“So, we are filming half of Iron Sky in Australia.”
“Oh, it’s confirmed then?”
“Yeah. A bunch of us are going to Australia in two weeks.”
“Will I be going?”
“Yes. You’ll be in Australia for two weeks with us.”
…and that is part of why I like my current job as the publicist and making of guy of Iron Sky. During our trip to Cannes Film Festival this year we confirmed our deal with an Australian production company called New Holland Pictures, and in the beginning of June we took a trip to the other side of the planet to handle big bunch of practical matters. They included a ton of budget talk, checking out some studios and shooting locations, doing some casting, meeting special effects and stunts experts, and of course contacting our fans.
HALFWAY AROUND THE PLANET
Looking from Finland, Australia is pretty much on the other side of the world. If I’d want to get further away from home, the only better choices would be New Zealand or Antarctica, or maybe some small islet in Southern Ocean. In any case, our trip took around 34 hours from Helsinki to Brisbane. It included a six hour layover in Hong Kong, where we could have been able to go out and visit the city if we had realized it. The weirdest thing in the airport were the health department officials, who were sitting in a small pen wearing face masks and measuring the temperatures of travelers remotely with IR cameras. Our production manager Tarja was feverish, but managed to slip past their scrutiny.
The Pacific Rim from Hong Kong to Australia looked like it was one big thunderstorm. Over Manila chain lightning reached from horizon to horizon and the clouds flashed bright almost every other second. When I woke up from a surprisingly good night of sleep over Australia, there were still some anvil clouds sizzling and crackling with small angry lightning. Then it was just a matter of getting through Australia’s horribly draconian immigration and customs. Maybe they are still sore about some rabbits a century and a half ago, I don’t know, but even having travelled both to Russia and US, the severity of the scrutiny managed to still surprise me.
BRISBANE: STUDIOS, RECCE AND FAN MEETINGS
“Those bastards, going to a nice two week holiday in warm and sunny Australia”, some of you might be thinking right now. There’s nothing true in that sentence though. (Well, it’s true that I’m a bit of a bastard, but Timo is a nice guy.) Overall this was a work trip through and through. After the trip I realized that I had been working from 8am to midnight or 1pm every day apart from one. Also, it is of course winter in Australia right now, and the weather was surprisingly chilly and windy. As seems to be the theme of this year, it was again warmer in Finland than in the “warm” country we were in.
A bit part of the Iron Sky thing is to document the movie project, and that’s what Timo and I did by blogging on the road. If you want a more technical blow-by-blow about our trip, check our movie blog, starting here: Iron Sky Goes Australia – Studios, Fan Meetings & Supanova. Timo also kept videoblogging in TwitVid and some of the stuff is also up in YouTube. Since this is my personal blog, this is written from a more personal viewpoint.
Anyway, we got into an ok hotel near Brisbane downtown, in a region called Kangaroo Point. Timo and I were lucky enough to get one of those hotel apartment rooms with two separate bedrooms, a kitchen, washing machines and such stuff that makes traveling so much more practical. Unfortunately it was yet another case of hotels mistaking internet connection for a chance to do some highway robbery. There was only a wired net, which cost 100 AUD a week per computer or other device and wasn’t very reliable. Since that was fucking ridiculous, we ended up using my MacBook Pro as a wireless router. Otherwise staying in there was nice. Since we had a kitchen, we ended up cooking breakfast for everybody, and starting a day with the whole group coming into our room to eat was a great way to get on the road.
As for the work, we started it by going to Warner studios in Gold Coast, talking business with the studio boss and our set designers and builders, and checking out the enormous sound stages that have been used for some rather big movies before us. The scale of the project really hit home when I was standing on a gantry near the ceiling, watching the people who looked like ants down on the floor, and thinking that we’ll going to need two of these for our sets.
We are going to shoot most of our location stuff in Germany, but we’ll need some locations in Australia too. We went for a drive around the local mountains, looking for farmhouses and generally seeing the local countryside. Being a nature person myself, I really enjoyed that day. What surprised me was how non-exotic the local nature was compared to the Finnish one (apart from plenty of palm trees) and that I’m still alive. My fiancé Susi lived in Australia ’till she was seven, and the impression she’s given is that there’s a poisonous spider or a snake hiding in every nook and under every stone. Although I turned some rocks and poked some places I maybe shouldn’t have, I didn’t manage to find any of those nasties. I even missed the dangerous animals exhibit in the faux-Swiss mountain inn we stopped to dine in.
The last leg of the trip was a farmstead with a wide yard full of rust covered farm equipment, which looked simply terrific in the golden light of the setting sun. I could’ve stayed there for a full day just taking photos of them.
After a few days of work we had a day off, just to take off the edge from jetlag. My jetlag control had worked almost perfectly, but I managed to fuck it up in the last second. I managed to sleep really well in the flights, so I arrived in Australia feeling more or less refreshed. At the hotel everybody else went to sleep, though, and feeling bored I decided to take a half an hour of sleep – and woke up three hours later so sleepy I was nauseous. Darn. So close. Apart from that, for the first week or so my nights were filled with semi-lucid nightmares or otherwise weird dreams, which made the mornings start with a rather strange moods. I guess it was the matter of my body wanting to sleep and mind wanting to be active, or the other way around.
In any case, we had a day off on Sunday, meaning a chance to sleep late(r than usual) and to go see some of the local sights. Timo wanted to do some shopping, so we took a nice ferry over Brisbane River and into the downtown, where mr. Vuorensola realized that he had forgotten the name of the store he had remembered through the trip. After Timo had done his clothes and SIM card shopping and we had loaded up on some books, we headed first to the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens to wind down, have a walk and to chat. I really like botanic gardens just for moments like this, they are perfect places to get your brain to a lower gear.
Our second destination was Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, a place I really wanted to visit as long I was in the neighbourhood. We were in luck, since we managed to catch the last practical bus with only two minutes to spare. Basically the place is a large zoo, concentrated mainly on koalas, but offering plenty of chances to see the local wildlife. It was even more fun than I imagined, since in addition to seeing some flying foxes, wombats and an especially hysterical platypus, we got to walk in a field around kangaroos and scratch them behind the ears, and to hug koalas. Timo pussied out, but I dished out 16 AUD for a chance to cop a feel with a small little sharp clawed teddybear. People told me that koalas stink, but at least the one that was handed to me smelled pretty good, like some old grandma-era coughdrops with eucalyptus and camphor. As I’ve said, I like to scratch and play with animals, so the chance to get to actually touch koalas, kangaroos and such made it a fun day for me.
We ended the day by having a nice dinner in a street restaurant in downtown Brisbane. There I realized that the Australian mentality seems to be somewhat compatible with the Finnish one, at least when it comes to the service culture. In Finland, you tip only when the service is exceptional. Since we have this terrible Socialist-Communist conspiracy called “a minimum wage”, the waiters don’t have to creep up your ass crack just to make enough money in tips to get the bills paid. I find the mandatory tipping culture irritating in many ways, but luckily they don’t have that in Australia. The general mentality seems to be more laid back in Finland, and the end result is a service culture where the norm is like the top fifth of the Finnish equivalent. Friendly, but no nonsense and non-intrusive.
CASTING AND MEETINGS
We spent a few days during the first week in the house of our local producers, where they have their home office, in both meetings and doing casting. I was easily amused at their place, since they had a cat and a dog, blue-tongued lizard and some finches and guppies as pets. Workwise there was talk about special effects, such as collapsing passageways over people, stunts like jumping with a motorcycle in Moon gravity, and scifi make-up, such as zero gravity hair. In addition to that there was hours and hours of budget talk, which is decidedly not simple in a project such as Iron Sky. We are doing this in two continents and at least in three countries, there’s crowd funding involved, and the movie is very effects heavy with world class stars. Figuring out how to get the crew and talent in place, to get things built and torn down in time and how to get everybody and everything paid for is a task I don’t envy. My hat’s off to the producer crowd for managing it.
We also had a good bout of casting, for both main roles and some minor parts. My job was to film the casting sessions and help where needed otherwise. The biggest problem during our casting day was to stifle the laughter enough to keep the camera steady through some of the sessions, since some of them were simply hilarious. We basically had people coming in through the day, one after one every fifteen minutes, except for the major parts with took a bit longer. The last session was late in the evening when it was already dark, and we got interrupted by both a grease fire and an intrusive opossum. The session ended up with me, Timo and the actress just laughing. I think it was a great way to find actors for the more humorous roles, since it was comfortably informal, with room for people to goof around.
We also had a small fan/investor meeting in Brisbane. We started looking for the location like we did in Berlin, when someone pointed out that Mana Bar was actuall in Brisbane, I really set my eye on that. One of the proprietors, Ben ‘Yatzhee’ Croshaw is known for his Zero Punctuation game reviews, where he gets the chance to say the things about games most of the game medias won’t publish. I don’t of course always agree with him, but I love his style, so it would’ve been nice to knock heads. Unfortunately the Tuesday we had in mind was a completely packed event night in Mana Bar, and because of our schedule we didn’t end up dropping in, even though we drove almost past it a couple of times.
OFF TO SYDNEY
We spent the first week of the trip in Brisbane and Gold Coast area, and the second one in Sydney. The Garmin GPS in our rental car was the best possible advertisement for TomTom, but in spite of that, we managed to find our way to our Meriton apartment hotel, which turned out to be a damn nice choice. Timo and I got another apartment suite, this time on the 45th floor. The view was great, the apartment was nice and although the net was a bit expensive again, this time the price was reasonable and it was fast and reliable enough. We were also comfortably in middle of downtown, in an area where if you stumble, you’ll be likely to fall into a nice Spanish restaurant.
In Sydney people had all kinds of things to do, but my main thing was arranging our appearance in Supernova. The only other thing I did was to film the casting of one of our primary roles, which again ended up being quite fun. The apartment hotel has a pretty strict “no noise and no parties” policy, so having the actor scream stuff like “don’t shoot me you nazi bitch” in our room made Timo and I think about good excuses for explaining that to the hotel staff. There was no need for fast talk, in the end. We finished the casting session with a nice sushi dinner.
But as I wrote, for me, most of the Sydney work was about Supanova Pop Culture Expo, this small little intimate gathering of about 15 000 scifi and pop culture fans. We were a relatively late addition to the lineup, which meant that we had to do everything in the last possible moment. Considering that we managed to do pretty well. I was working with New Holland’s Jessica, who was an incredibly efficient person. I’m an organizer and a bit of a control freak, but being on the wrong side of the planet in a foreign country, at times felt about as useful as tits on a nun when it came to the practicalities. Luckily Jess was on top of all the primary logistics really well. We spent the Friday before Supanova driving around Sydney, getting all kinds of materials – like our Iron Sky banner that got mailed in from Finland, and a TV and PS2 for our videos, borrowed from Jeremy whom we paid with Iron Sky merchandise and beer, as promised.
When it comes to fans and audience, for me coming to work for Iron Sky has been a shock in the positive sense of the term. Telling that your audience is great is a cliche for any artist, publicist and such, BUT. I’ve been working in the technology and gaming media for a decade, and seen a whole lot of fandoms, clubs and geek societies. I’m not trying to sound trite, but honestly I’ve never had to work with such a positive and helpful community as the Iron Sky fans and followers. Got to say it makes the cynical old me feel rather fuzzy and warm to do stuff like go to the other side of the planet, and get people to help us secure kick as booth in a big expo, help us with all kinds of other things, and just hand their flat screen TV and PS2 to two weirdoes who were literally lurking on the bushes of their back yard, because they had a moment of “being challenged on the navigation department”.
Our Supanova went great. We got our booth up with some help from other exhibitors and spent two days selling our merchandise, chatting with people who turned up to see our teaser or just check out what the booth was about. We met some long time Star Wreck and Iron Sky fans, and even managed to get enough time off the booth duty to get our geek on. Timo bought a ton of Star Trek stuff, so apparently that Trekathon stuff is really effective. I got myself and Susi a couple of geeky T-shirts and went to listen to Dichen Lachman tell about how to blow soap bubbles out of one’s armpit, and catch a glimpse of Eliza Dushku, Charisma Carpenter and Summer Glau at their signing booths (didn’t get a signature, though, since personally I’ve never seen their point). When hurrying out of the backstage, Timo and I managed to almost barge into Eliza and Michael Winslow, the human sound effects machine from the Police Academy movies.
On Saturday evening we had another fan/investor meeting, this time in Steel Bar & Grill in Sydney downtown. In spite of the name it was a decidedly upscale place. I bowed out after midnight to rest a bit before Sunday, but the rest of the group and some fans partied ’till the early morning hours.
I spent most of my day speaking non-stop to people who came to see our teasers, so by Sunday evening I was all talked out but very happy with how Supanova and the whole two weeks had gone. Extremely productive, but at the same time very fun and interesting.
The trip back home went in a tired and sleepy haze. The Hong Kong airport was hot as hell and the planes were so cramped that I didn’t have the energy to drag out my laptop. To my surprise the inflight entertainment things had a pretty nice selection of documentaries, so I spent most of the flight learning about mega-engineering, lightning, washing the windows of skyscrapers, the effect of vibration to bone growth and how to make perfumes – which was actually a pretty damn good way to spend the mind numbing flight hours.
We had a several hour layover in Amsterdam, but we were too knackered to leave the station. I entertained myself by wolfing down stroopwafels, which are like crack to me, and by playing the third season Sam & Max games. Sam & Max was my evening entertainment of choice through most of the trip – especially after I patched the first one, which made it finally playable on Macs. I love it how the quality of the series has held up and how well Telltale does the whole episodic gaming thing just right.
Back at home. A couple of days of work, the Finnish midsummer festival Juhannus, then a couple of days of work more, and it’s the time for the Awesome July of 2010. But more about that later!