Friday, April 12, 2013

How My Films Were Made: Pähkähullu Suomi / Crazy Finland (a lecture by Kari Sohlberg)

Miten elokuvani ovat syntyneet? Jukka Virtanen had to cancel, and the cameraman of Pähkähullu Suomi, Kari Sohlberg, took the floor. A lecture in the series organized by the HYY:n Elokuvaryhmä / The Film Society of The Student Union of the University of Helsinki. Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 12 April 2013.

In Pähkähullu Suomi (1967), Osmo Harkimo was the DP and I was the cameraman.

Anssi Mänttäri [present in the audience] came to the film business at the same time. At least we took our driver's education at the same time.

There was the actors' strike. Few movies were made. Kurkvaara, Jarva, Pakkasvirta were active. In 1967 not many movies were made [three]. The production was minimal.

The Spede [Pasanen] films were real cheapies, although there may have been an illusion of something else. There were three of us in the crew: the cinematographer, the assistent, and the sound engineer, Paul Jyrälä. Somebody held the boom, the mike. It was often Virtanen. Many times the sound quality was not that good.

The productions were very quick, and the working hours were pretty long. All the time we were hungry. There was no lunch break.

Without Ere it would not have been possible. He was a brilliant organizer. Hirveä rumba Eren harteilla = it was a terrible burden on Ere's shoulders.

What we decided to do in the morning we did.

The films were extremely precisely written. But why were they so uneven? There were so many ideamen: Spede, Virtanen, Ere. Everybody wanted to include his thing. They were uneven. And it was a constant search for compromises. Some things were really good, some truly childish.

Hullu Suomi was the title proposed by Jukka Virtanen, but Spede wanted to change it to Pähkähullu Suomi.

The films were precisely written and precisely planned. The exception was Hirttämättömät. Spede was stingy. The sets of Speedy Gonzales were still around. There was no script. But there was a location in which it was possible to shoot in each direction. There was just an idea about a bounty hunter. The location was the sandpits of Porvoo-Rudus. On the first morning there were Spede, Loiri, and Simo. "Kuule Sohlberg, käsikirjoitusta ei siis ole" = "Listen Sohlberg, the thing is, there is no script". We did not even have Ere around. But even so can a film be made.

In Pähkähullu Suomi we criss-crossed Finland. We went to Lapland, we went East. There was an awful lot of people, and an insane number of events. Near the conclusion there is a recap when Simo says: "During the last 15 minutes I have not understood a thing". Then we have a pseudo-documentary about Finland.

The technical crew was so tiny, and the difficulties were so incredible, but always we managed to engage local people. Lapuan Nuorisoseura participated on a talkoo basis: very quickly they contributed enthusiastically.

To prepare for this lecture I borrowed a dvd from the library and discovered how extremely abundant this movie is. There are a billion different things, and quite a few levels in the films. All levels of humour.

Q: Was Spede the producer?
A: He produced all except X-paroni. Spede was an extremely stingy person in finances. Pohjan tähteet was his first colour film. It was not successful, but it did not make a loss either. Always he was thinking about controlling the finances. Then I mentioned about shooting a film in black and white and in 16 mm. "Can one do so?" The quality was dismal, there was no knowhow about blow-up at the time. Until Antti Kokko came. "It does not matter. The main thing is that you can see and hear". But after a while it got so that no more 16 mm shooting was accepted.

Of course, Näköradiomiehen ihmeelliset siekailut had been shot with television cameras on video and transferred to a 35 mm film negative.

The vehicles were our own. There was a small Volkswagen Kleinbus in which the entire equipment and the technical crew was transported.

Later we acquired a bigger bus, for thirty, which was rebuilt as a special vehicle to transport ten persons and the shooting equipment.

We moved with a single car. Jukka had no car, not even a driver's licence.

It was truly a small time film production. We engaged local help, and as Spede was at the top of his popularity, it was guaranteed that we were able to get help.

Also the actors came with pleasure. And in the local bars they urged: "Veikko, kiroaisitko vähän" = "Veikko, could you curse a bit".

The combo Jukka - Spede - Ere withdrew to Lepolampi, and they had a pact that they would not return until the screenplay was finished.

The richness and the feebleness are due to the same reason. Spede was reluctant to give up on his own ideas. It was an incredibly talented team. But it collapsed, the collaboration got difficult, when each one's own ideas were walked on, and the final result satisfied nobody.

With an external producer the end result would have been better.

The talent never got to blossom fully.

Q: How did you end up to become a cinematographer?
A: Olin aivan ajopuuna = I was just driftwood after the military. I went to the Taideteollinen = The Art School to study graphic design. In the educational department of the Defense Forces they needed a draughtsman, and after a test of a half an hour it was "welcome to the team". I drew for Taistelijan opas = The Fighter's Manual, etc. Then I switched to their film department. Their cinematographer quit. They knew I was a cinephile interested in photography. I had a crash course on the camera. Of course I accepted.

I always draw a storyboard to make it concrete, so that the whole team can understand.

There was an old director, Kullervo Kari. He had 30 meters of 16 mm film. "Bring it on Monday to Syväpuro, and we'll have a look". It was supposed to be finished footage. That's why I started with the storyboard.

I shot it at the Korkeasaari Zoo. The concept was that of trading places: the animals watching the humans. "Ok, we'll hire you. But don't think you are a cinematographer".

For two years I worked at Skenaria-Filmi with Armand Lohikoski, a veteran, of Puupää films among others.

We shot agricultural fairs, and other fairs. He got bookings by the meter from the exhibitors, and those were shot. We created scripts with aasinsiltoja = tenuous transitions. From the watch department to agriculture.

To the MTV television company I landed via acquaintances. Then it was a short path to Spede. I had a terrific luck. I knew nothing. The films looked terrible. The equipment was modest.

But I was lucky to get to do Spede movies. They were so much fun, they were a riemuloma = a fun holiday. May-June was the favourite period to shoot. It was hulvatonta = side-splitting.

Q: Molle [Rauni Mollberg].
A: That is a bad topic. Now I cannot be as honest as I would want to. One film I made for him. That was enough.

It should be done ilon kautta = via fun. For him, it had to hurt. It was so burdensome for me.

Molle got a lot out of his performers.

Spede pretended he did not care about critics. The moose hunt which escalates to a conflict with tanks was supposed to be a parody about the Vietnam war. "Making an art film for critics". But the general attitude was: never mind.

Q (Mänttäri): Jukka's focus?
A: Jukka was clearly the one who directed.
He intervened into everything.
The plans were precise already on the script stage, including the music.
The tango was Jukka's second foray into writing song lyrics.
He has been active in all fields.

Ere was also very alert.
Once we were shooting on an airport, and the gang was in the plane.
Somebody remarked on a match line issue.
Spede said: the director is Jukka Virtanen, and he tells where the match line is.
That remained the task of Juho Gartz.

There were some weak performers on an "idol girl" basis.

Gartz had just edited Käpy selän alla.
And the result was wonderfully good.
For the montage in the conclusion he discovered all kinds of archival footage.
It is in a way a short film in its own right.

The composer was Jaakko Salo.

Q: Harkimo.
A: He was a wonderful teacher.
He had shot Tuntematon [sotilas] for Edvin [Laine].
He was also an editor in it.
It was a jackpot to have him.
Much we did with Jukka, just the two of us, with a handheld camera or otherwise, side by side, with Ossi [Osmo Harkimo] in the background.
Ossi checked that we were not conducting major errors with match lines and so on.
He was an old pro, it was a stroke of luck to have him.

The lighting equipment was bad. It was like the French new wave, it looked terrible.

My luck continued in the autumn.
Erkko Kivikoski hired me to be the cameraman, and Esko Nevalainen was the cinematographer.
That was when I got truly to talk about lighting.

We made some experiments - to get some character to the lights.
I learned about film sensitivity.
How important light is.
First after that my grip started to get stronger.
But you never learn.
Valo on hieno asia = the light is a fine thing.

Q: Models?
A: Esko Töyri
Marius Raichi
There are many good ones.

Colleagues include:
Esa Vuorinen
Heikki Katajisto

The young generation is really good.
So good cinematographers that oksat pois

Luckily I'm retired now.

There have always been cinematographers who do good-looking images.
But there is a dramaturgy in the shot.
Some cinematographers shoot for themselves, surpassing the screenplay.
But they select wrong angles and wrong lights, things that are not true to the story.
The better cinematographer is the one who gets the story.

Q: Pölönen.
A: I worked for him since Onnen maa, until Ralliraita.
Koirankynnen leikkaaja is for me equal to Onnen maa.
It has been a great joy working with him.
I hope he [Pölönen] will go on.

When we did Lampaansyöjät [with Seppo Huunonen] we met Veikko Huovinen [the writer of the novel] in Sotkamo.
I met him.
He was very embarrased when we visited him.
It was a pure obligation.
I could read his thoughts: "Menkää jo" = "Get out".
And no wonder.

When we did Koirankynnen leikkaaja the viritys = the atmosphere was entirely different.
On the tukkikämppä = the lumberjacks' cabin we could clearly see that he warmed up.
He participated in the screenplay.
When we had a rough cut of three hours we went to show it to him.
Eight times he got to see it, and he said to Pölönen: "Little by little I start to fall in love with this film".

Q: The technical development.
A: Before it was much more difficult.
The equipment was from stone age when I started.

Film has been based on the same system for a hundred years.
There is a tremendous difference.

The change is unavoidable, there is nothing you can do.

Film is in many ways still better.

But I see no reason to haikailtaisiin = to long for the past.
We would not want to drive a 1980s car.

It makes no difference as long as the tool serves the screenplay.

Nowaday the quality is close [to film].
The difference is häilyvä = vague.
The viewer can no longer tell the difference.
It will getter better than film.
For me it's ok.

There is a lot of silver in black and white stock.
It is extremely beautiful.

Q: The dynamic range is more narrow in digital.
A: It's getting better all the time.

Q: The light speed.
A: We get the shot directly on the hard drive of the computer.
It was 300 ASA, but there are updates every half a year, and it's getting to 1600 ASA. The sensitivity grows, and no longer you need even any lighting equipment.

Extra lights you can add manually.

The post-production - it's crazy with the digital wizards.
There is no trick photography any more.

In the colour definition the colourists have the big picture, they paint with the big brush, and then it's completed with little brushes.

There is so much good in the old way.
The demands on the shots were met in complicated ways.
Previously one had to cover the sunsets, etc., on location.

Pappa [Paul] Jyrälä knew how to save scenes with sound.
It was a joy to work with Pappa in so many movies.
He did great effects.
In Da Capo the train rolls to a railroad switch, and the camera swings [by clumsiness].
Pappa: "Don't worry, we'll fix it".
He added the sound of the bump of the switch at the moment of the camera swing.

Q: International models?
A: There are so many.

Now there are so many I cannot remember

Nykvist shot films for Bergman with equipment which Donner bought with the P-Kino (Honkasalo, Lehto), and then it went to Aki Kaurismäki.

A lot of Finnish films were shot with that equipment.

Its old cardboard transport box is still with me as my toolbox in my workshop.

Q: Film schools
A: We have good ones, too.
There is London, there is Paris
Europe is good.
Although the resources are little.
Film-making is so expensive.
Esa Vuorinen: ei ole persaukisen hommaa = it is not for somebody who is broke.

Even if you do it cheaply it is expensive.

Thank you for listening, and best regards from Jukka Virtanen!

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