China Diary

China Diary

Day 202: Balancing


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Clip clip clippety clip, snip snip snippety snip; take that scene out, put that scene back in; remove that character, add that character… It’s really all about only one thing, and that thing is “balance”. Easy mistakes to make when making a film is you overcharge it with information in the front, and then make it all about action in the end. It’s also easy to write too many characters in, characters you later realize you don’t need, but find hard time getting rid of.

But the golden rule of editing still applies: you can basically do anything you want in the edit. Only thing you can’t do is change the essence of the story you have. What you shoot is what you have on the screen, and that can’t be altered or tweaked too much, or you end up with a bucket full of plastic.

We started our Monday in the afternoon, as I returned with some videos I had edited for temp use during the night, and inserted them into the cut. Then, we went through the film in great detail, adjusting scenes, until at 6 pm we called it a night. As my knee was truly killing me, I didn’t feel like heading out too far for dinner, so I wobbled back to this big restaurant close by, one where nobody speaks any English, and enjoyed some sizzling egg plant.

That place has one annoying feature: a huge fish tank which’s heating or water filter engine or whatever seems to be slightly broken, so there’s this headache-like high pitched whine constantly in the background that’s slowly creeping into your backbone and resonating through your skull, making your ears bleed internally. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough…

Again, sorry, no picture. I just don’t live a very pictoresque life on this trip I can see…

China Diary

Day 201: Another long night


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The jetlag isn’t going anywhere this time.

I woke up at 4 am, after few hours of sleep, as my knee started to hurt. Then, of course I couldn’t sleep anymore, so I was shuffling through the Internet and proof-reading our upcoming book about the production of Iron Sky The Coming Race. These nights, they just stretch on. No matter how much I try, I just can’t sleep. It’s making me insane.

And when I finally get some sleep, I already have to be downstairs, editing the movie, clear-headed and ready to take down the world. Which I’m not. So, it’s just quite frustrating in the end…

The day itself wasn’t much to write home about. I woke up somehow, dragged myself downstairs, we worked on the edit (I think it’s coming together nicely!) and at 6pm called it a day. I limped upstairs, changed my shoes (with a lot of discomfort and loud yelling – bending the knee is like pushing a knife through it) and dragged my soon-to-get-amputated piece of shit leg to the restaurant nearby, and ordered some egg plant and rice.

Then, back home and back to bed (to work), editing The Coming Race book and working on the cut for The Ark.

So, not an exciting day. Doesn’t deserve a picture. Not that I had taken any, either…

 

China Diary

Day 200: Two Hundred Days In China


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Holy moly, it’s already been 200 days since I embarked on this journey – meaning, since last 1,5 years, I’ve spent 200 days in China working on The Ark, and written 200 blog entries since my Moist Landings arrival here quite an eternity ago!

Yesterday was Saturday, and Chinese food was starting to flow out of my ears, so I started craving for a good old pizza. I called Chris in the morning and we agreed to head down to Bottega, a great pizza joint in Beijing for some heavy duty pizza action.

First, we worked with mrs. Fang on the edit, of course, for a bunch of hours, honing it and tweaking it to become better, clearer and niftier.

The unfortunate factor here is that my knee has started to hurt again. I don’t know exactly what’s wrong with it, but it’s been like this for nearly two months now. It started on a biking trip with my son, after which it got worse and worse, up to the point of me first going to the doctor in Finland asking for help, but then, as I was traveling in Germany and USA, I was forced to go to a doctor in the states, too. Nobody really can tell what’s wrong, other than it’s nothing serious, but since it’s practically invalidizing me, making my moving really hard and painful, it’s truly frustrating.

It got better few weeks ago, and I thought it was done for, but then it came back – not yet with a vengeance, but it’s really hurting me, making sleep and work both really hard…

Anyway, we went out for the pizza. It was delicious. We spoke of many things, of gods and kings, as the song goes (although I found out the Chinese are not much of a pizza-eaters, Chris could barely finish one third of his, while I munched mine down with a good appetite and left craving for more).

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Chris looking worriedly at his mega pizza. 

After that, we walked to a local pharmacy, and thanks to Chris I was able to buy medicine I needed for the pain, and then we found a small little bar that was just around the corner, a Chinese bar with some Metallica in the background, had a drink and headed back home.

I hadn’t been sleeping well, and after few glasses of wine I was absolutely done for. Not to say I slept long, but at least I slept for few hours, which was good…

 

China Diary

Day 199: Go Vege!


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Yeah, the editing is progressing nicely. We have now a nicely flowing construct in our hands, the first half of the movie is ready, and already knowing that the second half is pretty much in shape, it’s mostly the last part we have to focus on, which still has one thing that I’m not too crazy about. Let’s see how to tackle that…

…in the meantime, nothing much has happened other than that. I went for a hefty breakfast – my food routine here is heavy breakfast, no lunch and then heavy dinner. I’m sure all nutrition experts HATE this new, amazing diet that gets you fit in less than 36 hours!

No, truly. I love the breakfast here. It’s pretty Chinese, but there’s one thing you never find anywhere in China: a big plate full of CHEESE. Man, I love me some cheese. I shouldn’t really eat it too much, I have high blood pressure, but in China, the land of No Cheese, it’s just amazing. Even now, as I’m laying in my bed, knowing that breakfast opens in 3 hours, I can taste the salty, sweet, greasy cheese on my tongue.

Ahh.

I really don’t have too much to tell you about my adventures at this point, so that’s the reason I’m just listing the food I’ve eaten. Indeed, yesterday I went to this small, dinghy hole in the wall -type of an establishment and received the typical: “what’s that huge foreigner doing here” and then the “what, you’re going to order THAT…?” nonverbal communication round I’m so used to… But since I’m trying to cut off meat from my diet, at least for the most part, I’m on a mission to find out if it’s possible to eat decent vegetarian meal here, and let me tell you, it’s possible, but some assembly is required.

In the end, I found myself sitting with a huge bowl of noodles, a big pot full of tofu pieces and cold cucumber. Admitting that this dinner makes no sense would be a sign of weakness so I just nodded and chomped the food happily. Never admit you don’t know shit what you’re doing, number one rule of being a director, or being a foreigner in China.

Really? Cutting off meat from your diet, you might be asking?

Indeed. Now let me tell you why. It’s got nothing to do with health or even individual animal rights. It has a lot more to do with two things:

  1. We humans have written ourselves a mandate to completely subject the world we live in to our use. The most blatant show of this is the way we treat other living animals: we either kick them into extinction, or if they are worth the protein to us, we mass breed them to be slaughtered endlessly, without any care of the sustainability of the nature, or in any way caring about the well-being of the animals. This has been necessary to human evolution, but to us Westerners, meat industry is no longer necessary. I’d prefer stepping out of that machine, at least in a way that I reduce my meat input to say one meat day a week.
  2. There’s really not enough reasons to eat meat, other than it tastes good. And that’s not good enough reason for the total rape of planet Earth we do for that sake. Our tastebuds can be taught different, but Earth can’t fucking handle the mass production of animals sustainably. It’s just not a good idea. Thank god for Indians who don’t eat meat that much, or Muslims who don’t eat pork. If they were pigs like us Westerners are, eating  everything that moves, the bigger the better, all the resources of this planet would be diverted into trying to keep red meat on table for each of the 6 billion people on planet Earth, every morning, lunch and dinnertime. Not possible.

There’s third reason, too. It’s really what I’ve seen here in China. See, every time you go to a restaurant, you are just in awe on how much uneaten food is thrown away at every dinner. We in Finland have been taught to finish our plates, or at least “eat the meat”, but in China, this is definitely not the case. The table is ordered FULL of stuff, and one third of every dinner is tossed out as uneaten matter. It’s incredible! And that time 1,6 billion people, every day, the amount of food thrown away every year, the amount of animals born, raised, fed, kept warm, kept moistured, transported, slaughtered, transported again, packaged, transported once more and eventually delivered to stores and restaurants just to be thrown in the garbage, every day, is impossible to understand.

Saving planet Earth doesn’t begin with China, but it ends here. If the Chinese learn to recycle, eat less animals and throw less food out, the effect will be seen throughout the world. While it makes absolutely no sense for a Finn like me to not eat meat every day, it is some kind of a social experiment and a statement that, when multiplied by millions, can also be heard over here.

Well, I have spoken.

Ugh.

PS. One more thing, the less I eat meat, the more I lose weight. Which is good for my blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Now, there’s no scientific reason to that, but maybe it just has to do with the fact that if you start paying attention to what you eat, and even if it’s more about whether or not you are eating meat, you are already paying more attention to things you might not pay that much attention to, and start making subconsciously more healthier decisions. Maybe that makes sense. Maybe it doesn’t.

The hell I know…

China Diary

Day 198: Self Care


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Traveling takes a toll on your body. Sitting in cramped planes and wandering around the airports leaves your body sore, and eating irregularly, unplanned meals with very little chances of exercise, and spending the nights in your hotel room bed mostly idly fiddling through the internet leaves you fat and lazy and dull if you don’t take care of that.

Thus, I’ve tried to have at least one self-care day a week when traveling, more, if possible. This means hitting the gym, finding the sauna, watching a movie and eating relatively healthy. This I did today.

First, we worked few hours with mrs. Fang, and made pretty good progress with everything. We laid down our plans on cards on table and went through each scene deciding what works and what doesn’t and how to improve it all. This helped us to identify our core issues and how to work on them, and that’s what we did.

There’s not that much more to be told about editing process, so I’ll leave that be. But after the work day, I went to a closeby restaurant and had some sauted mushrooms and rice for dinner – struggling to get my English-language requests to the kitchen (imagine, “rice” isn’t a known word in China, nor is “water”…). Finally I got what I wanted and ate a delicious meal (albeit a bit one-sided, a huge bowl of mushrooms and nothing else) and then went on to a small shop across the street to buy some snacks for my long, lonely nights.

After that, I went to the gym. They have a nice one at the hotel, although not really part of the hotel, but better than regular hotel gyms so I was able to do a good workout and then headed downstairs for a surprisingly hot and decent sauna, where I fried my skin off.

Relaxing sauna and good workout under my belt I went back to my room and watched Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid  (1969), admiring probably the best male duo in film history – Paul Newman and Robert Redford – killing it in this Western classic, and while I admit dozing off for few minutes, I managed through the film properly. Then, I blogged about an hour and now I’m here planning to try to sleep through the night.

Oh, and it’s the Independence Day in Finland today – so congratulations you 101 year old country, I’m sorry we seem to have a small nazi infestation there but we’re working on it, rest easy ol’ girl!

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My home turf
China Diary

Day 197: Pig Brains!


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We started our actual work yesterday on the cut, and right from the start we went back in time, opened an earlier cut from the summer and started working on that. My editor, mrs. Fang, seems to have lost a part of her spirit, and I really need to keep encouraging her to push this one last round of editing; I understand her, though – we did a lot of work and delivered a killer cut in the summer, then it got changed and turned into something completely different, and now we need to creatively undo the changes. It’s not a job every editor loves, but it’s not a surprise, there are wrong turns in every production, and you just have to steer the boat back into the right way and soon we’re on the best way again.

Another thing we really need to focus on is the VFX. I just finished my work with The Coming Race, and the visual effects are just mind-blowing there. We need to make sure this mind-blowingness continues with The Ark, otherwise I feel I’ve failed. As a filmmaker, I’m first and foremost hoping to give the audience something they haven’t seen before, scenes and shots that are really cinematic and amazing – those are the things that keep me thriving and inspired. The human story is of course the number one thing, and everything else is secondary to that – but human stories can be told in songs, books, TV-shows and on theatre stages, but mind-blowing visual orgasms can be delivered only properly through the medium of movies. And that’s why I’ve chosen films as my medium.

So, it’s gotta be big, beautiful and bombastic. That’s what I want to go for.

As my sleep schedule is bad, I only have few hours of actual working time with the editor, since she has another show she’s working on, too, and thus we have to be economic. We started yesterday to advance one idea, but I already had my doubts on that. The problem is, the order of the scenes is already there, and altering things just makes it more confusing. We can operate within the scenes slightly, but they’ve already been cut pretty tightly and have been well-balanced, so there’s not that much to do there, either. So it’s really trying to dig out and look at the big picture and find small solutions to make that flow better.

Simultaneously, back at home work with The Coming Race continues, but since the internet here is atrocious and VPN works like a potato, I’m unable to download and check through the last adjustments to end and front credits, so they are finishing the film and I’m a bit blind with it, crossing fingers the credits are correct. I’m sure they are, we have a thousand pairs of eyes already checking through everything but still.

Well, that’s that. Like I said, a lot of work ahead, but strangely, the work is sort of already done. I guess.

After the working day I went to get my hair cut at Daniel Hair Studio across the street, where I’ve been going on the last about a year (they are good, they cut for about 10€ and do nice job, and it’s convenient). Then, I had a little dinner at the hot pot place across the street. This place is one of those stick hot pot places where they put meat and vegetables on sticks or small plates, and charge you by how many sticks you’ve had. You pick the sticks from a freezer, boil the food in the hot pot pan in your table and eat it. My favorite kind of dinner.

But man was I shocked when I saw a small pink lump in the freezer. I looked at it closer, and that it was, just a neat little set of pig brains, just like human brains but smaller, sitting in a freezer on a cup, ready to be picked up and boiled and eaten.

I noped out of that quickly, but had a delicious (vegetarian) hot pot dinner nevertheless. I finished the evening off by having a drink at Moli’s bar across the yard, and then headed home for some mostly-sleepless night.

China Diary

Day 196: Back In Action!


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Hey ho, followers! It’s your favorite friendly neighborhood China-goer, and I’m back in the ground in China, jetlagged and ready to rock! I’m continuing my China diary for the duration of my current stay, which should last until mid-December, so buckle up!

Let’s go!

Ah, hold it. Before we actually “go” anywhere, maybe it’s better to reel back and quickly check what happened since the last time I was here.

Firstly, I finished off one movie, Iron Sky The Coming Race, back in Europe, just days before I left to this trip. That was a huge relief, since The Coming Race has been on the menu since 2013, and finally getting that off my hands truly felt like a huge stone off my chest.

Simultaneously, we decided to push back the release date for The Ark – the film I’m doing here in China – and instead of me being back here finishing off the film, I’m back on the drawing board with editing. Our idea was to get the film ready for Spring Festival, but the fact was that we just weren’t ready. Too much to do, and we needed to have one last look at the edit in order to get everything in shape. So we decided to find a better date later in 2019, and that works well for me, because this way we also have some time and space to release The Coming Race properly…

…Nevertheless, I’m back in China, and we are back editing with mrs. Fang. Only 10 days altogether, but there are few things we are attempting to solve with our last push, but I must be honest I’m not totally sure we can find solutions to everything. And even if we do, I’m not sure if the solutions make the film better.

Because truth be told, I already think we had a good version of the movie in the summer. A version that rocked, kicked, had heart and worked nicely. After that, we’ve adjusted few things along the way, and suddenly some issues have started to show up, and we haven’t been able to patch them up and push them back in, so my solution eventually is to go back and open up an edit which still worked, and start working from that moment onwards.

Beijing is being cold again. I’m staying in a different hotel this time, one which is more convenient (but not as comfortable as New Otani, where I’ve stayed before) because it’s located right in the same building as the offices. I’m able to go down the elevator practically straight to the edit suite and back, without having to dare outdoors at all. That’s nice.

First night, we had a discussion with mrs Fang the editor and Chris, our VFX supervisor, and went out for a table full of hot pot in the nearby hotpot place with Max. Nice evening with some beers and great hot pot – I’ve tried to ditch meat from my menu, but had to succumb to the beautiful, red flesh the table was overflowed from – and good talks. Max left to another province to leave me be and figure out the edit myself, and we agreed to screen the film some time next week as we are finished with our work and see if that’s where we are supposed to be headed for.

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Anyway, that’s us having a dinner, and more updates coming during the coming 10-something days!

China Diary

Day 195: Kindling The Flame


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I’m writing this from the confines of my home, but my heart travels back to China for week plus I spent there. We worked hard on the movie’s post production in all the aspects – we went through the visuals, the picture post production, sound design, and discussed premieres, schedules and marketing. It was delightful and progressed nicely.

The last day we finally tackled the black dog I had been talking about: the scene which needed my directorial input, I finally grabbed it by the balls and spit it out in the open. I had been having nightmares about it for quite some time, and truly, the great stroke of inspiration never came – like it sometimes does – so the only thing left to do was to bruteforce the inspiration out and carve the fucking scene together, by all means necessary.

First, we had a talk with Max, and one of the great things was that Lei, who is now working on other stuff, happened to come by the office – and of course, he was instantly asked to translate between us. That made things much, much easier, since – while I love Tanya and everyone at the office – Lei’s English is just better. He understands me better, and he’s able to transmute my ramblings into coherent thoughts in Chinese, and present them to Max in a way that a he’s onboard – and vice versa. With him in between, I can understand Max much better, and he can understand me.

So we spoke about the scene and I spilled my thoughts to him through Lei, and we agreed that this is the right way to go. We grabbed Lei with us and went to VHQ, and gathered everyone together at the big meeting room. They have this huge whiteboard covering the back wall, so I took a pen and started to draw, like a cave painting, or like drawing runes, on the wall, while speaking through the scene. Picture by picture, scene by scene, moment by moment.

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After a long and exhausting presentation, everyone was staring at me, and I was trying to read their minds, whether or not they got my idea of the scene or not. Max helped by talking in great length about the philosophy of the movie (in Chinese), and Lei translated my presentation. We were eventually left with loads of notes and whiteboard full of pictures nobody from the outside could ever understand, but hopefully, also kindle of enthusiasm for the team.

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After the meeting, I swooshed out to meet the distributors of Iron Sky The Coming Race in China, to discuss our release strategy. As you can believe, releasing two films around the same time is not an easy puzzle to solve, although only the other one carries clearly the name Iron Sky – Iron Sky: The Ark is called in Chinese “The Hope Island” (I’ll add the Chinese markings here later when I get them correct), but yeah, two scifi films with Moon playing a big part in them, and me as a director, we’ll have to make sure the market understands which one is which. And find the best release date, too.

The next morning we jumped on a taxi with Mika, and flew back home. Even in the business, the little coffin they stuff people is not big enough for me. Enviously, I was watching the much lighter weight and smaller Chinese sleeping soundly, while me, the huge Nord with my 6 foot 7 frame just couldn’t do much but try to fit any way possible.

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But yeah, now I’m back in Finland! This diary continues again when I come over next time to China, probably sometime mid-November!

China Diary

Day 194: Hutong


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For the second grading day, we invited Chris, our VFX supervisor to join us to the suite. The reason for this is obviously since he’s doing quite a heap of VFX shots but has no idea what our look will be like, so by joining us, he was able to get the basic idea on what we have in mind for the look of the film. It’s also a great opportunity to discuss visual effects in a deeper and more detailed level, when we are really ogling on a huge screen each and every one of the tiniest details.

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Over the Moon, under the stars.
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One of the charming little alleys of the hutongs.

The day passed nicely with us working on the image and getting some very nice, spectacular shots in front of our eyes. In the evening, we decided to head out together with Chris for a dinner close to where he lives, at the most amazing, beautiful area in Beijing. This hutong – a residential area – is slightly off the worst tourist center, and it’s full of inviting little bars, shops, restaurants, patios, shisha joints and public toilets, all surrounded by buildings that are probably few hundred years old, low-built brick buildings that remind us of the style and look of the area how most of Beijing used to be.

As we walked out of the dinner place, we happened into a small shop that sells unique T-shirt designs; I ended up spending nearly 1000 RMB in shirts for Annika and our boys as souvenirs, but stuff like this you can get nowhere but in this little corner shop in Beijing.

We finished the night over a beer and nice chat at one of the corner pubs and taxied home for few hours of clumsy sleep.

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Chris Yao, our VFX supervisor from VHQ, and Mika.

It’s not that much more longer anymore, but this jetlag just is killing me this time around.

 

China Diary

Day 193: Grade A Color Grading


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Color grading is definitely the most peaceful, most zen part of the film production. Taking place usually in a huge suite fitted with AAA-class lounge chairs, comfortable (yet soundless) AC, snacks and a huge 4k screen and Dolby Digital 7.1 Surround Sounds, it’s the most comfortable way to spend a working evening. And the work itself – it’s as far from stress and pressure as anything can be – at least, from director’s point of view. I know colorists are under a tremendous pressure, but for me, it’s easy: show up, sit down and watch as the colorist and the DP tinker with the colors of the picture. The idea is to get the grayish, non-descriptive color of the raw footage to look like the deep, resounding theatrical quality image. This usually takes quite a lot of time and careful controlling, and as a director, I’m mostly there to agree with the end results, but can’t really go into specifics: this light here could be slightly warmer, this tone could be a bit more bright, the shadow areas could have a bit more cyan in them. So I just kick back and relax and try to pay attention to what’s happening, but mostly, the work is done by people with much better eye and understanding than I do.

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Colorist’s masks on Stephanie Paul’s image.
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Mika enjoying the amenities of Digital Domain, Beijing.

The jetlag isn’t letting go this time, I suppose, so I won’t even try to fight it anymore. Here I am, awake at 4:41 am, since waking up after 2 hours of sleep at 23:30. I think I’ll just wait until the breakfast opens, grab some and then head back in and try to get some sleep. That usually does the trick. It means, it doesn’t leave a lot of active time for me for the day: I sleep until 2pm and then I’m picked up to the color grading.

The nights can be long. I’m usually a bit too tired to really be able to read, so I just idly scan the Internet – Reddit, 4chan, Wikipedia – and listen to some music (tonight, it was Boards of Canada and The Beatles). Then, around 3am, Annika has put her son to bed and gives me a call. We talk for about an hour about everything and nothing and anything in between, until she heads to bed herself and I’m still left fiddling with the Internet. Few games of Hearthstone, then maybe breakfast and then, only then can I get some sleep.

I’m not complaining, but I can tell you lying in this bed is bound to give me bedsores. I can’t even go to the gym since it’s open from 6am to 11pm, when I’m either asleep or at work… Ah, well.

Mika arrived today. He’s here only for three days, during which he’s working with the colorist, setting the tone for Iron Sky: The Ark. It’s great to have him around, and I’m enjoying having someone to chat in Finnish, since for the most part I’ve been left out of all the Chinese conversations during this trip. They don’t even try to start including me anymore, which is fine by me. I just zone out and focus on my stuff.

Which reminds me: I still haven’t made friends with that black dog. It’s still growling at me. I really need some ideas for this one damn scene… I have no idea where to even begin. Tomorrow, I really need to find some answers.

Until then, zoning out!

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I guess this is me, manspreading.