China Diary

Day 4: A Tour Around The Office


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The office building where Iron Sky: The Ark is being produced is located in the heart of the old international business district in Beijing, Saite. In this area, the first foreign companies built their offices, and many main roads pass the area, serving loads of traffic and business.

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The office is owned by the main investor of the film, the Jiabo Cultural Development Group, a media company doing films and TV-shows. Located in the spot of an old Banana night club, and fully renovated for its’ use as a production company office, the building serves several different functions in its’ four floors. Our production offices are located in the third and fourth floor.

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Yu Hongyang the screenwriter, Maxine Zhang the 2nd AD, Alain Ming the 3rd AD and Lei Tsao the first AD discussing script details around my desk.

The director’s office is a small but efficient one. Here, our first, second and third ADs work in scheduling the film and planning the details of the execution of the actual shoot. On the walls we have spread the production schedule, concept artwork and of course, our posters for earlier Iron Sky films. This is where my office is, as well.

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Cheng Cheng, the production assistant, Crystal the bilingual coordinator, Da Fang the behind-the-scenes -guy chatting away at the production office.

Next to the director’s office lies the production team. Consisting of production workers dealing with agreements and money, and their assistants, this team makes sure the whole process flows smoothly.

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Zhang Chuhan, the costume designer (on the right) and her team presenting some costume plans.

On the second floor, the costume department has overtaken a chunk of tables. Slowly the walls will be lined with designs for the main cast, secondary cast and the extras. A team of six people work currently at the costume department, but when they start to actually sew the costumes and put them together, they’ll need much more and much bigger space.

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Wang Rui, the art director, giving guidance to the team producing concept designs for the sets that will be built or made with VFX.

Next to it, the art department, manned by some ten to fifteen people, vigorously work concepting, drawing, planning and creating the world, sets and VFX environments of the film. New concept art gets lifted on the walls every day, and artists create everything from props to big constructions right here. We also have another team, led by the production designer Gordon Lee, working further away from the offices at his own place.

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Next to me on my right is mr. Max Wang, the producer. On his right, the production designer Gordon Lee. On my left, there’s Mika Orasmaa, my DOP and on left of him is Jan Heinze from Pixomondo China.

Finally, producer Max Wang’s office is the place where they key decisions are being made. Whether its’ meeting the main members of the cast, or talking with VFX team (as in the picture here) or just discussing the script, here’s where we can always find producer Max, whose thunderstorm of ideas sweeps over the production team in an instant, leaving everyone scrambling to make sure things progress quickly and efficiently towards the production.

I myself live in an apartment few blocks away. Going back from work in the evening with my skateboard is nice, passing ancient Chinese medicine store, restaurants, McDonalds’ and bunch of banks, the area is great to live in and as its’ not as busy here, few streets in from the main streets, it’s also nicely secluded from the buzz of the downtown, which still can be seen from where we live.

 

China Diary

Day 3 – List Of Demands


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Wake up at 3am.

Watch some Netflix.

Go to gym at 7am.

Eat breakfast at 9am.

Go to sleep at 10am.

Wake up at 1pm.

Go to office. Meeting one: stunts. Very detailed.

Eat a Chinese sandwich. Very good.

Meeting two: Meet producer. Talk casting and have few laughs. Very fun.

Meeting three: WeChat call to German stunt team. Very detailed. Try to discuss their budget down. Crossing fingers.

Eat Indian delivery food.

Meeting four: Watch through casting tapes. Some shitty, some OK, some amazing. Choose five actors for callback, cast one straight off the bat.

Back home. Play Skyrim.

Talk with wife. Life good.

Meeting six: talk to DOP Mika, who’s coming next week.

Fall asleep at midnight. Wake up 1,5h hours later.

China Diary

Day 2: Impenentrable Language Walls


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The sleeping schedule here goes as follows: I get back from work at 8pm, go to bed at 9pm, wake up at 1:30AM and stay up watching Netflix, films, playing Hearthstone and catching up with whoever is awake back in Finland (wife for sure, maybe my son on his way to bed and some friends). Then, at 7am I head to the gym, then make some breakfast and then take a nap waking up around 12 noon.

This usually gets normalized over the course of 7-10 days, so that every day I go to bed a bit later and wake up a bit later until I’m in normal rhythm again.

Yesterday was exactly this. Today, the weather was beautiful. The sun was shining bright and the pollution clouds had drifted away. As I finally cruised my way to the office around noon, there were tons of meetings waiting for me. First, costume department wanted to go through in detail several costume designs. Then, we met with production design team who presented me a set of ideas for some of the key locations. It seems we will be shooting a big portion of the movie in Qingdao instead of Beijing, which suits me well.

The language wall is unfortunately impenetrable with so many people here. Since there is no common language, there’s no way to enjoy the camaraderie of filmmaking family with each other. Since they don’t really understand me, they are mildly afraid of me(maybe also because I’m a fucking giant here..) and treat me gently, always smiling and never understanding what I want. On the other hand, I don’t really know how to make them feel any easier since we just can’t share the inside jokes, the glances and the eyerolls or the victories easily with them. When people talk to me, they rarely look in my eyes, they talk to my 1st AD who does the translating. Of course, the jokes never get translated, only the business. So very quickly I start to feel pretty lonely, all business and no fun makes Jack a dull boy…

But the business, the business is good.

China Diary

Day 1: Moist landings


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Seven hours had gone flying past as the plane touched down on Beijing Capital International Airport. I was greeted with a dreary, gray and damp morning of Beijing with a heavy layer of smog floating over the city. Breathing in, I felt my lungs filling with particulate matters, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, volatile organic compounds and of course, good old carbon monoxide. Welcome home, I sighed, for this was to be my base of operations for the next half a year.

I hadn’t slept on the plane, so I was grumpy and tired with a nice headache building up, but meeting with our new translator turned the tide: it’s hard to remain grumpy when there’s a someone waiting at the airport holding a sign with your name written on it (correctly), and speaking fluent English.

I was whisked away on a car to my new apartment through the Beijing traffic. Watching the endless streams of cars and the pollution-darkened skies, I started feeling hopeless, and climbing to my apartment, which was probably top notch in the early 80’s but now slightly outdated, the realization that I’ll be here, mostly by myself thousands of kilometers away from my beloved wife and my son and my parents, stroke me like a ten ton hammer.

At the office, the production is in full swing. Not everything is in place yet, but everyone is really pushing these last two months before the shoot, so I have a good trust there is enough time. I read the latest script and was relieved, the little tinkering we had done had made it better, and we also had a chance to discuss with the producer for the first time the world we actually are building here. Few adjustments were needed, but we’re pretty well down the right path.

I had requested a welcome dinner, a huge hot pot meal and meeting the production family I’m starting to get to know slowly. There’s Max, the producer. He’s positively crazy, a whirlwind of thousands of things happening simultaneously, but very clear on what he wants, and not a very patient guy for waiting. Lei is the first AD, a Chinese who has worked a lot in the USA, so his English is flawless, and a top notch first AD, probably the best I’ve worked with. There’s the only-Chinese-speaking line producer who looks strangely amazed at everything constantly, whom I bet is a hilarious guy based on reactions people have for his stories. Maxine is the sharp second AD, and then there’s May, the executive producer from Canada, and her son Jonathan, who both are also in my field of communications, speaking perfect English as well. With this rowdy group we’re about to kick off Iron Sky: The Ark, and I couldn’t think of a better posse to do that with. Oh, and Mika will join me in few days as well, he’s still busy finishing Unknown Soldier’s grading back in Finland.

The only really sad piece of news was that since we’re pushing the start date a bit, it seems I’m going to have to spend Christmas here. I was really, really, really looking forward being home by Christmas to see my family, but right now it seems it might be right in the middle of the last shooting week.

Oscars

We lost, by the way, you know…


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Well, the one thing everyone will remember from the Oscars is that… Moment.

So, as expected, La La Land gets the best picture Oscar… almost. Then, things turn weird. There’s a bit of a commotion on the stage as the producers are giving the final thank you -speeches, red envelopes are flicked back and forth, then the reality hits everyone: those giving their acceptance speech actually were not the rightful winners. It was not La La Land, but Moonlight that had won. They had given the announcers Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway the wrong envelope.

Suddenly, the whole stage is full of confused people holding Oscars, Warren Beatty giving a staggering explanation, host Jimmy Kimmel sort of hanging on the edge of things and the producers of La La Land taking charge of, and handling the extremely awkward situation with as much grace as possible, saving what’s left to be saved.

Americans sure know how to entertain.

But, really looking back at the Oscars, the award ceremony was actually a pretty damn good one. The true winners were the African-Americans, gays and the muslims. From Mahershala Ali‘s win as the first muslim to pick the prestigious golden statue for best Supporting Actor to Viola Davis‘ best Supporting Actress award, from White Helmets’ winning the best short documentary (the cinematographer not being allowed into the country) and absent Asghar Farhadi‘s win for best Foreign Picture with The Salesman, and finally Moonlight picking best script and -picture statues – the picks of the Academy were this time surprisingly heavy topics.

This means the Oscars are becoming a better representation of actually good movies. The fact that Moonlight, a film made with under two million USD on a topic that’s rarely even discussed about – gays in black community – won already speaks books about the search for the best film, not just the most enamouring one. Also, the diversity is becoming a norm, not just in theory but in actuality. The days of all-white winners, subjects and stories are in the past, and will be for quite some time.

Now, it’s time for the film community to stand up against what Trump is trying to make the new normal – the racism and the fear.

All in all, the ceremony was great fun, mainly thanks to Jimmy Kimmel’s extraordinarily cool handling of the whole show. While Justin Timberlake’s performance in the beginning was a bit dull, the Hollywood Tour Bus stunt was good fun. The speeches were nice – Viola Davis was strong and gripping, while Casey Affleck was relatively lame (in the fashion of the characters he likes to play). Trump and his politics had a full load of all kind of shit dumped on them, and while Kimmel and the winners were preaching to the choir, I’m sure the word got out: fuck you, Trump.

For me, the best moment was Kimmel’s note about Sweden, after La La Land’s cinematographer Linus Sandgren walked off stage with an Oscar. He said he was sorry to hear what was going on in Sweden just last week, hoping Sandgren’s family and friends are OK, in reference to Trump’s ridiculous statement “look at what’s going on in Sweden”. The bickering between Matt Damon and Jimmy Kimmel was also fun to watch, although I had no idea what it all was about and why.

Obviously, the biggest winner was La La Land, with 6 Oscars, but the real, true winner of the evening was Moonlight, of course because of the Best Picture Oscar, but also because of the cock-up. But the way La La Land’s producers handled the situation was really cool, so big props to them, too. And of course to Damien Chazelle, who, at 32, became the youngest ever Oscar-winning director.

Well, it surely wasn’t a dull show, and mostly great films won the awards – save Suicide Squad, which I think was a dumb film and a shit call from the Academy.

Here are my predictions and what I got right and wrong. Next year better, I guess!

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Oscars

The 2017 Oscar Winners Are…


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Well, La La Land – it goes without saying – is going to win everything. I honestly think, though, that the film sucks. It’s a film about white people and nothing in particular. It’s a soothing, numbing experience that takes us away from the world’s horrors for a moment and gives us a chance to dance into the galaxy like there’s nothing to worry about in the world. Like there wasn’t a war in Syria, a Nazi regime in America shaping up, immigrants drowning trying to get to Europe and inequality and racism becoming a norm again everywhere in the world. To top that, it’s also a musical. Some people love them, but not me.

But let’s, for  just a short, passing minute think that Oscar voters wouldn’t be so obsessed with the good old days of Hollywood, and would actually be interested in contemporary films that have the balls to discuss the current topics, have great, unforgettable performances in them, directed by daring directors who fear not go where directors haven’t gone before, written by writers who care about the world around them and dare to speak their mind, and films that look, sound and feel like nothing you’ve ever seen, felt or heard before.

I know, this is not what Oscars are for, but if it was, the list of winners would be quite different.

The best picture would probably go to Moonlight, a film that discusses homosexuality in black communities. Casey Affleck would grab the best male performance from his extremely precise work on Manchester By Sea, and Emma Stone‘s amazing audition scene in La La Land would stand above all when choosing the best female performance.

Supporting roles would go to Jeff Bridges at Hell or High Water – or even, if the Academy was really daring, to Michael Shannon from Nocturnal Animals – and Viola Davis for her fucking amazing work in Fences.

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Barry Jenkins would grab the best director’s golden statue, and writing Oscars would go to Moonlight and Manchester By The Sea.

But, like I said, it won’t go down like this, unfortunately. La La Land will grab all the important ones it’s being nominated for, save maybe Ryan Gosling, who is merely a thin shadow of what Casey Affleck is a master in – you know, staring and doing nothing. Let’s not even get started with the craft Oscars, all going to La La for sure.

The actual competition this year will most likely be in Foreign Language film, to see whether The Academy fell in love with the German comedy Toni Erdmann more than with the Iranian drama The Salesman, and Documentary Feature, where they either go for the black history at 13th, or shed some tears to the poor souls of Fire At Sea, trying to escape the Middle-Eastern and African horrors to Europe.

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Nevertheless, because Oscars are not about who should get it, but a game of trying to guess what The Academy prefers – here’s my gritty Oscar ballot, left here with a unsatisfied frown on my face. (Note 24.2.2017 – I’m still about to watch few of the contenders, so this might change, but I’ll update latest when the actual broadcast begins.)

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Oh – and if you ask me, the best picture of 2017 was Manchester By The Sea, and the best actor and actress were Casey Affleck and Emma Stone.

Top Films

Top 10 Films of 2016


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The year 2016 was a terrible year, one that won’t be easily forgotten. We lost so many important figures – from Lemmy to David Bowie, Prince to Leonard Cohen, Alan Rickman to Carrie Fisher and so many others. Not only that, but the people, events and movements that gained power and notoriety made it even worse: Trump, Brexit and multiple terrorist attacks across the globe. Personally, it was a devastation as well – my brother Ville sadly passed away suddenly in December.

All this put together, it’s not a surprise the year wasn’t great in film, either. I actually had trouble picking 10 films I thoroughly enjoyed, but here it is nevertheless. Note, I haven’t seen films like La La Land and Manchester By The Sea yet, so it might turn out a bit different in the end.

1: I, DANIEL BLAKE

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The story of two society’s outcasts teaming up together to fight the world has never been this bleak, sad or frustrating. Rarely do I stop to really think the challenges the modern world poses on those not signed up for the digital revolution, but Ken Loach rubs it in our faces so hard it’s hard to miss. Terrific performances from Dave Johns and Hayley Squires, both relatively unknown faces, brought the gritty world of UK bureaucratic wasteland alive.

2: CAPTAIN FANTASTIC

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Another us-versus-the-world film, but with much brighter and positive, Captain Fantastic brought Arago… I mean, Viggo Mortensen to herd a hippie family who just lost their mother. Basically, it’s a road trip movie to the funeral, to be arranged by a stiff upper-class family of the deceased. Lively, sparkling and fun, yet guaranteed to squeeze bucketful of tears, Captain Fantastic left me happily smiling.

3: TONI ERDMANN

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The world has truly gone mad: Trump is the president of USA, UK is no more in EU and the Germans make the best comedy of the year. Disconnect with his daughter leads Winfried to a desperate offensive into her personal life and to the invention of a fake persona with fake teeth, Toni Erdmann. The extremely long film, Toni Erdmann takes advantage of the time available and spends it with the main characters and the crazy events that take place in the world, and carefully convinces us that it’s OK to like, even to laugh at a German comedy.

4: SNOWDEN

A supplementary film to the 2014 Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour is a dramatised account on events that took place, peppered with fictitious characters and scenes, but Oliver Stone‘s tough directing and  Joseph Gordon-Levitt‘s eerily Snowden-like performance make up for them. A solid techno thriller about one of the most important people alive today.

5: HACKSAW RIDGE

Looking for an absolution of the Hollywood, Mel Gibson makes an American war hero movie, but finds a twist never seen before: about a man who never shoots a bullet. Based on true story of Desmond Doss who wanted badly to become a medic but refused to carry a weapon is a cruel, rough WWII portrayal the next film, but with a bit bigger heart and message to carry around.

6: THE HAPPIEST DAY IN THE LIFE OF OLLI MÄKI

Olli Mäki is a legend I never heard of before the movie got made, but fell in love with quickly as portrayal of his personality, brought alive by Jarkko Lahti, made its’ way in the big screen. The under-stated boxing film is an exact antonym of American boxing films like Rocky, but the twist is brilliant: a boxer who falls in love. Shot in black and white, the film has been appraised for its’ humane qualities.

7: 13TH

Selma director Ava DuVernay continues her work on the black history, this time digging into the big, gaping hole in the US legal system that is the prison system, a legalised form of slavery. While made in a very American style with all the bells and whistles clanking and tooting to keep the the attention of the kids, the film reminds us that while US is so concentrated on fighting the racism by condemning the “N”-word, it’s actually not doing anything to the very problem itself.

8: GHOSTBUSTERS

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While Ghostbusters is definitely not worthy of its’ predecessor in 1984, it’s a really fun and quite original, but definitely not without flaws. It remains to be seen whether the film makes enough dough to deliver a sequel, it’s not really looking like that, but there is much gas in the ladies still left. What resonates the most in the film is that it’s being made with loads of love and fun, real trust in the end result. It’d be shame if they weren’t given another chance just because Internet trolls did what they do best, bash women, and marketing team failed to swing the hatred to their advantage.

9: STAR TREK BEYOND

Star Trek (2009) was a great start new start for the beloved Star Trek franchise, but stumbled with the second part Into Darkness. Picking up the pieces left by Abrams as he jumped the ship to the Star Wars world, director Justin Lin managed to pull off a completely decent Star Trek movie, not a masterpiece but not among the worst ones out there. The “every second Star Trek movie works” -rule still applies.

10: BODOM

Happy to be able to bring in a two mentions of a Finnish movie this year, Bodom managed to surpass all the expectations by being just a very well made teen slasher film with a script that actually worked. Fresh faces on the screen (Nelly Hirst-Gee is going to be a star!) and fresh energy behind the camera, Bodom was a good, original and damn beautiful horrorish, mildly slashery piece of entertainment.

 

 

 

Reviews

Ghostbusters (2016) Review


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The stars have always been aligned wrong to the new Ghostbusters movie. Replacing the beloved classic’s all-male cast with all-female sounded like an unestablished gimmick rather than a properly-balanced decision. The first trailer gained several tonnages of shit from the Internet, and while the second did a bit better, the damage was already done. It unearthed the holy wrath of the fanboys and -girls, misogynists and Internet trolls – and although even the original cast was supporting the film, the marketing team failed to turn the tide on the expectations: Ghostbusters never had a chance of success.

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But honestly, the only thing the film fails in dramatically is in not being the film we all love to hate – because actually, it’s quite good.

When remakes are made they are usually quite soulless VFX extravaganzas that have lost both the originality and the heart in the process of trying to update them to the audience of 2010’s. I’m looking at you, Robocop and Total Recall. Ghostbusters dares to go further, trying to find the new soul to the film in where the soul usually relies: director and cast. Choosing Paul Feig, truly the Ivan Reitman of the new millennium, as the director and going all-female allows the update to really bravely go where remakes rarely get to go.

Having said that, the film is very, very, very American-audience oriented – and that’s one of its’ downfalls. The super-americanized comedy will lose in translation in any other languages, and dubbing will be nearly impossible task to reach the same level of banter and dialogue, which marks so much of today’s style of comedy anyway, which will mean it won’t have a lot of chances outside its’ core market. Having being banned in China, even the Eastern money won’t save the fact that Ghostbusters is a film made for Americans and all the business it’s going to make will have to happen mostly in America.

One of the topics raised also on the Internet discussions are that it’s counter-sexist – in this case, meaning sexism against men. That is acknowledgeable, yes, but the funny thing about sexism is that it’s a door that swings both ways, and it’s refreshing to see a film where men are dumb, or cute, or helpless and in need of a damsel to save them from distress.

The main strength of the Ghostbusters is the quintet, and it works really well: Melissa McCarthy is stellar and really carries the movie in her shoulders and when it stumbles she refuses to let it fall, while Kristen Wiig takes the main role of the most relatable character. Leslie Jones is plain crazy and quite fun, but much-praised Kate McKinnon‘s character Holtzmann doesn’t really do the trick for me. Maybe she’s trying to weird out too much and comes across mainly annoying, or maybe I’ve seen that role being played much better by other actors in the past… Nevertheless, the only man in the Ghostbusters group is the dumb blonde Chris Hemsworth, who is on the verge of exploding to a supernova of his own charisma, but Feig has toned and dumbed him down enough to make him not necessarily likeable, but a good social commentary if nothing else – this is how female characters are usually in movies of this kind, and now the tables have turned. The only thing really missing are relationships: there’s no believable love interests or relationships being born in the film, and even the McCarthy-McKinnon lesbian couple tingle has been toned down too much to really deliver.

Cameos are mostly redundant, but blissfully quick. There’ Ozzy and three original Ghostbusters (yes, Bill Murray is there, but he’s not really that good…) and Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and Slimer.

While Ghostbusters is definitely not worthy of its’ predecessor in 1984 (yes, it’s better than part 2, though), it’s a really fun and quite original, but definitely not without flaws. It remains to be seen whether the film makes enough dough to deliver a sequel, it’s not really looking like that, but there is much gas in the ladies still left. What resonates the most in the film is that it’s being made with loads of love and fun, real trust in the end result. It’d be shame if they weren’t given another chance just because Internet trolls did what they do best, bash women, and marketing team failed to swing the hatred to their advantage.

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Reviews

George Orwell’s “1984” and the power of doublethink in our current politics


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1984As a science fiction filmmaker, I’m always freaking out when the dystopian visions from different scifi writers turn from fantasy to reality either slowly or overnight. Having just finished my first time of reading George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, it’s obviously more true than ever. The “Big Brother Is Watching You” –idea of all-seeing, all-controlling government that monitors every aspect of your life is obvious when reading about NSA’s operations uncovered by Edward Snowden and more recently, Russia’s plan to openly start doing the exact same.

But what sturck me hardest on even more acute basis on reading Orwell’s magnificent science fiction book was the term doublethink – which seems to be describing quite accurately the current political toolkit on especially the right wing side.

Doublethink is – and I’m quoting Wikipedia here – the acceptance of or mental capacity to accept contrary opinions or beliefs at the same time, especially as a result of political indoctrination.

In other words it allows you to both accept that certain piece of information is both true and untrue at the same time, and just go about your life with this fact in mind. Looking at the political campaigns of late – the Brexit, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign etc. – the one thing in common is that they are based on lies and false accusations and constant flooding of disinformation, which is blatant and obvious. But the most characteristic behaviour is the voters’ will to choose to accept these apparent non-truths, simultaneously understanding that they are and can not be anything but lies, but still allowing them to lead their voting behaviour.

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The master of doublethink.

And the politicians know this. Nigel Farage, Donald Trump and in Finland Timo Soini are using the people’s willing doublethink to push on, overtaking country by country and driving us into an Orwellian nightmare. The people have ceased to care of the truths, and are even defending the politicians for their blatant lies. This is what’s new – before, the politicians have lied to us, of course, but they’ve tried to cover the lies and when uncovered, they’ve lost the trust of the people. Today, the people say “I understand that this isn’t true, but in order for the world to become a place where I’m happy to live in, the lies are justified and I choose to believe they are true.” This is, in its’ very essence, what Orwell described as doublethink.

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In the book, the main character, mr. Smith, begins as a government drone in a cubicle, fabricating the past to fit the needs of the future. One day, he opens up a diary and secretly starts writing his own thoughts – not those fed by government – on the paper. Those words breaks apart the doublethink lifestyle he’s been leading, a woman emerges in his life and the proverbial excrement is ready to hit the fan.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the world has gone past the tipping point and nothing can be done to the world anymore. In our current, we’re not quite there yet, but moving swiftly towards it. If lie-fed cows like Brexit campaigners and Trump are allowed to lead, soon doublethink is not just a word, but a rule and anything contradicting it is thoughtcrime, punishable by not only death, but something even worse.

George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four remains to be even more relevant than before. It’s a great read, not exactly easy holiday book (I took it with me as a poolside book to St. Martin, which gave it an interesting twist) but a thought-provoking and scary one. I’m yet to see the Michael Radford‘s film from 1984, starring stellar John Hurt, which I’m looking forward to very much.

★★★★★

Opinions

Star Trek: Axanar – is Paramount committing a Fanicide, and why it doesn’t matter (to them)?


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Fanicide is a term meaning an action or decision which leads to the abandonment by the fanbase. Fanicide happens either deliberately, when power- or money hungry entities make a call that completely disregards the wishes and needs of the fanbase, or indeliberately when trying to renew, change or modify the direction of the IP, or policies, but execute the changes badly. Famous examples are Star Wars prequels, Queen’s Hot Space -album and Finnish politic party True Finns decision to go to the government.

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When we released our first film Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning, I spent the next year every morning in fear when clicking open my email. I was awaiting the letter the producers of the fan film Star Trek: Axanar received yesterday: a formal charges by Paramount Pictures, the owner of the Star Trek IP. That letter never came, thankfully, and neither did it land on the desk of the producers of Star Trek: Of Gods And Men, Starship Exeter, Star Trek Continues, Hidden Frontier, Intrepid, Phase II or any of the other, countless Star Trek fan films.

When Universal, the biggest competitor of Paramount, picked Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning for distribution, we did go through the one-year trouble of changing all the rendered VFX shots into original design spaceships, just to make sure there was no copyright infringements left when going ‘pro’ – releasing the film under the monstrous name Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning – Imperial Edition.

But why now? Why is suddenly Star Trek: Axanar being sued after so many years of tolerance from the IP owners? And will this lead into charges by Disney on all Star Wars fan films, which are an even bigger phenomenon? Lucasfilm tolerated, even cherished the fan films, but will it change now that Disney is in charge? Does it mean an end to the whole fan film – and possibly, on a larger scale – fan art culture?

I don’t think so. I think Paramount is pulling a massive asshole move in charging Axanar, and it might very well lead into alienation of the hardcore fans, but at the same time, I partly understand them and their actions.

TRADEMARK DILUTION

The dilution in this case means the theoretical fear of the lawyers that in case they are not suing those using their trademarks and IP without their consent, they are not enforcing the trademark enough, and in some theoretical future day a judge might decide they’ve given a silent approval of the use of the trademark.

And they have approved the use of their trademarks for so many years now, as long as there has been the fan art culture around Star Trek. But now, as the business is getting too real from their perspective, they are forced to do such moves. The main reason is not that suddenly Star Trek: Axanar – produced with 1/150th of the budget of the actual, proper Star Trek franchise products – would surpass or take over their market share, but the fear that maybe one day Universal decides to make their own Star Trek movie, and when these  giants get into courtroom, they don’t want to give any possible opening for the competitor to strike back.

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Alec Peters, one of the producers of Star Trek: Axanar.

Having said that, the producers of Axanar are quite vocal on challenging the Paramount studio quality with their products.

“While some may call it a ‘fan film’ as we are not licensed by CBS, Axanar has professionals working in front and behind the camera, with a fully-professional crew — many of whom have worked on Star Trek itself — who ensure Axanar will be the quality of Star Trekthat all fans want to see.”

The problem here is that there’s no moderation between a major studio and a fan filmmaker here, in the eyes of the lawyers at least. Ideally, there would be a legal exception which would defend IP owners from major infringements, but allow “unofficial” fan art being produced, even with a little bit of money involved in it.

IT’S GETTING PROFESSIONAL

The other “mistake” Axanar producers made was that they let their production become too professional, meaning there was too much real money involved (they’ve raised over $1 million so far from the fanbase using crowdfunding) and – also – too many a real actors casted.

The problem with real money is, I believe, that Paramount had defined a sweet spot, and when that had been crossed – meaning, over 1 million was being invested in the production of the fan product on their IP without their involvement – they would move to sue. Before this, all these fan films were made with quite small amounts of money – Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning was produced with 15k€, for example – but now we’re talking of real money, and raising over 1 million, Axanar people went too far in the eyes of Paramount.

But let’s be realistic at the same time. That 1 million dollars will be sucked into the production in no time, and probably the filmmakers will be even left with a debt after the film is done. Axanar will be released for free, so there’s not a lot of profit in it, even though they may be selling a handful of Blurays and T-shirts. This is real fan activity: from fans, who are willing to put years of their life and a lot of their own money into the production. What’s the point in punishing them? Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of solidarity when it comes to the IP worth of hundreds of millions…

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Richard Hatch plays the role of Klingon general Kharn in Star Trek: Axanar

The cast issue has to do with the trademark dilution: when too many professional actors join the cast, a real confusion can happen between the official productions and a fan film. Instead of your friend, his hot girlfriend, your mom and brother’s jiu-jutsu -trained army buddy, Axanar has actual actors involved: Richard Hatch played Tom Zarek in Galactica, Tony Todd – a horror legend, and even actors who’ve played roles in the original Star Trek TV series, reprising their role on this one.

The lawyers are, again, worried to lose the integrity of their trademark when things get too professional. But still, it’s an overprotective act – we are talking about a product that’s being made with 1/150th of the budget of new Star Treks. It may be good, but it will never be mixed with the actuals.

Or will it?

THEY DON’T NEED THE OLD FANS

Unfortunately, the hardest fact, though, is that Paramount or CBS don’t really need the old fans anymore. With JJ‘s help, they’ve renewed the whole series, introduced it to a whole new moviegoing audience who were 16-20 when the 2009 Star Trek came out. To them, the old TV series are ancient history, to them Star Trek is all about Zachary Quinto, Beastie Boys, cool motorcycle jumps and that weird hand sign which has something to do with William Shatner, or something like that, used mostly to prove that although I’m cool I’m still a bit geeky y’know. None of these people have ever even heard the name of Gene Roddenberry.

Previously, Paramount has been clearly worried about angering the fans, but the biggest service JJ did, in addition for a bunch of quite successful films, was that they were finally free of the old fandom and are free to build on a new one.

And that’s quite clear, looking at the new trailer for the upcoming Star Trek. Very little of Roddenberry’s legacy is left there. One might even say that the last, best hope for Roddenberrian Star Trek are nowadays the fan films, so for the sake of that bit of cultural history, they should be left alive.

When we made Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning, released in 2005, it was a whole different world back then. Internet video was new. We became the first ever feature length film released on the Internet, the first ever feature length fan film and the first ever crowdsourced and -funded feature film. None of this had been made back then, and although fandoms existed and fan art existed, it never really became so popular as it did with In the Pirkinning. 

Nowadays, fan films are becoming and established art form, one which can not only entertain the fans, but also keep franchises alive through dark times. And right now, Star Trek is heading deep into an uncharted, dark territory, where no fans want to follow it anymore. It may be that Paramount needs Axanar more than it realizes.