China Diary

Day 92: Fighting The World


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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!

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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.

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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.

China Diary

Day 91: Jammin’


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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.

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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.

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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.

IMG_1383After 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!

China Diary

Day 90: Hope’s End


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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.

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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.

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Three cameras, three monitor. And Captain Picard overlooking them all.

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!

China Diary

Day 89: Dining The Cast


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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.

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Sunrise over the Hope Island

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.

China Diary

Day 88: Welcome to the Hope Island


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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.

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I met Dalan through a project called Jeremiah Harm several years ago. That film never happened, but we stroke a good writing partnership and since wrote together Iron Sky The Coming Race and later on worked on the script of Iron Sky: The Ark. 
China Diary

Day 87: Troubleshooting


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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.

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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!

China Diary

Day 86: Lost in Translation, part 2.


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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.

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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…

China Diary

Day 85: Seaside Rendesvouz


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The first shooting day in Qingdao actually took us over two and a half our car ride away from the city, to a small village by the sea, where we would be shooting one day of material for the central element of the film, the Hope Island. This location was supposed to be the actual location where we shoot the scenes, but in the last moment, the production manager told that he can’t schedule the island shoot – due to tides, our shooting location would be underwater most of the time of the day and night – so we decided instead to shoot only some plates and little bits in the actual location, but the Hope Island set would be built on the studio backlot.

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A beautiful shooting day!

That decision was a sound one, I must say. While a beautiful location, it’s just too hard to make it work decently with the problematic weather and that old Moon on the sky making it harder to plan anything (but yes, without tides probably life on Earth wouldn’t have happened, since it was the tidal pools that splashed around with primordial soup in them that then started to spread wider and wider…).

Riding to the location through a Blade Runner -style sunrise over thick mist was interesting. Some of the roads had even been closed because it was too foggy to drive, but on the location the weather cleared out and we spent a beautiful shooting day by the seaside.

Another truth about filmmaking is that when you shoot anything with water involved, expect everything to be many times harder. Another scene which we shot was a rather complex one, including an old fishing boat, few rubber boats and complex camera boat rig following everything, and a drone that tried to capture some epic images from high up. Although everything went pretty well, it’s just very hard to try to shoot on a boat: it’s always drifting to a wrong direction, it’s very crowded there on a boat with the camera crew trying to stay out of shots, and can even be dangerous if something goes wrong. Luckily, nothing did. The sun was up the whole day and we enjoyed a nice shoot, but when we started to align the shots for the drone team, it all went to hell.

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I’m on a boat!

Wind was blowing, so it was hard to keep the boat still. We tried multiple times to make a shot, but kept on failing. The actors had to stay for few hours in extremely uncomfortable boat which we kept resetting and resetting and never got what we wanted. Eventually, I called it down: truth was, we just couldn’t do the shots, not today. I admitted our loss and we moved on, leaving the shots to be shot by a b unit sometime later.

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Impressive camera rig no a boat!

After the sundown, we headed back to Qingdao and went for a delicious Thai dinner downstairs of the hotel with the cast and Annika. We enjoyed a splash of wine and great conversations, and being slightly buzzed waded back into the room and to bed.

 

China Diary

Day 84: A new recruit


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We are moving back to Qingdao!

IMG_1129Leaving behind Rizhao, we have finally made it to Qingdao, where we are going to be shooting for the next week. Our hotel is called The Mangrove Tree, a massive establishment still under construction, but already operating as a hotel. I have no idea how many rooms the building has, but it’s a lot.

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Our room is very comfortable. Located at the corner of the building, the balcony goes around the bend and offers a tremendous view over the sea and Yellow Island. We arrived in the dead of the night, and waking up to the new day was pretty amazing, with my wife by my side, and a day off ahead of us. Well, “day off” is a relative term, of course, because we still had meetings to do at the studio and what not, but at least the theory is nice.

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This is how she sleeps: with a t-shirt over her face. 

We took a walk at the beach on the yard and then I went out for a bit of a lunch with some of the actors, while Annika had her beauty sleep. She sleeps a lot. That’s the reason she’s so beautiful.

 

At the room, I laid my stuff in the middle of the room and there it would stay for the next week, untouched and only picked up a bit when looking for clothes.

In the afternoon, we took a ride to a huge mall nearby, looking for some shoes for me. China is not cheap, if someone has that wrong impression. I mean, there are of course cheap stuff in China, but the actual brands cost pretty much the same as everywhere. I went out looking for good working shoes, a set shoes to be exact, and found a wonderful pair from Columbia store at the mall. I also got myself some comfortable Adidas stuff and I was pondering whether or not I should get a thicker jacket, but with the sun up and day at its’ prime, it was hard to believe I’d be having too much cold during the shoot here.

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Halloween is on its’ way!

Oh boy, how wrong was I. But more of that later; one new addition to the team had joined the crew – an actress from Finland. She plays an important side character role in the movie, I specifically wrote a Finnish scientist to the script, and started looking to cast the right person. The casting process turned out to be much harder than I had expected, since I don’t really know Finnish actors – I’m used to shooting outside of Finland so much I haven’t really worked with anyone, and in previous Iron Sky -films the only Finnish actor was Tero. But finally, I found what I was looking for, only one week before the shoot would begin, and we managed to get her the visa and the flights to Qingdao just in time – and today, she would land.

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Found a pizzeria at the mall ❤

We headed for a nice Sichuan cuisine dinner close by, welcoming her to join this crazy adventure, and then headed back home with Annika. All in all, a nice day off, relaxing and refreshing, and great one to get prepared to shoot a lot of complicated scenes next week!

China Diary

Day 83: Breaking things


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That car had it coming.

I mean, it was a piece of shit. It claimed to be a BMW, but the only piece of German Engineering in that pile of crap was the BMW logo stuck to its’ hood with a gaffer tape. We don’t know the actual model, but it doesn’t matter – it’s screen-proof and passes well for whatever it claims to be – and that’s all that matters for us right now, because we are about to beat the shit out of it. With a container. Dropped on it from six meters high.

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The victim.

Man, I love breaking stuff.

The last day at the container yard we worked only with stunts: stunts jumping, rolling, running and jumping even more. We had a pile of rather complicated action sequences we needed to do, and setting each one of them takes always time, mostly to make sure it’s safe. In China, the stunts are very experienced and quick – probably because of the country’s wealth of kung fu action films – so setting up takes half the time from what I’m used when shooting in Europe, but even still, there’s only very few shots you can do during a day.

The car crash was the main stunt, and we prepped that for quite a while. The bit itself is simple: a car screeches to a halt, two guys step out and make it just barely from being crushed under a two-ton container. But to get the car in exactly correct position, guys out the right way, to a safe distance from the drop and then timing the drop cinematically is the trick. Oh, and we only had one of the “BMW”s, so it’s a one-shot-wonder – double or quit.

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The guillotine. 

Thus, we prepped the shot for almost an hour, measured everything, drained the car from gasoline to prevent any explosive surprises, dry-rehearsed at least ten times the moves and then – well, the whole show was over in a matter of seconds. The crate falls and the car is crushed.

And it’s a beautiful, masterful shot. Everything goes beyond our expectations. The whole crew cheers. Only one not so happy anymore is the not-pinin’, passed-on, bereft-of-life, daisie-pushing, mechanically challenged, bucket-kicking ex-Beamer, which now had joined the choir invisible.

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The executioner.

Oh, what a piece of shit of a car it was. Even the airbags didn’t deploy at the crush, because – well, there were none! I believe we did a favour to someone by getting rid of such a terrible death trap; practically, we may have saved someone’s life today!

Anyway, one thing a film crew can’t fight against is the sun. When its’ down, everything is pitch black and there’s nothing to be done, so we headed home with Annika, enjoyed dinner at the lounge and the called it a night.