It’s now been approximately three weeks I’ve spent prepping for the shoot for the film here in UK, staying at Froyle Park haunted mansion and traveling daily to the studio for the work.
A lot has happened. Let me start from where we are with the movie.
When we started to work on the project, I wanted to take the franchise this is based on, and twist it into a modern take of what we are building here. This means obviously on script level, but also in casting and revamping the horror elements into ones that are more – like our production designer Sivo Gluck says – funky. This means, more “today” than when the series originally started.
This, I think we’ve managed to grasp that in quite a good detail. The film feels like it’s a product of this time, not a re-heated take of something that was once popular. To make this happen, one needs to be ready to really swipe the whole table clean.
The team here in UK is nothing short of phenomenal. The production designer, props, cinematographer, costume, makeup, AD team… just a tremendous team. There’s of course still the actual shoot to be done, so I can’t really judge anyone’s performance as of yet, but I’m very excited. And most importantly, I’m excited of our cast. A long and complicated casting process which relied on endless Zoom calls as due to lockdown we shouldn’t be meeting anyone, it was quite a strange experience.
We are starting to shoot tomorrow. The shoot is going to last until Christmas, after which we all head back home, then in few weeks back to Louisiana to finish what we started over there.
Other things have happened, too. We are in lockdown, this means, no restaurants, pubs or bars are open. This is a big problem for a hard-working film crew full of artists who need a way to wind out after a shooting day. Luckily, we are all staying in this huge-ass hotel/mansion in the countryside, so we’ve made our own party there. But having said that, we are waiting eagerly for the lockdown to end, to be able to pop our heads out into the public for just a bit…
I’ve been away from home for 72 days, that’s over 2 months. I haven’t had a chance to see my family in over 2 months, and it’s gonna take another 1 month until I’m back home. It’s pretty hard, and alienating. I feel pretty lonely here for the most part of the time. And because it’s lockdown, Covid and all, I can’t even get them to travel here, which would normally be the case. It really wrenches my heart.
But, having said that, I’m excitedly looking forward for the next weeks. We have a great catering of awesome actors, action, some nice gory moments, visual- and special effects and much more. It’s going to be an awesome trip, can’t wait to tell you what it is actually we are working on (but won’t just yet!)
Last week, we shot and wrapped the shoot of the first segment of the film in Louisiana. As it so often happens, much of what we had prepped had to go out of the window in the last moments, when there turned out to be a major communication mishap with the road closures, and all the shots we were planning to shoot during the three days had to be re-thought. Luckily, though, we did manage to do the road closure for one of the days, meaning we could pull off some of the more challenging stunts.
All turned out well, though, in the end. The cast I got to work with were just phenomenal, and I was very happy with my team. We canned ten pages of footage, including complicated stunts, studio and on-location shoot in three days and got what we wanted, so it was all pretty much a slam dunk!
Still inside the bubble, we threw a nice wrap party including a LOT of karaoke at Mackie’s, followed by late-night sit-together at the yard drinking red wine and whiskey and listening to some great tunes with the team. But like it always is, all good things come to an end, and eventually I had to stumble to my bed and call it a night.
Afterwards, we spent several days at the studios, first recovering from the wrath of the wrap party, then by shooting some more. We went out did some drone- and GoPro shots we had missed during the principal photography, and then I was whisked over to Texas, to spend night at Jamie’s place in Houston, to make it an easy one to catch the next day’s flight (and to get out of the way of yet another hurricane that was approaching).
Houston to London was a direct flight, quite an easy one, and after that I spent few days in London, just to catch the vibe of the city and spend some time in a nice hotel with proper breakfasts and what not. It was heaven, I tell you. I went to see a play – The Great Gatsby – shopped around for a bit and had few great dinners and enjoyed a nice bunch of pubs, catching up with some friends, just before learning another lockdown is going to come to UK the next week. This means, all the pubs, restaurants and the likes will be closed for one month. This is not going to make our time easier making this movie, but as we survived the Covid Bubble in Lousiana, I know we’ll soldier through this one, too.
Today, I was picked up from the hotel and taken to where I would spend the next couple of months. I call this place The Overlook Hotel from The Shining. It’s a huge, empty mansion. There’s no staff here, only us, the film crew residing in big, beautiful rooms, enjoying the huge empty hallways, drawing rooms and endless miles this estate stretches on. And we are the only ones here. Definitely has some very creepy horror film vibes here…
Well, now off to bed. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy!
We are all living in a bubble now. Last week, we went over and did Covid-19 -tests to all of the crew at the production offices (all tested negative, thankfully!), after which the bubble was closed. We are not to leave anywhere where there are other people, and nobody from outside the bubble is allowed to enter. All food and grocery runs are done by a runner who handles everything specifically clear, masked and obeying the social distancing rules to make sure the risk of getting infected runs as low as humanely possible.
Also, we have indeed started to crew up. The first AD arrived last week’s Monday, after which everything started to become more and more real. Schedules, planned meetings and crew lists started to fly around. On Wednesday, the director of photography arrived, making things even more clear. I finished storyboarding our first bit to shoot here, and ever since that, we’ve been running around looking for locations (luckily, which require meeting no people), getting the camera gear and all that. And finally, on Friday we closed the first cast members – and I must say, I’m really excited to get to work with these people, as I’m a big fan of both of theirs.
Other than that, life here at Village Studios has been quite, well, small and closed. Days we spend either at location scouts or at the office, working on shooting plans and by evening, we gather up at Mackie’s, the in-studio bar that’s offering drinks and entertainment. Some nights, it’s a movie night – last night we watched Predator – other nights, we have few drinks, sing karaoke and shoot shit with the awesome bartender John, who has stories that make your ears drop off.
Sometimes, we gather at the porch of the Hearsey House, one of the houses and do some grilling and listening to music. If it’s a week day, we may stay up for a bit, but hit the sack after a while – on weekends, the sit-downs tend to drag longer and whether it’s politics, religion or film business, there’s quite a lot to chat about.
Sometimes, I just walk outside of my little house and sit on the porch enjoying the warm night breeze that’s blowing between the units and look up at the starlit sky. There’s very little light pollution here, so the stars can be very bright – and the brightest of them all is Mars, shining clear and reddish in the sky. Sitting there, I can’t help but think how happy I can be to be working in this business, doing films and getting to see places and meet people who I would never normally cross paths with.
But, all things move towards the fact that one day, the blissful prep is over and we move to shoot this movie. The time is closing: our first shooting day is on Friday, after which it’s time to rock. There’s still quite a bit of unfinished things that need to get done for the shoot to begin, but we’re getting there – so I’m pretty confident it’ll be quite a show. Well, at least the crew seems phenomenal, the cast will be amazing and the script really works.
Now, crossing fingers all goes smoothly to the end, nobody gets sick and we get the thing done!
PS. There’s this one thing I was thinking whether or not I should bring up here, as it’s not related in any way to the film I’m working on here, but I think it’s pretty timely, so I might as well write few words about it. The production company of Iron Sky, called Iron Sky Universe, one which I jointly set up with Tero, is going under. At least, there’s a high potential for it to happen, as a bankruptcy filing has been done on the company – obviously, we are trying to find solutions to prevent it from happening.
This is of course heartbreaking for me, as I believed in the company and hoped it would get past the rough times but unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. We spent several years with Tero building it as an entity to handle the Iron Sky franchise, but now it seems it’s going to need a different approach. Iron Sky has played a huge part in my life for the last 15+ years, so it would be a very disappointing to see it all go to waste, especially after all the effort we built into it, both financial and creative – me, Tero and the Iron Sky fans who are also minority shareholders in the business.
Obviously, of course, the films still exist, and the fandom still exists, so the stories we have planned for Iron Sky can and will continue, we just don’t necessarily know in what exact shape. There’s still possibilities to save the company, which of course would be ideal, and that’s what we’re hoping for. If this doesn’t happen, well, there are always other options – partnering up with some other entity being one of them.
So, it’s not the end of the world but simultaneously, not what I was hoping this year to bring to Iron Sky.
There’s something humbling sitting outside on a porch, watching as wind tears off pieces of the adjacent apartment’s tin roof, throwing them all over the yard. Hurricane Delta struck yesterday here at Village Studios, hard. We started the evening off by watching a horror film at the studio’s barn-like bar, which is a perfect place for a horror film, especially with the added sound effects of roaring wind and ear-shattering rain outside. Added to that, the electricity went out every 10-15 minutes, leaving us in pitch black – and often in a perfect sync with whatever jump scare the film was about to throw us.
Afterwards, I went to my room and then, boom. The electricity went out for good. A bit later, Internet followed. We gathered outside at the next door porch and sat there with some of the studio folk, having a splash of whiskey and just staring as the hurricane showed its’ strength at us. First, it was just rain, then the wind started to blow really hard, thrashing the yard and the trees around wickedly. Then, somewhere in the distance apparently a transformer blew, lighting the otherwise pitch black skyline in electric blue and green.
Now there’s few reasons I’m not super comfortable with losing electricity here. First is, of course, that then we’re out of means to communicate. Cell phones would die eventually. But not only that, there’s also a big prison just next door, which is also the reason the roadsides are dotted with “Don’t Pick Up Hitchhikers” -signs.
After a while of us out there, I decided to call it a night. The hurricane was still in full blow outside, and even crossing the yard was quite a challenge, but once I hit the bed, the pattering of the rain lulled me into a deep sleep full of disturbing dreams I had to pull myself awake from.
In the morning, the power hadn’t come up yet, although the hurricane had passed. I spent the day in the soft post-hurricane breeze outside, watching the roof pieces on the ground and reading Dune. Afternoon came and went, still no power. It took us all the way until nightfall until finally we got connected to the grid, leading to my phone blowing up with tons of messages and emails. But before that, being totally off the grid, literally, it was peaceful.
PS. I had a fun moment in the evening. I was watching a movie in my room when I heard some rattling, and happened to glance just the right time, seeing something small run under the fridge. It came out a bit later and yeah, it was a small, grey mouse. It must’ve gotten in during the day when I had kept the doors open as no air conditioners were functional, and now it was scared, trying to find its way back out.
I asked the studio folk what should I do. I mean, it’s just a mouse, but I’m no mouse catcher and was afraid it would turn into a Mr. Bean episode with me running around this small mouse in the apartment, but fear not, studios’ mouse patrol was on its’ feet. Five minutes later, I got a knock on the door and opened it. The two guys were standing out there, huge machete knives in their hands and two huge dogs with them. I couldn’t help but laugh, this tiny rodent and these two guys standing there, menacingly. I tried to say they shouldn’t kill it, and luckily, it wasn’t their plan. They also had one of those metallic dog poo pickers, and after a while of rattling my fridge, the dead-scared mouse ran out. They managed to clip it with the poo picker and took it outside, where it was set free.
All in all, it was my first hurricane experience. Yeah, it was a bit scary, but hanging out with good buddies, I’m not surprised people around here throw hurricane parties whenever the thing hits.
Today I heard yet another hurricane is forming up at the Gulf of Mexico and headed towards us. Well, “us” might be a bit of an exaggeration, since we are quite far up north in Louisiana, but the predictions are saying that it might reach up to hear as well – if nothing else, rains and crazy winds should show up some time tomorrow. If worse comes to worst, we might have to shelter ourselves for a bit, as it’s always possible wind throws something unwanted in the air, but usually the destruction up here in Jackson, Louisiana, is minimal – at least compared to New Orleans.
Speaking of which, I visited New Orleans during the weekend. Our trip consisted of both scouting and a bit of vibe-catching, as well as of some chilling and relaxing. Located about two hour drive south-southwest from where we are, one can’t help but fall in love with the slightly scruffy nature of Louisiana, still all green and weather pitch perfect with sun – but worst moisture has already given way for the upcoming winter.
The city itself is beyond beautiful. Formed in the 1700’s and brought to history books by its’ both dark and illustrious history of slavery and commerce, New Orleans is also known as a birthplace of some of the most important music in Western world: jazz and blues. The city has been torn apart time and again by hurricanes – latest total devastation was Katrina just under ten years ago – but it has managed to keep its’ stunning beauty, culture and spirit alive.
Now, another hurricane has swept across its’ streets, pandemic called Covid-19. This one has left the city’s businesses in pretty sad state, with many of them closed and those still operating, operating only at 20% capacity. But the flow of tourists hasn’t stopped, and while the otherwise packed streets are now delightfully easy to navigate, thousands of people do gather in the weekends to listen to some of the best street musicians anywhere, enjoy Hurricanes (local strong drink) and many of city’s nice little bars.
And yeah, just like everywhere, while daytime people wear their masks nicely, by the time the sun sets over Bourbon Street, those nuisances come off especially on young folk and partying begins. This is one of the reasons Louisiana does have quite big spike in Covid infections.
Our task was to visit local Voodoo shops to get an idea of how they are in this area, as I had never been in one. Voodoo is here taken semi seriously, and while the stores are touristy trinket joints, there is a certain, eerie aura behind it all, one you want to respect, no matter if you believe in stuff like this or not. We did leave cigarettes and coins to Baron Samedi’s altar and refrained from rattling the spirits that still roam in the streets and swamps in and around the city.
I found myself eventually sitting down with our team and enjoying a beer, some fried alligator and a po-boy (local kind of bread), basking in sunlight and listening to smooth jazz notes bouncing up and down the mildly crowded streets. The team was buzzing on about production stuff, but I zoned out, for a moment taking in the fact that the job I’m doing, making movies for international audiences, can be sometimes just pretty damn awesome, and I’m not ashamed of saying that.
We enjoyed our stay there so much we decided to book hotel rooms and stay overnight, and do some shopping the day after. By nightfall, streets were flooded with freaks of every size and shape you can imagine, artists, teenage drunks and party-goers, but we (wisely, I think) decided to avoid the crowded places, but found a nice bourbon-and-cigar -type of bar close by. There, one of our producer’s business partners told us the most amazing stories from his times in Syrian and Russian special forces, climbing Mount Everest and living quite an extraordinary life, finally finding his way to USA and making it his home.
It was a privilege to see the beautiful city of New Orleans and I am coming back with my wife one day to show her this unbelievable gem of a city one day.
While storm of one type might be falling on land in Louisiana soon, another one is to follow, and that’s the one I’m more worried of. Obviously, I’m talking about the upcoming presidential elections. The tension is in the air, there’s no question about it. I spent the other night listening to a Trump supporter going on about his views on Black Lives Matter and “the left” (whatever that means here in USA anyway…). I wasn’t feeling like an argument so I rather nodded my way through it, making mental notes for further writings, but you could find yourself in a very heated discussion if you wished so very easily over here.
Still, what really worries me are the most religious and fanatical lonely Internet message board neo-nazis who will wake up on 4th of November to a four-year season with Democratic president. Yes, I strongly believe that the country is just fed up with the chaos Trump is causing and that there’s only one possible outcome of the elections. It’s clear Trump won’t go down without a fight, and I’m a bit concerned whether or not the basement-Bubbas are going to just let go easily, especially knowing their access to heavy armament if needed. Whatever is happening after the elections, one thing is clear: this nation is divided beyond easy repair, and needs a long line of wise bi-partisan leaders to steer it back to the greatness it once was.
Production-wise, we are moving swiftly towards the first block of shootings. There’s still quite a lot to be done, but I’ve already started scribbling my storyboards and we have a script everyone’s happy about, so in that sense it’s a relief. The way this film is produced between USA and UK is a bit of a juggle, and I’ll tell you about it one day as the coast is clear, but for now, it’s looking pretty good we’ll get cameras rolling in about two weeks. Everything Covid-related has been settled, which has been one of the biggest struggles from the beginning, and here’s hoping no dramatic, earth-shaking surprises are lurking around the corners.
Anyway, y’all stay healthy and in good spirits, while we can see storm clouds gathering, or more precisely, we might feel we are already in the eye of the storm, a new day will soon shine!
What a weird time to be in the States, especially here in the South. I’m only starting to get my bearings here, but it’s already awfully apparent that we are not in Europe anymore, nowhere near. The general atmosphere is indeed way more pro-Trump I was even imagining and the folk here truly believe he is the next best thing since bread came sliced.
The attitude comes apparent in conversations – ones, which are mostly trying to avoid conversations about politics. People running around screaming for Trump are not the issue, the issue is that people don’t want to talk about politics here as freely as elsewhere. There’s a lingering threat on all discussions especially with people not immediately related to the production, and sometimes even within, that the conversation wouldn’t turn nice if we really went for it. And I’m not the most aggressive political agitator myself, but happy to state my opinion when asked or confronted.
There’s a threat of gun violence in the air just as well. Doing scouting means driving around places people don’t necessarily usually go, and everything but the roads is always someone’s property – the idea of “everyman’s right” is not a known concept here. If you wander in someone’s property, it’s perfectly possible to be faced with a gun-toting farmer. That’s the reason we always stay on a viewing distance but never enter places, unless without very specific permissions.
Not to say that people would be threatening per sé. Yesterday, riding around the countryside we spotted a very interesting chop shop, a garage with old cars and all kind of interesting junk laying around the yard. We approached the place carefully and were greeted with the most nicest garage owner, whom with we chatted quite a bit about cars and other stuff. Turned out to be a guy who could easily help us with some of our specific props needs.
The whole Covid-19 is treated here with very fickle attitude. Restaurants and general stores, people usually adhere the mask policy – in stores, all the time, at restaurants before you reach the table etc., but to some, it’s still nothing but a big hoax. I’m interested to see if there’s a shift in tone now that Trump himself has caught the virus.
I try to be extra careful myself, wearing mask wherever I go, avoiding contacts, adhering the social distancing rules and splashing around with hand sanitizer as much as I can. So far, so healthy, but we all know the damned thing can catch you anywhere.
PS. One thing I don’t understand, coming from a non-air-conditioned country like Finland is… How can one live with these things, constantly humming, rattling, roaring, drying up the air, cooling the apartments to near freezing when outside temperature is constantly over 30 celsius… I’m yet to crack that mystery.
PPS. There’s a bar here at the studio village. As there’s only me and a handful of others, I don’t expect a lot of traffic there, but it’s a very nice little joint, which isn’t officially open but a good place to catch up with the folk over here.
It’s October, yet again! Watching the last rays of September sun soaring through the trees in rural Louisiana can be a beautiful sight and while I’m not expecting the colour burst we would have this season in Finland, the fall is coming here as well. The days are still hot, 25-30 degrees of Celsius, but by nightfall, the temperature drops – still nice to sit outside on my patio, but long-sleeved shirt would be nice.
I arrived to Louisiana after my imagined ocean crossing, which took 14 days – that’s the quarantine time in Dubai – finally landing here few days ago. So far, I’ve taken the time to settle down, get my bearings, get some groceries and drive around the area quite a lot in cars, searching for food, shooting locations and so forth.
My first impression about Louisiana is: flat, green and picturesque. Located on the river banks of Mississippi – “Missy”, as they call her locally – the area is known for destructive hurricane season and floods, but it’s also a very beautiful area, with its’ rustic, slightly overgrown charm.
I’ve yet to get really introduced to Louisiana cuisine, but we did have some amazing gumbo and seafood, but there’s a lot to dig into.
The studio is located near the tiny town of Jackson, inhabitants maximum 2000 I guess, really just one main road and few businesses on each side. The studio lot consists of a ten on something old-style cabins with two to four rooms in each, centered around an old, antebellum-style plantation house. This used to be a plantation, with slaves and all that, quite dark history indeed, but now serves as a bunch of decent-sized studio buildings, and a bar that’s open for public, too (but not during Covid-19).
The whole village is very pretty, buildings doubling also as a backlot for any small US village from the days of old, buildings still boasting signage from films shot in here.
Our plan is to shoot a handful of shooting days in the area but not to use the studios – those we will do in the UK. We will need a lot of US driving shots in appropriate scenery and a lot of exterior sequences which we’ll nail here, before moving indoors back in UK.
I imagine myself as a worldly gentleman from the early 1900’s.
Dressed in tweed jacket, a bowler hat and even handling a lengthy walking stick, I’m walking the streets of Southampton, whistling away as I head towards the port. Cobblestone streets flow with grime and filth, but fresh ocean breeze washes my nostrils – a breeze I would feel in my nose for the next week or so!
Awaiting me at the port, moored like a huge metallic rhino with four horns is RMS Mauretania, the most prestigious ocean liner, a shining star amidst the slowly rotting fishing boats and much smaller commercial vessels around it. A long line of passengers, like a black snake, squirms its way to into the belly of this huge, smoke-erupting monster, bound to take me to the New World to meet my fate – be it riches beyond my imagination, or gruesome death in the gutter, penniless and failed.
As I approach the boat, I see my luggage, which I already sent forth from the train station with a carriage, being loaded onboard the ship. While hundreds of pieces of luggage still remain on the side of the ship, my bright yellow case catches my eye, stuffed under the earthly possessions of so many others. Mine contains nothing but the essentials for the journey, rest I can acquire as I arrive to the port of New York.
Ahead of me lies a journey across the great Atlantic Ocean! Seagulls will scream their farewell as the Royal Mail Ship blows its fog horns and bravely heads for the open seas!
By all means, not the most luxurious of ships, but certainly the biggest in the world and while rumours of even bigger ones being built have long circulated among us, world travellers, Mauretania is as good as it gets. Comfortable, with professional staff taking care of the passengers – and fast. Traveling to United States can take just under a week, if weather allows – this time, the journey will take longer.
This is passable for me, greatly so. I’m actually keenly looking forward for the isolation from the buzz of the city, the constantly beating clock, reminding us not to waste one single second of our precious time. The rushing through the early morning traffic, avoiding being crushed under the cartwheels or trampled by horses, or, better yet, being punched aside by one of the new automobiles the rich folk seem so endeared of.
No, I want to feel the salty sparkles of waves crashing on the side of the behemoth of a boat, smell the cool morning wind which mixes with the dusty, greasy and metallic smell of the residue of the steam engine that’s pushing us over those waves, relentlessly. Laughing at the sorrows of generations past, to men who struggled to cross even the English canal, this magnificent ship is a pinnacle of man’s creativity, as if heavens had opened and shone light on a brand new world, world of mechanics, engines and raw, un-manned power that’s lifting us on its’ shoulders, rising us finally, inseparably above the beasts roaming the Earth.
After a nautical breakfast, consisting of fish, mackerels, salmon and pickled herring, topped with English toast, light brown crust, medium heat, eggs, of course, and some marmalade, I would head back to my cabin. There, there lies the real beast I must tame, one which doesn’t roar, only bangs; one that has fangs which bite, but not in physical sense – but these fangs, they are capable of causing much deeper wounds, but also capable of healing them.
The beast I call “Uncle Undie”, a name coming from the golden letters, now slightly worn, embroidered on its’ gleaming black side: “Underwood”. “Undie” feeds on paper – which I have wisely packed ample amounts, almost as a reminder from an earlier journey I might have done, one where I ran out of it, leaving me as useless as a castaway on an island with nothing but one palm tree on.
These days I have devoted completely to “Undie”, and can’t be distracted from its’ call. I have a screenplay I will need to finish before I arrive to America, and it became painfully clear I could not achieve that in London, or even before that, in Finland, my home country. This journey – no, a wrestling match, will result in either me maimed and torn to pieces – or the beast, tamed.
I expect nothing less of a bloody struggle ahead of me, but I’m gallant and ready, steadily facing the task in front of me.
My schedule seems to be pushing more and more towards US scheduels. I stay up very late, to 6am usually, and wake up way past noon the next day. This means, I can’t really get to work before 4pm the earlierst, after lunch, that is of course.
We had Döner for a breakfast and chatted the script with the producer, then I went over to a Tommy Bahama shop and got myself a selection of obnoxiously colourful Hawaii-style shirts, which seem to fit perfectly here in Dubai, which is full of badly dressed tourists anyway.
The day went past by writing and dealing with some of the early production things, which is fun now that we are getting up to speed with everything. In the evening, we decided to hit the theatre and watch Tenet – second time for me, first for him – and enjoyed it quite a bit. Some of the details that weren’t pressed so hard in the first viewing definitely became more apparent on the second, so it was more of an enjoyment for me, although now it had only Arabic subtitles, so the Nolanesque, muffled and unclear dialogue issue did come apparent.
The first week of my Dubai experience is now done! I woke up in a slight hangover due to few beers last night, but was excited enough because today the producer of the movie would join me in Dubai for few days of intensive work on script and setting up the production.
We caught up at a local eatery just downstairs, a Lebanese one, and had one hefty lunch that nearly knocked us dead right there. We opened up the discussion on the script and after the lunch I went upstairs and started writing again.
In the evening, we met again after I had finished my day’s work and headed off to the close by mall for some more food. We found a great Kebab joint, “Berliner Döner”, which would turn out to be our definite go-to joint for both lunch and dinner the next days to come.