Tomorrow’s the premiere of my fourth feature film, Jeepers Creepers: Reborn. It’s also my first fully English-language movie, and first “American” picture, although, truthfully it’s half US and half UK co-production. Nevertheless, it’s a milestone in my career for many reasons.
Jeepers Creepers: Reborn wasn’t an easy one to make. But then again, if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a director is that none of them are. It’s kind of part of the deal: making a movie is hard, hard, lemon hard.
With this in the back of my head, Reborn was a beast of its own, though. Firstly, and this of course was a spin on the whole industry, the Covid-19 pandemic hit the moment we were about to start prepping. It took months to figure out ways to basically re-invent the whole production process in order to be able to shoot the film.
We didn’t do ourselves any favors either by having loads of complicated VFX sequences, emerging filmmaking technologies (virtual sets), and of course, re-creating the Creeper, whose makeup took hours every day. Not only that but also, the setting was to take place during a busy horror film festival, which requires of course loads of extras – and as we remember, one of the main things with the pandemic is to reduce contact between people, avoid large groups and so forth. So, the hand we dealt ourselves was a plentiful one, but circling back to the original point about filmmaking, it always is. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be interesting, challenging and wouldn’t resonate on the screen. To quote David Bowie, on creativity: “If you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”
But that’s all semantics, in the end, what counts is the film itself. A production goes through multiple stages of rebirth – it’s kind of like shaping a Frankenstein monster: the script gives it a shape, casting and crewing up gives it form, filming brings it to life, edit makes it move and finally, post-production puts all the nuts and bolts together. But you never fully know what kind of a monster you’re creating, not until it’s out there.
I’m very proud of our movie. We had a great crew that quite literally put their lives on the line due to the pandemic to make the film happen, and worked hard, harder than can be required ever – they definitely were no guns-for-hire but gave every drop of their creativity and inspiration on the screen. The cast jumped onboard a production during the hardest possible time in film history to make movies and delivered stellar performances. And our post-production team worked under very tricky conditions and brought us a beautiful cut, great visuals and music and sound.
And of course, our producers, who had been pushing for years to get the film made, and fought through thick and thin to get it out there. Jake Seal, Terry Bird and Jamie Thompson among many other producers worked and believed in the Creeper world and fought to get the best possible crew to realize their dream. I was honored to be invited as a director on Jake’s behalf, and enjoyed working with them through the process.
And now, it’s out of our hands, and up to the audience to watch and enjoy. I would’ve loved to join the premiere in the States, it wasn’t logistically possible for me this time.
So party on, folks, and have a creepy time at the cinemas!
P.S. I’ll write about the design process and the idea behind the new Creeper later on, after people have had a chance to check the new monster on the screen, just not to spoil the fun in advance!
Another year of Covid-19 ravaging the world and closing, and opening, and closing the theatres again has made the year a pretty complicated to follow, as films keep on dropping to theatres, or streamers, or delayed, or something in between. These are my top ten choices for 2021!
1. THE POWER OF THE DOG
A slow-burner of a western, but one with big, rotten, beating heart. Benedict Cumberbatch shows his chops in a much more toned-down version of himself compared to what he’s been playing lately, and it works brilliantly. Jesse Plemons is grounded, doesn’t try to steal the thunder but stands firmly as an essential building block of the film, and Kirsten Dunst and Kodi Smit-McPhee both fill the screen perfectly. Sprinkled with magical cinematography, a brooding soundtrack and a sturdy story, it’s definitely the best film of 2021, one that doesn’t make too much noise about itself, and might get swept away by big and loud ones like the Spider-Mans and Matrixes of the year.
2. SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME
When superhero movies get their shit right, it’s a beauty to watch – and the new Spidey truly hits all the right notes. It’s not so much the story, which, honestly, makes quite a little actual sense, but the fact that some kids in the 60’s scribbled these crazy characters into comics, and steadily they’ve made their mark in cultural history over so many generations. And to see one era of those heroes being wrapped up in a billion-dollar-hit movie that brings together characters from all the previous movies, it’s a marvel to witness. Pure popcorn fun!
3. WHITE TIGER
I’ve grown to like the modern Indian movie industry more and more in recent years, so it was nice to see an Indian-American film making its’ way into Oscars in 2021 (for the best-adapted screenplay). The film tells a story of a cunning kid who finds a way to escape poverty by becoming a driver for a rich family. Things go wrong and the film becomes a commentary on the huge gulf separating the servant class and the rich in contemporary India and does it in a lush, Indian filmmaking way (no, no musical sequences, though). The story flows on like Ganges and production from acting to the camera and directing is strong.
4. SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF TEN RINGS
Damn it, I feel a bit dumb having two Marvel movies in my top-5, but it’s undeniable: they had a very good year this year, and Shang-Chi was only a few inches less impressive than Spider-Man. I failed to really understand the meaning of the ten rings, but it didn’t matter – it felt like a proper Chinese epic dozed with American sensibilities and modern visuals, and had some of the most amazing action sequences in recent history (the bus fight… oh my god!), it was more popcorn fun, a great way to forget we’re fighting against a devastating pandemic for few hours. In these times, it’s a respectable achievement on its’ own.
5. DON’T LOOK UP
I wish I could’ve pushed Don’t Look Up a bit higher on the list, but unfortunately, it’s a very flawed satire, but an enjoyable one. Many have been saying it’s a commentary on the climate crisis, but I disagree: climate crisis films talk about a man-made crisis people refuse to fix since they are too dependant on their own lifestyle – an asteroid approaching Earth doesn’t really fit that scheme. Instead, Don’t Look Up is a film that discusses the ridiculousness of the two-party political system in the US, the over-politicization of each and every aspect of modern life, and the rampant science denialism, sprinkled with the tragedy that is the handling of the Covid-19 -crisis. The multitude of issues the film unfortunately somewhat collapses under include some very sketchy visual effects, annoyingly bad editorial and music score decisions, and a ridiculously expensive cast that serves no apparent purpose in the grand scheme of things (I’m sure Netflix will disagree with me on this). Still, the film leaves you feeling bad, maybe more so than having a good laugh, but points a big fat finger at the world we live in and the future we’re headed for. I can’t help to mention I did hear some, maybe unintentional and unrelated, echoes from Iron Sky in the film, but maybe that’s just me.
6. THE MITCHELLS VS. THE MACHINES
Dysfunctional families in a nice and kind way are great comedy fodder for family animations, and often produce a serviceable but not very intriguing results. The Mitchells vs. The Machines manages to spark some light into the rather worn-out genre by bringing in a robot apocalypse with loads of cultural references from Tik Tok -videos to films and more. I’m sure this year there’s been even better animations that came out, but I mostly missed them, but did enjoy The Mitchells – fast-paced, loaded with fun action sequences and a nice voice cast.
7. NO TIME TO DIE
Daniel Craig wrapped his duty as Agent 007 in No Time To Die, a humongously long but strangely emotional Bond film that entertained a host of fun new ideas, biggest one of them of course being Bond’s death (which, for the record, I don’t believe in any way; we didn’t see his dead body, so likely he made some kind of a weird escape and we’ll see him back in action in few years, different actor for sure but unharmed). Weirdly, the action sequences weren’t very remarkable, some nice chases and badass characters, but mostly, it was a film that finished one episode in our popular culture and made way for the next episodes. Despite the long runtime, I was entertained, but rarely really moved.
8. GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE
Being one of the few who didn’t hate the 2016 Ghostbusters, I went into the theatre expecting a fun brains-off entertainment in the extended universe of Ghostbusters – and was served with one. Mashup of Stranger Things and a mixed bag of Ghostbusters lore, Afterlife focused more on introducing a new set of characters than playing with the oldies goldies. I wasn’t remarkably enthusiastic about the new cast of characters, they felt like weak shadows of what the original ones were, with too much studio flavoring to make them last beyond this one film, but it was nice to see the three remaining ones still kicking some ghost ass in the end, and a weird revisitation of Harold Ramis‘ ghost which I think worked OK in the mix. Having said that, the third act was a carbon copy of the first film’s third act, which felt really sloppy writing for the most part.
9. THE MATRIX: RESURRECTIONS
Hated by many, the latest (and quite possibly the last) entry in the Matrix universe, Resurrections tried (and many times, failed) to do something different, and to that, I’ll have my hat off. It’s really hard to do a proper Matrix sequel, and both number 2 and 3 failed at it, trying to meticulously explain what was left unsaid in the first part of the series. None of the three sequels were needed, but Resurrections wanted to be a sequel of the 2020’s, self-aware and meta. Where it succeeded was grounding the story – something that both part 2 and 3 just decided not to worry about: it started off in what appeared to be in “real life”, like part 1 did, and stayed there long enough to be intriguing, but started to falter again when it fell too much in love with itself and wanted to explain everything, making the experience feel like being stuck in the matrix.
10. BO BURNHAM: INSIDE
I guess this one doesn’t really count as movie, rather a standup special, but one worthy of mention here, as it so well encapsuled the 2020-2021 lockdown depression cycle every artist had to go through. Taking a stab at every conceivable modern popular culture phenomenon from reaction videos to TikTok fame, Instagram emptiness to video games, comedian Bo Burnham crafted this meta-special in what appeared to be his home during lockdown, discussing the mind-numbing experience of being stuck inside, with nothing but depression and Internet to entertain you.
We released the first official teaser for my upcoming Jeepers Creepers: Reborn -movie two weeks ago, alongside the teaser poster. Both were well received in the Internet and while sharing but a quick glimpse of what we’ve been working, they have well grasped the vibe the film is going for.
A lot of people have been asking for additional information – release date, official full trailer and so forth. I’ve always tried to explain that in case of Jeepers Creepers: Reborn I don’t have that information – I know just about as much as the rest of the people, although, of course I’m constantly working with the post production team to finish the film, so there’s that. But it’s all coming together very nicely and I can’t wait to get to present the movie once it’s finished.
Some of you have been following me on the blog but just to recap, we shot the film in two parts – first, in Louisiana, then in UK. The Louisiana shoot was DP’d by amazing Brad Rushing and took a bit to prepare and shoot under the scorching Louisiana early autumn, while avoiding hurricanes, power outages and what not. We assembled a really fun team to work with, and obeying the COVID-19 regulations, managed to get everything done in a beautiful way – some photos of the adventure below:
The journey continued in UK, where we went to Lasham, close-ish to London to Black Hangar Studios where the second block took place between December and January 2020-2021. COVID-19 was rampant right then and the whole country was in a pretty hardcore lockdown mode, so going around places, not to mention prepping and shooting the film was always a bit of an added challenge. I mean, filmmaking is always hard – with the strict lockdowns and everything, it’s nearly impossible.
But it turned out to be also quite an intimate experience. The crew was mostly packed in an old mansion in the countryside and we were quite a tight team from beginning to the end. The UK shoot was DP’d by extremely talented Simon Rowling.
After getting back from the adventure I’ve mostly spent time moving, recovering, and watching over the VFX and post-production process. In addition to this, I’ve been working on two new feature films, the other one I’m shooting later this year, an action flick, and another one, a horror picture that I’m eyeing for next year shoot. It’s nice to keep oneself busy – to pace it with something I also directed two commercials (for Gigantti and Genano) and have been popping in and out of film festivals – Sombra festival in Spain and Trieste Science+Fiction festival in Italy, and the online one at Molinas, Spain where I’ve been in the jury watching loads of films and getting inspired for future endeavors.
The winter is now at the door. It’s raining in Helsinki and you only see short glimpses of light daily. There’s no escape from the fact that it’ll be a long dark and rainy time but at least there’s some pretty interesting things happening keeping the spirits high. Covid is also fading – at least, in general. US opens its’ doors for international travel tomorrow and most of the clubs and bars, restaurants and hobby places are open here in Helsinki without too strict restrictions. Still possible we get back to something if things go worse or a new variant pops up, but so far it’s looking good – as long as you’re vaccinated.
Autumn, my favourite time of the year, is upon us. September brings the chilly air, paints the trees in millions of colors and prepares us for yet another long winter ahead of us here in Finland. I thought it’s about time I give a bit of an update on what’s going on with my life lately, as I find myself being less and less active on the social media these days.
Ever since I returned back from my long-ass trip to Louisiana and UK, I’ve stayed more or less put back in Finland, save few quick trips. One of the reasons has been, obviously, the rampant COVID-19, which keeps on making traveling really complicated and rather expensive. The other one is, with a flick of a switch, everything in the industry just went online.
Finally, I might add.
The tools have been around forever, but for years, we the filmmakers have spent gazillions in traveling to short meetings across the globe, ones that could just as easily have been made on a Skype – or nowadays, Zoom -meeting. Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe there is a definitive need for traveling when working on international co-productions, whether for negotiations, casting or post-production elements such as editing, mixing and color-grading, which are hard to do swiftly online. In addition to this, film festivals are important, and can’t be replaced with online screenings and Zoom meetings, this would cut out a whole left leg and arm of the industry – the opportunity to bounce into like-minded folks, to pitch that random-ass project you’ve been working on or catching up that film you’d normally end up skipping completely.
But much of stuff that’s been given, is nowadays easier, swifter and more accessible than before. When I released the first Iron Sky, my managers and agent in US sent me out on a “coffee or water” -tour across LA. I met with Marvel, Paramount, Universal… You name it. The name “coffee or water” delivers, of course, from the first question you’ll be asked when coming to a meeting. Those meetings weren’t for nothing, although nothing came out of them. Well, not exactly “nothing”, I started to work on a project called Jeremiah Harm, which, sadly, never came to be (and probably for the best, it might have just been overran by Guardians of Galaxy that came out around the same time).
Nowadays, those meetings are de facto Zoomies, and I salute that. Only issue is attending them from Finland, which often means having to stay up until past midnight, but I’m a bit of a night owl these days, so nothing new there. But nevertheless, the conversations are the same, it’s less of a stress to get around and more focus on discussions. And as always, there’s really nothing to expect at this point on the discussions, but who knows, something might come out of it all.
Right now, thanks to Jeepers Creepers being underway, there is a level of interest in me as a fresh face in the horror and thriller community, which is often the easier and more accessible route into finding one’s footing in US market. With scifi, projects are often too heavy to lift off the ground, but with horror one can do impressive things with smaller budgets, which is less risk for every party, and there’s always that huge hit potential as we know can happen with well made horror.
Speaking of Jeepers, the post production is well under way. Right now we are focusing on laying down sounds, music and – of course, visual effects. With Jeepers, it turned out to be quite a big VFX job in the end.
Luckily, I can say we are in good hands. VFX supervisor Jason Rayment has pulled out the big guns for this and is showing an extremely quality-driven attention to every detail of every shot. I’m happy to follow the progress from my vantage point on the other end of the pipeline, watching as the scenes that were nothing more than quickly sketched storyboards only few months ago, are starting to look top notch.
It’s hard to say when the film really does come out. The producers have their plans and schedules in their mind, but unlike with Iron Sky -films, where I’m much closer to being a producer, with Jeepers my job was to direct the film and guide the post production process, but anything regarding the release goes through the producers. Simultaneously, I’m pretty openly active on Instagram and Twitter, which brings a lot of people to me, asking whether I know when the film comes out, or the trailer, or cast or plot details – but all of this I’m not at liberty to discuss. Our official Instagram and Twitter accounts are the only places you’ll find accurate information. We might have a Facebook, too, but as I’m not there, I have no clue of that.
Other stuff is happening, too. The Chinese film – The Ark – has finally seen what I’m thinking as the final, locked cut of the movie, and now the question is how to finish it. There was a break in the production due to reasons related and unrelated to Covid-19, so re-gearing up and getting the film back on track is a bit of a hurdle, but I believe in the renewed enthusiasm of our team, because I really believe it’s a pretty nice movie which needs to see the light of day rather sooner than later, and now we are on the track of doing that.
Obviously, the bankruptcy of Iron Sky Universe, the company that handled the IP of Iron Sky, was a big blow not only in business level, but personally. Having worked so hard on something and bringing it so close – yet so far away – from big success truly burned me down for quite a while. Coming out of such and intensive production, I probably went into some kind of a work stress related state of depression for months. During that time I tried re-inventing myself, as a advertisement guy. I went and worked at two ad companies for about a half a year, but honestly, I didn’t find a footing there. Either I was still too exhausted from Iron Sky, or the work – 9-5 office job – just wasn’t for me. Then, Covid hit and everything grinded to a halt and I had to take a breather, to really decide what’s next, and go on from there.
The few months of complete lockdown of Covid was indeed a lifesaver for me. I had a chance – a permission, actually, an order from the government – to not to do anything but stay indoors and stay put. That cranked my mind into understanding that nope, there’s no re-inventing oneself, you’ll just have to pick your head up and march on, and good things will come. And they did. And are still coming. But if I ever had a middle life crisis, those months after release of The Coming Race and leading up to Covid-19 lockdowns were when that took place.
Not looking forward into repeating those experiences, though.
And right now, we are looking into a brighter future. While the pandemic hasn’t gone anywhere, there are vaccinations and people are more knowledgable about the disease than when it started. Man, it was scary then. I remember laying in my bed with my wife talking for hours on at night about what all this means, how bad can it turn into, what’s our future going to be like. But today, it’s different. It’s still just as scary and deadly disease, but we know what to do to keep it in reins:
In addition for working on Jeepers Creepers, and pushing The Ark forward, I’m also developing another very interesting production, also in the realm of horror, and setting up the next episode in the world laid out in the first two Iron Sky movies. I’m also and helping out friends with their films, scripts and productions. I’ve had numerous discussions with producers on possible projects, and that’s what the biggest part of our film director’s work is. I compare it to those horse race games in the penny arcades, I don’t know what they are called but the ones where you put money and horses move forward in their lanes. At one point, one may be galloping fast, but suddenly come to a complete standstill, and a wild card of a horse makes its way across the finish line, one you would’ve never believed could do it. It’s the same with film productions, everything moves forward, it’s just the question of pace, but one should never lose hope on stuff even if they need to be halted for a long time. (I’m happy to tell you that even an oldie goldie of mine, I Killed Adolf Hitler has resurfaced lately.)
In my personal life, there’s also been some turmoil. I’ve moved to a new area in Helsinki called Kallio, which is like night and day from Lauttasaari where I used to live for years. The beautiful beaches and woodlands of the Isle of Happiness have changed into trams, tramps and tarmac, and the fuzz and buzz of the central capital city. I love seeing the newly-found diversity of folk around here – in Lauttasaari, seeing a band T-shirt is a rare occasion, let alone people of other cultures, it’s very white, very suburbian and very middle-class. In Kallio, life happens constantly, up to the point of it sometimes being quite rough and rowdy. But I never found that intimidating myself, for me, it’s part of the world we live in, and trying to push that away from one’s surrounding is not good in the long run. But more than anything, a change of scenery is refreshing and sets mind down new paths and alleyways.
Also, my son started studying in the media school in Tampere, and I’m really proud of him. He’s getting first hand education in all the stuff I still use constantly – I just wish I had chosen that road back when I was in school. So much really cool really important stuff being taught every day, and I love watching him finding his calling – whether it’s filmmaking or other part of media world, or something completely different. It’s weird, just few years ago he went to the preliminary school, and now he’s already a young dude making his world. May it be an amazing one!
An extraordinary year for film, as everyone knows, Oscars this year offer some unique treats for us to follow! I managed to watch all the feature films this year, and have now formed my opinion about the awards. In the end, I wasn’t that far off, I got 16/23 correct, most painfully failing at the Original and Adapted Screenplays, and Song I knew I would fail anyhow.
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Sound of Metal
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
SACHA BARON COHEN
The Trial of the Chicago 7
Judas and the Black Messiah
LESLIE ODOM, JR.
One Night in Miami…
Sound of Metal
Judas and the Black Messiah
ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
The United States vs. Billie Holiday
Pieces of a Woman
Promising Young Woman
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Dan Scanlon and Kori Rae
OVER THE MOON
Glen Keane, Gennie Rim and Peilin Chou
A SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE: FARMAGEDDON
Richard Phelan, Will Becher and Paul Kewley
Pete Docter and Dana Murray
Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart, Paul Young and Stéphan Roelants
JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH
NEWS OF THE WORLD
Joshua James Richards
THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7
MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
Massimo Cantini Parrini
Lee Isaac Chung
PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN
Alexander Nanau and Bianca Oana
Nicole Newnham, Jim LeBrecht and Sara Bolder
THE MOLE AGENT
Maite Alberdi and Marcela Santibáñez
MY OCTOPUS TEACHER
Pippa Ehrlich, James Reed and Craig Foster
Garrett Bradley, Lauren Domino and Kellen Quinn
DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)
Anthony Giacchino and Alice Doyard
A CONCERTO IS A CONVERSATION
Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers
DO NOT SPLIT
Anders Hammer and Charlotte Cook
Skye Fitzgerald and Michael Scheuerman
A LOVE SONG FOR LATASHA
Sophia Nahli Allison and Janice Duncan
PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN
SOUND OF METAL
Mikkel E. G. Nielsen
THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7
INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM
THE MAN WHO SOLD HIS SKIN
QUO VADIS, AIDA?
Bosnia and Herzegovina
MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Marese Langan, Laura Allen and Claudia Stolze
Eryn Krueger Mekash, Matthew Mungle and Patricia Dehaney
MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson
Gigi Williams, Kimberley Spiteri and Colleen LaBaff
Mark Coulier, Dalia Colli and Francesco Pegoretti
MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)
DA 5 BLOODS
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
NEWS OF THE WORLD
James Newton Howard
Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste
MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)
FIGHT FOR YOU
from Judas and the Black Messiah; Music by H.E.R. and Dernst Emile II; Lyric by H.E.R. and Tiara Thomas
HEAR MY VOICE
from The Trial of the Chicago 7; Music by Daniel Pemberton; Lyric by Daniel Pemberton and Celeste Waite
from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga; Music and Lyric by Savan Kotecha, Fat Max Gsus and Rickard Göransson
IO SÌ (SEEN)
from The Life Ahead (La Vita Davanti a Se); Music by Diane Warren; Lyric by Diane Warren and Laura Pausini
from One Night in Miami…; Music and Lyric by Leslie Odom, Jr. and Sam Ashworth
David Parfitt, Jean-Louis Livi and Philippe Carcassonne, Producers
JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH
Shaka King, Charles D. King and Ryan Coogler, Producers
Ceán Chaffin, Eric Roth and Douglas Urbanski, Producers
Christina Oh, Producer
Frances McDormand, Peter Spears, Mollye Asher, Dan Janvey and Chloé Zhao, Producers
PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN
Ben Browning, Ashley Fox, Emerald Fennell and Josey McNamara, Producers
SOUND OF METAL
Bert Hamelinck and Sacha Ben Harroche, Producers
THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7
Marc Platt and Stuart Besser, Producers
Production Design: Peter Francis; Set Decoration: Cathy Featherstone
MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
Production Design: Mark Ricker; Set Decoration: Karen O’Hara and Diana Stoughton
Production Design: Donald Graham Burt; Set Decoration: Jan Pascale
NEWS OF THE WORLD
Production Design: David Crank; Set Decoration: Elizabeth Keenan
Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Kathy Lucas
SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)
Madeline Sharafian and Michael Capbarat
Adrien Mérigeau and Amaury Ovise
IF ANYTHING HAPPENS I LOVE YOU
Will McCormack and Michael Govier
Gísli Darri Halldórsson and Arnar Gunnarsson
SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)
Doug Roland and Susan Ruzenski
THE LETTER ROOM
Elvira Lind and Sofia Sondervan
Farah Nabulsi and Ossama Bawardi
TWO DISTANT STRANGERS
Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe
Tomer Shushan and Shira Hochman
Warren Shaw, Michael Minkler, Beau Borders and David Wyman
Ren Klyce, Jeremy Molod, David Parker, Nathan Nance and Drew Kunin
NEWS OF THE WORLD
Oliver Tarney, Mike Prestwood Smith, William Miller and John Pritchett
Ren Klyce, Coya Elliott and David Parker
SOUND OF METAL
Nicolas Becker, Jaime Baksht, Michellee Couttolenc, Carlos Cortés and Phillip Bladh
LOVE AND MONSTERS
Matt Sloan, Genevieve Camilleri, Matt Everitt and Brian Cox
THE MIDNIGHT SKY
Matthew Kasmir, Christopher Lawrence, Max Solomon and David Watkins
Sean Faden, Anders Langlands, Seth Maury and Steve Ingram
THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN
Nick Davis, Greg Fisher, Ben Jones and Santiago Colomo Martinez
Andrew Jackson, David Lee, Andrew Lockley and Scott Fisher
WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)
BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM: DELIVERY OF PRODIGIOUS BRIBE TO AMERICAN REGIME FOR MAKE BENEFIT ONCE GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN
Screenplay by Sacha Baron Cohen & Anthony Hines & Dan Swimer & Peter Baynham & Erica Rivinoja & Dan Mazer & Jena Friedman & Lee Kern; Story by Sacha Baron Cohen & Anthony Hines & Dan Swimer & Nina Pedrad
Screenplay by Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller
Written for the screen by Chloé Zhao
ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI…
Screenplay by Kemp Powers
THE WHITE TIGER
Written for the screen by Ramin Bahrani
WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)
JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH
Screenplay by Will Berson & Shaka King; Story by Will Berson & Shaka King and Kenny Lucas & Keith Lucas
Written by Lee Isaac Chung
PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN
Written by Emerald Fennell
SOUND OF METAL
Screenplay by Darius Marder & Abraham Marder; Story by Darius Marder & Derek Cianfrance
One year ago today Covid-19 shut down Finland for the first time, as part of the worldwide lockdown of the spring of 2020. Covid-19 had been around a bit longer, but it took a while to land to Europe and USA. For a while, we thought we got away from it, but now, one year later, as the Covid-19 -situation is again worsening in Finland, while getting better in some other places, I thought it was time to write – maybe if for no other purpose than historical record for myself – about the filming process during the Covid era, and why I believe it’s important we keep on doing it.
As anyone who has ever seen one behind the scenes picture from a film set knows, films are made in close proximity to tens, sometimes hundreds, even up to thousands of people. Depending on the production, filming may take place outside, in a big studio, or in very cramped spaces, like in small sets or inside a vehicle. But one thing that’s always present in every film set is the constant hurry. No matter how much resources you have, you’re always running out of time.
Now, filmmaking is not easy. Actually, it’s a pretty damn complicated process, just to get a bunch of moving images out there. In order to get a shot that makes its’ way to the cut, a lot of things need to be perfect: performance, lighting, sound, camera movement, focus, continuity, VFX markers, special effects like blood, smoke and so forth… To get it all exactly right, you have to shoot each shot at least three times, maybe five, sometimes up to ten – and beyond (Most I’ve shot is around 20 to 30 takes, some directors can hit way above 150 takes). It’s a painstaking process which’s only goal is to hide the process from the viewer’s eye, so that they can experience the story in its’ fullest.
Added to this nowadays is the extra layer of Covid-19, which basically dictates that you shouldn’t be close to each other, in a closed space, refrain from touching or even walking near each other, masked up. It’s a huge ask to an already stretched-out machine to observe and adhere to, but it is also the new normal. I don’t think we’ll be out of Covid-19 any time soon, maybe never. This is what our future looks like, and we can either try to dismiss it, or adjust to it and master it completely. No miracle vaccine is gonna march in and make things like they were just under two years ago – vaccines will make this more bearable and more contained, but they won’t make the virus disappear.
Filmmaking in Covid-19 era brings about challenges that one wouldn’t have guessed few years ago. Masked-up crews, weekly (or daily!) Covid-tests and the constant fear of being shut down for days, even weeks.
Testing is obviously the key to anything: nobody should enter the set untested, and tests should happen at least once a week. As you can imagine, this is both slow and quite an expensive process. I don’t have figures, but one can only guess how much it will cost to do a medical test on hundreds of people on weekly basis, administered by medical professionals. Luckily, testing is nowadays quite rapid – the new tests allow batches of tens of samples being processed simultaneously, and results come in one hour time, possibly even faster. This of course means the whole crew needs to allow being swabbed quite often, which is at first quite uncomfortable, but over time, gets not one iota more comfortable. But it is what it is. One thing, though, is quite clear: Covid-19 -deniers and non-maskers will have to start looking for other avenues of work, as their entrance to film set is nearly impossible these days. Not to say they’d be missed, too.
Masks are, of course, a mandatory part of any future film sets. The rules are simple: wear mask, all the time, everywhere. The only people excluded from this are actors when they are on set. The reason is obvious, their faces will be constantly on camera and makeup, which can be smudged under the mask, is essential part of any actor’s outfit. But anyone else is required to wear the mask – including, but not limiting to, director and director of photography.
For a director, the mask requirement can be quite a hinderance. Our job is to try to communicate our thoughts, visions and directions to a crew of hundreds of people. Because everyone is constantly in such a hurry, precision is the key for running a good film set and DP and Director are the ones who everyone looks at in order to know what’s happening and how it should be done. Humans rely on facial expressions as much as they do on words, and suddenly, half of director’s face is cut out and words are muffled, making everything much more complicated to communicate, more susceptible to errors and misunderstandings. Added to that working in different languages, masks add a layer of confusion on top of already confusing environment – but nothing we wouldn’t get used to. I worked for quite a long time in China, where masks have been in daily use for years, and things work very well over there – it’s just a hurdle we have to get used to.
Social distancing is a much more complicated issue because many operations on film set require constant collaboration. From electricians to camera crew, set builders to makeup, stunts to special effects teams, it’s physical work that can’t always be done the required social distancing in mind, for safety’s sake. Not only that, but shooting spaces simply won’t allow that in some cases – say, a car requires camera and sound crew in a small space, nothing to be done to it. A makeup can’t be applied from 2 meters away. Pushing a dolly requires two bodies, a stunt wire two to three to hold it securely. But even given that a pass for safety’s sake, just sitting by the monitors and staring at performances requires people breathing down each other’s necks to see every detail being right. Tom Cruise called out two crew member doing exactly that, staring at monitors while under 2 meters apart from each other, and this bred a famous catch phrase in film industry – “gold standard”. It’s nearly impossible to reach, but the more we work together, understand the situation and adhere to rules, the closer to gold standard we can get.
Another thing familiar from my experience in China is the accommodations. The filmmakers are often booked for a certain period of time and housed in same lodging, no matter if they shoot in their home town or not. This is becoming more norm nowadays all over the world as well – they call it “bubbling up” these days, and the idea is to create a working and lodging arrangement that offers as little as possible of outside contacts, with the idea that only tested crew- and cast members socialize with each other, and all contacts to outside is handled with as little exposure as possible. This creates a strange new tension and feeling of unity within crews, as suddenly you are on a mission with a bunch of people, in a closed environment for quite a long time, stranded from contacts to the outside world. You can’t go to a pub, or to a restaurant, or to see a movie or in the worst cases, even to take a walk outside, you are living in a bubble with a bunch of people, almost like on a Mars mission that can take months, and you just have to get along with each other. This will also create issues for the most anti-social ones, as in the most tightest bubbles you are not allowed to have any kind of an exhaust valve to the outside world. It’s no wonder people train years for the upcoming Mars missions living underwater or in the desert among a small group of people…
The biggest fear is, of course, is if the production gets shut down. There have been cases all over the world where this has happened, some have recovered from it, some haven’t. It all begins with a singular exposure to someone who’s shown to be ill. First, you have to make sure if it’s an actual positive, or a false positive, which can happen quite easily. To my understanding, anything as small as eating a menthol candy can mess up the results and it comes back as “inconclusive” – but even that would mean a catastrophe for a production. An “inconclusive” means the production needs to figure out who this person is, who he or she has been in touch with, and then isolate everyone who’s been in contact with the one giving the inconclusive results. It may mean, in the best case scenario, that only a few people get sent back to lodging, followed by another test which hopefully comes back negative – but in the worst case scenario, it may mean that it’s impossible to continue until the situation has been solved. Shutting down even for a day in a big production can be devastatingly expensive – and usually, there’s no extra days lingering in the schedule to be used as contingency for Covid shutdowns, so one just needs to re-build and re-schedule according to that. That is, if the production even is able to continue: depending on the level of exposure and the rules that are applied, it might mean 10 days quarantine for the whole crew, which, obviously, is a real show-stopper.
There’s obviously also the insurance side of everything, as well, but I’ve (thankfully) never had to deal with that, so I can’t really talk about that, but I’m sure that’s another thing producers are getting gray hairs over. Not to mention the rest of the issues coming up during marketing and distribution; film theatres are still closed, film festivals are non-existent and even the biggest of productions find their way straight to digital, which is only half the experience, and for sure, half the income.
But, it’s good to remember, we are on the early days of the way things are going to be. It’s going to be tumultuous few years, that’s for sure, as everyone learns the new rules of the game, but only by doing it as good as one can, we’ll learn to be even better at it.
The last question remains, should we even do films in these trying times? Why risk so much for just a few hours of entertainment, shouldn’t we just lay low and wait for this to blow over?
I claim what we do is essential. Right now, Finland is closing up again; the restaurants are shut, the gyms and places to do sports are going to be shut down. Film theatres, stage theatres and all live music venues are shut down. We are not allowed to meet anyone physically. Someplace else things are opening back up, but I’m a pessimist by nature and don’t believe Covid is anywhere near over. But if you look at the suddenly much smaller, much more duller and less inspiring world around us, there’s honestly not a lot left to do to relax but watch films on streaming sites. I don’t claim we are essential workers in the same way as the frontline medical staff, doctors and nurses, or teachers, police and store workers are, the ones who put their lives on the line every day, risking hundreds or even thousands of contacts on a daily basis to keep our society running – no, we are not that essential. But what we do, the entertainment we provide, the culture we carry on, especially now that much of other places and means of culture to exist are down, is essential. In these drab, dire times we do need an escape from these four walls crashing around us, an exhaust valve of emotions, shared experiences, even though digital ones and films and TV can help in their own little way to get over this crisis, or at least, to find solutions around it.
PS. From a filmmaker point of view, I believe what we do is essential. But none more essential that what say, musicians, stage actors or entertainers do – the only difference is that films can offer an experience with rather controlled risks. By carefully planning the production and distributing digitally is way lower risk than packing hundreds, or thousands of people into one space, night after night, to view a live concert or a theatre show, it’s just the unfortunate fact and the way it is – the virus spreads from person to person through physical contact – mostly aerosols in the air. All arts are taking a heavy hit, probably none harder than music industry; selling records haven’t provided musicians in years, and now that live shows are off the table, it’s impossible to understand how the branch of arts which I love the most, even more than movies, can survive. I don’t know, but I think those who are able to, should support their local musicians and stage actors. Go buy your favorite band’s latest album online, or get it from a store – if for nothing else, to support. Go book a ticket for an online theatre – I watched, and happily paid $25 for it, David Bowie’s “Lazarus” theatre performance, and enjoyed it thoroughly. It may not be the same as sitting there in the audience, but also us, the audience, need to come forward and be more lenient to the artists trying to support their craft. I’m always shaking my head at the latest TV “musicians doing shit together” -formats, but even those provide at least some income to the stranded artits. I’m sure Jay Z is going to do fine, and Kanye isn’t going to end destitute, but your local punk band might. Think small, and support the artists you dig, if you are able to. It’s gonna mean a lot, so that we still have music and theatre when we eventually emerge out of this Covid hellhole, in whatever shape and form it might be.
I’ve now been back in Finland for a little over 2 weeks since returning from the last leg of shooting in UK. The latest stretch, which took 1 months of prepping and 8 days of shooting, concluded the shoot for the film I’ve been working on for the last about 1 years, and now remaining is edit, sound, music and, well, release.
Only now, I’ve started to be able to actually gather my thoughts on the last 6 months I’ve been away. The journey begun with me flying to UK for a day of meetings, then off to Dubai. In Dubai, I spent time writing and working on the script, with producer Jake popping over for about a week. Then, it was time to fly to Louisiana, where we started prepping for the first part of the shoot. It took about 1,5 months of slow-cooking preparations in the sweltering heat of Louisiana to get the first three shooting days done, after which it was time to fly to UK.
In UK, we started prepping with a completely new crew to the main stretch of the shoot. Original plan was to shoot everything in one go and get home by Christmas, but this turned out to be impossible as Covid ate two of our shooting days and after that, we had to break for Christmas. I missed my chances to hit home for Christmas thanks to Covid instant lockup all across the world due to new UK strain of the virus, but found a way via France and Amsterdam eventually home for few days, before heading back in early January.
In Louisiana, we stayed at the studio lot where I had my own apartment. In UK during the first stretch of the shoot, we “all” – that means, most of the HODs – stayed at Froyle Park mansion, which suited well for us to enjoy fun times when not shooting. Coming back to UK after Christmas, I first stayed at the local Alton hotel Alton House, but found it being extremely drab, and was later relocated to a much nicer Northbrook, a Froyle-style mansion but with separate cottages that have their own kitchens and washing machine options etc. We stayed there with two folk from our makeup team with, and must say I enjoyed the peace there as well, as it was a bit away from all the noise and fuzz.
Anyway, the film is now in the can! That’s quite amazing. That’s my 5th feature film that’s done and done, and one I’m particularly proud of, not just because it’s something I’ve never done before – not a scifi film – and i’m happy of the outcome. Of course, it still has quite a bit of VFX to be done, which goes without saying, but it’s way less than any of the films I’ve done before, so it relies much more on what we actually shot and how we cut it together. It’s also much more reliant on atmosphere, which needs to be spot on to capture the special nature of the story.
And yeah, I’m excited getting to show the film to you all. So stay tuned!
Post-Brexit travel to UK means a lot more of border checks, small paper slips you have to not to lose, many more police officers staring at you with suspicion and a general atmosphere of “why was this necessary”. Add to that the extremely strict Covid-19 restrictions in UK, this is definitely not a fun fair, coming back to UK after the short Christmas break I managed to have.
And if you thought 2020 was a weird year, 2021 is looking ever weirder. Just recovering from the shock of US government practically showing its’ true face as Trump incited a group of crazy rebels to attack the Capitol and did nothing to stop it. I wonder what’s left of anything by the end of year…
But here I’m back in the UK. We are prepping to get back on to the shoot after the break, figuring out exactly what we still have left to shoot and what’s to come. It’s a big list but also, it’s been good looking at the stuff we already have and get a feeling that it’s coming together very nicely.
Right now, studios are silent and there’s only few people around but already starting today some are starting to flow back. It’s great to get the group together and finish this beast.
Oh, and it’s David Bowie’s birthday! Have a magnificient one, wherever you fly, Starman!
Saturday was the last shooting day of our first block here in UK. During that time, we shot in greenscreen studio, outside at studio backlot, at virtual sets – and finished at practical sets built in the studio. The team was beyond phenomenal, and we managed to get by without any Covid-19 cases, thanks to our rigorous testing process. But also, we got lucky: we had big crew, tens of extras coming and going and a hectic shooting schedule. We may have not been the gold standard of film productions, but we definitely tried our very best to stick to the rules, and that helped to keep us clear of all of it.
Today, I watched the current cut of the film. Obviously, it’s still missing at least one third, but already I could see it rocking. So now it’s time to head for a Christmas break, just in time as Covid is getting heavier across Europe and in UK. Our plan is to come back in January to finish the shoot, Covid permitting of course. But for now, our apartment at Froyle is slowly getting more and more quiet as people are leaving for the holidays. It’s always a melancholic moment, and looking back at our amazing crew, it feels like a piece of my heart leaves home with them.
Only thing, I’m not going anywhere.
EU decided in a flash move to close the borders for all incoming traffic on air, water and land from UK, just in time for Christmas. What a wonderful world we live in. This is, obviously, due to the new Covid-19 strand that’s going around, and is being said to be 70% more infectious than the ones we’ve had before, and it has been discovered here in UK. The Foreign Ministry informed that all travel will be banned for 2 weeks, which means that in case they stick to the regulations, I may not be able to come home for Christmas or even New Year.
Now, that sucks. We’ve been planning with wife to have a nice Christmas, reuniting with my family after over 100 days of absence, but it seems that that’s simply not going to happen. It seems I’ll spend the Holidays alone in a small hotel in a small town… Certainly not the kind of Christmas I was expecting for. But then again, this goes with the whole year. I bet 2020 goes down in history as one of the pivotal years of recent history.
I don’t really feel like writing too much today as I’m feeling slightly depressed given the circumstances, but hopefully will come back with more gleeful entry in the coming days, now that I actually have some time. I want to write about what I learned during this production, what I would’ve done differently and how Covid in practical terms affected the shoot.
But for now, stay safe, keep your hands clean and your socials distanced and have a Merry Christmas.
It’s now been approximately three weeks I’ve spent prepping for the shoot for the film here in UK, staying at Froyle Park haunted mansion and traveling daily to the studio for the work.
A lot has happened. Let me start from where we are with the movie.
When we started to work on the project, I wanted to take the franchise this is based on, and twist it into a modern take of what we are building here. This means obviously on script level, but also in casting and revamping the horror elements into ones that are more – like our production designer Sivo Gluck says – funky. This means, more “today” than when the series originally started.
This, I think we’ve managed to grasp that in quite a good detail. The film feels like it’s a product of this time, not a re-heated take of something that was once popular. To make this happen, one needs to be ready to really swipe the whole table clean.
The team here in UK is nothing short of phenomenal. The production designer, props, cinematographer, costume, makeup, AD team… just a tremendous team. There’s of course still the actual shoot to be done, so I can’t really judge anyone’s performance as of yet, but I’m very excited. And most importantly, I’m excited of our cast. A long and complicated casting process which relied on endless Zoom calls as due to lockdown we shouldn’t be meeting anyone, it was quite a strange experience.
We are starting to shoot tomorrow. The shoot is going to last until Christmas, after which we all head back home, then in few weeks back to Louisiana to finish what we started over there.
Other things have happened, too. We are in lockdown, this means, no restaurants, pubs or bars are open. This is a big problem for a hard-working film crew full of artists who need a way to wind out after a shooting day. Luckily, we are all staying in this huge-ass hotel/mansion in the countryside, so we’ve made our own party there. But having said that, we are waiting eagerly for the lockdown to end, to be able to pop our heads out into the public for just a bit…
I’ve been away from home for 72 days, that’s over 2 months. I haven’t had a chance to see my family in over 2 months, and it’s gonna take another 1 month until I’m back home. It’s pretty hard, and alienating. I feel pretty lonely here for the most part of the time. And because it’s lockdown, Covid and all, I can’t even get them to travel here, which would normally be the case. It really wrenches my heart.
But, having said that, I’m excitedly looking forward for the next weeks. We have a great catering of awesome actors, action, some nice gory moments, visual- and special effects and much more. It’s going to be an awesome trip, can’t wait to tell you what it is actually we are working on (but won’t just yet!)