China Diary

Day 135: For my brother.

No Comments

My brother died a year ago, on 19th of December in 2016.

Ville Oskari Vuorensola (1983-2016)

The day was the worst of my life. We were driving with Annika and Pekka to a ski center in Helsinki. The mood was giddy, we were listening to some 90’s snowboard punk, I was rather nervous because it was to be my first time snowboarding, but Annika and Pekka promised me I’d learn to love the sport. (Later on, it turned out, they were wrong.)

The phonecall was just a regular one, my dad. He sounded slightly distant, but I couldn’t read between the lines that something had happened. I answered my typical way, happy to hear of him.

Then: “I have bad news. Ville has died.”

The feeling was strange: a dark cloud engulfed my head in mere seconds. Everything outside faded into darkness and it was just myself, and my father on the other end, and the knowledge that one of the most loved persons in our lives would be no more.

And the worst was, he had died thousands of kilometers away from home, in Nigeria, where he had gone to meet his children. He had been expecting the trip so much, but from the beginning I had the feeling something wasn’t right with the trip. Starting with the way he got his flight tickets was dubious to say the least: the father of the mother of his children had purchased the tickets to ask him to help them with the house, but as soon as they got there, the family had ended up in some kind of a row and they had to move out. A lot of strange things were going on around that time and I was afraid there would be some bigger troubles lined up, but I didn’t expect this. Nobody did.

After my father’s phonecall, all hell broke loose. I had no time to even realize what had happened – and I didn’t know, all I knew was that he was dead – before I had to start dealing with the Nigerian hospital staff, discussing things like autopsy, how much the hospital bill would be and how to transport the body to Finland. My family around me was breaking apart and I was thousands of kilometers away from anywhere where I could be of any help, talking in phone with people I had no idea who they were asking me thousands of dollars immediately, talking with an English accent I just couldn’t understand (the Nigerians have a very peculiar way to speak English).

I still have only a faint understanding of what transpired on the evening and night of my brother’s death, but the bottom line is that he had been complaining about being slightly sick – and then, even more sick – to his friends in Finland. I know he didn’t tell about this to us because he didn’t want us to worry, the ones who worried about him anyway quite a lot. I bet he didn’t have any idea how ill he actually was.

He had no idea he would not wake up the next morning.


It’s interesting to see how many strings and nerve ends we create around ourselves. We may find ourselves in a place where we think we’re very alone, but in reality, we are hubs emanating memories, history, future, expectations, stories, longing and love, nerve connections that pulsate through the whole society constantly. If a hub gets cut out, it hurts so many people. The closer and the more connections, the harder it hurts, but the ripples can be felt far away. We are never alone.

We still don’t know for sure what took him.

First, it was suspected to be malaria, but just few weeks ago as I got the autopsy reports, it turned out it was something else: an unindentified hemorragic fever. These fevers are rather rare, but can be transferred to a human by something as small as a mosquito bite.

So, just bad luck.

Nevertheless, he’s gone. There’s one fewer of us, the sons and daughters of Juurikatu. He is missed not only by his family, but also his friends in Tampere and all over the world. He was known as Pee-Pee in the Finnish rap circles, he recorded an EP few years back. His plan was to write new music while in Nigeria. He had two kids – twins.

He was not without flaws, but the most important thing about him was that he had a kind, loving heart and crooked sense of humour. We shared with him a very specific kind of dry comedic view on life. He was a fighter, and although life wasn’t too kind for him, he soldiered through it. I consider he died a happy man: he was where he wanted to be, with his kids, in a country he loved, with a bright future ahead of him. Sadly, he never got there. I miss him daily.

His death left a gaping hole in me. It’s now been a year, and I still feel the cloud of grief washing over me when I look at his photos, listen to his Whatsapp messages. He was only person whom I had known for all of his life. The older we get, the more important these kind of long-running connections are. Friends fade in and out, family stays; now, there’s one fewer of us. All the things he missed, seeing his children grow, all the people he would meet… It kills me to think of all this.

Annika was there for me, when it all went down, and she was there through it all. She saw me on my darkest moments, she saw our family going through a tragedy of such magnitude. She held my hand, wept with me, sat next to me at the small, simple chapel where he lied in a simple casket. She walked with me through the icy graveyard, just as the sun crept out from behind the clouds to greet him on his final journey, as I carried his urn of ashes down to his final resting place. The last time I held him. Thank you for that, Annika.

And thank you, Ville. So much was lost when you left us, but that’s because you brought so much more into our lives.

Rest in peace, brother.

Henna, me and Ville; the sons and daughters of Juurikatu.

This here is a personal account on things I wanted to put in writing to my diary, which has helped me through the loneliness in China and I would’ve neglected my brother’s memory if I hadn’t spoke about him here. Nevertheless, I sincerely ask no entity quotes it, writes articles based on it or attempts to create a story out of it.  

China Diary

Day 134: Lost In Translation, Part 3

No Comments

Working with a bilingual script has it’s perils. Sometimes things that seem completely negligible might turn around to be the huge problems. This week, we’ve had our share of translation issues that have required us to reshoot quite some bits indeed.

On Monday, after the day off we came back to work and started to put together a new scene. Getting things in shape was quite complicated, since we had shot the first part of the scene the earlier week with Andy, and then on Friday we had a stunt unit shooting one specific shot for the scene, as we were on location elsewhere working with the main cast, and now we would come back to finish the scene.

The scene itself had a direct connection to another scene which would take place some 40 scenes later, that’s around 30 minutes on the final film, and the translation problem which affected the current scene started actually there, in a scene which would take place much later in the movie, but one we had already shot.

See, shooting a film very rarely happens chronologically. It would be ideal for the actors, and also for continuity and directing, as well, but in reality, there are many other things that are playing a big part there: cast availability, location / set availability, set building restrictions and plain old scheduling and money. Thus, the schedule needs to be broken down into days that are easiest to achieve, and that means the days get all messed up. I personally hate to shoot the last scenes on the beginning of the shoot, because then the characters are not quite there yet, but sometimes there’s nothing you can do about it.

Nevertheless, the said scene had one sentence in English which suggested something else than the Chinese original version, but since I don’t really speak Chinese, I relied on the English translation, and shot the scene the wrong way, in a way that wouldn’t make sense for the scene that would happen earlier in the movie. Yeah, complicated. And add few broken phones in between and you get into a real mess indeed.

The continuity issue was spotted by our youngest actor Ling Yi, and as we looked into it, it started to snowball bigger and bigger until we had quite a conundrum to solve indeed. Solving things on the set of this scale is usually quite chaotic, and when the producer heard of this he started calling Lei and things got even more desperate. The only solution we could do at this point was to reschedule a reshoot for the scene we had already shot – which, given our ridiculously tight schedule – is already nearly impossible.

After solving the issue, we had the next issue in our hands: four pages of script to shoot, plus a full-fletched action scene whom nobody had choreographed. So, 45 minutes remaining of the day, we started to set up a shootout without any idea what to do. Luckily, that’s when my brain seems to usually kickstart the most effective way, and I gained control of the situation through a very clear and precise set of instructions I came up on the fly, and acted like I knew exactly what I was doing. It’s one of the director tricks: if things get desperate, act like you know exactly what you are doing. This gets the team stop thinking, wondering and questioning and just blindly following your lead. If it leads to a bad result, at least you gave it a try – but usually, the energy of such situations create value of its’ own, and you’ll get a completely passable scene done anyhow.

In the end, we got (almost) everything we needed, and although few days later we recognized because of yet another translation error that actually there was one more shot to be done, I walked home pretty happy about the day’s results.

China Diary

Day 133: Snotty Sunday

No Comments

Well, I had it coming. I woke up feeling rather rotten on the morning, and the reason was not far to be found: yesterday’s sitting in the freezing cold weather got me a nice flu, and now I’ve been mostly in my bed, sneezing and lazying around, doing mostly nothing. Isn’t that what they say, the most loyal workers are the ones who fall sick on their free time…

unnamed (1)
My son sent me this picture: “Dad, I bought an Iron Sky mask from the thrift shop!”

During the day, I wasn’t feeling too bad. I watched a movie (Andy Garcia / Dustin Hoffman -pic “Hero” – I quite liked it!) and had some lunch from the room service. I spent most of the time in my bed, catching up with blogging, dozing off every now and then, talked with my son who had been out in the city shopping with his friend without any adults around for the first time, and I felt that time does fly: it wasn’t so long ago that he was just a little baby, now he’s turning into a teenager. Wow.

Mika and Ants asked me if I’d like to join them for shopping in Qingdao, but I decided to stay in, trying to focus on myself. I went to the gym and then had a nice, hot sauna (I may have mentioned it but there is a really nice Finnish Harvia sauna downstairs my hotel!), then went for a great dinner at the Thai restaurant downstairs, enjoying some soup, beef salad and pork neck.

I did do some work, too, of course. Interestingly, the shoot of Iron Sky: The Ark will finish in Finland. We are planning to shoot two last shooting days in Turku, Finland because we couldn’t find the right kind of a location and extras from China, so we decided to head over to Finland to finish the film off. The dates are in mid-January, and finally I got enough free headspace to start thinking about that part. Funnily, I’ve never really shot in Finland, save maybe some small promos or commercials – actual filming I’ve always done abroad, so this will be new to me, too!

I also took a peek at next week’s schedule. Already tomorrow, we have a rough day ahead of us. Four pages of text including a fight sequence, and all the remaining cast working through the whole day – that’s five main cast actors. Dealing with that will be a huge challenge, especially if it takes a while to get the day started, which I anticipate it will since it’s a very strange shooting day all in all. The stunt coordinator has already shot one shot to the scene, so I have to pick up the scene from where he left it. That’ll be a puzzle…


China Diary

Day 132: Too late: Frozen

No Comments

I was really pissed off at the production for not having the day after Andy’s departure a day off, but instead scheduling a long outdoor scene to the end of the day. 6:15 pickup was pure bullshit scheduling, when I would’ve really needed a day of rest and reset after such an intensive push with Andy; now, I had to readjust my brains in just few hours to a completely new setting and have only few hours of sleep in between.

Well, what can you do. There I was sitting in a car at 6:45 (yeah, I was late…) headed to a Qingdao Tech University for the shoot. The sun was making its’ way through the thick layer of pollution, which gave an eerie feeling to the morning traffic. I tried napping during the long car drive, but couldn’t get to sleep. David Bowie was singing in the background and I let myself drift through the last week’s shoot eating my bacon and croissants.

Since this would be the last outdoor shooting day and there was no big name actors involved, I knew already the production hadn’t bothered with trailers. But this time, I had my long johns on, so nothing could stop me, not even the freezing Qingdao winds. I was wrong. After sitting in my monitor in the freezing wind for few hours, my legs felt like ice sticks and my face was frozen over.

The first part of the scene was really jumpy. I liked the way the scene read on the paper, but didn’t like the location that much, and the conditions were not nice. I was – the whole team, actually – were all very tired after the big push this week, so everything worked a little slower this time. I tried to tackle the scene but couldn’t get my head around it, and didn’t have time to solve it properly. We had been scheduled for four and a half pages of scenes to be shot for the day, which was a *lot*, and got stuck right in the first lines.

We had to change some of the dialogue on the fly and fiddle with the props and costumes, and all had to be done in a sub-zero temperature. Yeah, the sun was out but somehow it doesn’t warm here the same way. I was grumpy after we finished the first bit, and went out to McDonald’s for a healthy lunch.

We did take our time on the lunch and coming back realized we had been longer out there than we realized. Our production manager was pissed off, complaining to me in Chinese something I understood had to do with the time. Also, we had a scene coming up with a girl in a skimpy dress, and we just couldn’t and didn’t want to put her standing there in the wind for hours. She would freeze over and die, so we changed the scene a bit and put her sitting in a nice car instead. It worked perfectly and gave the character an aura of respect around her, and suddenly, the rest of the day – the remaining 3 pages – went flying by. By the time the sun dipped below the horizon we wrapped the day and went on our merry ways to enjoy the day off the next day, with a nice two scenes in the bag!

David, me and Ants and the Big-titted Goddess of Seafood

Mika wanted to go out to have a dinner at the Big Tits Seafood, and we took Ants and David with us and had some raw beer and seafood hot pot under her watchful big tits and cheerful smile.

A great week done, few more to go!

China Diary

Day 131: The Last Mile

No Comments

Andy’s last day was packed, since we had to do every last closeup we could ever imagine with Andy, plus two scenes, out of which the other one was quite a heavy one. What I loved working with Andy was his ability to come up with great, improvised ideas to freshen up a scene. He taught me a way he likes to work, calling it “free takes” – a director gives the actors a free take, which means he gives no directions and they can do whatever they want. Coppola does them, for example.

So whenever I gave the actors – especially Andy – the free takes, they usually brought up something that’s just brilliant for the scene and definitely will stay in the movie. For example, we were working on one scene which was just two guys meeting in a room. Nothing wrong with the scene, but the staging felt dull. Then, Andy suggested that what if instead he was laying flat on the floor, in a strange yoga pose, to bring up the eccentricity of the character instead. That sounded first like a really bad idea, but when we ran the scene few times, it became the one greatest thing in the scene.

The whole shoot was full of that kind of moments, where he just with his personality and sense of filmmaking was able to bring up that little something that sets good scenes apart from regular scenes. I was watching the other day some scenes that had been edited from the movie, and the character – actually, all the characters – just work brilliantly.  It’s too early to say how the whole film works, but at least I know we have a good handful of great scenes to work with.


After the whole day was done, we finally wrapped Andy with flowers and a glass of Maker’s Mark. I thanked him – and his amazing assistant Joe – for their work here in China and the trust he had given to us joining the project, and wished him well. We planned the last dinner together but instead decided to call it a night – I had a terrible 6am pickup and they had an early flight.

Arriving to the hotel room I was feeling weirdly empty inside. I had built so much expectations to working with Andy Garcia, and we had such an intensive weeks working together creating great scenes and moments, and now he was already wrapped. That also meant the whole film would actually be on its’ real, final stretch. The next week, I would be wrapping Lin Feng and Da Fei, the leading male and his best friend! Then, it would be only mr. Duan, Rhydian and Vivienne left for the last few weeks.

It’s incredible to realize that there is less than a month to go until we wrap the whole film.

When I started this job coming over 131 days ago in Beijing, I wasn’t even sure we’d be able to start shooting. We had so many challenges ahead of us, and I was so afraid of our shooting schedule falling apart, but here we are, I can already see the finish line.

Of course, I shouldn’t be fooled by it. There’s still a lot to go, and the last mile is, as they say, the hardest.


China Diary

Day 130: Extra hours

No Comments

Thursday was one of those endless days where the despair grabbed me few times over. The production had given me an ultimatum: I had to finish off all the extras today, or good things wouldn’t be swinging to me as we say in Finland. We had already had some issues with the extras because some of them were supposed to be wrapped halfway through the day, the others could stay later. That made no sense since they all were manning the service stations and if suddenly some stations would be empty, Lotus the continuity girl would murder me, and later my editor would murder me the second time.

I had agreed with the production that the extras stay as long as they are needed, but that I would finish them off today, no matter what. That meant a lot of work for us: we had tons of Andy’s scenes to go through, and then a lot of reactions to be recorded from the extras.

But first, we focused on getting the beef of the day done. The first scene we needed another English-speaking actor, and I had nobody left who could do it. I asked Chris our English teacher, who works with our actors on pronunciation of their English lines, to do it. He was game after few words, and he did a wonderful job as a flight commander, being able to sound very convincing. Andy’s scenes were exhausting: his grande finale was complicated to do as he went in with such emotions, and we had to take it few times because the focus was always somehow lost on the closeups. After he was done at nine – when we had already shot for 12 hours – we sent him home and started to work with the extras.

We had nearly 30 scenes on the script where we needed reactions from the people, so I created this “reaction script” which I then taught to the group, and then we started running it. The plan was that we have a Moviebird crane capturing one side of things, Ants on Steadycam running around like a madman and third camera on tracks grabbing wherever there was no camera in place.

This guy was amazing. He was sleeping *every* time the camera wasn’t on, and he was sleeping *everywhere*. This is after every other extra had left, we found him fast asleep in the middle of the set!

It was a hard script, because the people had to be surprised, they had to be moved, they had to be angry, they had to be neutral… just impossible. And as it is always with extras, there’s always someone a bit too excited about the situation who overacts so loud the cameras need to do everything they can to avoid him.

I was standing on the podium, screaming through the script in English while Lei was behind me, translating. It was really hard for everyone, and of course we also had some light effects that needed to be timed correctly… we spent nearly three hours working with them, and afterwards we were all exhausted and it was nearly a midnight. That was sixteen hour shooting day… No rest for the wicked.

But we got it made! I thanked the extras, they all circled me and we had a million photos taken of us, selfies after selfies and I spoke with the people. It was a fun way to end the day, and I thanked everyone for staying up with me although we did long days.

Selfie time!

In the meantime, Andy had gone for his farewell dinner with the producers and the cast. They had apparently fun night, but by the time we were out of the studio, it was already too late to join and I was mentally a wreck, so it was home and bed for me.



Very nice, the Bokononist would whisper.





Day 129: Slow burn…

No Comments

I was greeted by the restaurant manager as I dragged myself down to the breakfast room. “Hi, you are mr. Timo? From 52016? I never see you here at breakfast. You are that film director. Very good film? You work hard.”

Yeah, indeed. Usually it’s my assistant David who picks my breakfast for me because I try to sleep every possible minute and especially this week it’s been really hard to get enough rest. Every day I gain more and more sleep debt as six hours of sleep is just not enough when my brain goes full speed all the time.

At the car, David hands me the callsheet, and I see what we are shooting today. I must admit, I have no idea what we are planning to shoot during the week. I know the script inside out, and I know my sets, actors and the storyboards, but the schedule just doesn’t stay in my head. I focus so hard on one shooting day that the rest of the days are just a mash of unfinished work, and only on my 15 minute drive to the studio I have a chance to see what we are supposed to shoot today.

Barron the 3rd AD instructing the extras.

Well, this week is all about Command Center and William Russell scenes, so that’s what’s on the menu for the Wednesday, too. We will continue with what we were left with the other day – and it was supposed to be an easy start. The cameras were there, the scenes we knew already very well as we had been rehearsing them, and everything was built to work, but for whatever reason, we just couldn’t get started until around lunch. I didn’t really understand what took so long time, but somehow, it was a sluggish start.

The whole day dragged on slowly, shot by shot, scene by scene, and Andy was grumpy since we had to jump back and forth with scenes, and the rest of the actors were rather confused with what we were doing. Creating a big thing on a green screen studio can indeed be unclear, and although I know exactly what we are planning to create there, nobody else does.

By the time it was a time to wrap, we managed to crunch in the last few scenes and got a great result out of them, and then we called it a night. Andy invited me and Mika for a dinner at his hotel, and indeed, we had a very nice few hours over a glass of red wine and some nice food, talking about Cuban politics and sharing our Udo-stories.

In the night, we walked with Mika down the broadwalk. It was freezing cold. Even the packs of wild dogs had fled the cold. The resort is really strange at night indeed, there’s no lights anywhere, the beach is enormous and the small “German village” is empty. We chatted about actors in general, saying how much we appreciated Andy and the work with him, while Mika had some not necessarily so favorable experiences with some other actors from films he had worked with.

In the night, I called Annika and we talked for nearly two hours until I passed out out of sheer exhaustion to a restless, dreamless sleep.

China Diary

Day 128: Being Economic

No Comments

Tuesday; another day in the same set, another day working with Andy and all the extras. The AD team has really put together a challenge of a schedule for us, but that’s the way its’ gotta be, since there’s no other way we could finish Andy in time. Tuesday, we started to enter to the very end of the movie, which consists of one big action sequence viewed and interacted with from different locations; Andy’s character and the command center being one of the places.

The only way to get the scenes done in a decent way was to start running the whole end piece in one long scene, otherwise we’d have to drag the cameras back and forth the set every time, since all the time you need front and back shots, so it would be just turning the set around constantly, which would take time and energy too much to even think about.

Being economic with shooting doesn’t usually sit well with the actors. They view the scene through their character eyes, and many actors are not into jumping back and forth between scenes, they prefer us to cover the scene from every angle possible, then move on to the next. Andy was especially adamant about this, so my idea of being economic and fast was not fitting together very well with this. So instead, we focused on getting his front shots for every scene, and then save the backshots where he doesn’t really have to perform as much to the end. I was also worried about his voice, it was getting raspier every take and wouldn’t hold for too long, and I really needed his voice, that’s for sure.

After the day, I was done for. We did great scenes but it was exhausting. I didn’t want to go over that day so we wrapped on time, but I knew there would be long days coming up ahead, so preparing for them was in my mind heavily.

Figuring out a scene with Andy Garcia.
China Diary

Day 127: Day In, Day Out

No Comments

Filmmaking creates a bubble around the reality, where everything outside is faded, distant and blurry, and everything inside feels very real, important, relevant and focused. The only escape from the bubble are dreams, since there’s really no way to get out when you’re shooting 6 days a week – the only day off is for recovering. But when even the dreams start to become dreams of scenes that are not in the script, discussions that you want to have on the set, dreams of directing a scene, you know you’re in it too deep.

As I’m writing this, I have about a month to go on the job, a little less. Still, there’s Christmas and New Year in between, so it feels a much longer time: I know I’ll be done not before next year. Funnily, I haven’t stressed too much – to be honest, I’m not a very stressed person to begin with. I mean, we’ve had busy times and we’ve had rough days and I’ve been tired, on the brink of mental breakdown and felt helpless many times, but it never transpired into a feeling of stress as much as just need to rest a bit. Last week shoot I felt the jolt of sudden exhaustion sweep over me as I was, again, bombarded with questions on set and we were going overtime seriously. All I could do is to just walk away from all the people, walk into my green room and stare at the wall for good 10 minutes. I gathered my brains and went back on, apologised the team for the wait and in no time we were back on the saddle, shooting. I bet that was one of the moments when actual stress just shut my brains down, but luckily, reboot did the job.

The other thing that bothers me is that while the brain is being fried on a slow flame constantly, the body isn’t doing great, either. I haven’t had a time to go to a gym in the last two weeks not one time, as I’ve been just way too tired after the shooting day, and mornings I barely make it to the pickup anyway, so I’m feeling my body is not doing good, either. I like lifting weights to keep my back and upper body in shape, but not doing it in a while really starts feeling, in the back mostly. Sitting down most of the time just isn’t a good position for a human, and directing is mostly hunching over monitors in the most unergonomic position. Slowly, it gets to you.

The food on set has been bad through the whole production (it always is, no matter which film, that’s my experience), but when Andy came, they hired a cook and for a while we had some decent chicken and meat for lunch and sandwiches for the snack. Now that he’s gone, I’m yet to see how the on-set food situation is. Before Andy, I always asked David to get some regular food for me – Burger King or KFC or McD or something easy and surely edible, but haven’t had the need for that in a while. I’m not really looking forward going back to the BK diet, but when I’m shooting, I just can’t do with weird Chinese food, that’s just not happening. Nevertheless, the food I’ve been eating during the shooting days is not something I can be proud of: either burgers or pizza for the most parts. On days off and dinners we’ve had some really good meals, but on set I eat like a cardiac arrest candidate. Yeah, I’ve gained some weight and lost some muscle, and feel like shit for most of the time. I can’t wait to get back to Finland and get back in (some kind of) shape after all this.

Also, I’m running out of clothes! That’s another thing. When I left to China, I brought *all* my clothes with me, but I don’t really own a huge amount of shit, so the little I do own has been in heavy rotation ever since. Usually, I end up buying new stuff, but here the clothes just don’t fit me and I’m tied to what I have – plus, I don’t really have time to go shopping, either, even if I did find a place to shop. So there’s that. T-shirts get out of shape and jeans wear out after having to go with exactly same rotation for 127 days.

thumb_IMG_0733_1024thumb_IMG_2275_1024I’m growing by beard, too. I cut it when we started to shoot, and looked like a child for the first weeks, but now it’s getting mushier and darker and thicker all the time. I’m not sure I’m going to keep it this long, but at least it’s an interesting experiment. Turns out my beard growth is not as fast after it gets to the basic thickness, so I don’t really see the difference that well, but I think it’s right now fashionable to have a scruffy and bad beard anyway, so I’ll let it grow more. Doesn’t make me look any more attractive, but hides my second chin, the creation of the shitty food diet I go by here.

Working with Andy on set

Anyway. Monday we shot the second day at the Control Center set. It was Andy’s time to shine the whole day, and he was brilliant. His style is to get all in and we better capture it in as few takes as possible, because he puts so much intensity in his performance. He can be a bit scary, too, when he assumes the character of William Russell. He went off to few extras during the shoot as they were fiddling with their phones while he was performing, which I totally understand. “IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE HERE, GO HOME PLAYING THAT THING!” We then denied the use of cellphones on set (but the Chinese don’t really care, they have them out anyway…). After we wrapped him the other day, though, he noted that it was not Andy Garcia shouting to the extras, but William Russell, his character. When the cameras are not on him, he’s the sweetest guy.


China Diary

Day 126: Assuming The Control

No Comments

Sunday meant back to work for us, and ahead of us was a tough week since it would be Andy’s last week, and we would need make sure we have everything we need from him. Rest of the week we would for the most part spend in a set called Command Center – it seems I make a lot of movies which has a command center of some sort, and they are always quite humongous sets.

This set was quite similar in shape and style as U.S.S. George W. Bush’s set in the first Iron Sky – although with the first Iron Sky, we really built only one control table and the actual command post, and then just moved the table around the room to get different angles or multiply characters in it. This time, we had enough budget to build quite a many tables and the actual set was actually built in two levels: Andy’s room was located above the set, with a huge window overlooking at the Command Center. It was, I must say, quite an impressive set.

For the set to work, we needed at least 25 extras there to keep all posts manned, and they had to, of course, be the same extras every time. In addition to this, we needed to have some speaking roles there, but the casting had mixed two roles into one (I admit, they sound very much the same: Male Controller and Mission Control; in translation they both just became Controller), and I only learned about this on the day as I was on my way to the set.

Usually, I’m quite aware on what kind of day players I’ll be working with, usually having chosen them quite carefully, but this time, I had overlooked the casting list and forgot to really put my brains on the matter, and then there was the translation mixup, so we ended up with a day where we were missing one key actor who would be playing the whole week.

I was quite unsure what to do: we had to shoot, that goes without saying. Joe, Andy’s assistant and an actor as well was available, but then we’d have to deal with SAG, which was not possible at the time (I had some twenty minutes to go before the blocking!). We had few English-speaking people on the set, but none of them were really what I was looking for, until someone suggested Victor. Victor is the stand-in for Andy, a Ukranian actor based in Beijing and Kiev, and speaks decent English. For the role, it would’ve been better to have maybe even more fluent English actor, but I decided that the acting skills and the looks are more important than fluent dialogue at this time. The decision was right. Victor proved to be a wonderful guy who really worked hard on the role, and although sometimes the complicated technobabble dialogue was hard for him, he played it with bigger intensity and made the role work great.

The first day at the new set is always a bit tricky, since it’s usually not completely ready, but we made it work in a decent time. For Andy, it was a bit dumb day all in all because he was mostly just standing in his office and looking at the control center while the actual scene was playing in below. We worked hard and after five hours finished the scene; then it was time for Andy’s bit.

While the Chinese actors are very much in control of their emotions when playing a role, the Western actors tend to externalize much more. Andy’s scene was one where he was getting riled up, and it was first a little intimidating to see him get into the mood: the nice guy turned into a grumpy shouting man. We could see he was in the headspace of the role, but still, it’s always a bit shocking to see someone change so drastically in a matter of minutes.

The day played out well and we finished much of it, leaving something still to be achieved in the days to come.

Lighting structure hanging from the roof