Night shifts are starting to take the toll on me. We are doing long days and long nights and I can barely walk after a shooting day and since you have to keep the head at full speed the whole time when shooting, it’s really hard to slow it down before you go to bed, and even then, the sleep is erratic at best. Also, my room is devilishly hot. The central heating is on and can’t be turned off, because right now it should be colder in Qingdao than it is, so the moment sun rises (which is usually by the time I get to bed) it starts heating the room and I wake up sweating like a pig many times during the night (I mean, day).
During the days, I try to go to the gym to lift some weights to keep my back in shape and do some leg work to keep my knees operational (I may have mentioned this but I have pretty shitty knees, we tall and big guys usually do). After the shoot, I have a nice one hour talk with Annika on the way home from the set. The breakfast/lunch is usually terrible McDonald’s or KFC bag of junk food, because I don’t feel at all adventurous during the shooting days. I munch my lunch while listening to David Bowie and go through the day in my head. My car is my little cocoon where nobody can bug me.
The day went past waiting big stunt actions to happen, explosions and more explosions, trying to keep up with the tides (we want water on the picture, but the tides are always up at the wrong time and down at the wrong time). But one thing I can tell you:
Nothing is as boring as shooting an action scene.
Most of the day I just wander around the set waiting for the stunts and SFX rig and prep for it, and then suddenly when it’s done it’s all over in 10 seconds. Director’s duty takes about 15 minutes: explain what you want, how you want it to look like, and then all you do is wait for hours.
One can’t avoid arguments when working on a high-speed production with hundreds of people running around on tight schedules. I’m not the most aggressive person in seeking the arguments, but I’m not avoiding them either. Yesterday we ended up clashing with the stunts coordinator. He had been preparing for a stunt based on my instructions for quite some time, but when he finally presented the stunt for me, it was a big disappointment. People just sort of slumping down, when I wanted them to FLY out because of an explosion. He had not paid attention enough to my description, and only after I told what I thought of the stunt, he suggested he needs another 45 minutes to set it up.
Film set time is always to be tripled, so that would’ve meant over 2 hours of preparation, so I couldn’t allow it. I barked at him some words of disappointment and the translator didn’t really do great job, so the only word left floating in the air was fuck. He got really upset and started shouting to me something in China, and I came back to him and we both were shouting at each other with languages neither of us understood, and Lei was trying to be a mediator to keep everyone cool.
We broke off the fight and went to our corners for a bit of a cooldown, and for round 2, we started off with much more constructive way. I took the stunt coordinator aside and spoke privately with him (and Lei) and explained my problem in clear terms about the stunt. He said he understands and wants to rebuild the stunt, and needs only a little bit of time. I told I don’t believe we get this shot done in under two hours, he said it’s only fifteen minutes.
Turns out I was right, as I very often am when it comes to predicting the amount of time wasted on things on the set. This time, the reason was an accident which followed immediately after the first attempt: a stunt came head first to the asphalt from five meters high, because the jump he made was a bit too short. He was taken away with an ambulance, and I learned later on he only suffered a minor concussion, which was a relief, but right then I thought the man had just died right there.
Mood of the shoot went sour understandably, but we decided to continue. We spoke more with the action coordinator and he said he wants to try this once more. I gave him the permission and they prepared the stunt a bit more and then it was a go-time.
This time around, the stunt was just beautiful. Big explosion, guys flying across the air exactly the way I had wished for and nobody got hurt. We didn’t dare to celebrate until we heard what was going on with the injured guy (which we did only the day after), but managed to move on.
So, three lessons I learned here.
First, when working with a bilingual team, be careful with the words, because it may be that only the one, most commonly-known word (“fuck!”) goes through, and you end up having a heated argument for nothing.
Second, be very precise when describing a stunt. Hand gestures are not directing, you need to be specific with words and explain in great detail what kind of a stunt you need, how far the person should fly and what kind of an effect it should have on it all.
Third, never rush the stunts. They are professionals working on a tight schedule and know what they are doing, and they never slacker around, but just want to make things perfect and plan carefully to make sure nobody gets hurt. It will take time, just accept it. It may even seem ridiculously detailed sometimes, but that’s the way it is. Give the stunts the time they need for the preparations, and you get a great one-shot wonder. Rush it, and you get bad action and a higher possibility of injury on set.
The only thing you can do is to ask much before the shoot how long time they will need preparing it, and then work around that info.
Our production designer has yet again outdone himself. Sometime during the last week he had turned the empty lot at Rizhao into a fully believable front yard of a military base, with a big wall and even a guard post overlooking the sea. We walk across the set absolutely amazed about the work and instantly I find myself sucked into the world of the film. The set does the trick, my mind has been really trying to wrap itself around the big battle we are about to shoot here, but only now I really start seeing it in my head.
First day is one of those half-day / half-night shoots. We start off with a bunch of smaller scenes, plate shots and small bits that need to be shot, before hitting the main beef of the day. It’s a tight day, and fun to work with the cast, and when we’re done with everything, we pack up and head back home.
The really complicated stuff is still to come: tomorrow, we begin a big battle sequence, which we will shoot for three nights altogether, fighting the tides and the rising sun.
As one might suspect, morning was not the most amazing for me. I had to get up and start packing early – my stuff was all over the apartment, so it took me a good few hours to get everything organised, neatly packed and ready to go – until David came in surprised saying: you didn’t need to pack everything, you won’t have to check out from the room.
Well, that’s good news to know… now that I’m already out with all my stuff. Nevertheless, we jumped on a car and begun our seven-hour drive to Rizhao. With Dalan, we stopped by at a shopping mall where I grabbed myself a big, warm jacket because I knew the next nights would be quite the horror on the set, located just next to the sea in Rizhao. Dalan went full American in Burger King and placed the biggest single order that place had ever had – huge bag full of burgers, chicken, fries and colas which we then consumed on our way to Rizhao, blasting through the full Manowar discography as we rode down the highway. Fighting the world every single day!
By the way, if for whatever reason you don’t appreciate Manowar, please fix your attitude. Because if you’re not into metal you are not my friend, heavy metal! Wimps and posers, leave the hall! I bet nor David or mr. Wang my driver had ever had the pleasure to hear some Manowar, and for some reason they were not as impressed as me and Dalan when we went on singing Thor the mighty, Thor the brave, crush the infidels on your way the whole day.
All fun things must come to an end. We all know that, so was our epic road trip. We arrived to Rizhao location, checked out the place and then went to the hotel and checked in. I plugged my trusty Playstation in and soon I was sneaking the streets of Riften, running errands for Maven Black-Briar, recharging for the upcoming five days.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: I really miss the bar culture of Europe here in China. Over here, people eat, drink and go home; the idea of going to an establishment just to sit around and enjoy few drinks and chat over a table is just alien here. But for my day off, I decided I want two things: I want to have the original Qingdao seafood, and get hammered at a rock bar.
First one is easy, but the second… That’s more tricky. But I googled and found out that there actually is a rock bar in Qingdao, one small joint called DMC, which promised live music and decent-priced drinks.
Our Finnish actress had her Chinese leg of the production finished, so I took her and my writer/actor Dalan out to a place I call Big Tits Seafood – it’s a small hole-in-the-wall -type of a seafood restaurant with an unexplainable drawing of a German-style Biergarten waitress with huge tits dominating the back wall. Never mind the mammaries, but the food is just mindblowing.
David my assistant was too sick to join us, so we hooked him over the WeChat to order us a big bucket of seafood, and enjoyed the dish with some white wine. Mika joined us later on, after his dinner was done, and then we started to look for this fabled rock club, DMC.
It took a while to figure out where inside a mall it actually was, but when we found it we knew instantly we had come to a right place. There was a band playing loud and the place was positively shitty little joint, just like something from Kallio, Helsinki.
After sitting around for a while, I started to realize there was something wrong with the music. It wasn’t really… well played. And they were not really playing songs as such. They kinda started something, played few riffs then changed to something else or just let the instruments freestyle something. And it’s wasn’t like Jazz type of freestyling, but actually closer to a band practice. And the people in the band kept on changing. Someone grabbed a guitar, another sang a bit, someone took the drums…
Well, we were a bit drunk and thought with the actress we want in. We rushed on stage and stole some instruments – I took the mic, she went to the drums – and started blast-beating some crazy freestyle crap, me screaming some weird metal stuff and her kicking the hell out of the drumset. Slowly, the locals started to join onboard, and soon we were Saturday night jammin’ right there in the heart of Qingdao, true China-Finland cultural exchange going on right there.
The trip home was fun, we listened to some Finnish music and arrived at the hotel around 5 am…
…which was exactly one hour after the actress’ pickup would have been. It’s just that nobody told her anything about it. So no surprises there, there was a bunch of people waiting for her (this I learned later on, though) and she had to just run in and out of her room to make it to her flight!
In the end, she did. But it was a close call. And a fun day off!
Damn, I’m way behind in writing the diary, and now it’s only getting worse, so I better catch up. I’m sitting now at Qingdao airport Korean Air lounge, waiting for the flight to Seoul to depart in about an hour. I’m planning to slam through the next 10 days as fast as I can, so forgive me if they are a bit hastily written.
Last day at Hope Island set begun with an interior scene, which was a miraculously good scene right from the first take. It’s not a tremendously important scene in the film, and definitely something we might not even see in the finished movie, but this time around, everything just clicked perfectly. The actors were spot on, the camerawork was beautiful and the simplicity and the beauty of writing was right there.
While the day begun with a beautiful sunshine, as the night fell the weather turned from cold to freezing. Overnight, the wind had blown the green screen to pieces, and the chilling gushes kept on keeping us on our feet (and myself in my trailer) for most of the night. The key scene of the day turned out to be very complicated, and I started to lose my nerve with the stunts and SFX taking their sweet time preparing for one stunt. It was one of those one-time-wonder -shots where the stunts worked on it for hours, and it was shot in 15 seconds, but since there was no time for the reset, we had to do with what we had – luckily, that was a great shot.
Wrapping is always sad, but also talks about progress – and today we had to wrap the second actor of the film, a famous Chinese actor who did a lot of work especially on famous TV series back in the days. He had jumped in the role on the last minute as another actor pulled out, and as it in so many cases like this is, he did wonderful work, even better than I had imagined the role to be.
By the time the sun rose again, we had finally finished our Hope Island set and went on to have a day off the next day!
One part of my job is to create a trusting relationship between my cast and myself, so that when I start to work with the actors on set, everyone is relaxed enough to let go of themselves when the cameras are on. Actors are quite a colorful bunch of personalities, so a dinner with the cast is usually quite a varied experience.
Tonight, after the shoot, I wanted to take everyone out for a bit of a celebration. We had worked the whole day doing the end scene of the movie, which is kinda weird when you feel that you just started the whole shoot, but sometimes film scheduling just goes like that. Shooting chronologically would probably be easiest for the actors, maybe even for the director, but trying to combine cast availabilities, location availabilities and minimizing needless costs, this is rarely possible. So, we have to be prepared to crank ourselves every day into a very different mood of the shoot.
But since we had nailed the end scene very nicely, it really was time to take everyone out for some seafood. I asked for a nice local joint with great seafood, but instead the production had booked a high-end restaurant in a hotel in some kind of a seafood town part of the Yellow Island. First, I was a bit let down because I wanted a local experience, but when the food started showing up, things turned much nicer. We had a big, hefty dinner, some Chinese white wine and loads of discussions. Turns out some of my cast members are so famous the whole restaurant staff was lining up to take a selfie with them. I wouldn’t know, to me they are just people I work with without the pressure of them being big stars or anything, and I prefer to keep it that way.
The wine is heady and the food is plentiful, and as we turn in for the night I have a quick call back home before falling asleep probably mid-sentence.
The first big set we shoot for Iron Sky: The Ark is a location called Hope Island. We have been scouting for the location for the most part of the year, visiting a volcanic beach in Yunnan province and scouting all over Qingdao area to find the right kind of a place. When we finally did, the location turned out to be nearly impossible to shoot at: it’s covered in water for the most part of the day, only popping out during the low tides. We did fall in love with the look of the location, so we decided to replicate it to the Wanda Studios backlot – and today, finally, we would start shooting there!
All in all, it’s a tricky day: many of the main cast actors had their first actual day of the shoot there, and although they didn’t really say anything, it still creates a bit of an aura of expectations, seeing all new faces and getting a feeler on how everyone works together. Of course, many of them are already known to me thanks to table reads, and they know each other from the stunt rehearsals (and sometimes even through school…), but now, when we turn the cameras for the first time, we see how they look on screen.
The sun is shining bright and beautiful and the set looks really nice. It’s the last warm days of the summer and I’m enjoying working with the cast and creating the scene. It’s not a simple scene, many extras and problems with languages makes the day quite exhausting, but we manage to get some good material on the tape.
In the evening, Max calls me up for a meeting. We discuss some of the issues of the production and also turns out he’s an avid reader of my blog, mentioning few passages in it which makes me feel uneasy. I was really thinking it’s only my family and few Twitter friends reading this, but what did I expect, of course it has a larger reader base.
Also, the writer Dalan has arrived! I signed him to play a small side role, but he wrote him to be close to some of the key characters for most of the time, so he’s pretty much involved on screen quite a lot. This time around, he’s here for a week, which I decide to use also to work on the script as much as possible. We have a dinner in the evening and then get ready for the shoot next day.
For me, shooting at mundane locations is rather boring. I’m more a big studio set or industrial factory lot kind of a guy and I ain’t ashamed of admitting that. Thus, every time we shoot in a more “grounded” location – like we did today at a cruise terminal dressed up as an airport, I had to kick myself few times in the butt to get into the right groove. Of course, when on the set and with the actors, the scene blows out of the set and becomes alive, but the first time walking around something as ordinary as an airport, it’s always hard to imagine how to make it work. (Maybe it’s also because I really dread airports these days…)
We did, and that’s what counts.
One of the things each filming day consists of is facing a set of challenges that at first seem overwhelming, but bit by bit get solved. Today, the day begun with us walking to the set and seeing as one big set piece was in an unfavorable place, and apparently built so that it can’t be moved. We decided to shoot the other direction instead, to get the best out of the set piece, but as we started to shoot, the guy running the location came to tell us we can’t shoot that direction, because passengers will be coming in and out until 2 pm.
So of course, we started to shoot the other direction, but that meant we had to drag all our stuff and do a turnaround without having shot one shot, and that’s one messy business. The crew were not happy about this useless work, and we spent four hours of the day just lighting one direction, and then turning to another, before the first shot was in the can. Not ideal.
The second obstacle were the costumes. It’s getting really chilly out here, but the airport is supposed to be a Thai airport, so we had asked the extras to dress up as they were going to a Thai vacation. This is fine when we shot the interior shots, but the exterior… these guys were freezing! I felt bad about it and did my best to shoot outside as little as possible, but there’s only so much you can do…
And at last, in Thailand, they have the left-hand traffic, while China is right. Thus, the hero cars had to be modified to match this. I’ve actually done this before: in Australia, which is also left-hand -traffic we had huge trouble after finding the right kind of VW Beetle for Wolfgang Kortzfleisch to flip it from left to right. The only solution is to have a fake wheel on the left hand side and have a driver and a secret wheel on the other side. In this case, it had to be the other way around: the Thai taxi we had was right-hand traffic modified, and needed to be modified into left-hand traffic. Luckily so, because we were shooting the right side of the car, so we could hide the smaller driver behind the bigger fake driver and operate the car, but still, that was a headscratch right there.
After the day, we had a quick peek at the Wanda Studios where we had built the huge Hope Island set, where we would be shooting the next two nights and one day. Again, my expectations were exceeded, production designer, mr. Wang, had done a terrific job, and I know the schedule pressure is unbearable for him. Still, the set was there, green screens were being built and everything looked just beautiful.
Also, walking around the set, with towering Tesla coils reaching the skies above me, after shooting in airports, canteens and universities, I said to myself: now it’s starting to look like Iron Sky!
Some days just start off with a wrong note, and it takes a lot to fix it; today was one of them. It all begun with Annika having to leave off to the airport at 4am, so there was much sadness in the air to begin with. Things got even worse when my assistant hadn’t taken in account that a certain doors in the hotel were not open this early, and Annika, after leaving the room went downstairs and found out there was no car to pick her up. She couldn’t get back in because the room key was of course with me, and hotel Internet didn’t work well downstairs, so there was a moment of panic of nobody being anywhere and her not being able to get back to the room; luckily, in the end, Crystal found Annika and they made it just in time to the airport. She even fast-talked her into special VIP line to get past the massive rows of people, and Annika was eventually on her way back to Finland.
I’d be lying if I’d say I didn’t hope at least for a bit that she wouldn’t make it and had to stay few more days with me, but that’s just selfish thinking.
Today, we shot the first actual day at the Wanda Studios, but not really at a studio but actually at a smaller office room which was dressed as an office of a side character. I had received some thoughts from Max earlier on how he thought this side character should be portrayed, which is very new to me: producers usually leave that stuff to, you know, directors. But his idea was fun to begin with, so I was happy to try it out, and we stroke an interesting balance there.
At night, I took some of my actors out for a dinner downstairs. They have this amazing Korean BBQ joint sitting right there, and we enjoyed a terrific meal. Just as I was in the happiest mood, I received a message from Lei, who had just spoken with Max, and he was not very happy about how some of the actors work the lines on the set, going around the script. My heart sank and I went back to my hotel room, trying to get a grasp of what was he actually meant, and I couldn’t get much clearer answer from Lei.
To be honest, I knew there was something like this brewing under the surface. When I directed the first Iron Sky, much of it was in German and I had no grasp of German language, but still – it’s an Anglo-Saxon language so you’re able to understand the basic way the language is being used, although you don’t understand the words. But Mandarin is Sino-Tibetan language, and of that, I have absolutely no grasp of, so it’s a much bigger challenge to follow that they actually say what they are supposed to.
In the night, after few glasses of wine, this felt like a huge blow to me: that from now on, I would have to establish a system where I check every line from the producer the actors want to change. This sounded like an impossible task, you’ll have to do changes on the fly on the set and often there’s no chance to confirm the change from anyone, only thing I can do is to ask from three four crew members if what they are suggesting makes sense.
Later on I did learn this was not what Max had actually said; he had asked me to keep an eye on the lines of the main cast, who are pretty young and don’t have as much experience as most of the other cast, and make sure they don’t go changing the lines in between the takes, which would make editing impossible. That makes total sense…