I didn’t manage to fall back to sleep after 3 am, so I spent much of the morning scanning the web, trying to read (too tired to focus, though), chatted a bit with Annika back in Finland, and eventually made my way to the breakfast, hoping to grasp a bit of sleep after, but failed at that, too. I had to give in to the fact that nope, there’s no avoiding the jetlag this time around either…
The day started off with us visiting our Chinese distributor of Iron Sky The Coming Race. We screened an unfinished version of the film to them to get them an understanding on what kind of a film they are putting out, and also in order to begin the dialogue about the requirements for the Chinese launch. There was something wrong with the playout, though, with bits of audio missing here and there and some apparent mistakes that had found their way into the cut, so I was a bit frustrated watching it, but luckily the people didn’t seem to mind. Ah, well; as a director, there’s no way to watch your film without seeing every mistake in there, no matter how big or small.
Then, there was a heavy lunch few miles away with the distributors. A lot of great seafood and talk about Chinese film in general, how and which direction it’s going. Then we went back to the hotel. I dozed off on the way there, and woke up as we screeched to a halt in the front. Few more hours of total blackness in my room, then off to the APSFcon, for the Gravity Awards Ceremony.
APFScon is held at the Science Museum in Beijing. The building is massive, and it took us forever to go around it to find the correct entrance. We made it just in time to be seated as the ceremony begun.
Well, it was all in Chinese, so nothing very interesting for us; they did have a board which auto-translated the speeches, but the translation was impossible Google-translated gibberish which made even less sense. Some awards were handed, some applauds were had, and then it was all over.
We tried to hail a cab from down the road, but failed at it miserably. Our only solution was in the end to get Tanja on the WeChat to get us a Didi from a nearby restaurant. We stopped off somewhere close to the hotel and headed for a “light” dinner – meaning we ordered two foods and stuffed ourselves to near-death state with Tsingtao beer and amazing pork and chicken. Didn’t take long for me to fall asleep as I crashed in the hotel room.
Jolting out from the blackness of jetlag-induced sleep is the closest experience of being dead I can imagine. The moment when your brains restart, the second they return from the blackness of nothing into the reality is a strange, alienating and slightly scary moment, during which you experience the difference – or the reverse – of what it may feel when consciousness is turned off.
Yes, I have, indeed, returned back to China. Only for about a week, but nevertheless, I’m back here, and we have a lot to discuss.
During my absence, a lot has happened.
The production of Iron Sky: The Ark has been marching on steadily after my return. We have started the so-called Cinesync sessions with our VFX company, and weekly they send me a big packet of visual effects in different stages of the process, and we have a dialogue over WeChat to comment the progress. So far, it’s been quite a lot on the conceptual level, postvisualization and discussing elements and effects, but by every session it gets clearer and more real. One thing is clear: our VFX team is top notch!
We have also started composing the music with Tuomas Kantelinen. With him, I had the idea to create a soundtrack that’s a bit out of his own comfort zone – always good when working with artist of any field – but is still effective and beautiful. Tuomas is an excellent creator of themes and melodies, and understands their gravity in film score. What I asked him to do, though – him being an experienced musician scoring with big orchestras – was to create as electronic soundtrack as possible, befitting better the modern science fiction nature of Iron Sky: The Ark.
Tuomas’ method is sometimes hard to follow, but I’ve enjoyed always working with him. It’s usually few hours sessions where we sit down together and he talks and plays themes and I comment them; we look at scenes and he improvises a bit on top of them, either melodies or just mood-fitting composition. I try to point out things I like and things I don’t think that fit the mood, and he makes notes and based on that moves forward with the final composition.
In my personal life, I’ve had to go through two funerals, both elderly people but definitely sad, nevertheless, especially as the two deaths occurred in such quick succession. I’ve done my best to exercise (I do this thing called crossfit, look it up if you are interested, and imagine the worst and most unathletic person trying to follow the instructions – that’s me) and eat a bit more healty (I’ve taken up on cooking again, and, although I know I’m saying it myself, I’ve done some quite amazing foods). These both are the result of me visiting a doctor and finding out my blood pressure levels are elevated… So, less salt, more excercise and yeah, well, working on cutting the alcohol consumption too. It’s just too many events and parties and whatnots that make it the hardest part…
I’ve also been traveling quite a lot lately, although I do admit I did promise try to stay in Finland, but the trips have been bearable: I visited Stockholm in April for few days for a seminar; then Zagreb in early may for a scifi-con SFErakon, where I was talking about the past, the present and the future of Iron Sky franchise, and finally landed into Cannes straight after that, for yet another edition of Cannes Film Festival.
And now, now I’m back in China. I was brought here not actually by the production, but by China’s first science fiction convention APSFCon, who brought me and Tero to town to discuss – well, what. Remains to be seen. We are here under Iron Sky filmmakers name, but official program is more about general science fiction discussion on our behalf. We have two mysteriously named panels we are to attend, first one is called “Europa Report” and the second one is “The Secret History Of Cults”.
Nope, neither of us knows anything more. But here we are! And of course, we are using this time to push forward the production of Iron Sky: The Ark!
So, after landing we were hauled off to the hotel, I had a chance of few hours of total blackout, after which we had to brave the Beijing traffic, and headed over to Jiabo Culture’s office to a meeting with Max. We discussed topics ranging from the post production to distribution of the film, with a good general mood all over. It’s been a bit of a challenge to keep a good communication going on while things are happening in China, and I’ve felt from time to time being a bit of an outsider, so whenever it’s possible to meet face to face, it makes everything much clearer.
During my absence, Max took a stab at the edit, changing it a bit to make the story clearer, removing few things and adding something, and finishing off what we believe to be the final cut. He has also been screening the film a bit around to get some outside feedback, which is invaluable in this stage of post production, and I’m about to get a nice pile of feedback translated to me very soon.
Afterwards, back to the hotel – another 45 minutes in Beijing traffic – and few more hours of death-like sleep, and then off to the kickoff dinner of the event.
Now, I must admit that I don’t really feel at home at scifi cons; it’s not really that I don’t enjoy them – I really do – but I don’t always connect with the people. The crowd is mostly writers, gamers, cosplayers and fans, and it’s all good, but my kind of people tend to be more filmmakers than scifi fans. I admire everyone’s enthusiasm on fandom, but I just can’t share it – I’m a fan of very few things, mainly David Bowie, David Lynch and metal music – but can’t find a lot of connecting points outside of that. I’m an avid scifi reader, but the threshold question is big here; while I like to think I do know my scifi, when I really land among the scifi fandom, I am totally outplayed by these people. For cosplay, I never understood the magic, and while I’ve sat in multiple cosplay jurys, I admit finding it odd. And then there’s the professional cosplay, which I understand even less about.
So, I always feel a bit fish out of water at the cons, but I’m used to it – but for Tero, it’s another planet.
We mingled a bit with the crowd and eventually decided we want to head out for a beer somewhere. Now, being in Beijing, that’s a much harder job to do than one would imagine – Chinese don’t have the same kind of bar culture as the Europeans do, so we had to bring a piece of European culture with us. We went through a huge selection of restaurants with people sitting inside eating their dinners, and chose one which had a single table and a chair outside, meant for the owners to step out for a cigarette, and sat down. We declared the area the only terrace in the radius of five kilometers by ordering a beer outside – which was something people from around came to and laughed at, two finns sitting outside drinking beer, and not eating. Europeans are crazy.
We had a nice chat but decided to call it an early night, both being still badly jetlagged, and headed back to the hotel.
I’ve been writing stories of my trip to China since I first set my feet there last year in preparations of the film production Iron Sky: The Ark. Knowing I would be away from my friends and loved ones for over half a year straight, I decided to start writing my story.
First, it was meant to be just for my friends and family, for them to know what I’ve been up to, but as I started to write, I got more readers and dialogue from over the Internet coming to me, as I found myself writing daily, logging my experiences being a filmmaker in a strange, far-away country, working with a foreign crew, on a huge budget film (for me, at least – 30 million USD is the biggest one I’ve done so far).
The China Diaries are scattered all over this blog, but the basic truth is: I’ve been 181 days in China working on the film, and I’ve written 181 entries. I’ve had several requests to put one clear page or at least a link to those interested on how to start reading it from the beginning. I don’t know anything about WordPress, and have no idea how to create an index page where one could easily click the first entry and start reading – so this is what this page stands for, at least for now, until I find a better way. So without further ado – here is the first entry of my China Diary, where you can start reading:
The blog goes on for 181 entires, and will continue later this year as I return to China to finish the job. So, to those interested in hearing what it is like working in China on a biggish budget film, with a Chinese crew, and some Hollywood stars, too, hope you’ll find this an interesting read!
To read on, you can click to the LEFT on the bottom of each blog post, and it takes you to the next entry. There’s some occasional other entires here and there in between, but mostly it’s all about my China journey;
Another place, but one which begins from the latest entry, and needs quite a bit of scrolling down, is the China Diary category link, here.
And, if someone knows how to make some kind of an index with WordPress, please let me know 🙂
This entry comes a bit late – actually, I left China already few weeks ago but just never got around publishing this one.
Last day in China on this trip was the second CGI spotting day, sitting in a dark room and going through the second half of the movie and making notes for the CGI team to follow when they begin their job.
First half of Iron Sky: The Ark is relatively easy one; much of added CGI in the background, fixes and well, few big establishers but mostly just “regular” VFX work, but the second half, my god. I noticed halfway through the second spotting day it felt more like reciting a poem than instructions, the VFX gets very abstract at one point and although I have wrapped my head quite firmly around it, to anyone who doesn’t know the story inside out it’s hard to explain. I had also noticed that in order for us to tell the story in the most enjoyable manner, there was a good number of full-CG shots that had never been planned, so I kinda tried to explain them on the run, but in the end decided I need to be more specific with them.
After the excruciating, long and detailed rap, I was exhausted, but at the same time – my job was done for the time being. Now, the VFX team knows what to do, and although the edit will still go through some minor adjustments, we have a structure around which to build the post production. My next trip to China would take place during the Summer, when I’ll go oversee the VFX development, do some further editing with post-visualizations and probably will start some of the ADR work as well. But for now, I’m outta here, back to Finland, enjoying some chill weather and fresh air. I kinda need it.
Before leaving, mr. Duan called us and asked us to join for a farewell dinner; and yes, we agreed wholeheartedly. He wanted to take us to a place called Ninty-Nine Yurts (sic), which is a big Mongolian-style restaurant village just a bit further out of the city. Chinese food and drinks culture, as I have stated few times, is quite different from the Western one. Instead of going out drinking, you go out eating. Instead of going to an open restaurant, you book a niche for you and your friends, a room or – as in this case, a yurt – and meet only possibly the waiters, but no outsiders.
I’ve done the Mongolian once before, with Max early on when we arrived to Beijing back hundred and fifty years ago it feels, and this one had similar features to it: a big tent, traditional Mongolian yurt, with a huge round table in the middle, and so much food brought in it made me stagger. The main dish, the full grilled lamb, was served on a stretcher and dipped in sauces, and there was red wine and white wine and whatnot.
It was also a great chance to catch up with mr. Duan; it had been few months since I had seen him last time, and we talked widely about the film, his performance, what had been left out (mostly none of his stuff has been cut, which is rare) and how the story unfolds. I was happy to tell him I’m very excited about the story and his role in it.
After a long night out it was time to head back home and start packing – an early wakeup for me. I thanked mr. Duan for the dinner and off we went.
The next day, I would be flying out. I would arrive to the airport early, and by a strange luck bump into mr. Duan once again. I would be coming down the stairs from the lounges, heading towards the gates when I would see a man in a cap, sunglasses (inside!) and a face mask. Suddenly, he would start talking to me. I would be wondering who is he, until he would realize the mask, remove it and wave bye-bye to me. I’d sit on a plane, watch a bunch of movies, cursing silently the lady next to me who was watching movies, skipping past boring actors and segments… You can’t do it like that. Watch it full or don’t watch it all.
That is the doctrine.
So, that’s it for now – I will come back writing more on the China Diary as soon as I go back, but for now it’s Finland, snow and The Coming Race coming up for me!
It’s been a year to remember. Starting with #MeToo campaign and the fall of Harvey Weinstein, followed by the demise of Kevin Spacey and so many others, the tables have truly turned in the film business. Women have stepped up, even some men, who have clearly spoken out about the dark side of the film business, in a manner we haven’t heard or seen before. It started in USA, and has been popping out in many Western countries. Unfortunately, the East is still to be conquered by the movement, let’s hope it reaches there, too.
Here in Nordic countries, Sweden practically collapsed because of the whole #MeToo campaign. Many entities were dragged into the light and revealed to the public for the creeps they are, and not just in film. Nearly every industry was affected.
On the flipside, some of it went too far, to some, the whole #MeToo became a hobby with nothing to do with actually outing the perverts but more just a thing to do to make yourself be part of some movement. We all want to belong, to some it means even if it’s belonging to a group of abuse victims.
In Finland, the discourse has been, as it typically is, quite a bit more muted, but just recently, three things happened: a director (Heidi Lindén) spoke out about a handful of names in the business who constantly harass women (she didn’t release the list of these names, though, so we were all left wondering); an ex-professor in the most prominent film school (Lauri Törhönen) in the country turned out having been highly inappropriate and abusive towards rather helpless students; one of the most well-known director in the country (Aku Louhimies) turned out having used questionable directing methods, which are borderline sexual, emotional and physical abuse.
There is, and will be, also cries out for the wolf in Finland, too. Even though we are this dark, Nordic isloation-enjoying people, there are always those longing for attention, and failing to get it any other way, they will become desperate.
Big problem is also, there’s a lot of victim-blaming going on, which seems to be the case every time especially a female falls a victim of abuse of any kind. We humans are disgusting in that way.
So, let’s try to keep our eyes on the ball: the business is offering a roof for creeps and those getting their kicks from power games of all sorts, and those we don’t need in the business. Let’s oust them. This is supposed to be a working environment which is first and foremost, safe, artistically fulfilling to ourselves, preferably slightly profitable in exchange for the time we spend doing it, and last but not least, sometimes fun. And never, ever dangerous or abusive.
Simultaneously, let’s remember we are humans, we interact with other humans, sometimes successfully, sometimes not so. Also, we are artists, sometimes our “arts” fail to connect. Not every time situations like this are “abuse” or deserve a #MeToo hashtag, or any equivalent of it.
One thing is for sure, though; times *have* changed, and that’s a *good* thing. It means, now there is a direct way to communicate, the problem has an easily-identifiable name and there are loads of brave people who acted out and told their stories. And some creepy stories they are. Those actions we need to commend. Witness.
Truth is, guys, we can do this better. It’s not hard, even. Refuse to abuse, and refuse to accept any abuse from people around you. This doesn’t require any special codex to decipher, you know when things are wrong if you are an approximately mentally healthy human being. And by “approximately” I mean you are not a sociopath.
We shouldn’t feel too bad we haven’t interfered every time we’ve seen some shit go down, however we try to avoid it, some of it has been “silently accepted part of the business” – you know, “we all know him, he’s always like that”…. but from now on, if we still decide to not to behave like humans when we see an abuse happening around us, then it’s on us. What we’re doing is a fucking illusion, a suspension of disbelief, a charade, and no amount of “it’s great art” -crap can fill the emotional gap an abuse-approving environment leaves in the business.
The film business is shedding its’ skin. Let’s show the next iteration is better.
Directing a VFX heavy film is fragmented business. Writing the scenes into the script is one thing, but really starting to develop the shots from scratch to screen is quite a task. Usually, as a director you develop the shots slowly. First part is usually the dialogue between the cinematographer and you: what kind of shots are needed to tell the story. Then, you start dividing those shots into elements that can be shot, or agree that it needs to be done full CG.
When shooting, you usually have either storyboard or sometimes an animated storyboard (we call them animatics or previsualizations) to give an example or a detailed account on how the shot would be, even if you only have a character sitting in a green room on a green chair talking with nothing but green walls – at least you know what camera angles you need to portray the story the way you as a director have in mind.
Editing you do your best with what you have. Usually at this stage, the VFX company hasn’t necessarily provided all the shots even in a crude format to really form an understandable edit, but as a director you anyhow know quite exactly what kind of shots you will need, and are able to discuss it with the editor. Sometimes, VFX company will drop you with some rough sketches, but sometimes it’s just a black screen describing the element.
It’s really the dialogue you have with the VFX supervisor which in the end turns into actual shots and detailed sequences, and it begins already on the set, and continues during the whole production. One of the key things after the shoot is done is the “spotting” phase, where you sit together with the VFX supervisor and some heads of department, and go through the film, shot by shot, describing in as much detail as possible what you need, want, wish or demand.
We started this process with our VFX team yesterday, with the latest cut in our hand and delivered to the VFX company, and then screened the whole thing – well, started the screening, that is – on the big screen, going indeed shot by shot, unloading my mind to them. I enjoy working with Chris our current supervisor, he’s a modest guy who knows he’s working with a top team but doesn’t make a scene out of it, he listens my ramblings and takes it all in, offers his own ideas quite amply but trusts very much on which way I want to steer the story. We have some pretty hard shots in the movie, partially also because we didn’t always have adequate green screen environments, so a lot of hand roto is required as well, but his attitude is good: “no problem”, and if there is a problem, he’s willing to find solutions to work it out. Only once or twice I came upon a situation where he says something would be extremely tricky to produce, and suggests we find another solution. And even then, there can be a way to make it happen.
This is I guess the key about many aspects of filmmaking – the attitude needs to be “if there is a will, there is a way”, instead of trying to either go around the easy route or just saying “nope, can’t be done”. You encounter that attitude unfortunately sometimes during the production or post production, and nothing angers me more. Almost every time there is a way, you just have to open the mind and be willing to find the solution. And if there is not a way, then you have to be creative to conceive the same thing. But sometimes you get this stonewall answer of “it’s impossible”, which I refuse to believe. I mean, we can make films nowadays of lizards flying in an alien planet full of four meter tall blue people in 3D, we probably can do almost anything a script can throw at you nowadays.
Of course, it’s the matter of resources, and that’s when things get interesting. There’s always time, and money, and quality, and usually you can only pick two. But even then, when you are out of some resources, you can find a way. It begins with the will to want to exceed yourself, and I guess that’s one of director’s main tasks: to create a movie, an environment where people working on it want to do just that, to exceed themselves.
It’s hard to do in any other medium of visual storytelling, but film has that quality on the people working on it: they want it to be more than the sum of its’ parts.
During the spotting, we got through half of the film, and will continue tomorrow. And after that, well, it’s my time to head back home for now, and jump back onboard Iron Sky The Coming Race, which we have to finish before the autumn!
On Tuesday, we screened the film once again to Max, based on the last round of feedback we had, both mine and Max’s combined. The flow was now pretty good, I didn’t get bored at any point, and mostly all of the changes we made made true sense. After the screening we had a lengthy discussion with Max on how to improve some bits, and although there’s one scene we disagree on, I’m beginning to lean on his side on it, while he has accepted some changes I find essential: all in all, we’re pretty well in shape with the film.
Feedback now digested, we sat down together with mrs. Fang for the last round of actual editing together at this time, implementing the feedback and even came up with a brilliant (possibly) solution for a scene that was still sticking out like a sore thumb. I haven’t seen the full run just yet, but I believe it might very well be the correct way to go about it.
But mostly everything is now just about getting the film ready for delivery to the VFX department, for them to get their job started full speed. Tomorrow, we would be going to them and screen the film with them, spotting the visual effects and explaining in detail what to do with them.
It was already quite late when we finished the work, but I was craving for some food, so Tanja dug out a nice hot pot joint for me which was still open and I went there – by myself. I actually assumed since Tanja chose the place that she’d join me for company, but that’s really not how it works. She walked me to the restaurant, helped me order and then went on her merry way, leaving me by myself enjoying what turned out to be a delicious meal of hotpot.
I really have a dream to bring this hot pot tradition to Finland and set up a chain of restaurants focusing on the simplicity and beauty of hot pot food in Finland, a country not aligned towards shared dinners. This place had a special system: they had pieces of meat on wooden sticks, and you just chose as many sticks you wanted from the fridge – each cost 1 yuan – and stick them in the pot. Later on, the waiter counts how many empty sticks you have and the price is there. Again, brilliant and simple.
A Finnish version of hot pot would offer in addition to typical meat, also reindeer, cabbage, herrings, a variety of mushrooms and rieska for the wheat bread. I even have a name for the place: Pannu kuumana. Anyone wanna join? Let’s branch into restaurant industry!
The hot pot restaurant is just across the street from Moli, the small whiskey bar I frequented with Mika back when we were doing prep here, so I decided to refresh my memory and went in there, reading Annika’s latest article she sent me for reviewing and enjoying a nice Godfather drink. The place is really a beauty: nice smooth jazz, very dark and beautifully furnished, makes you feel you’re in 20’s Chicago instead of ’10’s Beijing – only giveaway is the waiter who speaks absolutely no English – even the word “beer” is completely out of his vocabulary.
Then, I walked home through dark Beijing night, with a twist of whiskey, chili tasting in my mouth, hiding the metallic taste of the pollution in the air.
One of my many blessings in a acute nose for mold. Actually, my only blessing. I guess I’m not very blessed… Anyway, I can tell, from the first second I enter into a room whether or not there’s mold somewhere there. The smell is faint, kind of sweet and dusty at the same time, and it can’t be ignored.
Yesterday’s agenda was a bunch of meetings with several post production facilities; one of them had a moldy screening room. I bet nobody else noticed anything, it was very fancy and all that, but I would never be able to work there for more than few hours at a time, or I get a runny nose and sort of sick instantly.
One thing China seems to have a lot of are these “media parks”, which are just office buildings for creative industries. Media park becomes “media” when it has big glass windows, big lobbies with some wood or interesting metal structure elements, and “park” after instead of doing straight roads, they scatter the buildings all over and build winding roads that lead randomly from here to there and definitely not directly where you need to go.
The days are getting warmer. Leaving Finland, I only bought my heavy Black Yak winter jacket I bought for our shoot in China, but now, as the thermometer is climbing closer to 21 degrees, it’s completely useless. The weird flu I’ve had was on yesterday, so I decided to jump around in my t-shirt, which was too little, though, to make sure I either get a good cold or scare the stuff off.
This morning, waking up, I can tell the latter worked. I’m flu-free. I’ve said this before, and I say it again: I never get sick, unless I want to.
The day was much about just sitting in the car and riding from one place to another. I saw a good selection of colorist reels and from what I could deduct, the Asians like more colorful films than Westerners, based on a very limited empirical study (three reels). But thinking back on Asian films I’ve seen, though, there might be some truth to it.
Aside from being pretty warm, the weather has been just terrible; I mean, the pollution is worse than ever before I’ve been in China. The air quality index hit 250 today in Beijing, somewhere even up to 300, and you can feel it.
Enough a reason I really miss being back in Finland.
But luckily, I’ll be going back on Friday! Yay! Freezing cold end-of-the-winter awaits, but at least I can breath outside….
Sundays in Beijing are the only days I have off, and since last night I had gone to bed early enough, I was feeling terribly energetic as I woke up. For a while I read and answered emails, but then I felt the need to fill my soul getting a hold of me, so I jumped into my Timberlands (I know I’ve used this before, but I like the image) and headed outside.
First stop was a museum. I haven’t seen that much of cultural heritage here in China, save the mandatory Wall and Forbidden City, so I chose – because of the International Women’s Day, which was just few days ago – to go check out an exhibition featuring women painters in China.
Truly a spectacular exhibition! Some of the most terrific paintings I’ve seen in ages, although I had no way of deducting who was the painter, nor the painting name, but one that really struck me was a huge set of paintings about a stretching man. Every muscle and wrinkle described in detail, it felt like watching one of those Michaelangelo’s studies.
I was being lucky with the taxis, so next stop was a nice little coffee house called Bookworm, which is also a bookstore and some kind of a library. There, they had an LGBT discussion I bought a ticket to; I’ve been interested in sexuality-related discourse ever since reading Cacilda Jetha’s and Christopher Ryan’s “Sex At Dawn” some years back (probably, uhh, like ten years ago) so I was hoping to get an insight on how lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals are having it over here in China.
Unfortunately, as it is in so many cases like this, the discussion is way too advanced for me to really follow; I’m not familiar with the organisations behind the LGBT movement, the disputes they’re having between each others, nor am I in full understanding of all the niches they speak – there’s pansexuality, non-binary this, asexual that… I realized I was out of my league there, but did gather something important: While China has changed rapidly in the last decade, so has the acceptance and understanding of sexuality, too. One of the speakers told a story where ten years ago, she went back to her home village, her mother asked if she was doing lesbian porn in Beijing, when she told she had participated in LGBT things. Now, a decade later, her mother was criticising her relationship with another woman not because she was a woman, but because she was afraid the age gap would lead to her young girlfriend dumping her for someone younger and leaving her lonely for the rest of her life. Yes, Asian parents are famous for criticising their children’s life choices, but at least now the focus was in actual things, not some misconception on what being “lesbian” means.
Bookworm, being located in the Sanlitun area, is full of foreigners, so it was nice to see few other faces than the Chinese ones, and hear other languages, discussions you could follow (eavesdrop, that is) while reading a book. I sipped a glass of wine there, enjoying the atmosphere, and then decided to go sample the famed Georgian restaurant relatively close by.
Located in yet another embassy area, the place is Georgian to the bone: wooden structures outside and a statue of a Georgian guy with moustache (possibly some famed Georgian, wouldn’t know) welcomed me inside. The service was typical Georgian: no smiles (goes well with Beijing service culture) or unnecessary politeness, just terrific rustic food: a beef stew, khinkali-dumplings and Georgian khachapuri-bread, and a glass of terrific Georgian Saperavi-wine.
When it comes to wine, truly every other country can just step aside, since Georgians, they wipe the floor with everyone else’s tasteless liquids. Their eight thousand years of winemaking history make them the best wine country in the world.
Yes, but. That was that. My day off. Some culture, some politics and some food. Yet, never did I feel as lonely as on that day, walking alone through the galleries and streets watching people having fun together. I’m not much of a socialite myself, and although I do enjoy company, I’m not amazing in crashing into an outside company. I’ll rather sit back and read my book and observe than push myself on others, but that does leave me feeling quite outsider.
Ah, well. Hotel room was inviting and I enjoyed a good rest after the day.
So I woke up at healthy 4:30am, but to my great surprise, Annika was still up, so we hooked up via Whatsapp and shared a nice three hour phonecall, rambling through everything in our lives, futures, pasts, our theories, ideas, jokes… A nice way to spend the morning hours. After she went back to bed, I dragged myself to breakfast, enjoying a hefty plate full of all things unhealthy, then back up and to bed.
Finding lunch is not easy around where I am. The whole area is centered around a bunch of big hotels, and all the services are crafted to serve the customers of the hotels, so the prices are high and quality low, as it usually is with services for tourists. So it takes quite a challenge to find a spot to enjoy a decent, local, delicious and not-rip-off -priced meal. For me, there’s two options: the good old McD, which is boring but quite secure, and then a small noodle place just around the corner from the office.
This place is amazing. It’s literally five tables and a chef -type of an establishment, which serves nothing but a cup of beef noodles, but it’s a huge bowl and the noodles are delicious. It’s also one of the few places I can get a smile from the service, there’s a pretty Chinese girl sometimes behind the counter and maybe it’s because she’s not jaded enough, or she’s genuinely enjoying her job, but it’s a rare occasion to see a service person here who doesn’t hate the fact you enter their establishment and try to acquire their services.
Back at the office, there wasn’t too much for me to do. We had decided to focus on two bigger sequences, but it turned out they were pretty fast sorted out – the other one was easy, just cut it in half and we’re done, and the other one we can’t do too much about, until we have some rudimentary post-visualizations to see how to go about the scene.
Filmmaking consists of three stages of visualization. Usually, the first is the storyboard. It’s a rough, or sometimes more elaborate, sketch on what shots you need to shoot during the production period of the film, i.e. during the shoot. My approach to storyboards is quite free: you draw them, but then you rarely look at them again. The information you have lodges into your brain and once you start shooting, you’ll follow your memory or intuition to shoot the scene. My DOP for sure follows them a bit more closely, to make sure we have all we need, but for me, it’s more a way to draft out the film in my head, but the real thing happens on the set.
Sometimes, to make sure you’ll shoot a complex scene correctly, you’ll need a previsualization. The previz tells you in much more accurate detail what shots you need, and what kind of plate shots you need to acquire a shot. Say there’s a scene where there’s a car crash on the road with our actors going around the damage. Previz shot tells you to shoot a plate with just the cars and the stunt drivers, a plate with just the accident, and a plate with the actors on a trailer reacting to it. It tells you in exact detail what size of a shot you need, what lenses to use, what angle to choose and how to blend it all together. Very helpful, but needed only for the most complex bits.
Then, there’s the post-visualization. That’s what happens after the film is shot, and edited together. Post-visualization is, by definition, made to help the editor cut the film correctly, so it’s a rough, usually animated sketch of an upcoming VFX shot, which is inserted in the cut to make sure the pacing is there, that the needed shots are in production. Sometimes, post-visualization may serve as the basis of the upcoming final shot, too.
After having watched Iron Sky: The Ark few times over, I did realize we are in dire need of some post-visualization for the ending bit. What we’ve shot is merely a brush of what we need, so there’s that to be done, but we decided to leave it for later, it’s better to do that face-to-face with the VFX supervisor.
But that’s going to be one hell of a scene.
Afterwards, I let mrs. Fang to start going through the film, snipping, tucking, nipping and fiddling with the details, and headed for the wild Saturday night of Beijing. First, I had a super stylish haircut in a nice salon, then, went to H&M to buy some socks and T-shirts of which I’m running out, and then agreed together with Chinese clothing market that they don’t make clothes that would ever, in a thousand years fit me. Their XL is well, not the European XL.
Last thing for the night was to head over to the very heart of the business center of Beijing, where the huge skyscrapers and massive malls, with names like China World and World Trade Center line the streets. After spending time in the Hutongs and different parts of Beijing, the business center is the least interesting and most foreboding part of the city. There’s so much money floating around there it makes me feel sick.
I met with my amazing assistant David to talk about our post-shoot life for a burger at Blue Frog at China World Mall. Despite being a horrible mall with horrible shops and people all around – and man, the Chinese like to dress up to show off – the burger was good. We had a nice chat with him, and he was talking about his wishes on becoming a director one day (I can’t understand, after what he went through as my assistant during the shoot, but every man has to make their mistakes themselves, right?), so we chatted a bit about that.
Then, it was time to head back to the hotel. I crashed almost immediately, after a short chat with Annika, and slept like a little baby until wee morning hours.