China Diary / Day 5 – Squatting issues

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So, I have two issues here: the food doesn’t sit well with my stomach, and I don’t understand how the squat toilets. work.

You do the math.

The other day we started off by visiting one of the VFX companies here. We were greeted not by the owners, or any of the artists, but two guys who appeared to be more salesmen. They showed us a comprehensive reel of their works and workflow, but unfortunately, we were left rather unimpressed. It’s the problem when the visual effects are being presented by people who sell them, but have no actual understanding on quality – I’m sure they would’ve had much better stuff to show us, the company is big and prominent, but they were more interested int he way their hair looked than how the hairs of the CG lion acted.

Later in the evening, we casted another new face to Iron Sky: The Ark. It’s one of those open-the-door-and-cast-instantly -cases, we needed to cast a girl to play the role of a very famous internet star, so what better solution than cast an actual Internet celebrity. And the celebrities here in China are a whole different world. She’s the daughter of a very well-known Chinese actor, arrived with a private plane and is 19 years of age… But so adult already, I never for a second felt I was talking to a person half my age. I guess becoming a star at young age forces you to grow up earlier – in both good and bad.

Hello, do you have a minute to talk about the Great Cthulhu?

We ended the long day to a fantastic seafood restaurant. Like I said, I had had my stomach in a pretty bad shape more or less right from when I arrived, so I was a bit shy to eat everything on the plate, but it was so good I couldn’t resist myself, and ended up chugging plates full of octopi, crabs and shrimps with half a bottle of beautiful sake.

At home, I chatted with Annika for good three-four hours. It’s funny, I just can’t get used or bored to her thoughts, her way of thinking, her sense of humour. Being apart from her feels bad, but thank the great Cthulhu for Skype, VPN and all the means of modern communication. Well, guess that’s why I married her – it’s a good idea to pick someone you’d happily spend the rest of your life in a deserted island with, just in case North Korea decides to go crazy and throws us into a full-fletched nuclear war.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Struggling to finish the edit

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After yesterday’s successful screening, we started to hack through the notes – the viewers’ and ours’ – but found ourselves stuck edit after edit with some unforseeable problems.

First, editing with Final Cut Pro 7 is outdated, that goes without saying, but since the project was started with it, it’s not possible to go anywhere else anymore. This means, endless crashing and constant need for rendering, which means many rounds of Hearthstone for me as we’re waiting for nothing to happen.

Second, we found ourselves staring at numerous problems in the cut that felt very small but turned out to be a pain in the ass to fix. The guy is looking down in this shot, and the following, he’s looking up. Sure it’s easy to fix, let’s just dig into the material and find another take… but, alas, there is no other take in this size. And to change the shot size, we’re killing the whole flow.

Or the transition shots I mentioned before: going from Moon to Earth. Somehow Lucas and Spielberg manage to make traveling great distances in their films seem so easy (see: the Star Wars screen wipes and the map in Indiana Jones), but for some reason our transition just doesn’t work the same way. I mean, it’s almost there, but still it sticks out like a sore thumb from otherwise smoothly flowing film. The only solutions we have seem either too expensive (and no, we’re not going to do reshoot just for one transition) or too dull to put into an otherwise exciting movie.

And then there’s this one logical gap in the film nobody every thought of – until now. We might let it pass since nobody pointed it out ever, but I know my fans, they are detail-oriented and they pay attention, so we just can’t leave something like that in the film. To fix it isn’t a problem, but the fact that much of it is already done in VFX, we’d have to roll back some pretty big work and restart the scene over.

Oh, well. That’s life. In the end it doesn’t matter, as long as the film is a killer and a year from now we probably won’t remember any of these hardships, but it doesn’t help the fact that we must find the solution now since there’s a full year to go until the day one year from today dawns.


* * *

Our edit booth isn’t amazing. It’s a small room with four concrete walls and the noisiest air condition device in the history of air conditioning, meaning it can only be used while we’re not really working. When it’s off, we’re slowly eating away the oxygen and creating a nice, pungent odour of geek sweat and start feeling rather funny after few hours of work.

Nevertheless, after we were done I headed over to downtown to grab a burger for dinner. Sitting right there in the evening sun by the busy side street, listening to a street band playing away around the corner and sipping a fine Belgian beer, I had one of those moments of pure happiness. No worries, nowhere to be anytime soon and nothing to really feel bad about, with relaxed people around.

IMG_8919Last time I had one of these moments was just last week, while Pimeys the band was playing at Huhtamo festival, crowd cheering and I was walking further away by the vast fields surround the venue, watching the sun dip below the horizon. Once, it was in a small restaurant in St. Martin with my wife, we were having a pizza and a beer and watching the waves slowly crash to the shore. Another time, in Antwerp, the leaves had fallen and it was the most beautiful, slightly hangoverish Sunday, a day off, and we spent the moment just sitting on a bench by an old, beautiful gazebo, watching children play and enjoying the last rays of autumn sun.

Screening Iron Sky The Coming Race

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Oh, how I hate screening my unfinished films. It’s always a jungle out there, you’ll never know what kind of a monsters it hides, but my late editor Suresh Ayyar, may that cynical Indian intelligent deadpan bastard rest in peace, said that the rule is that every second screening is a success. The other one, well, not so much. This was one of the “second ones”.

We’ve screened Iron Sky The Coming Race in different development stages to different audiences of fans and friends for feedback maybe ten times and a number of times to a selected financiers, buyers and so forth who need to see what they’re buying into. In addition to this, we’ve of course watched it probably a hundred times internally, but yesterday was the last time I was to screen it for editing purposes with a real audience.

There was four of us, in addition to me and my consulting editor Jan Hameeuw: a programmer, a colorist, a film director and an assistant editor. None of them had seen the film before, but they all are film professionals – some of them are known to be extremely critical, so I was relatively nervous. Not because I wanted them to like it, but because I don’t have a lot of time to do changes anymore.

* * *

   Walking out of the screening into bright sunlight of Brussels, I was feeling relaxed – probably for the first time in a long while. Since we had made the first edits of the movie, I had always enjoyed the fact that the damn thing works like the proverbial train toilet, as we say here in Finland, meaning the pacing and characters are good, the story works and the biggest plot holes have been either covered or at least hidden nicely. But doing an edit after edit – and this goes to all the films I’ve worked on – the flow becomes more and more serious and it loses the loose, crazy fun. When added with semi-finished visuals and proto music, there’s always a moment when the edit looks like it could be finished and the visuals are a bit disappointing because they are not there yet, and the whole film starts to feel like it’s a slow, draggy straight-to-DVD crap.

But now, we seem to have finally solved the issue of seriousness with the movie and found the flow that suddenly sets the whole story loose in all its’ crazyness. It’s surprising how small changes in edit can do that – tightening some lines, glances, reactions and cutting away a frame earlier or a frame later can make a world of difference. And I was happy to hear the audience felt the same way: the colorist said the film is great, worthy sequel for the first one. This is of course very important. Also, it was good to hear that everyone agreed it’s “better” than the first one, which is of course very subjective and in no way is it supposed to be a competition of any kind, and for sure there are people who are attached to the first one so heavily they’ll find nr. 2 to be not as unique, not as nazi or not as dark in humour as the first one, but for the wider audience, it’s clear that Iron Sky The Coming Race is much more accessible and much more enjoyable film.

Of course there were points which were brought up which we agreed that we have to improve – but luckily, those are things like transition from one place to another, or slightly slow sequence, or debate of reveal of certain characters at one point or possibly another in the movie. The important factor is: the story works, and the characters work. Each had their favorite and nobody thought anyone of them is redundant, or bad – the three main characters and two main villains all stand on their own, solid ground.


So, to celebrate a successful screening we launched into a cozy little pub close to my hotel and had a few laughs, discussed black metal and drank one too many La Chouffes (if La Chouffe fits, drink it, as the old Belgian saying goes). Walking home from the bar I felt pretty damn good about the film and the whole process we are in, and even the rain shower couldn’t get my mood down, nor did the fact that the my beloved Metropole-hotel had lost the electricity when I arrived, so I had to hike up to fourth floor then through a labyrinth of service stairwells to find my room, and devour my kebab with the door open to the hallway to see anything. We talked with my wife on the phone – she has a tendency to wake up always when I’m heading home, no matter where in the world I am – and finally I fell to bed, exhausted and still drenched but feeling mighty fine.