Take two and visit the reel Lapland
It’s a crisp and wind-free winter morning on the crest of the Ounasvaara fell just outside Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland, north of the Arctic Circle. The snow hangs in a thick blanket over the trees and the temperature hovers a few degrees below zero. It’s a perfect day for filming.
Miikka Niemi, CEO and creative director of Flatlight Creative House, is supervising a shoot for a Finnish TV programme, taking advantage of the calm conditions. His crew are setting up to film a scene on the flat roof of the Lapland Hotel Sky Ounasvaara, exploiting the backdrop of endless snow-covered fells and forest.
“A great deal of work is coming from abroad as well as from southern Finland because the winters have been getting warmer. You can replicate a patch of snow but not the whole landscape – that’s very hard to fake,” says Niemi.
The Flatlight team have experienced their share of extreme circumstances. “There aren’t really any cameras designed for Arctic conditions, although our systems have been tested in harsh conditions,” he says. Equipment includes two big drones for shooting aerials, which obviously can be tricky when it’s really cold. “Fortunately, we are learning the limitations through experience. The drones have flown in minus 30 degrees [Celsius]. We didn’t dare try in minus 42!”
In the hotel café, a crew from Belgian national TV is preparing for the last day of shooting for Best Friend, a celebrity game show. In the car park another two-man team is setting up to record a video presentation. There is ample evidence of Lapland’s growing popularity with film crews working on all kinds of productions.
A record year
“We had a record year in 2015, with 43 productions worth 1.2 million euros to the region,” says Anna Niemelä of the Finnish Lapland Film Commission, which provides contacts and guidance to visiting producers, directors, and location managers. “As many as 45 million travellers annually choose their travel destination on the basis of where their favourite movies or TV series are filmed,” she says.
Major brands from Ralph Lauren to Mercedes Benz have already chosen Finnish Lapland as locations for high profile commercials and there is considerable potential to increase this interest.
The Commission, under the auspices of the House of Lapland regional promotional body, has built up an impressive portfolio of locations to recommend to prospective productions. Many of these are within convenient proximity to Rovaniemi, the provincial capital of Finnish Lapland, with its international airport and rail connections.
Housed in an enormous cavern, directly under the Arctic Circle is SantaPark, an enchanting year-round Christmas playground. Together with its ‘sister’ Christmas attraction, the more remote Joulukka, SantaPark has hosted an impressive range of productions, from Christmas specials screened in China, the US, France and the UK to Audi and Volvo commercials.
“It’s useful to have such a spacious indoor location which has the winter landscape on its doorstep,” says Ilkka Länkinen, CEO (Chief Experience Officer) of ProSanta Oy that manages SantaPark. “Good access roads, reliable electricity, a place to warm up when it’s minus 30 outside – these are all assets for production crews.”
Elsewhere, the extraordinary Lainio Snow Village, a beautifully sculptured and illuminated winter labyrinth near the Levi ski resort, was the backdrop for an extended Red Bull soft drink commercial. Finnish movies frequently reference Lapland’s rugged wilderness as a context for their earthy realism, Napapiirin sankarit (‘Lapland Odyssey’) being one popular example.
The region’s more esoteric fantasy aspects are also referenced. Frozen lakes and dense blizzards are recurring exotic elements, and this is one of the most reliable places in the world for viewing the Northern Lights, all of which are featured in a recent Finnish version of the Snow Queen.
“When the makers of the Bollywood film Shamitabh shot scenes in Kilpisjärvi in the summer, they found that the long light days gave them more time for shooting,” says Niemelä, pointing out that Lapland has its attractions for producers throughout the year, not only in winter.
Hounds and vision
The last word goes to some local acting talent – of the four-legged variety. The Levi Husky Park, a half-hour drive from Levi, is home to some top names in the Finnish animal acting world. Step forward Taiko, the white reindeer, whose starring credits include the Joulutarina Finnish Christmas movie, and his supporting cast of huskies, dog-wolf crossbreeds, a ‘pedigree’ wolf, and Arctic foxes adopted from fur farms. Trained and lovingly maintained by the park’s owner-manager Reijo Jääskeläinen, the animals have featured in Finnish beer commercials, music videos and even international fashion shoots.
Text and photos by Tim Bird
Some of the productions filmed in Finnish Lapland
Mercedes Benz C-class commercial: Germany 2015
Lapland Odyssey 2 (Napapiirin sankarit 2) movie: Finland 2015
Ralph Lauren — Into the Wild photo shoot: US 2015
Snow Queen (Lumikuningatar) movie: Finland 2015
Red Bull — Tundra Trial video: Austria 2014
Shamitabh movie: India 2014
Hyundai Genesis —Time to HTRAC commercial: 2014
IKEA Russia commercial: 2012
Blue Peter TV: UK 2012
Steam of Life (Miesten Vuoro) movie: Finland 2010
This article is published in the March 2016 issue of Blue Wings.