
First, getting anyone there is already a pain in the ass. Usually, you prelight a location on the night, then get people there first thing in the morning for rehearsals and when the sun is up, shoot for as long as it goes down, and there you have a full shooting day. In our case, we first need to wait until 11:30 am until the tide goes down and opens the route, and only then can we go there.
The surface can be really tricky for the crew hauling heavy equipment on the island, and the unforgiving, scorching sun is staring down at us constantly. Being located at the seaside, the weather can also get very nasty quite quickly, and when the tide goes up again – the whole island is flooded underwater until the next day! This really leaves the team some three effective hours of shooting time.
The main problem, though, is that it’s the best, the only and the most beautiful location I can think of for this scene. It’s either this – with challenging shooting schedules and complicated logistics and safety – or we shoot the whole scene in a studio, which of course allows much more easily controlled environment, but also explodes things like VFX budget etc.
Still, I really want to shoot there. And that was my message to the production: let’s try to make it work. They are.
In the afternoon, we wandered around several locations until hitting the restaurant for a hefty dinner and some white wine. In the evening, I decided to get to know the local nightlife and wandered downstairs, to a club called MOVIE BAR. Great name, I says to myself, and walk in. And it is huge place – and of course, as Chinese bars usually are – completely empty. Only bar staff having fun with each others, music playing loud (because that’s how it is in bars… only, usually there’s also people to enjoy it)… There was even a casino, but for some reason, you couldn’t really use the tables, although the casino staff was there…
So I sat down and Whatsapped with my friends back in Finland instead of interacting with anyone. The Finnish way. Not to say there was anyone really to talk to, but at least it was nice to hear shitty music being played too loud for a bit. Then, back to my room and ready for the next day’s challenges.