After the Christmas holidays it was the time for me to fly to Australia, where the second half of the Iron Sky shoot started on the beginning of this January. Some of our crew, like Timo and Samuli, had been there from since the end of December, but was set to arrive just a few days before the shoot was scheduled to begin.
Our flight was interesting, because we only managed to check in from Helsinki to London, and after that we just had to run to the boarding gate without boarding passes and demand that we should get on the plane, because our luggage was already on board. Especially London it took some haggling, but in the end we got stuffed into a full plane, and Jarmo and I got upgraded to those mid-level good seats, where your testicles are not on top of each other and you can actually move a little.
I was feeling somewhat tired and gloomy, but creative, coming up with two ideas for a short story and managing to write half of one of them. During our stop in Singapore we encountered what a Finn would call an insane thunderstorm. It didn’t affect the plane that much, but outside there were solid looking curtains of rain coming down all the awnings, and the thunder looked and sounded like loud explosions, not rumbles at all.
Arriving in Australia
On the whole, coming to Australia, I didn’t really know what to expect, but I didn’t guess it would start kind of gloomy. Seasonal affective disorder is more or less a part of the Finnish lifestyle, and I’ve come to terms with the fact that there’s not enough daylight lamps and vitamin D pills to prevent me from going a bit nuts between December and the first half of January: tired, depressed, cranky and snappy – a notable exception being last year, when we spent the Christmas holidays in the Red Sea. During the years I’ve got used to the dip in the mood, learning to know that it’s not the world that sucks, just the amount of neurotransmitters, so I spend my Christmastime in a comfortable state of cognitive-emotional-dissonance, where I’m quite happy and gloomy at the same time.
In any case, when we arrived to Australia, the weather was dismal. The sky was covered with leaden gray clouds and for us Finns the air was really hot and stifling. For the last week or two, in many days it was literally 15 minutes of rain and 15 minutes off. The fuckers at Heathrow had managed to lose our luggage too, and it arrived three days late. The jetlag was the worst I’ve ever had, and I had managed to contract one of the various flus that went around Finland, so I spent the first week of work popping those great Australian codeine flu pills, feeling totally out of it.
But, without sarcasm, apart from that rather trying start the trip was a blast!
Starting with a Dive
My plan for the trip was to spent as much of my time under water as possible, and to spend the weekends doing outdoorsy and active stuff. I started that right on the first weekend, a couple of days after I had landed and before the flu hit me properly. We were staying in a city that was called – for real – Surfers Paradise. I booked dives with two dive centres, Queensland Scuba Diving Company that was right on the harbour, and Kirra Dive that was a half an hour bus trip to the south. Amusingly enough Queensland Dive had a Finnish DM called Timo, with whom I got assigned.
The first company did boat trips to a nice little cove next to Wavebreak Island. Objectively, for an experienced diver, the place wasn’t that special, but a nice comfortable dive out to check some fishies. The cove had a sandy bottom, and a lot of wrens that were so tame and used to divers feeding them, that a couple of times I had to wave them off my mask so I could see where the DM was. There were also nice little stingrays, and some fun with currents when we went further out.
Sunday’s dive was a bit different, since Kirra Dive is next to the mouth of a river, and apparently a lot of shore dives are done there. I had originally signed in for some reef and wreck dives, but apparently the weather was indeed so dismal that this was the worst diving season many of the people I talked with had ever encountered. The dive in the Kirra river was mostly about experience over sightseeing. We went under in a beach next to a wave breaker that separated it from the river. The swell was pretty strong, so essentially what we did was to wait for the swell to suck us out some 2-3 meters, crab a rock on the bottom of the sea, hold onto it when the waves went the other way, and repeat the maneuver until we were past the wave breaker. Then we went around it and into the tidal current that took us upriver. The visibility was low, on the level of the Baltic sea on a good day, but there were some fun little blennies and the experience was fun nevertheless.
Shooting Nazis in a Studio
So, about the actual work: what we did was to shoot the second half of Iron Sky, which consisted of the vast majority of the scenes that happen on the Moon or in space. We did this in the Village Roadshow Studios, where we had rented two sound stages. What’s a sound stage, you ask? Well, it’s a big ass studio, airplane hangar size, fitted with rigging for lights, stunts, green screens, backdrops and whatever you need in making a movie. As it happened, one of the stages was where one of my favourite sci-fi movies, Pitch Black, was shot in.
Why an earth did we go to Australia to shoot stuff in a studio, you might ask. Well, it’s all about funding. Movie funding is such a convoluted and weird business, that it can indeed be economically sensible to haul the movie production to the other side of the planet – very very literally in our case.
I’m the publicist and the “making of” producer of the film, so my job consisted of hammering out the press materials in our production office, and poking my nose everywhere in the production, holding a camera and interviewing people. I think that for someone who hasn’t been involved in that many movie projects, the latter was the best possible position to have. I wasn’t only allowed, but required to go and see everything that happened, and to ask people what’s interesting and cool in their job. So, off I went, from the prop shop through the stunts and special effects guys and make up to the costume department, seeing everything that happened. Meanwhile we also managed to kick up a nice amount of publicity for Iron Sky, which is of course extremely important for a project relying so much on crowdsourcing and crowdfunding.
Unfortunately at this stage there aren’t that many details I can tell about. Most of my days were spent shuttling between the production office and the studio we were shooting in. Entering the studio was always a bit weird, because it was a weird bubble of a different world, effectively isolated from everywhere else, since there were no phones and no net. You just entered this enormous indoor space, with all the walls mostly green, sometimes with people dangling on wires from the ceiling, fantastic sci-fi set piece machinery on the floor; on one day you were standing on Moon dust, which on the next day had turned into a grass and bush filled field.
So, the work was definitely interesting, but also hard. In the end I had very little time to get all the interviews for the Iron Sky making of, which promises to be quite extensive. The thing is, time on the set costs money. Like “200€ per minute” kind of money. Overtime costs even more and it’s not allowed, sooo… Getting actors to the interviews was just a matter of scheduling, but getting some members of the crew was quite hard, because essentially it meant cutting into their lunch hour or other breaks, which for some people were rare enough. In the last week I still had a bunch of very important interviews not done and I did the last one in the last day of the shoot.
Trying Out Stunt Wires
Doing interviews with our crew was very interesting, since when you get people to talk about the stuff they do for a living, it’s quite often very engaging. After we had done the interviews with our stunt coordinator, who has amongst other things been the stunt double of Keanu Reeves in Matrix, I just happened to ask him where an ordinary dude could try out the stunt wires we used quite a lot in the low-G and zero-G scenes of Iron Sky. “Well, how about tomorrow after lunch?”
So, that’s what went down. I had a few minutes between shots to try a martial arts harness, which is designed to be as invisible under your costume as possible, but which you can use to do awesome wushu-moves and aerial acrobatics. I didn’t get to go that high on my first try, though, only about a meter or so, and I got to try the basic techniques of how to go from vertical to horizontal, upside down and back again. If we had had a bit more time, I could’ve tried the low-G jumps also, but yeah – they apparently had this movie to shoot and didn’t want to keep over a hundred people waiting until my playtime was over.
Damn, I really would try to take a course on doing more stuff with the wires. It means I should get a bit more muscles on my back and hips, though, since holding your posture and your legs up felt like it would’ve gotten very tiring very fast.
Floods, Cyclones and Thunderstorms
This winter hasn’t been gentle for Australia. We arrived just in time to catch the second wave of floods, which hit Brisbane on the first week of our shoot. Our first day was an outdoor scene, which was supposed to take place in Germany, but there we got snowed out. In Brisbane it was raining hard, which fit the scene, but…
During a break Pekka, Jarmo and I returned to our unit base, where the catering, make up and costume trucks, and all that support gear was. It was next to the Brisbane river, and on our way to the car we just stopped to look at the still, muddy and ominous water. Which had risen to the level of the parking lot during the time we had been on the shoot.
A day and a half later the parking lot and the shooting location were under water, we saw some photos of cargo containers floating on the water where we had been walking just a short time before. When we were driving to the studio with Pekka and Jarmo on one day in the first week, there were two big army copters flying there. Our studio was just 40 km or so outside of Brisbane and we were completely safe – nevertheless, it felt weird to be on a studio filming a sci-fi comedy, when within a 20 minute drive people were digging out a flooded city and fishing out bodies from the water. I had a good hard think if I should volunteer for a weekend, but my most practical clothes were my running shoes, swat pants and a T-shirt, I had no equipment I could contribute and I could commit only for the weekends, so I doubt I would have been of that much help.
In addition to the floods we had some other interesting weather, all of which managed to skirt us. There was one small cyclone on the sea, and then of course the cyclone Yasi, which missed us by quite a margin – but managed to make a lot of people pretty worried at home. There was a major thunderstorm that cut out the electricity for a whole bunch of houses south from us. The evening when it skirted the studio was kind of amazing. We were right on the route of the flying foxes which left their roost in the dusk, and we got out of the production office right at that time. So, what did we have – hundreds and hundreds of chihuahua sized bats flying over us, with a background of thunder clouds with purple flashes of lightning.
Rainforest Walk & Catching Some Waves
The weeks were full of hard work, but we had the weekends free, and I managed to stay with my plan of spending most of my free time either under water or doing other kinds of adventures. The weather on the seas continued very rough, so almost all of my plans to go out on a reef were foiled because for some reason the dive operators didn’t want to go out when there was a two meter swell.
On first of these days Jarmo and I took our rental car and went to a sightseeing trip around Tamborine mountain, and to check out a Rainforest Skywalk thing. It was a nice way to see a bit of the local wilderness and wildlife – I was surprised to actually see monitor lizards lying everywhere on the roads, basking on the sun.
Timo and I had been talking for a long time that we’ll have to take some surfing lessons, but we never got our scheduled to match. Nevertheless, me and our DOP Mika went to catch some waves on one Saturday. Neither one of us had even stepped on a surfboard before that, so a beginner’s course it was. Because the seas were rough, the waves were pretty intense at times – those motherfuckers are were strong and they could really slam and roll you around. We learned on how to get on the board, how to catch a wave and surf while lying on your stomach, how to steer, speed up and slow down, and finally we got to try how to stand up. I managed to stand on the board a total of two seconds, which was pretty damn fun and awesome. I had some kind of kink on my back which made it painful to jump up, so I had to give up trying after a while.
We also had a bit of excitement, since Mika and I managed to wade a bit too far, apparently right on the edge of the rip current, that would’ve taken us out to the sea. Even closer to the shoreline there were occasional two meter high waves that came crashing at us, but further out it suddenly got very deep, and I had something that looked like a three meter tall wave barreling at me. I tried to catch it, but my timing was a bit off – the wave slammed me face first on the board and ripped it out of my hands. The sea was full of beginning surfers zipping around on their boards, so I just tucked into a fetal position, held by breath and let the wave pummel me towards the shore. Being a diver, I’m pretty used to holding by breath, but after what felt like 20 seconds I started to get a bit worried, since I couldn’t feel the sea bottom at any time. Right when I was ready to start getting up and risk a board on the teeth, my feet touched the sand. Although the teacher said that I was close to the worst case scenario (almost in the riptide and without a board), I got off with just a split lip, free scrapes and a reminder that you really shouldn’t underestimate the sea.
Curing Fear of Heights with Paragliding
I’m annoyed of phobias and something that has annoyed me for a long time is my fear of heights. So, naturally I try and acclimatize me to high places, which has usually meant climbing on high places on ruins, and so forth. I’m not quite ready to try bungee jumping or parachuting, but parasailing felt like a good interim step.
So, when yet another diving trip got cancelled because of rough seas, I booked myself for a paragliding trip. The morning before that started off as quite easy: I took my Kindle and went to a nice cafe in downtown Surfers Paradise to read some Philip K. Dick, drink coffee, watch at the passers by and think about life, writing and things like that.
The rest of the day was less mellow, though. The paragliding company had said that it’s a five minute taxi drive away from my hotel, which might have been the case if there hadn’t been this little happening called Big Day Out going on right at that weekend. So, no taxis anywhere and less than half an hour to get to the right shore. First I tried walking there, but it would’ve taken far too long, so I decided to grab a bus – one of the just two busses that were the only wrong ones. When I finally got to the right place, half an hour later, a helpful local told me to go north when I should’ve gone south, which meant that I basically ran half a kilometer the wrong way and back, before finally arriving at the company, just one hour late.
Well, luckily they were jovial enough not to charge me for the missed slot, but loaded my ass on a boat and then off to the sea, which wasn’t the calmest. Usually the boats kind of tow the paragliding chutes, but now the boat had to back up because the wind was so strong and gusty. I was the last one on the boat to go up, and although I was pleasantly enthusiastic, I was surprised that I wasn’t scared at all, not even I was hanging all the way up and looking down at the waves 50 meters below me.
The only moment when the adrenaline jumped up was when the boat started towing us back down. The wind was hard and you really could feel it. The boat winch was going at the capacity and now and then skipped just a little, only enough to hear it go *crack-crack-crack* – which up in the harness sounded like ripping stitches. I got a bit of a jolt until I remember I had heard the same exact sound a half a dozen times when the others were up. When the rope got taut from the towing, the wind also kept yanking us left and right, and those lurches were a bit disconcerting on the first times.
Nevertheless, a great experience.
Turtles, Koalas & Scuba Intros
I did manage to do a couple of more diving trips, the first one being to Cook Island. The weather was barely good enough for to boat to go out, and I swear it’s the first time ever I’ve felt a catamaran get some hang time off a wave. During the trip two people got so seasick they vomited. I thought I was mostly unaffected, until I looked down from the horizon between dives when looking for my weight belt, and got hit with a bit of nausea.
The dive wasn’t without its problems. When I got to the water, I found out the charming fact that my BCD didn’t inflate, so I went down like a rock. I alerted the DM, who signaled that I should just inflate it orally, which I did – we were in quite shallow waters so I thought it was safe enough, in spite of the rolling waves that did a good job of pushing us around even 12 meters deep. My dive buddy was on his first dive ever, so a good chunk of my time went to keeping an eye of him going between the bottom and trying to cork up to the surface, but he wasn’t bad in the end.
The waters were a bit murky because of the waves and the flood waters, so in the end we didn’t see any sharks. What we did see were a couple of turtles, the first of which came straight at us – apparently a young one that came to check out what we were all about. There was also a bigger and older turtle, about a meter long, which was a pretty massive and beautiful animal.
In the final weekend Jarmo, Mika and I did a quick walkthrough of the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary on Saturday. It’s a shame that we couldn’t do it properly, but because it was after a wrap party of one of our main actors, people were a bit slow to hit the road, and because of a communication error I tried to hurry to Kirra Dive for a night dive, which in fact was on the next day.
The Sunday was a very interesting day for many of us: I had tried to arrange a Discover Scuba Diving intro for the people since the first weekend, but this was the only time when a bunch of people had some space in their schedule. So, early on Sunday morning Jarmo, Samuli, Anni, Pekka and I left for the Queensland Scuba company and the guys and gals got to try some diving. People seemed to enjoy the experience and it was great to see first timers dip into the warm waters which were filled with the stupidly tame tropical fish.
…Aaaand It’s a Wrap
The month and a bit in Australia felt at the same time like it took an enormously long time, and that it just sped by. We wrapped up the shoot with a kick ass party, which once again drifted to our director’s hotel room balcony in the small hours of the night, and the impending dawn.
It’s been a very interesting ride, starting from last November when I left for Germany through the Christmas and the Australian shoot. I’ve said to people that it hasn’t perhaps been the most interesting thing I’ve ever done, but it’s definitely the most interesting job I’ve had. Now, what follows is a spring, summer and autumn of post-production, and for me going through the 100-200 hours of making of materials, and turning them into kick ass documentaries.
What’s next for me, I have no idea. 2011 will be a year of completing things, meaning the novel, the short stories and the games I have cooking, but outside of that… let’s say that I’ve learned not to try and plan my life too far, because you never know what it’s going to hit you with.