China Diary

Day 119: Back to work!


Birthday week was now done, and it was time to get back to work. The week ahead would be grueling: six shooting days, every day working with a lot of actors and shooting 17 pages (!!) of script. Luckily, everything was to take place inside the studios and in pretty controllable sets, but in addition to this, we had all new sets which always take some time to set up in a shootable condition.

The first day was, though, an easy one. I was thankful the production had scheduled only a short scene to be shot on the first day with Andy, since of course it would take some time to get to know the character and how he works on the screen and to get us working together. I had already established a pretty good working routine with Duan Yihong, the Chinese big star whom we had been developing the character very intensively already for few months. Still, getting all the actors together in the same room is always not only a challenge for the director, but also for the actors: they have to portray characters who have long histories together, yet they probably meet each other for the first time on the makeup or even later, as we do blocking on the set!

But it was great to see how working professionals do their job: they know the script, they know their lines and they know what kind of relationships they should have with other actors, and the rest is really just about finding the key of the scene and making it work. Andy took his rightful place as the leader of the scene immediately, while Yihong played his part as the suffering father perfectly.

What’s interesting, having now worked with them both together for over a week, is that the real interesting key of the movie is starting to unearth itself in a surprising way. The script is, of course, great and the visuals will be amazing, but most interestingly, the relationship between an Asian and a Western man turns out to be one of the most interesting things I find ourselves exploring constantly.

Yihong, who plays father of our main character Fang Qing, brings up constantly the relationship between Chinese kids and their parents. He goes to great lengths in securing his character’s emotions, making sure his character doesn’t give out too much too early. Andy, in the other hand, brings out the American steamroller kind of a character who has a very different view in parenting, in emotions and in the way to co-operate with people. Rarely have I seen two similar characters put side to side, and since they share no common language, the reality is found somewhere between the lines. I must say I can’t wait to get to show them to the audience, there is something quite genuine in this combination.

My approach in directing films like Iron Sky is always to find the characters amidst all the madness the world brings about. I love to have crazy characters around everyone, but the ones that make the story, need to be approachable and solid, real characters. I worked hard with Julia, Chris and Götz to find the truth in their characters in the first Iron Sky, as well as with Lara, Vladimir and Kit in the second one. This time, I have even more realistic characters to play with, and while it can be quite a brainfry at the end of the day with six to seven characters who all need to be believable in the scene and in the world and do part of their own story, it’s really satisfactory to see the end results as they unfold in front of your eyes.

There are very few things more enjoyable in my profession than seeing a scene that I believe in. I believe the characters, their intentions and I forget that I’m watching actors reading out lines, but actually a scene from a real life playing in front of my eyes. And I don’t take credit for it, I may have nothing to do with it in the first place: the scene is created by the actors, and the writer, and if these elements work, I don’t have to say anything. Andy actually told me Lew Ashby had once told him that people easily misunderstand the role of a director, because of the title. Lew said, a director doesn’t need necessarily to say anything to create a beautiful scene.

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Andy Garcia as William Russell in Iron Sky: The Ark

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