This entry was supposed to be sent out already few weeks ago when I returned back from China, but I got sidetracked with work, and forgot to finalize this. But here it is, few weeks late…
We had another quarrel with Max on the edit of the movie yesterday. It started with me having watched the latest version of the film, one where Max had made his adjustments, and they didn’t sit all that well with me. Mind you, we are talking about details that probably won’t have a huge effect on the film overall, but when working closely on something, they become the size of a mountain.
I had been tossing and turning in my bed the whole night, going through different ways how to express my thoughts to Max in a way that he would get what I mean, so I was grumpy “waking” up (or rather, “quitting my sleeping attempts”) and dragging my ass to VHQ, the company that does the VFX for Iron Sky: The Ark.
I met Max outside the meeting room and instantly we launched on a debate. I started by explaining my main issues, and Max listened to them, and then offered his balanced reply. But as it is in so many cases between us, the debate got more and more heated as we both tried to explain our angle of approach, until we got both so worn out by language challenges and the discussion that we decided to give it a rest, and agreed that I’ll write a detailed reply to him on what I believe we should change in the cut.
Afterwards, we had a good session with VHQ’s Chris Yao and the team. They had prepared a set of shots for me to look and comment at, like we usually do over Cinesync, but now we had two main sequences in the movie where we needed to really sit down and share in detail the thoughts. There is only so much you can do over voice chat and shared desktop…
Despite our disagreement on the cut, with Max we are able to put it all aside and have a great dinner afterwards. We went for some hot pot with the team, and shared a bottle of white wine, laughed and discussed the future and the release strategy. This is very important: even if you have a disagreement with some part of the production on something, never let it get in the way of personal relationships: if you are amicable, even the hardest disagreements can be settled over – because both are on the same side of the table.
The next day, I jumped on a plane and grabbed the latest cut of the movie with me. I spent the whole flight re-editing the film according to my wishes, and made a thorough commentary back to Max, added with a new edit of the movie, and sent it over. About a week later he came back with an email, where he agreed with a lot of my points, and we agreed to take both of our views in account when creating the final cut. We instructed the editor and I received the cut just recently – and I think it’s pretty damn good! It serves both of our interests in a good, collaborative spirit and works really well as a full film.
There’s only so much you can change in a film after it has been shot, but apparently the Chinese way is to disregard the above and go ahead and change anyway. I’ve been working for about two years now with Max and I know he is very, very persistent with the story of his for Iron Sky: The Ark. My mission, when I started to work on the film, was to make it as fun and enjoyable adventure as possible; for Max, the film’s core message goes deeper, and he is relentless in pursuing the clarity of it.
Now, as a director I’m torn between good movie and clear story. Sometimes, these two don’t walk hand in hand; sometimes you have to sacrifice one in order to get the other one working. If you go back and think about a bunch of movies you love, it’s easy to spot logic holes in them; but when the characters work and the story flows, logical mistakes are forgiven. Yeah, the Eagles could have taken the Hobbits straight to Mount Doom and the film could’ve been over before it started. Indeed, Prometheus is one big logic hole itself, but I absolutely love the film. And so on, and so on…
So right now, we are still trying to find the ideal balance between logic and flow. I’m more inclined to go with the flow, Max is hunting for the logic, and we are trying to solve those issues through edit, ADR, VFX and other methods still available at our disposal after the shoot is done.
I do feel a bit bad for our VFX supervisor; it feels there’s a lot of work to be done, and today we sat down together and I described in detail the final key sequence of the movie to him. He says “yeah, no problem”, but I sense a worry in his eyes; the good thing is, he is a true artist himself, so he wants to go where it’s most aesthetic, and this will be important for the final sequence. I don’t want it to be photorealistic, but like a beautiful art film sequence instead. Trick is to try to find the balance between story, logic and aesthetics there, too. It can’t be just a splash of colors and shapes, but it needs to tell a story, too. Some say Kubrick’s 2001’s ending is exactly that – just colors, shapes and sounds for God knows how long, but I think it tells a sound story, yet in a beautiful and artistically challenging way. Same goes with the opening of The Tree Of Life, another beautiful segment in film history, but unfortunately often told to be too long, too abstract and too conceptual.
It’s a shame film as a form of art has been reduced to absolute realism; anything more experimental is considered bad and unfilmlike. Anyway, that’s another balance I’m trying to find there in the ending sequence… You’ll hopefully see one day what I mean.
I finished the day off by having a dinner with a friend from the production crew, eating Xinjiang food. The Xinjiang area, which is located in the Western China, is known for its’ Middle-Eastern -influenced dishes, and the fact that the southern part of the province is not a very friendly place for a regular Han Chinese to visit, due to some unrest in the area.
This unrest, though, presented on part in our great dinner at Baron Rozi Restaurant in Beijing, where we had some wonderful breads, meat skewers, some great spicy chicken and yoghurt.
I woke up feeling like someone had pissed in my mouth. I crawled my way to the toilet and stared at my aging face on the mirror. I felt like there was a metal band wrapped around my brains, being squeezed tighter slowly. Sleeping was out of the question – I had, in the end, had a full 7 hours of rest, although I didn’t feel like it. So, most of the morning went by as tossed and turned around in the hotel bed, had a bit of breakfast and then came and continued. Finally – it was close to noon – when I managed to get up, I felt like ready to face the day.
First things first, checkout and then an interview with the Future Affairs Administration, a Beijing-based science fiction magazine. We discussed widely everything ranging from Finland’s science fiction and mythological history to J.R.R. Tolkien’s world, Star Trek and beyond. It’s great to see science fiction fandom activating slowly in China, too, since the country has a vast history in scifi and fantasy, but rarely is it recognized as such. The interviewer asked me if I think China could be thought as a country where science fiction is written, too; I told her to walk into the center of Beijing and take a look around: you guys *live* in a science fiction world. A Cyberpunk / Blade Runner world is your everyday existence, all you have to do is write about it.
Since the next days I would be working doing the post production for Iron Sky: The Ark, I changed the hotel back to New Otani Chang Fu Gong, which is close to Jiabo production company office. By now, having spent three two months of my life in the recent 12 months in this hotel, it was like coming back home: same staff greeting me once again, the room is the one I know oh-so-well.
The meeting today was about music. I played our sketches composed by Tuomas to Max and the production team. The feedback was positive, although the music is still in early stages. Like I said, I want to create electronic overall feel, but of course, we need good melodies and themes that carry through the film. The minimalistic but vast score does a great job in painting a huge universe around the film. The biggest challenge is to nail down a certain piece of music which repeats through the film, an ancient lullaby of sorts. This we had a lengthy discussion about, and although I think there’s a lot of good in what we have already there, still a lot of work remains to be done.
We talked a bit more with Max exchanging ideas on future schedules, and then I called it a day and went back to the hotel. It was merely 6pm, but I crashed on the bed and was fast asleep quickly. Waking up just past midnight, I did have my 6 hours of beauty sleep, and now I’m in my bed working. From 00:30 to 4:30 I have managed to answer loads of emails, had a Skype call to USA and whatnot. Night is a great time of productivity, since there’s really nowhere you can go.
Yesterday was the main day for us at the APSFcon in Beijing. We had two panel discussions scheduled, and a handful of interviews, so after a badly slept night I met Tero downstairs and we taxied to the venue. The weather was gray and smelt of rain, with fog engulfing the buildings in the distance as we drifted through the Sunday Beijing traffic.
As we arrived, the festival was in full spin mode. Geeks of all kind wandered around the big halls of Museum of Science, lining up for events. One thing I noticed here in Beijing compared to every other scifi conventions I’ve been is the absence of cosplay; people don’t dress up almost at all here, save very few occasions..
Both panels were cryptically named, and turned out the moderators had been hired for both on a whim, so they didn’t know that well the topics either, but as it often is, the guests and the discussion made the event, so at the first one we spoke of science fiction in Europe and Russia – I had no idea Ukraine had such a wealth of science fiction going on, nor that Checz is active in that front as well – and debated the endless “what is the difference between fantasy and science fiction” (I ended up quoting Johanna Sinisalo, who said “fantasy is a detailed fairytale, and science fiction is a detailed fantasy”).
The second panel was well-attended. We had a handful of guests – filmmakers, scifi writers and a film festival guy – with whom we discussed cult films. The event started, though, with a video which we had made last year, paralleling the Trump speeches to Iron Sky script, which I had completely forgotten, and knowing China is not the best place for crazy political humour especially right now, I was white as a sheet when Renate lifted her right hand into a Nazi salute followed by a similar clip of Trump… But it got a huge laugh from the audience, which made me realize that yeah, Chinese people have a sense of political humour, it’s just not as common here in dinner conversations as maybe in Europe.
We finished our visit at the first APSFcon in Beijing doing two interviews, discussing Iron Sky, the future of the franchise and crowdfunding with the journalists. Then, we escorted our asses out of the venue and headed for a quick nap at the hotel, and got ready for the evening. Max had invited us over for a dinner at a local Beijing Duck restaurant, with Mrs. Fang, Chris and also Lei being in attendance. We had a good ol’ time, enjoyed a perfectly oven-roasted duck, and exchanged stories and memories from the production. Mrs. Fang is just about to finish her job at editing the film, while Chris is working hard with the VFX, and Lei is already onboard a new project, one with 100 shooting days looming ahead of him. He looked exhausted already, poor man.
We raised endless amounts of glasses of Chinese white wine, and eventually headed with Tero for a night cap at Moli, the whiskey bar I’ve spent so much time during pre- and post production of the film. Annoyingly, the place had a new policy, where you can’t sit at the comfy sofas unless you spend at least 600 RMB; a ridiculous system, which they even seemed to feel bad about, but instead we sat down at the bar and enjoyed a really well made whiskey sour instead.
Back at the hotel, we sat down with Tero talking a bit more; as he said to the interviewer earlier, having worked together for over ten years by now and still being able to have a beer and a good conversation means the relationship is sound and good. Although we come from very different backgrounds, we share a sense of humour which allows us to create films like Iron Sky, which I believe is the very basis of friendship: ability to share similar sense of humour. Everything else is more or less cosmetic.
I didn’t manage to fall back to sleep after 3 am, so I spent much of the morning scanning the web, trying to read (too tired to focus, though), chatted a bit with Annika back in Finland, and eventually made my way to the breakfast, hoping to grasp a bit of sleep after, but failed at that, too. I had to give in to the fact that nope, there’s no avoiding the jetlag this time around either…
The day started off with us visiting our Chinese distributor of Iron Sky The Coming Race. We screened an unfinished version of the film to them to get them an understanding on what kind of a film they are putting out, and also in order to begin the dialogue about the requirements for the Chinese launch. There was something wrong with the playout, though, with bits of audio missing here and there and some apparent mistakes that had found their way into the cut, so I was a bit frustrated watching it, but luckily the people didn’t seem to mind. Ah, well; as a director, there’s no way to watch your film without seeing every mistake in there, no matter how big or small.
Then, there was a heavy lunch few miles away with the distributors. A lot of great seafood and talk about Chinese film in general, how and which direction it’s going. Then we went back to the hotel. I dozed off on the way there, and woke up as we screeched to a halt in the front. Few more hours of total blackness in my room, then off to the APSFcon, for the Gravity Awards Ceremony.
APFScon is held at the Science Museum in Beijing. The building is massive, and it took us forever to go around it to find the correct entrance. We made it just in time to be seated as the ceremony begun.
Well, it was all in Chinese, so nothing very interesting for us; they did have a board which auto-translated the speeches, but the translation was impossible Google-translated gibberish which made even less sense. Some awards were handed, some applauds were had, and then it was all over.
We tried to hail a cab from down the road, but failed at it miserably. Our only solution was in the end to get Tanja on the WeChat to get us a Didi from a nearby restaurant. We stopped off somewhere close to the hotel and headed for a “light” dinner – meaning we ordered two foods and stuffed ourselves to near-death state with Tsingtao beer and amazing pork and chicken. Didn’t take long for me to fall asleep as I crashed in the hotel room.
Jolting out from the blackness of jetlag-induced sleep is the closest experience of being dead I can imagine. The moment when your brains restart, the second they return from the blackness of nothing into the reality is a strange, alienating and slightly scary moment, during which you experience the difference – or the reverse – of what it may feel when consciousness is turned off.
Yes, I have, indeed, returned back to China. Only for about a week, but nevertheless, I’m back here, and we have a lot to discuss.
During my absence, a lot has happened.
The production of Iron Sky: The Ark has been marching on steadily after my return. We have started the so-called Cinesync sessions with our VFX company, and weekly they send me a big packet of visual effects in different stages of the process, and we have a dialogue over WeChat to comment the progress. So far, it’s been quite a lot on the conceptual level, postvisualization and discussing elements and effects, but by every session it gets clearer and more real. One thing is clear: our VFX team is top notch!
We have also started composing the music with Tuomas Kantelinen. With him, I had the idea to create a soundtrack that’s a bit out of his own comfort zone – always good when working with artist of any field – but is still effective and beautiful. Tuomas is an excellent creator of themes and melodies, and understands their gravity in film score. What I asked him to do, though – him being an experienced musician scoring with big orchestras – was to create as electronic soundtrack as possible, befitting better the modern science fiction nature of Iron Sky: The Ark.
Tuomas’ method is sometimes hard to follow, but I’ve enjoyed always working with him. It’s usually few hours sessions where we sit down together and he talks and plays themes and I comment them; we look at scenes and he improvises a bit on top of them, either melodies or just mood-fitting composition. I try to point out things I like and things I don’t think that fit the mood, and he makes notes and based on that moves forward with the final composition.
In my personal life, I’ve had to go through two funerals, both elderly people but definitely sad, nevertheless, especially as the two deaths occurred in such quick succession. I’ve done my best to exercise (I do this thing called crossfit, look it up if you are interested, and imagine the worst and most unathletic person trying to follow the instructions – that’s me) and eat a bit more healty (I’ve taken up on cooking again, and, although I know I’m saying it myself, I’ve done some quite amazing foods). These both are the result of me visiting a doctor and finding out my blood pressure levels are elevated… So, less salt, more excercise and yeah, well, working on cutting the alcohol consumption too. It’s just too many events and parties and whatnots that make it the hardest part…
I’ve also been traveling quite a lot lately, although I do admit I did promise try to stay in Finland, but the trips have been bearable: I visited Stockholm in April for few days for a seminar; then Zagreb in early may for a scifi-con SFErakon, where I was talking about the past, the present and the future of Iron Sky franchise, and finally landed into Cannes straight after that, for yet another edition of Cannes Film Festival.
And now, now I’m back in China. I was brought here not actually by the production, but by China’s first science fiction convention APSFCon, who brought me and Tero to town to discuss – well, what. Remains to be seen. We are here under Iron Sky filmmakers name, but official program is more about general science fiction discussion on our behalf. We have two mysteriously named panels we are to attend, first one is called “Europa Report” and the second one is “The Secret History Of Cults”.
Nope, neither of us knows anything more. But here we are! And of course, we are using this time to push forward the production of Iron Sky: The Ark!
So, after landing we were hauled off to the hotel, I had a chance of few hours of total blackout, after which we had to brave the Beijing traffic, and headed over to Jiabo Culture’s office to a meeting with Max. We discussed topics ranging from the post production to distribution of the film, with a good general mood all over. It’s been a bit of a challenge to keep a good communication going on while things are happening in China, and I’ve felt from time to time being a bit of an outsider, so whenever it’s possible to meet face to face, it makes everything much clearer.
During my absence, Max took a stab at the edit, changing it a bit to make the story clearer, removing few things and adding something, and finishing off what we believe to be the final cut. He has also been screening the film a bit around to get some outside feedback, which is invaluable in this stage of post production, and I’m about to get a nice pile of feedback translated to me very soon.
Afterwards, back to the hotel – another 45 minutes in Beijing traffic – and few more hours of death-like sleep, and then off to the kickoff dinner of the event.
Now, I must admit that I don’t really feel at home at scifi cons; it’s not really that I don’t enjoy them – I really do – but I don’t always connect with the people. The crowd is mostly writers, gamers, cosplayers and fans, and it’s all good, but my kind of people tend to be more filmmakers than scifi fans. I admire everyone’s enthusiasm on fandom, but I just can’t share it – I’m a fan of very few things, mainly David Bowie, David Lynch and metal music – but can’t find a lot of connecting points outside of that. I’m an avid scifi reader, but the threshold question is big here; while I like to think I do know my scifi, when I really land among the scifi fandom, I am totally outplayed by these people. For cosplay, I never understood the magic, and while I’ve sat in multiple cosplay jurys, I admit finding it odd. And then there’s the professional cosplay, which I understand even less about.
So, I always feel a bit fish out of water at the cons, but I’m used to it – but for Tero, it’s another planet.
We mingled a bit with the crowd and eventually decided we want to head out for a beer somewhere. Now, being in Beijing, that’s a much harder job to do than one would imagine – Chinese don’t have the same kind of bar culture as the Europeans do, so we had to bring a piece of European culture with us. We went through a huge selection of restaurants with people sitting inside eating their dinners, and chose one which had a single table and a chair outside, meant for the owners to step out for a cigarette, and sat down. We declared the area the only terrace in the radius of five kilometers by ordering a beer outside – which was something people from around came to and laughed at, two finns sitting outside drinking beer, and not eating. Europeans are crazy.
We had a nice chat but decided to call it an early night, both being still badly jetlagged, and headed back to the hotel.
I’ve been writing stories of my trip to China since I first set my feet there last year in preparations of the film production Iron Sky: The Ark. Knowing I would be away from my friends and loved ones for over half a year straight, I decided to start writing my story.
First, it was meant to be just for my friends and family, for them to know what I’ve been up to, but as I started to write, I got more readers and dialogue from over the Internet coming to me, as I found myself writing daily, logging my experiences being a filmmaker in a strange, far-away country, working with a foreign crew, on a huge budget film (for me, at least – 30 million USD is the biggest one I’ve done so far).
The China Diaries are scattered all over this blog, but the basic truth is: I’ve been 181 days in China working on the film, and I’ve written 181 entries. I’ve had several requests to put one clear page or at least a link to those interested on how to start reading it from the beginning. I don’t know anything about WordPress, and have no idea how to create an index page where one could easily click the first entry and start reading – so this is what this page stands for, at least for now, until I find a better way. So without further ado – here is the first entry of my China Diary, where you can start reading:
The blog goes on for 181 entires, and will continue later this year as I return to China to finish the job. So, to those interested in hearing what it is like working in China on a biggish budget film, with a Chinese crew, and some Hollywood stars, too, hope you’ll find this an interesting read!
To read on, you can click to the LEFT on the bottom of each blog post, and it takes you to the next entry. There’s some occasional other entires here and there in between, but mostly it’s all about my China journey;
Another place, but one which begins from the latest entry, and needs quite a bit of scrolling down, is the China Diary category link, here.
And, if someone knows how to make some kind of an index with WordPress, please let me know 🙂
This entry comes a bit late – actually, I left China already few weeks ago but just never got around publishing this one.
Last day in China on this trip was the second CGI spotting day, sitting in a dark room and going through the second half of the movie and making notes for the CGI team to follow when they begin their job.
First half of Iron Sky: The Ark is relatively easy one; much of added CGI in the background, fixes and well, few big establishers but mostly just “regular” VFX work, but the second half, my god. I noticed halfway through the second spotting day it felt more like reciting a poem than instructions, the VFX gets very abstract at one point and although I have wrapped my head quite firmly around it, to anyone who doesn’t know the story inside out it’s hard to explain. I had also noticed that in order for us to tell the story in the most enjoyable manner, there was a good number of full-CG shots that had never been planned, so I kinda tried to explain them on the run, but in the end decided I need to be more specific with them.
After the excruciating, long and detailed rap, I was exhausted, but at the same time – my job was done for the time being. Now, the VFX team knows what to do, and although the edit will still go through some minor adjustments, we have a structure around which to build the post production. My next trip to China would take place during the Summer, when I’ll go oversee the VFX development, do some further editing with post-visualizations and probably will start some of the ADR work as well. But for now, I’m outta here, back to Finland, enjoying some chill weather and fresh air. I kinda need it.
Before leaving, mr. Duan called us and asked us to join for a farewell dinner; and yes, we agreed wholeheartedly. He wanted to take us to a place called Ninty-Nine Yurts (sic), which is a big Mongolian-style restaurant village just a bit further out of the city. Chinese food and drinks culture, as I have stated few times, is quite different from the Western one. Instead of going out drinking, you go out eating. Instead of going to an open restaurant, you book a niche for you and your friends, a room or – as in this case, a yurt – and meet only possibly the waiters, but no outsiders.
I’ve done the Mongolian once before, with Max early on when we arrived to Beijing back hundred and fifty years ago it feels, and this one had similar features to it: a big tent, traditional Mongolian yurt, with a huge round table in the middle, and so much food brought in it made me stagger. The main dish, the full grilled lamb, was served on a stretcher and dipped in sauces, and there was red wine and white wine and whatnot.
It was also a great chance to catch up with mr. Duan; it had been few months since I had seen him last time, and we talked widely about the film, his performance, what had been left out (mostly none of his stuff has been cut, which is rare) and how the story unfolds. I was happy to tell him I’m very excited about the story and his role in it.
After a long night out it was time to head back home and start packing – an early wakeup for me. I thanked mr. Duan for the dinner and off we went.
The next day, I would be flying out. I would arrive to the airport early, and by a strange luck bump into mr. Duan once again. I would be coming down the stairs from the lounges, heading towards the gates when I would see a man in a cap, sunglasses (inside!) and a face mask. Suddenly, he would start talking to me. I would be wondering who is he, until he would realize the mask, remove it and wave bye-bye to me. I’d sit on a plane, watch a bunch of movies, cursing silently the lady next to me who was watching movies, skipping past boring actors and segments… You can’t do it like that. Watch it full or don’t watch it all.
That is the doctrine.
So, that’s it for now – I will come back writing more on the China Diary as soon as I go back, but for now it’s Finland, snow and The Coming Race coming up for me!
It’s been a year to remember. Starting with #MeToo campaign and the fall of Harvey Weinstein, followed by the demise of Kevin Spacey and so many others, the tables have truly turned in the film business. Women have stepped up, even some men, who have clearly spoken out about the dark side of the film business, in a manner we haven’t heard or seen before. It started in USA, and has been popping out in many Western countries. Unfortunately, the East is still to be conquered by the movement, let’s hope it reaches there, too.
Here in Nordic countries, Sweden practically collapsed because of the whole #MeToo campaign. Many entities were dragged into the light and revealed to the public for the creeps they are, and not just in film. Nearly every industry was affected.
On the flipside, some of it went too far, to some, the whole #MeToo became a hobby with nothing to do with actually outing the perverts but more just a thing to do to make yourself be part of some movement. We all want to belong, to some it means even if it’s belonging to a group of abuse victims.
In Finland, the discourse has been, as it typically is, quite a bit more muted, but just recently, three things happened: a director (Heidi Lindén) spoke out about a handful of names in the business who constantly harass women (she didn’t release the list of these names, though, so we were all left wondering); an ex-professor in the most prominent film school (Lauri Törhönen) in the country turned out having been highly inappropriate and abusive towards rather helpless students; one of the most well-known director in the country (Aku Louhimies) turned out having used questionable directing methods, which are borderline sexual, emotional and physical abuse.
There is, and will be, also cries out for the wolf in Finland, too. Even though we are this dark, Nordic isloation-enjoying people, there are always those longing for attention, and failing to get it any other way, they will become desperate.
Big problem is also, there’s a lot of victim-blaming going on, which seems to be the case every time especially a female falls a victim of abuse of any kind. We humans are disgusting in that way.
So, let’s try to keep our eyes on the ball: the business is offering a roof for creeps and those getting their kicks from power games of all sorts, and those we don’t need in the business. Let’s oust them. This is supposed to be a working environment which is first and foremost, safe, artistically fulfilling to ourselves, preferably slightly profitable in exchange for the time we spend doing it, and last but not least, sometimes fun. And never, ever dangerous or abusive.
Simultaneously, let’s remember we are humans, we interact with other humans, sometimes successfully, sometimes not so. Also, we are artists, sometimes our “arts” fail to connect. Not every time situations like this are “abuse” or deserve a #MeToo hashtag, or any equivalent of it.
One thing is for sure, though; times *have* changed, and that’s a *good* thing. It means, now there is a direct way to communicate, the problem has an easily-identifiable name and there are loads of brave people who acted out and told their stories. And some creepy stories they are. Those actions we need to commend. Witness.
Truth is, guys, we can do this better. It’s not hard, even. Refuse to abuse, and refuse to accept any abuse from people around you. This doesn’t require any special codex to decipher, you know when things are wrong if you are an approximately mentally healthy human being. And by “approximately” I mean you are not a sociopath.
We shouldn’t feel too bad we haven’t interfered every time we’ve seen some shit go down, however we try to avoid it, some of it has been “silently accepted part of the business” – you know, “we all know him, he’s always like that”…. but from now on, if we still decide to not to behave like humans when we see an abuse happening around us, then it’s on us. What we’re doing is a fucking illusion, a suspension of disbelief, a charade, and no amount of “it’s great art” -crap can fill the emotional gap an abuse-approving environment leaves in the business.
The film business is shedding its’ skin. Let’s show the next iteration is better.
Directing a VFX heavy film is fragmented business. Writing the scenes into the script is one thing, but really starting to develop the shots from scratch to screen is quite a task. Usually, as a director you develop the shots slowly. First part is usually the dialogue between the cinematographer and you: what kind of shots are needed to tell the story. Then, you start dividing those shots into elements that can be shot, or agree that it needs to be done full CG.
When shooting, you usually have either storyboard or sometimes an animated storyboard (we call them animatics or previsualizations) to give an example or a detailed account on how the shot would be, even if you only have a character sitting in a green room on a green chair talking with nothing but green walls – at least you know what camera angles you need to portray the story the way you as a director have in mind.
Editing you do your best with what you have. Usually at this stage, the VFX company hasn’t necessarily provided all the shots even in a crude format to really form an understandable edit, but as a director you anyhow know quite exactly what kind of shots you will need, and are able to discuss it with the editor. Sometimes, VFX company will drop you with some rough sketches, but sometimes it’s just a black screen describing the element.
It’s really the dialogue you have with the VFX supervisor which in the end turns into actual shots and detailed sequences, and it begins already on the set, and continues during the whole production. One of the key things after the shoot is done is the “spotting” phase, where you sit together with the VFX supervisor and some heads of department, and go through the film, shot by shot, describing in as much detail as possible what you need, want, wish or demand.
We started this process with our VFX team yesterday, with the latest cut in our hand and delivered to the VFX company, and then screened the whole thing – well, started the screening, that is – on the big screen, going indeed shot by shot, unloading my mind to them. I enjoy working with Chris our current supervisor, he’s a modest guy who knows he’s working with a top team but doesn’t make a scene out of it, he listens my ramblings and takes it all in, offers his own ideas quite amply but trusts very much on which way I want to steer the story. We have some pretty hard shots in the movie, partially also because we didn’t always have adequate green screen environments, so a lot of hand roto is required as well, but his attitude is good: “no problem”, and if there is a problem, he’s willing to find solutions to work it out. Only once or twice I came upon a situation where he says something would be extremely tricky to produce, and suggests we find another solution. And even then, there can be a way to make it happen.
This is I guess the key about many aspects of filmmaking – the attitude needs to be “if there is a will, there is a way”, instead of trying to either go around the easy route or just saying “nope, can’t be done”. You encounter that attitude unfortunately sometimes during the production or post production, and nothing angers me more. Almost every time there is a way, you just have to open the mind and be willing to find the solution. And if there is not a way, then you have to be creative to conceive the same thing. But sometimes you get this stonewall answer of “it’s impossible”, which I refuse to believe. I mean, we can make films nowadays of lizards flying in an alien planet full of four meter tall blue people in 3D, we probably can do almost anything a script can throw at you nowadays.
Of course, it’s the matter of resources, and that’s when things get interesting. There’s always time, and money, and quality, and usually you can only pick two. But even then, when you are out of some resources, you can find a way. It begins with the will to want to exceed yourself, and I guess that’s one of director’s main tasks: to create a movie, an environment where people working on it want to do just that, to exceed themselves.
It’s hard to do in any other medium of visual storytelling, but film has that quality on the people working on it: they want it to be more than the sum of its’ parts.
During the spotting, we got through half of the film, and will continue tomorrow. And after that, well, it’s my time to head back home for now, and jump back onboard Iron Sky The Coming Race, which we have to finish before the autumn!