Going Places

Day 25: Storm Is Coming


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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!

Going Places

Day 21: Threatening Atmosphere


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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.

Beautiful Plantation grounds, with dark history of slavery over them.

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.

Going Places

Day 20: Louisiana State Of Mind


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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.

Going Places

Day 9: Leaving The Port


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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!

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A gentleman of the world, I sometimes consider myself as.

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.

World War One role of luxury liner RMS Mauretania - BBC News
RMS Mauretania, ready for departure at Southampton Port.

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.

My trusted Underwood

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.

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I am Ahab, on a hunt for the great White Whale.
Going Places

Day 8: To The Movies!


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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.

No photo evidence of this one either!

Going Places

Day 7: Berlin Vibes


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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.

No photo evidence survived of this Saturday.

Going Places

Day 6: Out And About!


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The hotel room walls are starting to crash all over me. I need to get out of here, no matter what; I need to see some people. The days go by banging the script, the nights by playing Civilization and I also try to read some Dune every now and then, plus there’s a quick lunch somewhere, a dinner elsewhere. But enough is enough.

After finishing the day’s work just around 4pm, I slammed the laptop cover shut, put on my better shirt and headed out for some drinks and burger. Yeah, all by myself, I do that sometimes when I’m working abroad, otherwise I’d become insane in hotel rooms.

I decided to make my trip by following the happy hours, which is the way for the people who don’t want to end up paying 10 euros a beer, twenty for a drink. First stop was a nice rooftop bar in one of the hotels near by (“Intercontinental”). In AUD, you don’t get to buy drinks from the stores or even regular eateries, the rule is that they are part of a hotel or probably also part of a mall is ok.

Rooftop poolside bars are similar everywhere, so after a Corona I continued downstairs in the same hotel, which had a nice bar with a good selection of drinks available. There, I enjoyed the buzz of the people (mainly: aggressively drunken british tourists) over a glass of Old Fashioned.

Now, I took heed from yesterday’s Lock, Stock & Barrell -experience with sleeveless shirts and had a nice white shirt on me, so I decided to give it another try, as I was still yearning for the burger. Back at the same stand, the same person (I think?) looked up and down my attire and told they are full. Which they definitely were not.

So that’s enough of that bs for me, if they don’t want my money then let me take it elsewhere. I found a similar burger+beer joint in the same mall, had a fantastic dinner and few beers, then decided to continue my journey for one more pit stop. A sports bar.

Again, fully stacked with drunken British tourists, I enjoyed watching people (discreetly, mind you) fumbling about drunk and acting happy/idiot. British tourists are the same everywhere: loud, obnoxious and the women pester the Djs for Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like A Woman!” just like everywhere. And just like everywhere, the Djs hate them and bar staff nearly threw the whole bunch out after one remarkably obnoxious episode.

I downed few more beers, chatting to back home and enjoying the people around me, although I didn’t make any contact with anyone, which would’ve been anyway impossible due to Covid-19 restrictions and after having enough, I headed homewards. And as every time I try to find my way by only using my internal compass, I got lost and found myself walking nearly five klicks to get back home.

At home, I ordered a wine from room service (God bless them!), popped Goodfellas on the Telly and spent a nice rest of the night in the world of mobsters under Scorsese’s amazing direction.

Dubai Marina by Night
Going Places

Day 5: I rock! (Or not…)


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The ordeal with the police was luckily nothing more than, indeed, a “standard procedure, all normal”, as the cop had told me. I still wasn’t remarkably relaxed with venturing out of the immediate vicinity of my hotel, so I decided to stay in the next day and just focus on my actual work, which at the moment is writing.

Coming back to my work, as I’ve said vaguely I’m working on a new film production, of which I can’t tell anything at the moment as it’s not yet launched, but it’s a pretty cool thing I’m getting very excited on. As so often, these things take longer time than expected, and this film has actually been in discussion ever since February, that’s before Covid-19 hit Europe, so not surprisingly, a lot of complications have stood in the way of this thing becoming a reality since then and now – and the backstory of the film itself is much longer, but I won’t get into that now. All I can say is that the fact that we are here, now, en route to Louisiana to get the actual production kicked off, has taken quite a lot from quite a many people, and as always, it can still all go south any given moment. The world is now a very volatile place for any production or construct that requires a lot of people working seamlessly together and a pile of money to keep things running.

So, having said that, I was very happy to have our first actual production crew meeting on Thursday, after our almost-daily script catchup. This meeting was with prosthetics and makeup team lead, and a very productive one indeed. I’m still lacking a director of photography for the project, and yet to hear from the casting, but those are to come in any given day.

In the evening, I felt like stretching my legs a bit and was looking for a place to down a beer and a burger. The Internet told there’s a cool place close by, by the name of Lock, Stock and Barrell, a rock bar and a burger joint I hear. Not a typical Arab country joint for sure, but something I always love to go to when traveling abroad.

Yours, truly.

“A rock club, you say”, I says to myself. “Well, this calls for my best sleeveless shirt to show off my incredibly rock tattoos, a sure way to get in swimmingly”. And yeah, gazes I did get as I walked out, since not too many locals have too many tattoos, and anyways I don’t look like a local. The place was located inside a (blissfully well air-conditioned) mall close by the beach and as I walked in the line, the place seemed not too crowded from the outside. Just before me, a regular tourist couple arrived to the line and asked kindly for a table for two. “Sure, this way sir.” In they went.

When it was my turn, I sensed right away their disgust. They looked at me from head to tow, shaking their heads. I asked for a table… “Sir, do you have a reservation.” No, I did not have. “Sorry sir, we’re fully booked tonight.” Really? The place was half empty. More than that. “And sir, may I say, we don’t allow people in sleeveless shirts in bars here.”

Now, that’s a whole load of bullshit right there. I could see people in bars in sleeveless shirts all the time. The place wasn’t packed, either, so they could’ve easily fit me in, it’s a huge joint all in all. There’s just something in the cut of my jib that doesn’t work with the people here in UAE.

So, instead of a hip designer burger and a craft beer, I went to Mickey D’s and got myself a load of self-loathe/self-pity burgers and a coke and went back home.

At least the night was beautiful.
Going Places

Day 4: Trouble ahead…


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“Sir, would you please follow me.”

The speaker is a big, burly, black-bearded man wearing a green uniform, with a big nightstick hanging from the belt. On his shoulder, Dubai Police badge gives extra gravity to his words.

I’ve just climbed up the metro stairs, coming back from a long, sweaty and pretty non-productive trip to the Al Seef area of Dubai. I went there for two reasons: I wanted to test how the local subway works and to see Coffee Museum. In short, subway works fine, Coffee Museum was closed.

The Al Seef area was empty, and resembled a Star Wars set

The thoughts race through my head. What have I done now? Is this it, they arrest me for something I’ve never done, and after two weeks of interrogations the world media sees me crying in front of cameras, apologizing for unknowingly ridiculing their country or leaders? I do a quick inventory of all the people I’ve mocked in my films. Star Wreck was kosher, first Iron Sky had only few Middle-Eastern background actors in it… The Sequel, though, has Osama Bin Laden fist fighting The Pope while chasing the protagonists with a dino chariot… but UADs hate Isis just as the next two countries, probably even more!

I’m already sketching my defense speech in my head as the man leads me to a shady-looking metal door, opens it and leads me to a small, windowless room. In the room, there’s a desk with some papers on it, a fan and another guy, in civilian clothes, idly hanging around, doing nothing. The chair they appoint me to sit down has its’ armrests completely torn down. Almost like someone had gnawed them off in pain.

“Is there a problem”, I ask, trying to remain as cool as possible.

“No, no problem, sir.” His tone of voice is reassuring, even slightly high-pitched, which is kinda weird for a big guy like him. I’m sure it would not be like that if he shouted. “Just a standard procedure. Give me your ID.”

“My ID?”

“Yes, sir. Your ID. Is there someone waiting for you, sir?”

Shit. This is it. They’re going to take me away, interrogate for hours for something I didn’t do – in the best case scenario! The worst one, I don’t even want to think…

I’m already soaked in sweat for having walked for couple of hours in the sunlight but the blissful air conditioning of the metro station has dried me off already – but now, I’m dripping again.

I sit down for a moment. The policeman takes my ID and disappears. The man next to me doesn’t pay any attention to me, just hangs around like I wasn’t there.

Seconds drag on, turn into a minute. Longest in my life, I recount. Then, the man appears again.

“Ok, let’s go.”

I stand up. He leads me back to the hallway…. then hands me back my ID and leads me out of the door.

“Thank you, sir.”

That’s all? Yeah, that’s all. Most likely. Well, now they have my ID and probably keep on following me while I’m here. I probably shouldn’t even write this entry, but… There’s nothing bad here, right?

Right?

The Local House, a lovely place for a lunch in Al Seef area.
Going Places

Day 3: Laying The Rules


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My room is starting to look rotten. I haven’t asked anyone to clean it since I came over since I’ve been either working all the time or forgot the damn “do not disturb” -button on when leaving the premises. The hotel is starting to get nervous after three days, wanting to know I’m doing OK when they don’t get a chance to come in and see that the room’s still there.

Dubai Marina by night

Other than that, the day wasn’t much to write home about. I didn’t dare the outdoors during the day – 40 degrees of celsius is my internal limit, and we’re looking at 41-45 out there currently – so I stayed in, even up to having the room service bring me my lunch.

The day went past mainly by watching movies and working. By the time it was already dark outside, I dressed up and went out for a bit of a walk. I found myself from a nice little Lebanese restaurant around the corner by the Marina, and had a rather heavy dinner.

A light dessert, nutella wraps, Lebanese way.

Note to self: I have to stop eating so much here. The mandatory mask policy means I don’t feel like going out for a walk unless necessary (in this heat, it’s even more uncomfortable), and huffing and puffing to a mask at the ym is simply out of the question, so I’m pretty sedentary right now. This means, if I mean to walk, not fat-scoot my way out of Dubai, I need to think what I eat.