Last week we had an unique opportunity to shoot some pickups for Iron Sky The Coming Race as part of a workshop organized by Digital Sputnik, a company producing a new kind of LED light system for film use. Without going too much into details about their lights – they are amazing, and you can read more about them here – the shoot itself turned out quite amazing.
The whole idea was born several months ago, after a successful collaboration between one of the guys at Digital Sputnik – Ville Hyvönen – who did us some pretty amazing drone shots with his guys from Helicam for Iron Sky: The Ark, which we shot in China. He dropped an idea after we had shot the film, back in Finland, sitting over a delicious Nepalese lunch, that we could do a workshop for Digital Sputnik, and make it somehow part of Iron Sky The Coming Race.
Instantly, an idea snapped into my head: a scene which we had had to drop off from the script early on, because production schedule and budget didn’t allow the set to be built, but coincidentally, it would fit perfectly to showcase the programmable LED lights, since the scene had a lot of changing light setups in it. In short, and without spoiling anything, it’s a scene where our heroes fly a UFO from Moon to Earth. In the current edit, we had only a voiceover dialogue over the flight scene, but after some initial feedback, we had people commenting that the scene felt too “sudden”, and would need a bit more material to it.
So I dug out the old script versions and unearthed the scene. It indeed had two of our actors in it, sitting in a cockpit arguing over their flight plan. Fun, little scene with nice chances for some small jokes and also a chance to strengthen their relationship.
But how to re-visit a film that was shot already two years ago, and keep the continuity intact; the scene would be inserted right in the middle of the film with instant continuity happening, so we had to be very careful. And of course, what of our actors? Would they have a completely different look nowadays? Would they even be available?
I dug out my phone and presented the idea first to Vladimir Burlakov, who plays the role of Sasha, a crazy Russian engineer, and the pilot of his self-made spaceship. He was in, right away. A trip to LA – we would shoot the scene in LA, where the company is based in – and a chance to revisit Sasha and make the movie that much better. Hell yeah. Then, I reached out to Lara, who was also into it, but her schedules were a big question mark. While Vladimir had just finished a shoot and was available, Lara Rossi (Obi Washington) was still in the middle of a bunch of productions, and her schedules would need to be wiggled in – but mentally, both were excited.
We started to build the scene; we dug out the old costumes from our warehouse and luckily found nearly everything neatly folded away by our awesome costume team back in Belgium few years ago (here’s to the organized, professional handling of finishing off a movie production – truly, you’ll never know if you end up needing something again one day). We found the old props needed for the scene, and started to work both with scheduling and planning the workshop.
Eventually, we managed to find a way to make the schedules work for everyone, but the set turned out to be the biggest problem. What we needed was a cockpit of a self-made UFO, which would be a cross-breed between a Russian tank and an airplane cockpit and an old Soviet tractor. Surprisingly, it turned out nearly – well, actually not even nearly, but exactly impossible task to find a production designer or a set builder from LA. Maybe it was the timeframe, maybe everyone was shooting, or maybe our budget wasn’t enough, by the time there was less than two weeks remaining to the workshop and the shoot, the whole thing was still not designed, and nobody was assigned to build it.
For a while it seemed, as the last week before the deadline progressed, that we had somebody onboard; we even had a Skype conversation with the person, and made quite a detailed plan with him, but when the money discussion begun, we realized we were living in two different universes. So the only remaining possibility was to build the damn set ourselves.
And no, none of us was any kind of a set builder or a production designer of any kind.
But then, an idea materialized: why not use real cockpit of an airplane. We had been told by several of the production designers we approached that there are companies in LA that are specialized in plane cockpit shoots. Turned out there is one, called Aero Mock-Ups, in North Hollywood, a small company that possesses a multitude of airplane cockpits, and even a Boeing-747 in a box, ready to be wheeled out to a film set, or to be shot in their little studio. And luckily, even more so, the budget worked.
By the time I landed to LA, the team had managed to secure a deal with Aero Mock-Ups and all we would need to do is to modify the cockpit the way we wanted to make it work as our UFO cockpit, and we’d be well off.
We stayed in this crazy big hacienda in Hollywood Hills, everyone of us. It had a big pool and enough room for the whole team to sleep in, so we turned into our production office, and got ready for the workshop.
Indeed, we were all there: Lara flew in from London, me and my wife from Helsinki, along with Mika Orasmaa our DOP and Iiris Juutilainen, the 1st AD for the bit, and Vladimir from Berlin. In addition to this there were Kaur and Kaspar Kallas, the brothers running the Digital Sputnik outfit, and Ville Hyvönen, plus a documentary team who would do the actual documentary on the production.