China Diary

Day 54: Sleepless in Beijing…

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Four hours is not a lot, but that’s what I got last night. I opened my eyes to a darkened room, wondering if I was already hours late or way early – my cell had run out of battery. Unfortunately, it was early – 6:58 am. Thanks, brain… I guess going through the film twice yesterday kept me only half-asleep the night, at least based on the weird-ass dreams.

The first meeting today was about props, stunts and sets in the main action locations. Our production manager was late almost two hours, so we had to start without him, but as we went on, many of the issues became clearer and more specific, until I learned we lost one of the key locations in the film. It was one of those things that bug me: for weeks we had been asking for a confirmation for the location. Then, on the meeting I bring it up again, and one of the location people just grabs a phone, makes one 3 minute phone call and tells it’s not possible to use the location. At all. Ever. In any capacity. I wonder how long he had been sitting on that piece of information before dropping the bomb…

Infuriating. To be honest, everything should be shot in studio, so this kind of problems wouldn’t arise…

Still, all the other discussions we had were quite clarifying, and then it was time to continue the construction vs. CGI -discussion, which went on for hours and hours again, but luckily this time, we finished in time. I managed to leave the office around 6pm and arrived back home, only to find out the Internet on the hotel is dead. A quick nap later life was looking up again, I went to grab a bite outside at my beloved Chinese local joint – the one with terrible service, noisy atmosphere and food I never have any idea what it’s supposed to be. I ended up ordering randomly something, which turned out to be fried soy rice, some kind of a tofu soap and something that’s kinda like sweet bread with a sweet, sugary sauce to dip it in. Not my favorite, but it was edible nevertheless.

Tomorrow: up early, first test shoot day ahead!

China Diary

Day 53: Brainfry

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The surest way to fry your brains is to have two huge meetings in one day, during which each you go through every shot of the movie. I was already pretty tired after a badly-slept night and had to really crank myself to be able to sit through the first schedule meeting, which, in its’ level of detail, is exhausting. Also, there’s the whole crew around and everyone has questions regarding their departments. And as the meetings goes on, it becomes more clear that I’m missing 90% because either the translation is really general at best, or completely nonexistent, also the discussions seem to spread around every conceivable topic, sometimes heating up, sometimes ending in laughter. And when I ask, after 20 minutes of something being talked, shouted and laughed over, the answer is: “oh, it’s nothing, all clear.”

OK, good.

Anyway, after hours of that meeting, there was a short break and we continued our everlasting shot-by-shot construction vs. CGI meeting, which we had cut short last night because at the end the film is becoming more complicated and it needed all our brains 120% there. I found myself trying to keep the focus of the meeting there – this time, we were doing it all in English and I was running the show – but still, as complications arise, questions pile up and much of the time goes into wandering about details when the big picture should be in mind.

After another hundred and seventy two hours of this, we decided to break it off because everyone was getting tired and there still was much hard stuff to go through.

Dinner! Yay! Hot pot! We took a car and had a very nice dinner with Max and the production team, in honor of Mika’s girlfriend to be exact, which was a great way to wind down the braincrunching day. As I came home, I found Annika online and we chatted for hours. I think. I did watch a Göstä Sundqvist -documentary on YouTube, and then we chatted some more, and by the time I went to bed it was already 4 am, not good given that the next day would be an early one, too.

China Diary

Day 52: Stressful days ahead

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Today we finally begun constructions for our key sets in Qingdao, and had our first big storyboard meeting with the whole team, going through shot-by-shot how each of the shots will be made – what’s built on set, what will be done with VFX and what kind of plates we will need to compile the shot. It’s tedious, but simultaneously extremely clear way to communicate to the whole team in very practical terms all the details required for each shot.

Keep on cheering, Chris, because there’s many more of meetings like this still to come 🙂

For whatever reason, I hadn’t slept well – maybe it was the fact that The Fear had set in – and I expect the following weeks to be more and more stressful. Thus, I’m trying to keep my head together and not start worrying about things that are out of my reach – whenever I go through a stressful work phase, also things I’m unable to do anything with start to create addition baggage. Right now, I do have quite a lot on my plate on all fronts, and it’s hard to keep each bit separated, but I’m getting better at ignoring the noise. Better focus on Iron Sky The Coming Race, Iron Sky: The Ark and trying to get my family to visit me here in China, and I should be pretty well off.

We also received the latest shooting schedule for Iron Sky: The Ark today, which dictates the start of the shoot to be 18th of October, and finishing off 17th on January. That’s altogether 70 actual shooting days in two countries, which is more than double on what we had with Iron Sky The Coming Race. Still, it feels it’s going to be very tight, but then again, the script is also big. 141 pages, dozens of locations all over the world and space and Moon, five big action sequences, tens of speaking roles – and of course, mostly all in Chinese. So yeah, I’m starting to be slightly stressed…

The weather in Beijing is slowly turning definitely towards autumn. The days are smoggier now than they were few weeks ago – the horizon looks like the game engine ran out of juice and someone turned down the graphic settings, and in the evening walking around in shorts can get rather chilly. Still, it’s mostly mid-twenties in celsius here for big part of the day. I heard also back in Finland the October Rust is slowly setting in, but the days are still long and warm and beautiful. I really miss Finnish autumn, I must say.


China Diary

Day 51: The Fear Is Here

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Finally, today, the Fear arrived.

This is what I’ve been waiting for, knowing it’s on its’ way, but haven’t really felt it until this morning. The Fear. The Impending Doom. The “Impostor Syndrome”.

I’ve had it twice before, and now it’s here for the third time. It happens every time a little bit before shooting the new film begins, and it hits you hard. It’s the horrific understanding that in a very, very short time you have to helm a project worth of millions of dollars, hyper-professional actors and crew around you, while the clock is ticking away and the producers are watching over your performance, and you have to deliver an impeccable film and make no mistakes. It’s the understanding of the pressure that’s been building up for the last one and a half years, and the realizing you can’t run away anymore, no matter what. It’s the fear of being exposed as a “fraud”, not knowing what you are doing, how you are going to pull this one off and the feeling that soon everyone will know you’ve just been fooling them, that you’re not a real director and should never helm a project of this or any other scale.

It’s also the throat-crushing feeling that you’re not ready for the first shooting day. I haven’t had the naked-on-the-set -dreams yet for this movie, the ones where I walk on the set in just my underwear (or did I have one the other night… not totally sure), but they are coming for sure.

For the first Iron Sky, I remember my morning jog path went right past the first shooting location. For the few weeks before the shoot I stopped there, imagined how I would direct the day minute-by-minute. For Iron Sky The Coming Race, I wandered to the big studio every day for the last few weeks before the shoot, watching as the big set was being built, again, imagining how the first day will unfold.

Of course, the first shooting day went nothing like I had imagined. And that’s just fine. It’s amazing how quickly one adjusts to the chaos and flurry of the shoot. But the fear is the guiding light towards the first shooting day, and it won’t leave you. It’s actually a friendly feeling – if I didn’t have it, I should be more worried. Then, I would know for sure I’m not prepared at all. The Fear, instead, tells me that everything is moving to the right direction.

I think it was Spielberg, whom I don’t associate myself with at all but respect as a director hugely, who said that even still, after all these years, every first shooting day of his new film he has to pull off by the side of the road to puke.

Making a film is always such a big undertaking, preparation of many months and the expectations of hundreds, thousands – and eventually, millions, but the audience you shouldn’t worry about at this point – all coming down to one focal point of your life, and there’s nowhere to run.

But the Fear tells you’re doing the right thing.

So, no fear, the Fear is here.

China Diary

Day 50: Six lanes of traffic, three lanes moving slow…

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Another one of those days which could be flushed down the toilet. Another wasted day in my hotel room bed, trying to make one decent video call to my wife to see her face for a bit, and another day of constant “poor connection”, “reconnecting”… I declined a room service since I don’t want my room to be cleaned, not today. I want my clothes stay in the corner I tossed them yesterday, I want my bedsheets messy and my tables flooded with petty cash and restaurant receipts from last night. I don’t want to see anybody. I also declined to visit the Summer Palace with Mika and his girlfriend, because I really can’t take a happy couple in a romantic park right now. I should work on the script a bit, but I can’t bring myself to open the damn file. All I do is lay here, smelling bad and feeling like shit, Mark Knopfler’s lonely guitar sounds as my only company. So, a typical Sunday mood these days.

This is my relationship these days…

IMG_0096Nevertheless, yesterday was not a bad day, work-wise. I got around the office in the noon and right away I was introduced to the actor Tank Dong who will play the character Uncle Pan in Iron Sky: The Ark; it was a costume fitting, and we had some fun time coming up with his look and picking weapons for him (the only one we had there was too small – he’s a big guy – and actually played a role in Skyfall, giving a good beating to mr. Bond himself. He’s an ex pro boxer, so finding stuff that fits his commendable frame is a challenge, but I think we managed to find a great outfit for him.

We’ve been working on the storyboards with Mika for quite a long time now, and they are starting to be in order. Jonathan from the office has been doing big sorting through all the boards, trying to match them to the script, and finally we have most of it done. The use of the storyboards is in many ways essential to our style of production. It’s easy to color with green everything that’s going to be made in VFX, and easy to explain to all the departments on what they need to build, what not, and what’s still lacking. I’m slightly worried, to be honest, with our art department – we have so much to build, and I think they haven’t really started on anything. I know once they are on the job, they are fast, but there’s still quite a lot of questions open in the air and we are about to shoot in less than a month, so I really hope next week the construction begins, otherwise we have nothing but green walls to shoot! (Which is pretty much the way we shot Iron Sky 1, so it would be nothing new…)

After the workday, we had a dinner with Mika and his girlfriend and some people from the production. The mushrooms were above everything, although it was just a terrific meal all in all, and not far from the hotel, too! I wish I would know the Chinese foods the way the locals do. Whenever I go to a restaurant and order for myself, I get absolutely the least inedible items on the list. Whenever the locals go, they order the table full of amazing dishes… I just have no idea how they do that.

Anyway, I’m a miserable shadow of a man myself now, but I’m happy at least one of us expats has company here. Hopefully Annika can come over here when we start shooting, right now we’re trying to aim for that. Crossing fingers!

China Diary

Day 49: TGIF

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The night was restless and sweaty, and I woke up already at 7 am for the first time, just to toss and turn in my bed for an hour or so until falling back to sleep. When I finally woke up, it was already nearly eleven and I had royally missed the breakfast, which was fine since I was still quite full after last night’s heavy burger dinner.

Back in Finland, my pal Jesse Haaja had just had his first feature film released, a Finnish superhero movie Rendel, and my wife and most of my pals back home had celebrated the premiere, which I totally missed of course, being stuck here on the other side of the world. Well, anyway Jesse, if you read this – congrats, man!

The day at the office was pretty fun, though. Maxine, our 2nd AD, had worked all through the night to translate the script, so when I arrived, she left home for sleep – but not before delivering me the brand new script! I started reading it instantly, but the day was dotted with loads of meetings: first costume fittings for one of the actors, then a meeting with Max who had just returned from Iran (he praised the country), then few meetings with production designer, stunts coordinator and propmaster… See, the fact is, we are shooting in less than a month! There’s so much to be done by then, and since we haven’t really even started to build sets yet, a lot of things are about to hit the ground and they better do so running! But now that we finally have the script, it’s much easier to operate. Now I’m able to set all the meetings and make all the decisions that have been a bit in the air and which I’ve been reluctant to nail before I read the script – and good that I didn’t! For example, the new script has expanded one location from one scene to three scenes – so the studio plan for that scene needs to be completely re-taught. Nobody wants to see us crammed in a small corner if we are about to spend five minutes of the movie in there…

After the hectic day, me and Mika headed for a very spicy dinner, visited a barbershop to get our hair straight, and finished the evening at a local, beautiful whiskey bar over a glass of high quality whiskey sour, made into Maker’s Mark, of course. Now I’m sitting in my bed, cursing the bad Internet connection and playing a bit of Skyrim. TGIF.

China Diary

Day 48: Heavy Metal Burger

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I was feeling antsy yesterday, needing something different to do instead of just sitting in my hotel room bed and waiting for the script translation to finish, so I googled what events would Beijing have going on – and just by accident, I noticed a Finnish heavy metal band Battle Beast was playing not five kilometers away from the office! Although I can’t say I’m a huge fan, I thought it’s a great way to spend an evening, so I arranged tickets and headed over there. This would be my second time I see a metal band play in China – last time was Gorgoroth show in Hong Kong many years ago on Iron Sky 1’s release tour.

Suicyco Muthafucka ready for the show!

I arrived to the venue way too early, got my ticket and wandered off to the small Hutong streets, and found a little corner restaurant where I enjoyed a beer and some lamb skewers before the show. The venue was just like these rock venues are, in a pretty good shape and of a good size for the band like Battle Beast, and the sounds were pretty good, too. It was fun to see Chinese metalheads suddenly appearing all around, when normally you don’t see them anywhere. I spotted tens of familiar band t-shirts, just like in any European metal club, and to my great surprise, the people really seemed to know Battle Beast the band and even some of their songs, which is interesting since I’ve hardly even heard of them before. Big in China, I guess. And it’s pretty good idea to be big in China, since, well, it’s a big country!

Battle Beast, from Finland, in Beijing!
Safe and convenient!

The evening was nice, but also I did feel like not really belonging there. During the whole evening, not one person approached me or spoke to me, so apart from the sideway glances, I was left pretty much alone. After the show I thought about getting a cab, but realized it’s not easy, and ended up walking few kilometers instead, and found myself close to the place where I had the burger the other day – Great Leap Brewing. And indeed, I was feeling a bit hungry despite the lamb skewers, and decided to pop in for a glass of high-quality craft beer and one of the best burgers I’ve had in my life.

Again, I was left alone, but the curious glances are constant. I realize i don’t really fit in here, being a European giant among the normal folk, but it’s still getting a bit on my nerves.

Later on, I found a way to get a taxi and headed homewards. The metal show was a nice interruption to my daily routines here, and the burger is always a wonderful way to end the day, so all in all, I had a pretty nice day.

Well, given the circumstances, at least…

China Diary

Day 47: A Dog Year

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Ah, another joyous trip to the Visa Renewal Office half an hour car ride away, and another instant rejection at the counter because now they were missing a correct stamp. We waited for another two hours at the office, after which I got fed up, informed Crystal the assistant that me and Mika would be getting the hell out of there and they’ll let us know when they have the papers in order.

Back at the office, I finally got to hear the rundown of the changes for the script. Max had worked with the Chinese writer and produced a five pages longer script, which focuses on some important points of the movie, but luckily didn’t really change the key set pieces too much. I had feared we might be in for a huge production overhaul, but it seems it’s all “just” in the dialogue and the logic behind everything, so it should be controllable.

The office guys thought they’ll run a little practical joke on me today. For lunch, I asked for a hamburger, but instead of a normal burger they – for whatever Chinese comedic reason that evades me – they ordered a 1,5kg burger the size of a pizza! It took nearly two hours to produce and when it landed on our table, we both were nearly knocked off of our chairs with Mika. Who’s gonna eat that? Not me (at least: not all… and in the end, I ate half of it). That, of course, led to a feelings of self-loathe, instant ugliness, dramatic weight gain and other fun stuff that comes along when eating nearly 1kg of utter crap… And remember, yesterday I had had a burger as well.

So when I came back to the hotel, I went to the gym to sweat off some of the disgust I had accumulated, and managed pretty well in it, actually. I spent good nearly two hours there, listening to a handful of podcasts (my favorites are in addition to Dan Savage’s magnificient Savage Love Podcast, also BBC’s History Extra -podcast, How Stuff Works -podcast and Mark Kermode’s film podcast) and working on the weights.

The Internet Gods who dwell this hotel blessed my floor with pretty good connection, so I managed to finish this Jeff Bridges -movie “A Dog Year”, a TV-movie from 2009 which did gain him an Emmy nomination, and no wonder. The film itself was easily brushed off as a typical midlife crisis film with dogs, but instead of the dogs being intelligent, talking superhero Lassies of the story, they were just dogs. Lovable, a bit dumb and absolutely out of control – but it was more about Jeff’s character, a bitter writer fighting writer’s block (I wonder how many films like that are in existence, not to mention novels…) and how he learns – you guessed it – something about himself.

Oh, and we did get our Visas renewed, Mika for another 30 days, me for another 60… We had asked for a longer extension, so that we wouldn’t have to fly around during the shoot which only has one day off each week and we’d rather spend it relaxing than sitting in planes en route to Seoul or Hong Kong, but oh well. At least we don’t have to fly out right away…

China Diary

Day 46: Official Business and Craft Beers

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We were ushered to a van early in the morning and driven across the town to the Visa Offices, where our intention was to renew our Chinese Visas. See, me and Mika both managed to get a multiple-entry Visas for China, but unfortunately they only gave them for 60 and 30 days, respectively. This would mean that during our trip, I would have to travel out of the country every 60 days, and Mika every 30 days. Flying to Hong Kong and directly flying back counts as a re-entry, so that would be the solution, but that’s just stupid, not to mention the fact we are actually working on an “environmentally aware” film, this kind of carbon footprint is what Planet Earth could live without.

The office building is just as office buildings everywhere else in the world are, but the one thing that I’ve found different from authoratives in China compared to Finland for example is that they are a damn grumpy bunch, many of them. First, we waited for about two hours in line to meet an officer, and when we finally got to sit in front of her, she took a glance at our papers, handed them back and said: your company is registered in the wrong district. Well, that’s just awesome.

We went back to the office through a nasty traffic and wasted most of the day (well, I did, at least, Mika managed to do some real work actually) just sitting around. I’m still waiting for the latest script, and before I get that, I’m a bit reluctant to start anything major because it could potentially be a waste of time and effort, and anyway I have this underground drain of motivation already filling up to the brim, so instead I headed back home.

The whole hotel room has started to crunch me, day by day. The 15 square meters or something seems to be getting smaller and more depressing every time I step in, and now it was not even 5pm – and the idea of spending the next 8 hours in this cell of mine didn’t sound like a plan. Instead, I Googled “Best Burger in Beijing”, and decided it’s time to see what this city is made of.

One of the perks I enjoy is having a personal driver at my disposal whenever needed. As a humble Finn I’m reluctant to use such perks more than once a week, although the driver is always really happy to drive me around. But today, I decided, I needed a lift instead of an uncomfortable Berlin taxi experience, so soon I was being hauled to a restaurant/pub called Great Leap Brewing #12 Brewpub.

Another retreat for the expats, the place was positively packed, with very few Asians faces around – outside of people behind the bar (and no, it doesn’t mean I don’t like to have Asians around, it’s just the fact in this specific bar thank you very much now sit down). I decided to find my seat and the next few hours of my evening sitting at the bar counter, enjoying an amazing Cheese Burger and few craft beers from across the world.



China Diary

Day 45: Back on the Track

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After yesterday’s disappointment, I decided to gather myself and we agreed with Annika a new schedule for her arrival, and now we have a clear date in mind when she gets here and although it’s far in the future, it’s still much better than not having a date set at all.

Otherwise, the day went past in a blur. I went swimming in the morning – I really hate it, it’s dull and boring and splashy and wet and what not, but it’s good for the joints, we big humans should give our joints a rest every now and then. Then, at the office I heard Max had finished a new version of the script and now I’m waiting to get the translation.

Afternoon, I started to feel a bit weak. I’ve got no idea what it was, probably the bad air quality outside, but it was almost a bit like a fever, but then again, not exactly – kinda sore throat and overall fatigue that set in. I skated back to my hotel quite early and took a good two-hour nap, dreaming of a Mongolian punk band doing Suicidal Tendencies covers (don’t ask).

As I woke up, the news of Annika not being able to come to China next week hit us both hard, so most of the night went recovering from that. Like I told already yesterday, I tried watching a movie, but the Internet wouldn’t let me, so I ended up playing some Skyrim, and started something that could one day be a screenplay.

Now it’s 01:15, my brains are still overheated from all the stuff that went down today, but since I have an early one tomorrow – we’re trying to get an extension to our Visas, so a lot of sitting around at Chinese government offices ahead for me. Better try get some sleep.