China Diary, Opinions

Day 170: Art Of Compromise


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I’d like to reiterate my theory on editing. I said it’s the art of compromising between story and flow of the movie, but that’s actually not the truth. It is in fact a compromise between the effort and the flow. Every screenwriter puts a lot of effort into explaining everything in the script. The actors and director work hard on scenes, taking hundreds of takes over the period of the production. The cinematographer films thousands of hours of material, and the set designer creates huge sets that are filmable on every angle. It all takes a tremendous amount of effort to make it happen, but ultimately, it’s the flow of the movie that counts. For the sake of flow, everything is discardable: that one amazing take we worked so hard to get; that incredible dialogue the actors had on the set; the huge backstory which was explained over a series of scenes we shot for days… But if they kill the flow of the movie, they have got to go. But it is a compromise: sometimes that one shot really is worth brining it into the story, even if it doesn’t really serve the flow – this is, in the end, a movie and people come to theatres to see also beautiful imagery. Or this piece of backstory needs to be inserted in the story, even though bringing it up might really exhaust the viewer. And the art comes in balancing between the compromises and making it feel for the viewer that nothing could’ve been added into the movie, or taken away, to tell the story in the format it eventually lands in the theatres.

As I said, we started out the first cut of the movie at 160 minutes. Our aim is to try to squeeze it into 110 minutes, which means we have now – as the film is about 118 minutes long – cut 50 minutes of shot material. I’m actually known by my producers as being quite a ruthless director when it comes to editing. I might find myself taking out even too much, but that’s also because I think films are nowadays easily too long, and usually the shorter is better. Also, when you take something out of the cut you’ve been watching so many times, you may feel it’s suddenly fresher – but it’s fresher only to you. You have to try to place yourself in the position of the viewer who comes in having not seen anything. That can be sometimes really tricky.

And of course, there’s always the question of economics. If you’re going to cut 50 minutes of the film, why shoot those 50 minutes in the first place? The trick is really knowing which 50 minutes you will cut and which you will keep. Shooting a film is just agreeing on a script and then covering it as lavishly as possible, keeping in mind your resources, and grabbing as much material as possible, so that you can then bring it to the editor and make a film out of it. With the screenwriter, you have to try to find out what are the absolutely necessary scenes to be shot, but even that is usually just a guess – only on edit you actually see if these scenes are necessary or not.

It’s interesting to see how it all comes together. Also, it’s interesting to see how certain characters become more important than you thought when shooting, and some characters become more like side characters, ones you thought will have a big role in the film. The whole editing is in fact the most interesting part of the filmmaking, because that’s when the movie reveals its’ true self.

Oscars

Oscars 2018 – My predictions / ruminations


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It’s that time of the year again – the Oscars are indeed coming. As it has become my tradition, I will submit my predictions and this time also a short explanation on why I think a certain film will win the category.

All in all, it’s going to be a very interesting Oscars ceremony this year. The #metoo and other hashtag-movements – and I call them hashtag-movements with respect, because I’m still in awe on what these movements have achieved – have dethroned many powerful figures from the American film industry, and the ripples of those splashes have reached all around the world. Finland went through its’ own #metoo outing a bunch of film industry assholes, and now it seems the movement is slowly moving towards music industry – and there I am sure will be a lot of dirt to be unearthed, too.

The awarded films this year were quite a colorful bunch of movies – horror and fantastic realism stir the Best Movie category, which has its’ typical share of political films, coming-of-age stories and smaller, hard-hitting indies. There is more diversity amongst the nominees, which is great, and the topics are braver.

This year’s big nominee is of course Del Toro’s The Shape Of Water, which will most likely steal many categories, but there’s also a lot of things to be said on behalf of other movies. Nevertheless, here are the nominees, my predictions and explanations.

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

NOMINEES

TIMOTHÉE CHALAMET

Call Me by Your Name

DANIEL DAY-LEWIS

Phantom Thread

DANIEL KALUUYA

Get Out

*** GARY OLDMAN ***

Darkest Hour
Not the most original pick, but I think mr. Oldman nailed the complicated role well and made an immemorable, well fleshed out character out of a very complex personality.

DENZEL WASHINGTON

Roman J. Israel, Esq.

 

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

NOMINEES

WILLEM DAFOE

The Florida Project

WOODY HARRELSON

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

RICHARD JENKINS

The Shape of Water

*** CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER ***

All the Money in the World
Christopher Plummer jumped into the shoes of Kevin Spacey and filled them many times over. While the film itself is not that amazing, Plummer’s role is inseparable, and I can’t understand how Spacey would’ve played any better.

SAM ROCKWELL

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

NOMINEES

SALLY HAWKINS

The Shape of Water

*** FRANCES MCDORMAND ***

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
It’s quite clear Frances McDormand will gather her second Oscar, playing definitely the strongest of all nominees – and they all were very good – in a otherwise pretty mediocre movie, which became great just because of her. 

MARGOT ROBBIE

I, Tonya

SAOIRSE RONAN

Lady Bird

MERYL STREEP

The Post

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

NOMINEES

MARY J. BLIGE

Mudbound

ALLISON JANNEY

I, Tonya

*** LESLEY MANVILLE ***

Phantom Thread
This one is pretty hard to guess, since there’s a lot of options but I think the scary, creepy sister in Phantom Thread was probably the most memorable of all roles. 

LAURIE METCALF

Lady Bird

OCTAVIA SPENCER

The Shape of Water

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

NOMINEES

THE BOSS BABY

Tom McGrath and Ramsey Naito

THE BREADWINNER

Nora Twomey and Anthony Leo

*** COCO ***

Lee Unkrich and Darla K. Anderson
Only Pixar has the balls to do a children animation talking about death in a colorful, vivid way. The film is impeccable execution of wonderful storytelling, tricky topic and whole family accessability.

FERDINAND

Carlos Saldanha and Lori Forte

LOVING VINCENT

Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman and Ivan Mactaggart

CINEMATOGRAPHY

NOMINEES

*** BLADE RUNNER 2049 ***

Roger A. Deakins
Deakins has been nominated fourteen times for an Oscar, but never won one. Speaking of film-defining craftmanship, Blade Runner’s cinematography is beyond anything I’ve seen in ages. Simply beautiful, wondefully lit and while the film itself is a bit of a meh to me, the visual display Deakins has brought forward is just amazing.

DARKEST HOUR

Bruno Delbonnel

DUNKIRK

Hoyte van Hoytema

MUDBOUND

Rachel Morrison

THE SHAPE OF WATER

Dan Laustsen

COSTUME DESIGN

NOMINEES

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

Jacqueline Durran

DARKEST HOUR

Jacqueline Durran

PHANTOM THREAD

Mark Bridges

*** THE SHAPE OF WATER ***

Luis Sequeira
The world of The Shape of Water is the thing that makes the film so brilliant, and definitely the costumes are a key factor in it. Although I don’t think the film really lives up to the hype, the artistic values of the production design and costumes is the best there is this year.

VICTORIA & ABDUL

Consolata Boyle

DIRECTING

NOMINEES

DUNKIRK

Christopher Nolan

GET OUT

Jordan Peele

LADY BIRD

Greta Gerwig

PHANTOM THREAD

Paul Thomas Anderson

*** THE SHAPE OF WATER ***

Guillermo del Toro
I’m not much of a fan of The Shape of Water, but Del Toro does terrific job in directing the lead actress and taking the story, which is pretty simple, almost a bit dumb, and elevating it into a wonderful cinematic experience, exactly the craftmanship of a director.

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

NOMINEES

ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL

Steve James, Mark Mitten and Julie Goldman

FACES PLACES

Agnès Varda, JR and Rosalie Varda

ICARUS

Bryan Fogel and Dan Cogan

*** LAST MEN IN ALEPPO ***

Feras Fayyad, Kareem Abeed and Søren Steen Jespersen
Tricky one again, but I believe Last Men in Aleppo deserve the win. Just the fact that someone has stuck their neck out to document the worst humanitarian crisis of our time, and brought up the real heroes of the conflict, the White Helmets, is commendable as itself. As a documentary the slightly staged feel some discussions and elements takes a bit away from its’ novelty value, but when the going gets rough, it’s as real as it can be, in all its’ horror.

STRONG ISLAND

Yance Ford and Joslyn Barnes

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)

NOMINEES

EDITH+EDDIE

Laura Checkoway and Thomas Lee Wright

*** HEAVEN IS A TRAFFIC JAM ON THE 405 ***

Frank Stiefel

HEROIN(E)

Elaine McMillion Sheldon and Kerrin Sheldon

KNIFE SKILLS

Thomas Lennon

TRAFFIC STOP

Kate Davis and David Heilbroner

FILM EDITING

NOMINEES

BABY DRIVER

Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos

*** DUNKIRK ***

Lee Smith
War movies are extremely hard to put together and maintain the balance, but Lee Smith is able to run the big scale story and make it feel just huge and real. 

I, TONYA

Tatiana S. Riegel

THE SHAPE OF WATER

Sidney Wolinsky

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

Jon Gregory

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

NOMINEES

A FANTASTIC WOMAN

Chile

THE INSULT

Lebanon

LOVELESS

Russia

ON BODY AND SOUL

Hungary

*** THE SQUARE ***

Sweden
Since Cannes, Ruben Östlund’s The Square has been going around the award ceremonies, grabbing price after price – and for a good reason. The film feels alienated and cold in its’ nasty satirical tone, which is exactly where it aims. 

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

NOMINEES

*** DARKEST HOUR ***

Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski and Lucy Sibbick
However they managed to make Gary Oldman into an overweight old man is beyond me to understand, but as fat suits go, the work was brilliant. 

VICTORIA & ABDUL

Daniel Phillips and Lou Sheppard

WONDER

Arjen Tuiten

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)

NOMINEES

DUNKIRK

Hans Zimmer

PHANTOM THREAD

Jonny Greenwood

*** THE SHAPE OF WATER ***

Alexandre Desplat
Beautiful, jazzy soundtrack that fits the film’s magical world like a nail in the head. Together with the beautiful production design and costumes, the music takes the viewer into the strange world of Del Toro and leaves no questions open whether or not it could happen.

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

John Williams

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

Carter Burwell

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)

NOMINEES

*** MIGHTY RIVER ***

from Mudbound; Music and Lyric by Mary J. Blige, Raphael Saadiq and Taura Stinson

MYSTERY OF LOVE

from Call Me by Your Name; Music and Lyric by Sufjan Stevens

REMEMBER ME

from Coco; Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez

STAND UP FOR SOMETHING

from Marshall; Music by Diane Warren; Lyric by Lonnie R. Lynn and Diane Warren

THIS IS ME

from The Greatest Showman; Music and Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

BEST PICTURE

NOMINEES

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

Peter Spears, Luca Guadagnino, Emilie Georges and Marco Morabito, Producers

DARKEST HOUR

Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce, Anthony McCarten and Douglas Urbanski, Producers

DUNKIRK

Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan, Producers

GET OUT

Sean McKittrick, Jason Blum, Edward H. Hamm Jr. and Jordan Peele, Producers

LADY BIRD

Scott Rudin, Eli Bush and Evelyn O’Neill, Producers

PHANTOM THREAD

JoAnne Sellar, Paul Thomas Anderson, Megan Ellison and Daniel Lupi, Producers

THE POST

Amy Pascal, Steven Spielberg and Kristie Macosko Krieger, Producers

*** THE SHAPE OF WATER ***

Guillermo del Toro and J. Miles Dale, Producers
I think Del Toro’s magic reaches from screen to the Academy; the film speaks to both older and younger generation, to both filmmakers and film lovers and is the most special, defined movie of the year. Also, given its’ award run so far, I’d be surprised if it didn’t take home this one as well.

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

Graham Broadbent, Pete Czernin and Martin McDonagh, Producers

PRODUCTION DESIGN

NOMINEES

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

Production Design: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer

BLADE RUNNER 2049

Production Design: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Alessandra Querzola

DARKEST HOUR

Production Design: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer

DUNKIRK

Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Gary Fettis

*** THE SHAPE OF WATER ***

Production Design: Paul Denham Austerberry; Set Decoration: Shane Vieau and Jeffrey A. Melvin
This is a tricky fight between Blade Runner and Shape of Water, but this year is definitely Del Toro’s year, so it’s very probable Production Design goes here as well.

SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)

NOMINEES

DEAR BASKETBALL

Glen Keane and Kobe Bryant

GARDEN PARTY

Victor Caire and Gabriel Grapperon

*** LOU ***

Dave Mullins and Dana Murray

NEGATIVE SPACE

Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata

REVOLTING RHYMES

Jakob Schuh and Jan Lachauer

SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)

NOMINEES

DEKALB ELEMENTARY

Reed Van Dyk

*** THE ELEVEN O’CLOCK ***

Derin Seale and Josh Lawson

MY NEPHEW EMMETT

Kevin Wilson, Jr.

THE SILENT CHILD

Chris Overton and Rachel Shenton

WATU WOTE/ALL OF US

Katja Benrath and Tobias Rosen

SOUND EDITING

NOMINEES

BABY DRIVER

Julian Slater

BLADE RUNNER 2049

Mark Mangini and Theo Green

DUNKIRK

Richard King and Alex Gibson

*** THE SHAPE OF WATER ***

Nathan Robitaille and Nelson Ferreira
The technical Oscars will definitely go to The Shape of Water.

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

Matthew Wood and Ren Klyce

SOUND MIXING

NOMINEES

BABY DRIVER

Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin and Mary H. Ellis

BLADE RUNNER 2049

Ron Bartlett, Doug Hemphill and Mac Ruth

DUNKIRK

Gregg Landaker, Gary A. Rizzo and Mark Weingarten

*** THE SHAPE OF WATER ***

Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern and Glen Gauthier

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Stuart Wilson

VISUAL EFFECTS

NOMINEES

BLADE RUNNER 2049

John Nelson, Gerd Nefzer, Paul Lambert and Richard R. Hoover

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2

Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner and Dan Sudick

KONG: SKULL ISLAND

Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza and Mike Meinardus

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould

*** WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES ***

Joe Letteri, Daniel Barrett, Dan Lemmon and Joel Whist
For the first time in my life I’ve seen visual effects so good that they would fool me. At least that I know of. The apes of War for the Planet of the Apes are just next level amazing…

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

NOMINEES

*** CALL ME BY YOUR NAME ***

Screenplay by James Ivory
My personal favorite of the year, and although it won’t be winning big in any category, the script could easily fall here. Great characters, very believable setting and a surprising story that manages to tell a love story in a way that’s just relatable and beautiful without feeling tacky or fake.

THE DISASTER ARTIST

Screenplay by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber

LOGAN

Screenplay by Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green; Story by James Mangold

MOLLY’S GAME

Written for the screen by Aaron Sorkin

MUDBOUND

Screenplay by Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)

NOMINEES

THE BIG SICK

Written by Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani

GET OUT

Written by Jordan Peele

LADY BIRD

Written by Greta Gerwig

THE SHAPE OF WATER

Screenplay by Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor; Story by Guillermo del Toro

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

Written by Martin McDonagh

DENZEL WASHINGTON

Roman J. Israel, Esq.
China Diary

Day 169: The Long Night


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Ohh man night alone, awake are *long*. Around midnight you think maybe soon you’ll fall asleep, but no hope brother, engage *this* train of thoughts and you’re up next two hours. Two am, as you first yawn a bit you close your eyes, put away the book and try… and then this thing pops into your head, and there we go again. At 4am, wife – currently in Spain – messages she’s going to bed. I know I won’t be going to sleep, not before the breakfast. So the last hours from four am to seven am I wait for the breakfast to begin, then haul my ass downstairs, eat quickly and hop back up for few hours of shut-eye. Ten am, the room service bangs on the door. I scream I don’t need room cleaning and slap the “do not disturb” -sign on the door. At 11 am they call my room: can we now clean your room. No, thank you. At 12 am I must get up otherwise I’m late from work too many hours.

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Beijing sunset.

Coming back home I realize I forgot the do-not-disturb -sign on the door. So the room is messy and argh I just can’t win I assume.

Today, we finished the first round of the cut. We had managed to make the story flow nicer and become more compact, but still I felt it was too long. In the last moment I suggested throwing out quite a big segment in the beginning of the movie – at least give it a try – to see if we would survive without it. I think we might get away with it, but I do admit some character would be left a bit shallow… but then again, we have a lot of characters already. Not everyone needs to be explained thoroughly, leaving a bit more to the actors themselves.

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Telegraph poles.

That’s what the whole editing process is, it’s compromising the story for the flow of the movie. You can’t take out forty minutes of scripted footage without losing some intricacies, but if you would put it all in the film, people would walk out bored to death halfway through. It’s a compromise, and your job as a director and as the editor is to make it as seamless and unnoticeable as possible, the fact that it is, in the end, a compromise you’re presenting on the screen.

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I got beautiful greetings from my wife across the land and ocean. 

Today is a Lantern Festival in China, the day when traditionally the Chinese New Year is celebrated. Lanterns are lit and families gather together. We cut the day short today so that mrs. Fang could go with her family, and I stopped by at the Beijingese restaurant I frequent at, eating a bowl of egg yolk and tomato soup and some sauted cabbage and mushrooms. I must say it wasn’t the best dinner I’ve had here, but satisfied me.

Back at home, a quick nap and a movie, then waiting for yet another long night to begin.

Video of the day!

Since I now can add some videos to my blog (I only now realized how to do it), I’ll be putting up a Video of the Day from now on, from somewhere along the production. The first video is from Day 82, when we shot some action sequences at the old Rhizao port. In it, two stunts try out a jump.

Festival Circuit

Berlinale / EFM 2018


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Every year for the last eleven years on February I find myself traveling in a cramped plane to Berlin Film Festival. More than for the festival, I actually come over for the European Film Market, which pools together all the film producers, distributors, sales people, financiers and, well, the general film folk. Of course, since it’s at the same time as the prestigious Berlin Film Festival, there’s also the lauded filmmakers of the year – the actors, the directors and the producers, who scoot from premiere to press events in the black Audis, evading the gazes of the festival-goers, save their quick strut at the red carpet. And yes, there’s also the actual film lovers, the ones that crowd the theatres, flock in front of the red carpets and line up in front of the box offices in hopes for tickets. There are also the critics and the film journalists, mostly too busy to party since they have ten films to catch up today, elbowing their way into the junkets and round tables, or if they have the money, one-on-ones with the stars. And then there are those on the fringes; the VR people, the production service people, the tech folk branching into film and those who just want to have a whiff of the glamour of film world. It’s an unruly mess, and every year they gather up to do what we call the film business.

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Berlin was this year warm and snow-free.

I’ve obviously been going back to Berlin ever since we started to work on the Iron Sky franchise. The first Iron Sky was released in 2012 at Berlinale, as part of the Panorama program. Later on, we’ve been back whether to finance the sequel, or the Chinese one, or just to show our faces in case someone would forget who we are. Every year we come with a different constellation: sometimes, it’s bigger group – cameraman, marketing, producer, production coordinator, director, director’s wife, you name it. Sometimes, we show up with just me and Tero, just for few business meetings.

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This year’s team was producer Tero Kaukomaa and my lovely wife Annika, who’s also writing a book about the production of Iron Sky The Coming Race.

Typically, one stays in Berlin from Thursday to Monday-Tuesday. I’ve once done the whole 14 days, sometimes one week, but this time we decided we go with a small crew – me, Tero and Annika, and we stay only for three days. A grand decision indeed. We didn’t have too much to do, since Iron Sky The Coming Race was delayed until the fall, and Iron Sky: The Ark was just starting its’ post production, and other projects were on such a speculative stage. Mostly, it was negotiations with ISTCR partners on the road ahead and planning the release later this year, but there was also one meeting for a potential new project lined up for me.

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Positive attitude.

Choosing the place to stay is imperative during the Berlinale / EFM time. The hotels are all quite packed, but luckily, Berlin has loads of hotels around Potsdamer Platz, the place where everything happens, and now for few times we’ve stayed in a new establishment just few hundred meters away from Potsdamer, called Grimm’s. It’s decently priced, functional, has a comfortable lobby and a good breakfast.

The three days at the festival went by quite comfortably. On the first night, there was the Finnish party. I came a bit late there, in the middle of some kind of a performance and a short film, which was left a bit empty to me since I didn’t really get the context. I was also feeling extremely unsociable for whatever reason, and decided to park my ass in the far corner of the room, so that I wouldn’t have to speak with everyone I don’t really know. Not surprisingly, many came around asking how was China (it was rough, I answered, but I think we got a good film in the can) and when is Iron Sky The Coming Race Coming (later this year, no date yet chiseled in the stone), but since I wasn’t feeling really party-ish, we decided to bail out relatively early.

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Cocktail party

The next two days were a bit more animated; I enjoyed some receptions, sat down through a bunch of meetings and even got a chance to catch up with some friends who were visiting Berlin. Leaving home after three – well, three and a half days – was definitely the right choice. Tero had the most important key meeting on Monday, and we were a bit worried if he’s gonna make it, but he did appear just around the time we would’ve had to leave anyway.

Few things I noticed this year’s Berlin, I guess, were that the festival was a bit more silent – there was no big stars in town, so a lot of media were not there, and many companies had much reduced budget anyway, so no crazy marketing stunts that I spotted at least. Also, prices in Berlin are definitely hiking up. What used to be 5€ for taxi is now 10€, what used to be 10€ for a buger is now 15€…

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Film business.

It’s always hard to say whether or not the festival was “good one” or “bad one”. I remember being very result-oriented on the first years, but nowadays, watching as Tero goes around without very clear plan but knows exactly who to meet and where, the results are really not easy to say. You’ll see in five to ten years who are the faces that jumped onboard with you from where, and anyone can be your most important partner, so treat them all with respect.

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Annual “Kiss by the wall” -pic.

 

China Diary

Day 168: Finland Shoot, Part 2


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Back about a month ago we had the last two shooting days of Iron Sky: The Ark here in Finland, and here’s how they turned out.

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Jack Brown (Rhydian Vaughan) addressing the Illuminati. Photo by Tomi Tuuliranta

The first shooting day at Academy Ballroom dawned snowy and dark in Turku. My hotel, Hamburger Börs, was located just a shortish walk away from the location, so instead of packing my ass into the car, I decided to walk by the river and enjoy the few peaceful moments all by myself.

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Lei and me talking about the scenes. Photo by Tomi Tuuliranta.

Last night, we had had a nice dinner at one of the many fine establishments by the Aura-river. Lei and Chris from China had arrived already few days before and Stephanie Paul from the States, Malla Malmivaara from Helsinki and Rhydian Vaughan from Taiwan, as well as Malin Levanon from Sweden and James Quinn from Frankfurt – and of course, Tero Kaukomaa, whom I had also casted for a small role – all had made their way to Turku for the shoot.

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Jack Brown (Rhydian Vaughan) and Malin Levanon (Duchess Sofia). Photo by Tomi Tuuliranta.

Lost in thoughts, I arrived to the Academy Ballroom and recognized the first thing every film set has: trucks being unloaded, and loaded, and then unloaded again. I wiggled indoors between vehicles and arrived, again, to the hustle and bustle of a film set. Light crew running there, extras chatting here, camera crew over in that corner… But instead of being a weird giant to stare at, nobody bat an eyelid as I walked in. I was just another mid-thirties white guy with a hoodie… And I understood everything. This was a big thing for me; I didn’t feel like there’s me and my shit and then loads of random noise not meant for me around: instead, everything, every conversation, every detail was about the production, and I was able to follow them.

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Directing. Photo by Tomi Tuuliranta.

See, this is new to me. I’ve really never shot in Finland, at least not professionally and at least not a feature film. Mostly, I’ve been shooting in Germany or Belgium or China, where the native language is still gibberish to me. But strangely, being able to understand more what happened, it didn’t add to my stressload, actually removed a big chunk of it. I wasn’t a stranger in a strange land, I was in my home turf, and instantly I was able to kick back a little and take it a bit more easy.

Now I understand why people prefer shooting in their native countries.

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Ready to shoot. Photo by Tomi Tuuliranta.

The shoot itself? Well, it was smooth and fun. We had a great group of extras, our actors had fun time, the place was fabulous – and the crew, under Lei’s direction, was effective, professional and fast. We finished both days exactly on time, ran through six pages of script and four scenes including a small action piece, and it all turned out really fine. We shot altogether two for two days, then finished just in time for the wrap party.

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Behind the camera. Photo by Tomi Tuuliranta.

The party was organized by Turku Film Commission who invited all of us to Villa Marjaniemi, a legendary old villa outside of Turku. I unloaded quite a lot of stress on that night, exchanging experiences with the actors, the crew and the whole production team. We had a sauna later that night, and although the river was frozen so we couldn’t swim, it was a perfect, perfect ending for a super rough shoot. All in all, 80 shooting days in two countries, spanning over six months of pre- and production time all ended on a high note.

Now all that would be left was to cut the film and create the VFX. And that’s what I’m doing back here in China, cutting and working with VFX.

 

 

China Diary

Day 167: The Finland Shoot, part 1


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Somebody was asking on the Internet what happened to the Finnish shooting days of Iron Sky: The Ark? Yeah, reading the blog I also realized I had not gone through that story, mainly because that took place in Finland and this diary I write only in China – but now it’s time to take few steps back to those days about a month ago, when we indeed finished the shoot of Iron Sky: The Ark in my dear home country.

The whole idea for the Finnish shoot was born originally in Tero’s head. We knew we would need to shoot a scene in a location titled “German Castle” in the script, but heading over to Germany to shoot for two days would’ve been cost-wise quite challenging, and besides, although we shoot a lot outside of Finland, we would like nothing more than to bring projects back home. It’s been very challenging due to lack of production incentive program in Finland, but since they established one finally now last year, we were able to figure out a way to make the Finnish shoot work.

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We are not in China anymore.

The other important factor was the city of Turku, which has been very active in film field, getting productions to shoot in their beautiful city every now and then. Turku also has the great advantage of some of the most amazing locations in Finland: old, dazzlingly charismatic buildings, halls, churches and of course nice nature around. What we needed was a prestigious interior, and found one from Turku Academy’s Ballroom.

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Detail at the Academy Ballroom

I had returned back from China one and a half weeks before, managed to relax a little bit, spend some time with Julius and get ready for the shoot. Week before the shoot, we did a little recce to Turku, where we had also the pre-production meeting.

The team was much smaller in Finland, but all of them were good professional people, and I had the impression that this machine, the Finnish production team, was really greased and ready to roll. We had a first AD from Finland who did the preparations, and would hand over everything to Lei as soon as he would arrive.

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Pre-Production Meeting in Turku

The main reason to shoot outside of China was originally Max’s wish, because he wanted believable Western faces in the audience. I agree, having worked with a lot of foreign extras in China, that it’s very limited what you can get over here. Mostly Russians or Ukrainians, who look very East European, but of course finding old, rich Westerners looking extras in Finland would be much easier. So that was one of my main concerns, to pick good extras. We needed people who shimmer with the aura of wealth.

The space itself was beautiful as it is, so we didn’t really need to furnish it too much, just needed a bunch of tables (we did design a special table light, though) and chairs, but since we were to have a small action sequence taking place in the location, we did need to prepare few foldable tables with some breakaway glasses so our stunt team would be able to run their actions safely.

From China, we really didn’t bring anyone else but Chris our VFX supervisor and Lei, and Max wanted to come over too, although he really didn’t spend too much time on the set, just explored the city and fell in love with Turku and Finland. Rest of the crew was Finnish. After having worked half a year in Chinese and English, it was really a big relief to be able to go through all the preproduction meetings in Finnish. Speaking your own language is just so much easier and gets things done so much faster.

 

 

China Diary

Day 166: Beijing Jass


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Ahh, another day of cutting and slashing stuff we so carefully shot. Nothing feels as liberating as throwing stuff out, stuff you thought you can’t live without when filming. Unfortunately, I’m still very groggy from the jetlag, so it’s painstakingly hard to crawl out of bed after midday and head over to the office, but over there, things move fairly quickly. The editor is fast, and although there’s a slight language wall there – we are almost in clear understanding on each others, but sometimes information gets twisted and the dialogue hits the wall, but mostly it’s smooth sailing. Like I said, she has done a wonderful job already on the material, so it’s nice to build on that, instead of having to do everything from the scratch.

The air quality has been pretty nasty since I came over. Index dipping on most days to red, the weather outside is gray and the city disappears in smog in just few hundred meters away. I’ve felt stranded in my hotel and office the last few days, since without my skateboard it’s pretty hard to get around. See, getting a taxi in Beijing can be quite a painful operation. It’s easy enough to get the hotel to order you one, but getting back from wherever is the trick.

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My dear hotel. I know all the staff already – no surprise, I’ve spent two months here recently.

After the work day I decided I’ve been enough in my room and after a quick nap I jumped in my Timberlands and taxied to a half price taco Tuesday night at a local taco house. The buzz was positive, loads of foreigners also had found the tacos, and margaritas were floating around the room as I parked my bum on the barstool and ordered two combo platters full of delicious tacos and few Coronas. I allowed the noise of the room fade out in to the background and sank into my book. I’m reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140, a wonderful post-ecocatastrophic book about New York.

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Tacos, Kindle and a Corona.

I was still feeling a bit jumpy after the dinner, so I Beijinger.com’d me something else to do. I found out there was a jazz band playing in a club that sounded pretty promising – Dusk Dawn Club – so I hailed a cab (which means: stood in the freezing cold Beijing night for 30 minutes) to the shadowy Hutong alleys and soon enough found myself enjoying a Chinese-American (I guess) jazz band playing a bunch of classics and then throwing into a full fletched impro with locals. A perfect night, only a bit lonely if anything.

Back at the hotel I tried again to sleep, but it was impossible. I wasted the night away with my laptop, even making it to the breakfast before I finally fell asleep. I knew already the next day was ruined, but luckily it was just one meeting day, not a proper edit session.

China Diary

Day 165: Baby Boss


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On the days like yesterday, it’s great to take a peek at other people’s social media feeds. What amazing lives they live: some are out there, skiing. Others have screaming baby in their hands. Someone has gone to south, to the sun. And here I am, in 185 pollution index Beijing, stranded in a hotel since I can’t use the taxi in this city doing nothing but munching Oreos in my bed and watching Boss Baby animation. What a crazy day off.

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I did go to the neighbourhood restaurant which serves some pretty nice Chinese food. I dare not to peek into the kitchen, which is blissfully sealed save a small hatch where the food is pushed out, but I like the atmosphere there. A lot of people from around come and eat dinner there with their families, the food is cheap but pretty good and there’s a good variety of it available. Today’s dinner was a plate of sauted corn and a tofu-meatball -soup, and while it sounds a bit dubious, it was really delicious.

My time here in Beijing will get very, very boring during the next three weeks, that’s as much as I can promise, unless I really grab myself from the ass and decide I have to do something that’s teaching me something new every day. There’s a good selection of museums I will start going through, and so much to see, I’m just a touch lazy to do anything – and, well, I’m working most of the daylight time. I just wish the jetlag would let go and I could sleep normally; then one could plan a bit more activities. Right now I go by my sleep rhythm which is completely screwed up right now.

But there are things to see, and I shall see them!

China Diary

Day 164: Out and about


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The persistence of the hotel cleaners leaves me in awe. No matter how loud I scream from the bed that I’m still here, they keep on banging the door, and eventually call my phone, and only then I get them to stop by telling I’m not going any-fucking-where. I paid for this room, now let me try to cure my fucking jetlag here silvuplää.

This means when I finally, after the constant interruptions, got up from the bed it was already past midday. I remember waking up around this time when I was a kid and spent weekends over at my friend’s place and we played Nintendo secretly ’till morning (which was, then, around 2 am), and then it was impossible to wake up to go outside play with others like everybody else did.

Nevertheless, I waded past the McD and grabbed myself two burgers for lunch and then came over to the office. They had brought in a nice TV set and a comfy couch, so I stretched myself on it and we started to work with mrs. Fang. Our method is first to focus on drama, and only after that is in order, focus on action. She has already done quite a good job, so it’s not like we have to start from the scratch, but much of the work is me stopping and asking if there’s better take (usually she already fished the best one) and especially focus on the transitions between scenes. It seems to be something I find myself fighting the longest time in edit, how to get from one scene to another without letting the pace stumble.

Just around the time we were about to be finished, mrs. Fang noted that tomorrow would be Sunday, and we would have a day off. Which made me realize today was Saturday, which made me realized I had made a dinner arrangement with someone. In half an hour!

I ran to the hotel, changed my shirt and jumped into a cab and headed to meet a friend I met through another friend, for some Korean BBQ. Ludovic was right on time, but the place was empty, so we took a quick tour around the neighborhood looking for open restaurants, and eventually landed into a small street full of great-looking Japanese restaurants and chose one in random.

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The dinner was really amazing. Ludovic had just finished fasting, so he was hungry, and so was I (I don’t need to fast to be hungry, though, I can tell you that) and we wolfed a table full of sushi, tempura, grilled stuff and salads and whatnot over the dinner, talking about investments (he’s a professional investor), games (he owns a game company) and films (well, my side of the table).

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Hungry? Yeah, thought so too.

We even bounced to this couple Ludovic knew who we chatted a bit about books (I was introduced to writer Matthew Reilly’s work), until finally we called it a night and headed out.

Back at home I fired up my laptop and watched The Beauty And The Beast (the Oscars are coming…) and then played around with my laptop until I dozed off around five in the morning (I did have a nap during the Beauty, though).

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There’s something that fascinates me with these dimly-lit China back alleys.

 

China Diary

Day 163: Desynchronosis


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Last night I dreamt of this lizard-like creature which was made of human hands, but was only able to walk backwards because it was in such constant pain. Somewhere, buried between the palms was a face of a friendly-looking coder – I don’t know who, but someone with quite a regular coder face – and it crawled towards me from the darkness, talking something about the pains it was suffering.

Oh, welcome back, melatonin-induced crazy dreams, the wakings-up at midnight, the going-to-beds at 8 am… Now I remember how it was when I came to China first time around. This jetlag is going to be one hell of a mountain to climb.

Yesterday I saw the first cut of the movie. That’s always the defining moment of the production: when you first time sit down and actually review what you’ve shot. Then, right there, you’ll either see a movie, or a mess. So far, I’ve always been lucky enough to have a movie at my hands, even around the first screening.

Actually, it was interesting to see how well the film worked. The flow was quite smooth, and never did I really encounter a scene which I didn’t quite believe in. The pacing was pretty good, and although it’s still too long, there’s quite a lot of great moments in it already.

So now, it’s mine and mrs. Fang – my editor – job to put it all together and make it into an actual film.

Later in the day Max walked in and brought me a coffee machine. Mr. Song, the big boss of Jiabo, also came by to say hi – or “nihao”, in Chinese, and in the evening Max took me and mrs. Fang for some hot pot. God, I missed that! We discussed a variety of topics – they had laid down quite clear release plan with mr. Song – and also spoke about Max’s visit in Finland. He had liked Turku as a city, although did mention that he was surprised to find out the old church in the city was every day locked when he tried to visit it, without any clear explanation why.

Maybe Heaven is full.