A day off means there’s absolutely nothing to do for me here. Since I don’t know anyone, I’m just stranded off in my hotel. Going out for some culture and recreation is out of the question, while Beijing is a huge city, once you’ve seen the Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, walked the Hutongs and went to a bunch of museums, you’re pretty much done. Rest of it is just offices, residential buildings, restaurants, and shops. And there’s only so much of trouble one is willing to take in order to enjoy a dinner alone somewhere.
I did the gym, that was OK. I met with Tanya briefly, discussed future scheduling and what-not, that was fine. Went to a Japanese restaurant for an overpriced dinner, that was pretty OK, and watched a handful of The Americans shows, rattled some sables with some idiot on the Internet for a bit and eventually fell asleep for a few hours, waking up to a thumping headache. Must’ve been that one Asahi I had with the dinner…
Anyway, one more day – tomorrow – and then I’m headed back to Europe. The work will continue with The Ark online, and while I don’t know when I should be coming back, probably sometime later in the autumn.
Okay, now it’s getting ridiculous; I managed to catch sleep at 11:30 am, meaning when I woke up at 3:30, I had only slept four hours and was both totally wiped out and dead tired. Nevertheless, I had to scramble myself up from the bed and head downtown to work with Tuomas, as it was his last day in Beijing.
Work was good, though. The additional footage we had shot a few weeks ago has found its’ way into the cut in a very nice way, and while it’s definitely not as well shot and lit as Mika’s material, add music, work the cut and focus on characters, it’ll go nicely. And watching Tuomas laying tracks on every emotional beat there made it look better and better every time.
We went for a cup of coffee across the street to the library café and discussed the importance of places like this, where the intelligentsia – counting us out, of course – would meet, compare thoughts and exchange information between countries and nationalities… We saw Beethoven’s notebooks, Tolkien’s writings, philosophy, Chinese literature, a Lithuanian professor prepping for a presentation… “All fit together, nice, nice, very nice… “, as the 53rd Calypso of Bokonon teaches us in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle”.
I read today a sad story in the news. A Finnish clown jumper – I’m not sure if that’s the right English term, but what I mean is a person dressed up as a clown and making a show of jumping down to water while clowning about – was found dead in his apartment. He had been dead for two weeks, actually.
This guy was known for a failed attempt at clown jump, which he botched by landing sideways on the water, falling 50 meters. He didn’t die, but went to a coma for weeks. I started thinking about this person’s life, what brought him up there, making that jump. Devoting your life on something as dangerous as clown jumps just escapes my understanding, just to entertain a bunch of people. I mean yeah, he was a professional at his line of work, a really dangerous one, too, and one which is definitely not very popular. It started to scratch something in the back of my head, like a story forming, and I did get flashes of interesting scenes in my head, and this character forming in my head.
Back at the hotel I started writing down some ideas while Tuomas was doing the music. We worked for good 5-6 hours and headed to the Libanese restaurant for some skewers and hummus, which I will definitely miss here, since we don’t have proper Libanese in Helsinki that I know of. Coming back home I turned on The Americans, but found myself dozing off halfway through the show. And then, lo and behold, I slept.
PS. Since we have had some pretty good progress with Chris, I decided to head home a bit earlier – on Tuesday, to be exact. The plan was to stay until Saturday next week, but why waste production’s money for a hotel room and driving me around, when there’s nothing really here for me to do at this stage. And it makes sense, I have a chance to catch a breather before heading over to Tokyo with Annika next week’s Sunday.
There are a gazillion different kind of taxis in Beijing – the regular green-and-yellow ones that run on the meter; the ex-Uber now-Didi black sedans, the unmarked ones that try to hustle you for your money, the rickshas that try to hustle you for your money and so on and so on. From what I’ve heard is that the system has gotten much better these days than it used to be – if you book a Didi or a regular taxi, it’s pretty safe – the rest of the options are a bit questionable. But one thing is clear: when it rains, there are no taxis, anywhere.
I got stuck at VHQ for about an hour trying to get a ride out of there because suddenly Beijing went all dark and rain came down the sky. The whole city turned into a one big Blade Runnerian dream with people swarming under their umbrellas, neon lights flashing above, reflecting from the wet street surface. When I finally made it to Tuomas’ hotel, it was already quite late, and he had left for another meeting.
So I wandered around Sanlitun – it was hopeless to get a taxi home anyway – and ended up into a small café, where I had a cider (only place in China I know that serves cider!) and a coffee (not an amazing combo) and chatted a bit with a student who was interested in studying in Finland.
One thing I’m running out of is underwear and shirts. I bought 20 pair of undies when I came here so when I wear the last ones, I know I need to be heading for the airport. But shirts I’m running out of, so I picked up a few from H&M (they are everywhere) when Tuomas finally called. I wasn’t anymore really feeling like working, so we went for a burger at a big chain restaurant. It wasn’t really good, I must admit…
By the time we were done, it had cleared out a bit and anyway it was way past the rush hour, so the taxi wasn’t that much of an issue. Back home, and ready for bed after 4 hours of sleep last night…
…yeah, right. One hour of restless tossing and turning, and here I am, up and awake again. This is not very nice…
35 degrees of celsius during the day here in Beijing, it’s truly steaming hot out there. Luckily, I only have to step in a car, get whisked to a nice cool office and only emerge after sundown – to yet another car, then well-air-conditioned luxury hotel, and only walk the streets at night, but even then it’s way above 25 degrees.
Funny enough, my sleeping is only getting worse. I managed to go to bed at 10am this morning, not a minute earlier. The night went past by watching The Americans and talking to Annika – we do these marathon Whatsapp calls, if VPN allows, and speak probably more than we would if we were face to face.
I hate the fact that I’m not much of a writer. I wish I was. Watching the show makes me feel like I could easily write all that, and then when I get all inspired, pull up my Final Draft, only shit comes out. I’ve never written a full script in my life – I mean, a full feature film script, shorter things for sure but I just can’t get the story flowing. I have one script that’s really written all by me, and it’s at page 13 and actually reads very well. All I need is another 100 pages and I’d have my first feature script.
But maybe I’ll make that my goal: by 40, I’ve written one full script. A bad one, mind you, but at least I’ve done the job. From the scratch to the bitter end.
Work at VHQ is getting tedious. I don’t know what else there is to do than go through the film shot by shot and explain – once more – what the shots are going to be like. Chris is also bored at it, he’s mostly on his phone going through things for the millionth time, but we kinda have to do that.
Then, off to work with Tuomas. The hotel he’s staying it is a fancy one. Altogether, working with him is an adventure. He’s a great creator when he puts his mind to it, but sometimes his mind jumps to million places and if he’s not playing ping-pong, he’s assassinating people with an umbrella or dancing around the room, and then back to work. It’s fun for few hours, but I must say I’m used to maybe more calm work, it’s sometimes hard to follow his moods and feelings. But when he works, he’s terrific.
I’ve missed the gym now two days because of my sleep schedule. 10am-3pm is not a good sleep cycle, since after that I go to work from 3:30-22:00 and coming back home the gym is already closed. I’m starting to feel like a worthless slob…
As you probably can deduct from all this: it’s pretty damn boring here. No sleep and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
Oh, and it doesn’t help that everyone’s in Cannes right now. I mean, it kinda helps. I’ve been going there for the last 11 years in a row, acting all important with my projects but truth be told, it’s bullshit the whole festival, and I’m not missing it one bit. All the same people with same projects in the same street corners, cafes and bars doing talking about exactly same stuff, plus you end up losing 1000€ every time, no matter how hard you try to pinch your wallet. But really, the self-importance of everyone there… “ooh, I’m In Cannes, I have so much to do, ooh so important projects and meetings, ooh sorry gotta go are you going to the boat party today ooh i don’t know maybe i go home ooh i hate this festival blaa blaa blaa blaaa-di-daa-didaa-di-daa. Same shit, different year.
At least I’m doing something here in Beijing, instead of just soaking my brain with rose and bullshit.
These long nights are really dull, so I decided to dig into the long list of TV shows I haven’t seen, starting with The Americans. The story is quite interesting, two Russian agents living in the 80’s USA, portraying as a couple. They have kids and everything, so it’s real family life, only with murders and espionage and what have you. At least something to pass the time on.
Working today with VHQ, we sketched out a pile of shots for one of the segments of the film which has been a huge headache for us, but didn’t really come up with anything remarkably great. Well, I did come up with an awesome shot, but it was quite clear it’s way out of our budget to create, so I had to bury that one. Other ideas were not that cool after finding something you really, really love.
After VHQ, I went to see Tuomas. There was a bit of a hiccup in getting into the room, and Tuomas was pretty furious to the staff since they hadn’t let me in the room since I didn’t have my passport with me. I was fine with it, but he was scolding the staff for a while, and the manager of the hotel later on came by and brought us some free ice cream, so it was all water under the bridge.
We worked for quite a bit, going through scenes with Tuomas composing and me explaining the deeper thoughts behind it all. It wasn’t half bad, although very fragmented work. It’s hard to keep a complete picture especially since I’m no composer, but Tuomas has a clear method in his head and he’s very creative when he’s working. Afterward, we headed out for some more of the Lebanese dinner, discussing the lyrics of Finnish music, pointing out that many Finnish songs tell the same story of giving up a life of adventure and love for a much more settled lifestyle, which then slowly grinds you down, but neither is a good choice, so all we are left with is a life that’s running before our eyes and before you know it you are – as this one song says, a ferry guard somewhere by the river, being slowly hanged by your domesticated life.
As I now approach my 4th decade on this Earth, I feel I’ve had the privilege of seeing quite a lot of the world, having lived/spent a considerable amount of time in Finland, Belgium, Germany, US, Australia, and China. I’ve been to a lot of parties, met a lot of people, loved a lot of amazing people and been quite lucky with the choice of profession I’ve had. Financially, I’ve never been nowhere near being called “rich” or even “well-to-do”, but I’ve always done OK. I’ve never felt trapped in, or locked out of the rest of the world, and for that I can be very happy about. But what’s out there to expect? Watching my son grow, maybe some times winning a recognition for the work I’ve spent my active life doing, traveling to distant places with my wife, getting old together with her, watching as the world moves on. But also, I can’t help but feel that I’ve already been around quite a bit, what’s out there, really, that I’m going to be experiencing in a completely new way? Maybe by this age, I’ve laid the groundwork on how the rest of my life will be? Or then not? Impossible to say, but I don’t feel a noose tightening around my neck, rather feel like a new door opening. Let’s see what’s coming.
And reading this back in 10 and then again 20 years from now will be probably quite a fun experience. So Timo, if you, reading this closing your 5th decade, find it in your heart, please allow me the naivety of a 30-something. I hope you are wiser now.
I’m getting a hang of the Chinese habits again: I’m becoming more rude in the restaurants – shouting for service is perfectly OK here. I burp – if there are gases in my body, they need to be let out. And I push my way through – if that’s where I need to go, there’s no need letting others get there first. All of this is completely fine by Chinese standards, but I must – repeat, MUST – remember to unlearn this stuff when I eventually head back to Europe.
Today was a long, frustrating and dull day, yet another spent in my hotel room waiting for the night to pass so I could get some sleep during the morning and afternoon. After eventually dragging myself out of the bed at 3pm, I headed for the gym for a quick workout, then out of the door and into the streets looking for some food. I ended up choosing a bowl of noodles in a close-by restaurant – not the one I used to frequent before, which had gone under, unfortunately, but another place.
Then there was a meeting with Max. As expected, after four days of editing, 2/3 of my suggestions were thrown out of the window, but hey, at least 1/3 stuck, so I’m OK with it. Not a bad result, I’d say. We had a long and loud discussion about some of the changes, and eventually made up and headed for the hot pot across the street. Tuomas joined us, too. He usually stays in the Sanlitun area in Beijing, so he doesn’t really have any idea about the real Beijing food, so for him, the hot-pots and what-nots are exotic and new.
I practiced some Stalinism today, as I was just about to finish the cut of the movie, but suddenly realized I hated to have this one character in the end and then begun a huge cut-erase-and-paste -stitch job, which eventually led to one character who is basically instrumentally in every shot of the last bits of the movie, being there no more, like he never existed. Let’s see if Max thinks my great idea is so great tomorrow, but I was feeling empowered walking out of the editing booth.
There was a proper gym Chinese Gym Chad at the gym today. Muscular, loud and was carrying an admirable-sized water bottle… no, a bucket with him wherever he went. Made me think of that Virgin Sip vs. Chad Quench meme. If those words say nothing to you, don’t bother clicking. He was speaking to his much smaller and weaker friends IN ALL CAPS the whole time, save the moments he was doing his set, which happened with as much huffing, puffing, groaning and existing in every corner of the room as humanely possible. Very untypical behavior for Chinese men, mind you, who are usually pretty subtle and don’t take too much personal or physical space.
Dinner was this time a local Japanese restaurant, where I enjoyed a huge bowl of noodles, some sushi, grilled fish and some rice, and the most amazing service, although nothing, not even menu, was in English. I just randomly chose four items and was positively surprised.
Heading back home, the city felt looming around me with a very special presence tonight. Got me feeling all Blade Runner, so I went back in and slapped the masterpiece-of-a-film on my TV and sunk into the retro-futuristic world of Ridley Scott for the next two hours.
Sometimes, working abroad is dull and lonely, but today, it was just perfect.
PS. It’s 2am as I’m writing this, and I haven’t yet gone to bed, and I’m starting to feel tired now. Let’s see if this rhythm change actually turns out to happen in the end. Crossing fingers, and nighty-night y’all!
It was 3pm when I finally dragged my ass out of the bed. Shower, dress up and head over to Sanlitun for some music work with Tuomas. We grabbed some lunch at a small cafe close by, and then went for it.
It’s always amazing to see Tuomas work. He’s super fast, really creative and unlike nobody when he’s deep in the zone. He can be blabbering on about nothing, making weird noises and sounds and jumping around the room like a madman, and then suddenly fall silent, grab the keyboard and compose the most beautiful, amazing piece of music on the fly, without moment’s hesitation.
He’s also extremely receptive for notes, but I learned to let him work as much as possible by himself, and only tuck him to right direction every now and then. The more involved a director gets, the less it becomes the musicians’ work, and while sometimes it’s necessary, most of the times it’s best to let them do their craft and just nod and smile in the corner of the room.
We worked for some good three to four hours, and then I headed back home. I went to the gym for some 5km rowing and then headed to bed, falling asleep around midnight… only to wake up at 3am again. So, it seems there’s no way of fixing the rhythm on this trip, no matter what I do. So maybe I just succumb to the fact and try to live the nocturnal lifestyle. At least I have time to catch up with my emails, blogging and stuff…
Good news is, Tuomas is here. That’s Tuomas Kantelinen, my composer. He decided to quit fiddling around in Finland and instead booked flights and hotels in Beijing and flew over, hauling half of his studio with him, although they didn’t allow him to bring the 47-kilogram synthesizer with him.
He set up his studio into his room at the center of Beijing, and the intention is that I will shuttle between Jiabo office, VHQ office and his hotel room the next two weeks working on VFX, music and edit, all simultaneously.
The day we spent editing at Jiabo, and headed in the evening to the town. I had decided to go out no matter what to have a beer and enjoy a night out, since Sunday would be mostly day off for me, so with Chris me and Tuomas headed for a Lebanese dinner in the center of the city, after which Chris took us to the hutongs, where we spent much of the evening. We walked around the dark alleys and eventually ended up into a rooftop terrace having a beer and chatting this and that, of life, love and work.
In the night I ended up wandering around Sanlitun area, dropping by at one bar and realizing there’s nothing there for me, so I went home, tuned in for some Finnish evergreen music and watched YouTube videos most of the night until I finally caught some sleep.
So there I am, back at editing. The process is ever-so-painful since the editor doesn’t speak any English, so I have to work through a translator. Now that my regular translator/production assistant Tanya is at a maternity leave, I work with Rebecca – or Ma Kun – who is actually a casting director, not really hired to be my assistant, but I guess they dragged whomever they can who speaks English. The good thing is, she’s actually really interested in editing and has a good intention to this, and most importantly, she’s actually interested in the end result. So the work turned out to be really fruitful and productive, and I snipped, nipped, tucked and twisted the cut quite a bit, finishing the day by shuffling most of the scenes in the beginning into a completely new order, crossing my fingers it would work.
Later, we went for a dinner with Rebecca to a close by local Chinese place where I’ve been going since how long, but never really knew HOW to order their special dish, a kind of delicious Chinese wrap I had only once, many months ago. So it was nice to have someone around who actually knew how to get that stuff.
We had a nice talk and dinner, after which I headed back home and tried sleeping, failing yet again until early morning hours.