Author: Timo Vuorensola

China Diary

Day 162: Cool Landings

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Well, here I am again, back in China.

Beijing, to be more exact.

Right off the bat I felt the familiar raspy feeling crawl up my throat. The air quality is now moderate, but it’s already something you can feel everywhere. One month in Finland made me forget it, but I can tell it’s definitely out there, the pollution.

But the weather is nice. Sun is shining bright and Beijing looks interestingly different from October when I left to Qingdao, what feels now like ages ago. I also managed to escape Russia’s icy lick coming from Siberia, which is bound to freeze the whole country in the coming weeks.

RGB True Color Image of Finland 22.2.2018 by EOS-Terra Satellite. Yeah, cold as fuck.

Back home, I was feeling grumpy and detached the whole day of departure. I probably was acting like a ten-year-old who doesn’t want to go to the school in the morning: I didn’t feel like packing my stuff (and actually decided to go only with hand luggage for this one month trip…) or eat or do anything a grownup would do to make sure the one month that’s coming up would be relatively decent experience. I was snappy at my wife, who was suffering for the upcoming separation just as much as I did, but I apparently thought my feelings were above hers’. I’m sincerely sorry, Annika. You deserved a more considerate departure from my side. I’ll make it up to you soon.

Creepy Green Light with me on the Finnair flight to Beijing.

What we begin officially now is the actual post production of the film Iron Sky: The Ark. The first 161 days were both pre-production and the production phases, and now we start putting it all together and making it into an actual movie. This has been going on already all the time, during the production, as our editor ms. Fang has been editing the film the whole time. Now it’s time for me to jump into the edit and start bringing my thoughts into the game, take it to the next level.

Obviously, I’ve been very nervous getting to see the film. I’ve only seen some assembly cuts and a bunch of hastily edited scenes, but nothing complete, so I have no idea how the film would work as a whole.

What we now have in our hands is a film that’s 127 minutes long (without end credits), with already some 45 minutes shortened from the first assembly cut. We are hoping to find cuts to bring the total length to around 110 minutes; anything longer than that has tendency to be a bit too long in theaters.

The edit happens at my old office at Jiabo Culture building, just a stone throw away from New Otani, my trusty old hotel. The suite itself is not very edit-suite-ish, just two computers screens and a table, but I asked for a bigger TV monitor and a decent couch, since I’ll spend a lot of time there waiting for the editor to make the changes.

But yeah, that’s what I’ll be doing for the next about a month. Originally, I thought about not returning back to my blog, but well, what else do I have to do here? Nothing much, especially since this time around I don’t have Mika with me, nor do I have any other Finns in town – save maybe Renny, but I’m not sure if he’s around either. Annika won’t come to visit this time since the visit is relatively short and she’s much of that time on a vacation with her family in Spain, so yeah, it’s just me and my laptop and VPN running hot.

And, most importantly – the story is not over yet.

There’s still quite a long way to go.

Beijing At Dark


China Diary

Day 161: So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish


The last one hundred and sixty one days have been a hell of a ride for me. Being separated from my family, working in a strange land and culture, on the biggest picture I’ve worked so far in two languages, I’ve been lucky to experience something I know a lot of filmmakers dream of going through. I’ve had the privilege of getting to work in China, for China film industry, which has long roots and massively interesting wealth of stories and talents the Western world knows nothing about, and I feel I have done some deep cultural exchange with Iron Sky: The Ark between the East and West, at least I hope so.

The last shooting day dawns at the Wanda Studios in Qingdao

I set out to write this blog to help me process my experiences, and decided to make it public because I thought there might be something interesting for other to read here too – if nothing else, at least a bit of entertainment, maybe with some small informational value, as well. I’ve received emails and tweets over the perioid of six months as I’ve been writing this blog from readers from all over the world, friends and people I don’t know about, so although I wasn’t expecting anyone to really read all on the blog outside of myself, it has surprised to hear some have. So thank you for your readership and your support, you’ve been instrumental to me wanting to carry on writing these notes, even though sometimes I’ve been completely dead after a shooting day… I knew there’s someone out there reading my ramblings.

Wang Liang and Lin Yi came back for two more shooting days, which was a delight for all of us!

The main reason, in the end, for me writing this blog was to have a channel to tell my family what have I been doing. Trying to explain the loved ones everything over constantly breaking Skype connections from behind the Great Firewall of China, with seven hour time difference between us, it would’ve been impossible. I also wrote this to my son, Julius, who may one day come back and read these – or then not. He probably will remember the year 2017 as the one where his dad suddenly disappeared abroad and only came back half a year later. I owe him a good explanation, I hope this serves at least in some small way as one.

I wrapped Wang Liang (Da Fei) after few small pickup shots, and fared him well! He’s a talented, young and very funny actor, a brilliant guy to work with!

Yesterday was the last shooting day in China, and as I’m now on my way back to Finland as I’m writing this, just flying over Vytegrad, Russia, I felt like reflecting back a little the last half a year.

Vivienne Tien (Fang Qing), Wang Liang (Da Fei) and Lin Yi (Lin Feng) form the core of the Iron Sky: The Ark

I started out in smeltering hot Beijing, doing preparations, skating daily between my hotel and the Jiabo office. Then, we went out for countless recces around China – from south to Qingdao, Rhizao and back to Beijing. During that time, we were hard at work deassembling the script into shots, shooting plans and storyboards and animatics. I wasn’t sure if the film would ever happen, during that time. The casting wasn’t there, we got turned down few times by important cast members and it felt rather hopeless that we ever get everything together.


But eventually, we did. That’s a huge thanks to our producer Max Wang, who believed that we have to start shooting this year, and he made the effort to get us there, although I know for a fact it wasn’t easy. He convinced every entity who needed convincing that what we are doing is something amazing, and gathered an amazing team to realize our vision.


The first shooting days in Beijing were cut short because of the National Meeting, and we had to move to Rhizao to continue shooting. As we started there, it was already getting chillier, but the days were still beautiful and we had great time shooting in the old port. Then, came the Long Night, a 10 days in a row night shoot burst which was mostly vehicle action. During those ten days I lost at least five kilos and aged five years. It was by far the hardest single stretch of the whole production. Every day I slumped back into the car, feeling I had given everything in me, calling Annika and talking with her for the whole trip back, lasting one to one and a half hours. I was a wreck, but she was there for me, although over the phone, helping and supporting. It was hard, but I loved it.


After those long nights, we moved to the Wanda Studios. The huge studios hosted a perfect location for our shooting, and in the beginning we were doing pretty strict nine-to-seven –production schedule. We had new actors coming in, mr. Duan Yihong, Andy Garcia, Udo Kier… it was all very energetic, very actor-driven, with no crazy visual effects waiting around the corner, no real big action pieces either.

The production organized a nice outdoor barbecue and beer while we did the last few takes.

Then came the wireworks: we went to the Moonbase location, where we started to do all these crazy wire works stunts, imitating low gravity, with loads of action and drama; we started to shoot a huge fight sequence and split the unit into drama and action. I zipped between the two teams. My brain’s hard drive was overheating, bad.

The day did come when we actually had to wrap the very star of the film, Vivienne Tien (Fang Qing). Her first movie, and she played without any troubles against Andy Garcia, Duan Yihong and so many other stars. A cool cat!

Finally, we moved to the last set pieces; Moon Surface with all the dust, the reshoot of our Beijing stuff and the final moments in big green screen studio depicting the key location where the most wondrous stuff would happen.


The last shooting day, which was yesterday, took place in the newly built Beijing Hutong home of one of the main characters, plus loads of missing pickups and closeups from throughout the production. It was fun to take us back in time for each shot through the whole shoot: we need a closeup of hands on this one we shot five weeks ago, this is from the first shooting day, we need a bigger reaction to this, we need to add one turning from the characters to this which we shot three weeks ago… It was like best-of hits of the production, grabbing those little moments…

…aaaand it’s a wrap! The Chinese leg of the production of Iron Sky: The Ark is finally done after 78 shooting days! Two more to go in Finland, and then the whole show is wrapped!

But all good things come to an end. Yesterday marked the last shooting day in China for Iron Sky: The Ark. There still will be two more days in Turku, Finland to go, but the main unit was wrapped. With heavy hearts, I tried to find words to thank everyone for their crazy hard labor – and it has been hard – but couldn’t really find words to measure my respect. I’d have to be a poet to do it. So I did what I can, thanked everyone, as many as I could, personally.

And we invited the whole AD department for the last supper! 

Funnily, the Chinese are not really good in taking compliments. They feel very awkward when you go praising their work. They look at you slightly puzzled, saying “of course I did it, it was my job”. You have to respect that kind of an attitude. Never during the months did I ever encounter anyone complaining, even if the shooting days stretched to sixteen, seventeen hours. Never did I see them grumpy the next morning. They worked, they worked hard, and they were always doing their best – and that’s the kind of spirit I hope to see more in film sets.

Team OK GO heading back to Finland.

Then, we all faded out in to the night. These hundreds of people, most of whom I will probably never see again in my life, who had formed my China family, are already traveling all over Chinal, off to new projects, off to new challenges. I miss them already, dearly. I had challenging times in China, but the overall feeling that prevails was that it was a priviledge to get to experience this, and even if this would be the last film I make in China, it would be an experience that changed me forever, for better, as a director.


But it was not easy.


Looking forward, I feel I have been on the very edge of my skills working on Iron Sky: The Ark. The huge budget, big crew, complex and ambitious script and big stars from China and Hollywood have taken their toll on me. The last few weeks, I was not all there. I was feeling like a ghost, rising up from behind the monitors felt like an impossible task, approaching the actors felt like a mountain I had to climb. Every time somebody came to ask me a question, I felt ten thousand brain cells dying. After the shooting days, I wasn’t anymore toasted, I just felt empty and just prayed that the last days would be over.

One of the greatest moments was the chance to get to direct Duan Yihong and Andy Garcia in the same scene.

Now, don’t take me wrong, I love what I’m doing. I loved working on the film, the cast, the crew, but the whole responsibility and the complexity of it all, the dual language nature of everything, the high demands and expectations just weighted me down. I did my job, but the last two weeks I felt it was eating myself away bit by bit.


I think Iron Sky: The Ark was in the brink of being a too big a film for me at this point of my career. I survived it, and I know it will turn into a good movie, thanks to the enormous amoun of talent and care people poured on it, but looking at my mental state, I feel I wasn’t prepared for it.


I don’t have a new film booked yet, and I’m absent-mindedly fiddling through options, but I feel the next picture should be actually a smaller one. Maybe a scifi-minded drama. I’m developing something with Dalan, which might turn into something, and I have a clear idea on Iron Sky Endgame, but I feel I should not go bigger on next project. I already know I can do crazy action setpieces and big visual effects, but I love working with the actors, making believable moments and finding something interesting in the characters on the paper.


The year ahead calls for me to finish two movies – Iron Sky The Coming Race and Iron Sky: The Ark. What comes after them, I don’t know, but I intend to spend the year much more with my loved ones, resting from this push.


This is the end of the China Diary. This blog will remain, I will occasionally write here on stuff, but the China Diary is now done. Thank you to Annika for supporting me over the year, thank you to Max for trusting me with this big film. Thank you to Lei for helping us making this movie possible. Thank you to the family back in Finland for their understanding and support. Thank you to Tero for having the braveness to take Iron Sky franchise down this strange but interesting road. Thanks to the whole cast of the film, the crew and every producer and financier backing us up with this one. And thank you, readers, for sharing these times with me.

PS. If you want to start reading from the beginning the blog, the first entry is here and from there you can just click next entry at the bottom of the page to go forward.


To quote Manowar: Carry on, my friends, forever carry on!



China Diary

Day 160: A Family Reunion

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Alright, the reason we decided to do two days reshoot was because the writer had written a scene into the movie which was very Beijing-style scene, and when I directed it, I obviously had no experience in such culture, and it turned out a fine scene, but not very authentic.

Producer Max decided to give it another go: we re-built the set, now in Qingdao studio, expanded it a bit to make it larger and more cinematic, and rewrote the scene slightly. What Max wanted was more of the communal feeling of a Beijing Hutong culture, a specific lower middle class culture which has long traditions in the city’s history.

The way we plotted the scene this time was that Lei spoke to the extras, and the writer, mr. Yu, gave his comments on some of the performances to make them feel more Beijingese. I blocked the scene the way I felt the best, and got consulting from the local Beijingese to make the scene feel alive, and suddenly the whole thing sparked to full speed and I was watching not a staged scene but something that even made our producer Max say “this is pretty good”. That’s a lot coming from him.

It was also super nice to see our kids coming back together. Wang Liang and Lin Yi came back for the shoot, as did the actress who played Lin Feng’s mother; it felt like the scene we were reshooting had been a great rehearsal, and now it all came together: the characters were more alive, the feeling was better and we had fun – also, it felt like a family reunion: I had missed these people, and also, it’s a nice way to end the shoot – a full circle. This was the scene we started out with, now it turned out to be also the scene we end up with.

The shooting had an interesting turn of events, when the leader of the Wanda Studios asked me and Max to join us for a dinner. Truth was, we had still a lot of things to shoot, but the production organized things so that a B-unit led by Mika and Lei took care of the remaining bits, and we left for the dinner.

The place we were taken to was an old German Navy clubhouse built over a hundred years ago. We had a great time talking with the studio executives, eating some German sausages and mashed potatoes and – of course – drinking white wine. I did feel a bit bad for the guys working hard in the studios blowing Moon Dust everywhere while we fine dine away, but sometimes filmmaking is about relationships, and besides, I trusted Mika and Lei completely to run the scene nicely.

And they did!
By the time me and Annika hit the bed, I got confirmation from the guys (all blackened from the Moon Dust) that they also wrapped.

China Diary

Day 159: Before the dust settles…

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As the shoot of Iron Sky: The Ark starts to wind down towards the end, the hardest days are still ahead. The last few days we would spend between few studios, but mainly in the dusty Moon Surface set. The set itself has a huge chunk of crater rim built on a dusty ground with big moon rocks littering the gray sufrace.

“Moon dust will cover you…” Photo by Chris Yao

On this set, we have been already shooting for few extremely uncomfortable days: first, riding around with our Moon Buggy and the bigger Prober, then wiring up our actors and making them bounce around in low gravity. The last few bits would still require them to crawl on the Moon surface, with dust filling their eyes and ears, and the team suffering from nosebleeds, constant dry skin and couging and sneezing black goo… Even I started to wear the mask, which I haven’t done since I really hate the fact that my exhaling fogs my glasses weirdly…

The Masked Avenger

Not only that, also the clothes and shoes are ruined after few days on the set. I chose to wear my set shoes out and then toss them to trashbin, trying to clean them after the whole experience would be just impossible.


Friday was the last actual shooting day of the film, excluding the two reshoot days, and the Finnish shoot. We filmed the very opening scene of the movie, featuring two astronauts on the Moon, and completed a very confusing and uncomfortable shoot with weird plate shots and complicated wirework, and since neither of the actors had ever practiced the Moon Walk, it took forever to get us anywhere, and by the time we were done with it, we were totaled. The shooting day turned out to be the longest we had in the shoot: we finished at 4am, after what I think was either 16 or 17 hour shoot.

Nap break…

Without the hard-working never-complaining Chinese crew, these crazy days would’ve been completely impossible, but our guys and girls soldiered through them and went home still smiling, yet all covered in Moon Dust.

Wrapped these two fine astronauts, too!
China Diary

Day 158: It’ll make sense in the end

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You know, sometimes filmmaking can be quite a damn dumb. At least, it can look like it. Like, yesterday. We have a person standing on a rotating platform, wearing an astronaut’s uniform, surrounded by huge led screens that play a completely nutcase video material. At one point, we start rotating the platform and run around her like little insects with our cameras. It looks more like some weird modern art exhibition than filmmaking, but in the end, it’ll all make sense.

Well, at least I hope so…



Some days just drag on, some goes flying past. Yesterday, it was the draggy one. We had only relatively easy stuff to accomplish, but as we started to do those scenes, they kept on expanding and expanding, taking more and more time to accomplish, and since the scene was one of the key moments in the movie, we just couldn’t find a quick way to go about them: they needed to be covered in every possible angle, every possible way, every possible performance. My actors started to get really pissed off at one point, Vivienne was already barking at me: “Timo, what more do you need from me?” …just this one more angle.


The callsheet was bursting with studio changes and scenes to be shot, but by the time we finally finished whatever it was we had in mind for the one scene, it was already around midnight, so hopes of doing anything relevant had evaporated. There was only the techincal move to another studio, and one more shot just to keep the production happy, and we decided to wrap it around 2 am.

While shooting here, the Finland shoot has started to lift its’ head. The production has decided to shoot one scene – that’s two shooting days – in Finland, Turku, more specifically. The reason for this is that we need European setting and faces, and in China it’s always a trick to find good Western extras.

So while the shoot here is going on, my mailbox is getting flooded with Finland side of preparations.

Ah, well, but the nice thing is really to have Annika around. She comes over to the set in the evening when she wakes up, and basically just hangs around at the green room reading books and relaxing. Although I don’t really see her that much during the day, it’s still a delight when she either wanders to the set, or when I run back at the green room for something and get a nice kiss in between the day.


I also made a decision: this is the last movie I’ll do which takes place on the Moon. I’m really fed up with the wires and the moon dust that sticks everywhere.

No more Moon for me.

China Diary

Day 157: Everyone says “Zaoshang Hao”

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It’s very quiet right now. She is sleeping next to me, only her silent, deep breaths fill the air. Outside, the waves wash smoothly to the beach as the sun creeps slowly just below the horizon. The last four shooting days here in China are here, and funnily, the melancholia of leaving is starting to get me.

Since August, when I came over to China, I have been missing home so much, but at the same time, I’ve created – slowly, but surely – a bond with all the people in the film crew, ones who have been around me every day since we started to shoot, some even longer. And now, as the time grows near for me to depart here, and most likely never to see many of these people again, I’m starting to realize how much they’ve meant to me.

Every morning, walking to the set I greet everyone I meet before I reach the monitors. Of course, first person is David, who always waddles from the car with a happy smile on his face to hand me the callsheet and give me the Chinese good morning – zaoshang hao. Then, as I sit in the car, my driver whom I call mr. OK (because it’s the only thing he can say in English – Mika’s driver is called mr. Go, because that’s the only thing he can say in English – if they’d form a band together, it’d be called Ok Go!) who is the happiest, best driver I’ve ever met. He greets me with another zaoshang hao and usually adds the word which sounds like guomer – meaning ‘bro’.

At the studios, I greet as many crew members whose names I mostly don’t know, but am aware they work at either grip or camera department. They usually find it funny when a Westerner tries to say something in Chinese, and answer with their best knowledge of English. There’s usually Jonathan walking past, then Ma Kun from the casting with her big round glasses, and then I arrive to the monitors, where our DITs prepare the image.

Then, walking over to the set I see Mika somewhere working with Hao the gaffer on the lights – that’s a “hyvää huomenta” for him, and a zaoshang hao to Hao, and finally Lei with his white mask over his face comes around from somewhere, happy and joyful as always, greeting me with both “good morning” and “zaoshang hao” – and then, we’re ready to start the day’s work. Well, not before David hands me the big metal canister full of freshly brewed coffee, that is.

The morning greetings ritual is one of the things I will miss in the production. Of course, it’s going to be a huge change to suddenly not live off the callsheet anymore, to go back home and having to go to the convenience store, to wash my own clothes, to figure out my own travel, schedule, money, everything. But that’s all OK, since I’m back around my family. But meeting so many happy faces every morning, you don’t get that in Finland. Suddenly, the bubble I’ve been living in will be blown away, and I’m exposed to the normal world again, and that’s slightly scary, to be honest.



China Diary

Day 156: Zig-Zagging

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The last shooting week in China dawned upon us through a thick cloud of pollution. The beach outside had a slim snow veil covering it, although it disappeared as the sun warmed the air up. I woke up feeling well rested, despite the reminders of last night’s Vedett’s still in the back of my head. Annika wasn’t feeling that good, back home she’s stayed on a healthy diet and hasn’t had the same amount of dinners with white wine and Tsingtao beers as I have over here, but we managed to chomp down some breakfast before the pickup came for me.

The shooting day was truly a jigsaw puzzle of scheduling. We started at studio 3, and the B-unit started at studio 24. The plan was that by the time we finish on studio 3, B-unit rolls to another studio, while the A-unit moves to 24. Luckily, though, we started to move pretty quickly, everyone was much more relaxed after a day off, and the whole shoot was smooth sailing all through the day. We did go a bit over, and didn’t really finish everything, but we did quite damn well considering.

I also finally got around starting to do the list of pickups we are still missing from the film. They tend to pile up by the end of the shoot and since we only have one week to go, we really have to start grabbing those. Also, the editor had her list of requirements, although I must admit I didn’t quite understand why she needed certain shots, but it made sense. She seems to be a good editor, but I do recognize some differences in Western/Chinese storytelling, which might prove to be a bigger obstacle in the future, but hopefully not!

Annika came over to the set in the afternoon and we ordered some Pizza Hut, since we both really craved for something simple and very Western. The pizza hit the spot, although it also made me feel like 20 years older and fatter westerner, after having eaten so much Chinese food lately. Whatever Chinese food is, it at least has very little wheat in it, and very little salt, so although you eat a lot of it, you never feel sick like after eating too much pizza.

At least that’s my observation.

Multitasking behind the scenes
China Diary

Day 155: A House Full Of Electronics…

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Having the wife over has few unquestionable advances to it. One of them is the best sleep I’ve had in weeks. We had a day off the next day, and I slept good 13 hours, catching up some of the sleep debt I had been gathering during my insomnia phase. Apparently, my brain was just waiting for her to come around and refused to sleep before she did, and is now in peace.

So that was it, we woke up around 3 pm and jumped in the car and headed to Qingdao center to do some last minute shopping before we head back home. The place we went to was a big electronics store. Now, “electronic stores” I’m used to are usually these huge complexes of beautifully displayed pieces of amazing electronic gadgets, floor after floor, row after row, a bit like in Finland or Target, but here in Qingdao it means a bit different thing.

The building is a multi-storey department store, but it’s actually a collection of small booths all selling different set of random electronics the owner of that booth has managed to gather. There’s no central theme or system anywhere, every booth is its’ own entity, the only structure is that on first floor there are more phones, second floor is more about cameras etc.

After understanding the chaotic nature of the place we started to look for the items we came in for. I wanted to buy a drone to my child and went looking for something like that. There was only one booth selling consumer drones, and this guy was quite a salesman. He couldn’t give two shits if we wanted to buy something off of him, he just stood there looking annoyed that we wanted to hear more about the drones, and mostly just WeChatted with his friend over the phone rather than try to sell us anything.

One thing the Chinese don’t do is haggle. In the end, we managed to get the price of the drone I bought down some 30 yuan, which is …umm, 3€, and that’s all. But having said that, the price was already pretty good, so I didn’t have problems to go with that.

I also ended up buying a pair of Bose Quiet Comforts and a pair of Sennheisers for my wife, and then we headed back home.

The evening was reserved for mr. Duan, whom we officially wrapped the day before. We took him out for a great dinner, where we gathered with some of the people from the production and myself and my wife, and discussed the last months. We ate a great hot pot dinner, and then sent him on his way with sad farewells.

Lei the 1st AD, Annika the love of my life, me, mr. Duan alias Fang Mingtao and Max the producer having a traditional Beijing hotpot farewell dinner

Rhydian and me and Annika were all feeling like one more drink, so we hopped on a cab and went to a small bar close by. The place was terrific, a little side street away from anything, and served a great selection of beers. We ordered a shisha pipe, spoke about Rhydian’s upcoming scenes and then discussed more in detail acting and the life of actors, having a great talk. Then, it was time to head back home since it was going to be an early pickup the next day, so we called in in day!

China Diary

Day 154: Alive!

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The Long Separation is finally over. Annika came over to China, and we will leave back home from here together. Somehow, we survived this five month separation almost without scratches, but I wouldn’t suggest you try it. Relationships are fragile little constructs that can easily be toppled over, and if you like yours, five months apart from each other is quite a harsh ride to find out if it will last.

Saturday was a horrible day. We had a horror of a callsheet staring at us at 8:30 am pickup, but the first shot we shot at 2:15pm. Means, we effectively spent six hours on the set doing nothing but staring at our cellphones and empty screens, while the actors were being prepared for the shoot. Even the production manager wandered to the few times asking what are we doing, since we’re not shooting. He suggested we should apply for the Guinness Book of Records for the longest start of a shooting day. Grinding my teeth, I understood what he meant, but I wasn’t able to do anything.

The scene we were about to shoot was a hugely important one. It was the last shooting day for mr. Duan, and the last scene with him was his most emotional one. Now, having worked with him, I’ve come to learn him as a very closed actor, one who keeps the emotions in check through the role, but now I knew he had to give me something. Also, it was a key scene for Vivienne, who had to break through whatever walls her character had built around herself and encounter the other character very bare and very honestly. Like mr. Duan, she also keeps her emotions in check, and I was quite interested to find out if they could open up on the screen on this moment.


Before we started to shoot, though, we had a shouting match with our screenwriter on the content of the scene. He was suggesting some sudden changes to the scene, while I had also devised a rather different approach to the scene, and our views clashed big time. Before this production, I’ve never had this kind of an issue; screenwriter has had their job done before we shoot, and on the set, we’ve changed the script the way we wanted to, to get a better scene out of something that we find not working on the set.

This time, the order is a bit different, since one of the writers is the producers, and the main language is Chinese. This means that all the changes I want to have on the script on the set, I have to run through the production, and the screenwriter needs to approve them. In the beginning, this didn’t matter, but for some reason, the screenwriter has started to be more strict on the lines he wrote and sometimes they just don’t work with the situation. And since there’s no common language, the discussions with him can turn into forever long debates, and then the actors join in and suddenly we all are in quite a mess all pushing and pulling different directions.

Eventually we did find a solution, but already at that time we had all exhausted ourselves to the point of walking out of the set right there and then.

So, when we actually got to shoot, it had really been six hours of practically nothing happening, and I was sure it would turn into a catastrophe. I felt we’ll never get anything done on this day.

Lei called in the first shot, cameras were rolling and then, well, something magical unfolded. I had instructed Vivienne, who was concerned on how to play the scene, to try to empty her mind and focus on mr. Duan, an actor whom I knew would deliver a tearsqueezer of a performance. Mr. Duan had told the same to her, just look at my eyes, and you’ll get there. But the force of emotions she brought up in this moment stunned us all. It felt not only strong, but also very personal. The moment, in all its’ science fiction crazyness, became a beautiful moment between a father and a daughter, something real transpired right there. And I feel Vivienne herself unlocked something new inside of her. The moment was that strong.

The shoot did take its’ time, and we went through everything multiple times, but finally, the time came to call it a wrap, and wrap mr. Duan. This itself was a huge thing, mr. Duan himself was a person who pondered long to join the production, but eventually decided to do so, because he felt there’s a story worth telling there. But as an actor, he brought so much more to the film than just his face and voice, he challenged the whole father-daughter -relationship from the beginning, brought up beautiful little and big nuances to create a believable scientist / father character, and taught us a lot on how to create a character. In the end, that’s what boils down the very essence of filmmaking: actors making it real. Script is just words on a paper, directing is just giving suggestions,  cinematography is just chasing light and shadow, but it’s the actors who make the story alive.

It was close to midnight as I finally arrived back to the hotel. She was already in the bed, waiting. Closing into her warm embrace was the most beautiful reward one can have after such a day.

For the first time in a long time, I felt properly alive.

China Diary

Day 153: Getting there (but not done yet…)

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Woke up after yet another refreshing four hours of sleep in the middle of the night and spent the wee morning hours watching as the sky turned gray over the cold Qingdao seaside landscape, writing this blog, reading Gösta Sundqvist’s biography, playing Hearthstone and contemplating life.

One strange thing they do here in Qingdao is shouting to the sunrise on the beach. I have no idea what kind of a tradition it is, but every morning around sunrise time I hear people shouting on the beach, and so did some others living in the hotel as well, and even witnessed them en masse on the beach doing some kind of a strange ritual. It’s not really something that penetrates the sleep, so if I’m sleeping I won’t wake up, but these insomniac mornings I observe this interesting thing and find it somewhat refreshing.

We had a relatively fun shooting day, which was nice for a while. I must admit I haven’t been enjoying the shoot the last week too much; it just has felt like shoveling shots out from the script so we get to finish the movie, but I’ve lacked the passion for these scenes. It doesn’t mean they’ve turned bad or anything, the actors make the whole thing work, but I have felt like I’m merely executing a script than really putting my heart and passion on it.

Mind you, it hasn’t been like this during the production at all: I’ve had heated discussions and burned midnight oil to get the story in the can, but last week I had a bit of a clash with the writer, mr. Yu, and afterwards found it hard to find the right attitude to directing. It’ll get back to me, but I’ve had this stroke of insomnia which is also grinding my creativity at the moment so everything feels a bit harder and more complicated.

Me after every shooting day…

The team is really badly undermanned at the moment. We lost Cheng to the sickness yesterday, and since many of the people from the AD department are sick, and especially it seems every English-speaking member of the crew, we are left with half-functioning machine. Especially with a split unit, it’s starting to feel: every scene takes a long time to get set up and resets feel like ages. The callsheet keeps on piling up, while the shooting days are getting less. We will get everything in the can by the time we finish, but it’s going to require some work.

One of the things I don’t like about shooting six days a week is that you just don’t have the time to prepare for what’s to come. Six days means only one day off, which you need to fully rest, but there’s no time or energy to plan the week ahead. It leads to the situations we experienced many times on the set: the only place to do any creative thinking is between shots, while setting up the cameras, while your mind is on a totally different scene. Same goes with Mika, he has no chance to really plan ahead anything, and the little rest we have during the shooting day we have to use to get a bit of rest.

Last minute planning…

Shooting on the dusty Moon surface continued yesterday. Wireworks dominated the morning hours and the evening was a bit more about action. The split team was doing their action piece in the other studio simultaneously. I was actually happy with the results of the day, although I really hate the Moon set as a shooting environment (I can’t wear the mask so my lungs are full of the damn dust constantly).

Back in Finland, Annika dropped Topi to his father and headed to the airport, flying overnight towards here. Another reason to feel slightly more excited. Also, tomorrow we have the last shooting day for mr. Duan Yihong, and then a day off. So a lot of things moving toward the end: last shooting week dawns on Tuesday. We’re getting there.

We’re getting there.