Friday, April 19, 2013

Timo Koivusalo: How My Films Were Made (a lecture)

Timo Koivusalo: Miten elokuvani ovat syntyneet? 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, 19 April 2013.

Timo Johannes Koivusalo (31 October 1963, Pori), is a Finnish film producer, director, screenwriter, actor, comedian, singer, songwriter, and television host. He became known nationwide in television's Tuttu juttu show hosted by Joel Hallikainen and himself. Soon Koivusalo starred in the television series Pekko Aikamiespoika, creating a kind of a Tora-san of Finland. Five theatrical Pekko movies ensued. Koivusalo spread his wings to biopics of Finnish popular culture - Reijo Helismaa and Tapio Rautavaara in Kulkuri ja Joutsen, and Irwin Goodman in Rentun ruusu. Raising stakes of ambition, Koivusalo produced and directed the first feature film about the life of Jean Sibelius. Kalteva torni, a deeply felt study of a mental case, had insight in split personality. The most ambitious Koivusalo production has been the new film adaptation of Täällä Pohjantähden alla in two parts.

Pekko Aikamiespojan poikamiesaika ([The Bachelor Days of Pekko the Grown-Up Boy] 1993), D: Sina Kujansuu
Pekko ja poika ([Pekko and the Boy] 1994)
Pekko ja massahurmaaja ([Pekko and the Mass Charmer] 1995)
Pekko ja muukalainen ([Pekko and the Stranger] 1996)
Pekko ja unissakävelijä ([Pekko and the Sleepwalker] 1997)
Kulkuri ja Joutsen ([The Tramp and the Swan] 1999)
Rentun ruusu ([The Vagabond's Rose] 2001)
Sibelius (2003)
Kaksipäisen kotkan varjossa ([In the Shadow of the Double-Headed Eagle] 2005)
Kalteva torni ([The Leaning Tower] 2006)
Täällä Pohjantähden alla ([Under the North Star] 2009)
Täällä Pohjantähden alla II ([Under the North Star II] 2010)
Vuonna 85 ([In the Year 1985] 2013)
in pre-production: Risto Räppääjä ja liukas Lennart ([Ricky Rapper and the Slippery Lennart] 2014)

My launching-pad was the Pekko television series, but my dream had always been the feature film. I took a personal risk and borrowed money from the bank. Jussi Mäkelä [present in the audience] then at the current Finnkino company said: älä lähde = don't do it. Sina Kujansuu contributed a fourth.

Then the telephone rang and it was Spede [Pasanen]. He said he wanted Pekko in his stable, and Spede would produce.

The first Pekko movie received no funding in 1993. It was shot on Super 16, the blow-up [maksoi sairaasti =] was so costly it hurt. One print cost some 50.000 Euro in today's money. But the television series Tuttu juttu had made me well-known nationwide. We made five prints and had 50.000 spectators which meant it was one of the most-seen films of that year. It was a different time then. [Finnish films were experiencing a low in popularity until the trend changed in the late 1990s.]

Jukka Mäkelä told me: direct yourself. And Esko Nikkari [hullua yllytti =] stirred up the madman. Esko Nikkari I tried to cast in all my films, and I managed to get him to about ten of them, until Kalteva torni. A day before the shooting the doctor called that Esko Nikkari was gone. He had already started in Edvin [Laine's] Pohjantähti [Täällä Pohjantähden alla].

The five Pekko movies were fun to make. I had been watching films and unlocking them, figuring out how the camera moves. I decided to have a top team to make films.

The Elokuvatuotanto Pihlajakoski gang had already been making Mikko Niskanen's movies. Jyrki Luukko [sound designer, editor] came on board. It was [vankka porukka =] a solid outfit.

I was learning how words on paper become images, the synergy, how images are expressed in words and the other way round.

The reader of a book sees it in images of his own.

Making a movie is like telling about one's own dreams.

In those days Jaakko Salo called, too. He produced a couple of records of mine, and we had other common projects. He also arranged the music to many of my films. The times were changing. He used to bring a cardboard box full of whistles, bells and maracas. But synthetizators were developing, and it was all there. No problem: Salo discarded his cardboard box then and there. He enjoyed film-making, equipped with his stop-watch.

I happened to walk past Tavastia at night. There had been a heavy metal concert, and some 300 heavy metal fans were having a cigarette break on the street. I'm a big man but it did look a bit scary. Then they started to pat me in the back: Pekko! They had seen my show on tv.

When we were casting Pekko ja poika we received 3000 applications.

TWO EXCERPTS FROM THE PEKKO MOVIES. Esko Nikkari as the policeman.

The train was brought from Helsinki for our special use. That was the time of the anniversary of the first film screening in Finland, and that "arrival of the train" sequence is our homage to it.

Thanks to that "the dark man enters Tyräaho" theme we received the Hand of Humanism Award.

I was touring as a singer and a performer, and more than once somebody remarked that I was sitting on the same bench were Repe and Tapsa [Reino Helismaa and Tapio Rautavaara] had sat. This thing started to live. I had toured alone in [seurojentaloja = social and dancing halls] and doing gigs at fairs.

After the war there was a tremendous thirst for entertainment and a rush of survival. The time of the final war reparations came, Armi Kuusela became Miss Universum, Helsinki got its Olympic Games, there was an atmosphere of optimism.

I got in touch with the daughter of Tapsa and with Markku Helismaa. We received Tapsa's own guitar and Repe's guitar. When Martti Suosalo signed an autograph there appeared unintentionally also a signature by him.

It was great to dive into that era, and we discovered fine stuff. Juha Numminen had recorded 40 hours of compact cassettes in preparations for his book En päivääkään vaihtaisi pois [I Wouldn't Change a Day]. Tapsa had the talent to tell a story. The wife was always sitting beside him. The common journey of Repe and Tapsa was covered, the rift, and the reconciliation.

There were poignant stories from the front. Once Tapsa had stepped aside on the front, and suddenly he was staring at the barrel of a rifle of a Russian, who was staring at the barrel of Tapsa's rifle. Quietly they both backed down. Years later Tapsa was on a train and saw in the window of a train to Moscow that same Russian, who greeted him.

I cast Martti Katajisto as Toivo Särkkä. "I don't look at all like him". He looked startlingly like him. He did not make it to the premiere.

Jaakko Salo did a lot of work, and he contacted many original musicians. We heard terrific stories about recording circumstances at the time, how the sounds of certain instruments were recorded via telephone wires that ran under the street, in order to receive an echo. These were true authentic things.

There was a big wrangle about financing. Yle TV2 participated. The Finnish Film Foundation was reluctant at first.

I had been doing a lot of thinking about Finnish heroes: how someone becomes a star, a hero. If the age does not need a hero, they are not born. How was it then, how was it later. I was already even then thinking whether there would be someone who could perform them all - from Sibelius to Irwin.

In Kulkuri ja Joutsen we tried to evoke the approach of the time, the homespun way. It was a very heavy production. The premiere was elsewhere before Helsinki because Tennispalatsi was not finished yet. When Tennispalatsi was opened, Kulkuri ja Joutsen was the opening movie - in every cinema of the multiplex, and every cinema was full. But always there is a snake in the paradise. It was shot to be screened in the 1,85:1 ratio, but in the projection the microphone was visible.

It received a big audience, there was feedback all the time, and people kept reminiscing what the doctor said to Repe: ["syökää, juokaa, naikaa, vuosi aikaa" = eat, drink, fuck, there's a year more to go - in rhyme - see also Peter von Bagh's lecture and film Tapsa]. That was the equivalent of stand-up at the time: Severi Suhonen created rhymes on the spot. The sad ending of Olavi Virta on an attic in Pispala. Tapsa carrying Virta on his shoulder so that he could have some bean soup on the railway station.

EXCERPTS: Kulkuri ja Joutsen - [the nimismies =] the sheriff interrupts the show. Tapsa carries Virta on his shoulder.

The locations included the Haapamäki station. In Puistola we shot, too, on the actual locations. Sets, milieux, and places are important, for the shooting, for the acting. The sets and the props help the actor. We created an authentic-looking wallpaper in Repe's home. A time machine impact takes place.

In preparing Rentun ruusu [on Irwin Goodman] we collaborated with Vexi [Salmi]. We went to Germany, to the transportation company where Vexi and Irwin had worked in their youth. We heard the stories, where they were beaten up. We had to go and shoot there. Esko Nikkari played the truck driver character. He was viinaan menevä = prone to liquor, as they used to. The character was called Väiski, and he had these sayings "ei tippa tapa" ["a drop doesn't kill"] and "viideltä saunaan ja kuudelta putkaan" ["to the sauna at five, to the jail at six"] which later became songs for Irwin and Vexi.

We discovered a piikkinokka-Sisu [a Sisu truck with a long beak] from the 1960s. Esko Nikkari drove on the German Autobahn at 60 kph while the others drove at 200 kph.

We got to change street signs in little towns. The youngsters saw themselves as conquerors of Europe. It was Vexi who invented the name Irwin Goodman [for Antti Hammarberg]. At Reeperbahn they claimed they had heard a little group called The Beatles playing: "It stinks. They'll get nowhere". In those scenes the real Vexi bumps into Ilkka Koivula [playing him].

Irwin's wife and mother participated, and we received his actual clothes. Eeva-Maija Haukinen got to play Irwin's mom. This kind of support was invaluable.

The movie really got onto the characters' skin. We got clearances from everybody. We had access to the best knowledge.

Martti Suosalo worked inwardly. He did change into another human being. His body language, rhythm, and gestures changed. They stayed. He learned the Irwin character really well. There was a storyboard, but we did not necessarily follow it, because an actor conducts an interior editing, for instance in the scenes of Irwin's downfall, with the chest freezer stocked with Koskenkorva vodka. You must not interrupt an actor or cut his performance in a scene like that.

EXCERPT: RENTUN RUUSU. The midsummer night gigs: ♪ "Ryysyranta". - The interview about presumptive taxation. - Martti Suosalo's brilliant performance as Irwin Goodman in his final period.

Those were the last vultures. The deeper Irwin fell, the higher he rose, like a yo-yo.

As young men Irwin and Vexi had made a deal that whoever is the first to go the other visits the grave and takes a good swig.

The dramaturge's remarks from SES about Rentun ruusu had been that the project is based on an expectancy of a big audience. Rentun ruusu had an audience of 350.000, more than the other domestic films of the year together. The attendance rose and rose and rose until it dropped abruptly. That was when the Lahti ski championship exposés started, Hemohes, Isometsä, the doctor's bag. And the premiere of Sibelius coincided with the Twin Towers.

We had a splendid collaboration with Olli Soinio at SES with Sibelius. He knew how to read a screenplay. I prepared for years, I read all there was about Sibelius in Finnish. That was serious study from somebody associated with rillumarei. I was hoping that somebody would have grilled me seriously. I would have been prepared. 

Now there were two other really advanced Sibelius projects. Then I asked the question: have they cleared the rights?

We did have the clearances from the Sibelius estate. We also had access to Lars Sonck's design for Ainola [the house of Sibelius] which we followed in the set design. We had the full support, we did copies of the paintings, and with the permission of the Ainola Foundation we shot on the yard and in the surroundings - the autumn colours in the beginning and the end of the movie, when Sibelius hears the sound of the cranes. "There they fly, the birds of my childhood". Five minutes later the landscape was covered with snow.

The art direction was to the hilt.

In the last Pekko I had had access to a symphony orchestra. Now there was Osmo Vänskä conducting the Sinfonia Lahti. Martti Suosalo was on screen, and Osmo Vänskä was behind him conducting Finlandia, the Karelia suite, the second symphony...

One of Sibelius' daughters died of typhoid fever. With the help of Axel Carpelan Sibelius travels to Rapallo, where even his daughter Ruth falls ill. There is a collage of music and a montage of what is going on in the life of Sibelius.

The sequence was shot in Riga, in its old town, which was emptied, and horse-driven carts were hauled instead. The policemen were duly compensated. 

When we were shooting in Ainola a Japanese tourist group appeared. Heikki Nousiainen and Seela Sella were inside in the Sibelius costumes. The tourist group was amazed, and the actors posed for the group for photographs.

As always, I had the staunch support of the critics.

EXCERPTS: SIBELIUS. - The agony over the Eighth Symphony: "eikö niille mikään riitä" - "isn't anything enough for them?". - "I have been forging it, but it may be bigger than me". - "Yet it is nothing compared with the pain... " - "God knows I have tried". - ♪ "Tuonen viita... " - Rapallo - ♪ The Second Symphony - Robert Kajanus (Vesa Vierikko): "ylistystä, pelkkää ylistystä" = "praise, nothing but praise...".

The finest experience was in New York, where there was a queue around the block. The feedback and the atmosphere were quite something.

In all of my films there are babies. I have broken the rule "no children, no animals, no Turku-dwellers".

Sibelius lived a long life, and that life spanned the sortokaudet = the Russification era, the suspension of newspapers, also the period for my next film. 

I love musicals, and that's why I launched Kaksipäisen kotkan varjossa with Markku Johansson in charge of the music and with Vantaan viihdeorkesteri as the orchestra. The opinions were divided, but the audience liked it. The feedback was enormous.

The biggest set in my Villilä studios was almost one kilometer long.

The style chosen: sincerely naive.

Jääkärin morsian was an inspiration.

Tulipahan tehtyä = we did get that one made. I had the pleasure to be able to cast Vesku Loiri [Vesa-Matti Loiri]. In one of his Turhapuro films I had had a bit role as Pekko.

We needed horses, crowds, costumes. There were 2000 statists, and for many of them costumes were sown. In Pohjantähti, there were 3000.

Together with Susanna Palin [the wife of Timo Koivusalo, present in the audience] we wrote the songs.

EXCERPT: KAKSIPÄISEN KOTKAN VARJOSSA. - Vesa-Matti Loiri as Verneri, the singing waiter, serving beer in big mugs - Loiri sings ♪ "Pelimannin perintö"

It was fun to do, and songs have stuck: "Jotain jää" had good radioplay, and it is popular in weddings.

I had Pohjantähti in mind. But I have been in one respectable profession, too: as a psychiatric nurse in a mental hospital. There were stories and characters there that haunted me.

Kalteva torni is a compendium of the fates of several people. There are two personae of which the one is not aware of the other. 

The travelling companions of Johannes (Martti Suosalo) are played by Siiri Suosalo, the actor's daughter, and Seela Sella. We shot in Florence and Venice.

When Suosalo acts his essence changes, the entire man changes. His body language was absolutely convincing.

In Venice the were shooting the new James Bond movie, Casino Royale, at the same time, and thanks to that, we got top reception, as well.


I get feedback from this film all the time.

EXCERPT: KALTEVA TORNI. - Johannes does not recognize himself from a video recording he is watching. - There is a stronger persona and a weaker persona.

On location the Italians were asking whether Suosalo is actually mad. 

There were mad word-plays, hullumpata, tumpata, jumpata, humpata...

But transcending cultural boundaries one can recognize these things.

Täällä Pohjantähden alla I first read when I was fourteen. After that I had re-read it almost annually. It is a story dear to me. I made two films of it, there were 100 shooting days, 150 actors, and 3000 statists. We spent 10 months cutting the first part.

It was a long, heavy, and wonderful production.

It cost the price of 1½ films. I took a personal loan of 1 million Euro. I'm still paying.

All bills have been paid.

The movie is old-fashioned in a modern way.

Edvin Laine had one million spectators in his more theatrical adaptation.

Now we went close, iholle = to the skin, with a moving camera. I paid attention to Linna's strong female characters. The concept: the little man in the wheels of history. I read between the lines, I observed the big picture. There are details such as when Aleksi finishes his confirmation he is flanked by buddies who will be enemies, executioners later. 

Linna gets under everybody's skin. You don't always accept them but you understand them.

The language is huikea = staggering. It was a dream come true. The actors. The music - Jaakko Kuusisto and Sinfonia Lahti. The trend in Finland is to have the music being played abroad for cost. I assign all my work in Finland and pay everybody in full. The music carries the film, it stretches beyond the screen. It works in a way which is different from the image. 

The auditive part is important: the smallest things in sound, in foley, forebodings.

We built the Koskelan torppa = the tenant's house of Koskela the way Jussi did it, starting from scratch, in Pyssykangas, Punapakka. We cleared the ground, we sowed the rye. We had the rye long, the height of a man, like it was in those days, not the short rye they cultivate now.

We shot during all seasons, including two winters. The first winter fell short in snow. Esko Roine was all set to play Kivivuori in a winter scene. But in the evening it was still green, and in the morning we were supposed to shoot winter footage. There was a snowdrift - the landscaping was perfect. There were several eras we had to cover during those seasons. We needed old logs, we needed new logs. We needed horses, caravans of refugees, scenes in bitter cold, in the darkness, babies, guns. It was all disciplined, we took no risks. We had access to the Pohjankangas shooting range. We purchased properties and burned two farming estates to the ground. There were two brothers, of 85 years, who were proud that their houses would be featured in a movie. And we burned them.

The original concept is the most important.
Then there is the screenplay.
Then the realization, the sets, the milieu.
But the actors are the bone marrow. You need to find the right characters. The fundamental habitus cannot be changed.

I was born, myself, in a little country village in the beginning of the 1960s. I had a connection to those things.

In actors, I got the ones I wanted, and the actors felt they received their dream parts.

The age question was a serious challenge. The time span is sixty years. Should we take several actors to play one character? We decided to select one actor to play the same character in his different ages. It is essential to maintain the charisma of a character.

Film folks are superstitious. We shot in a house on the wall of which there was an old tennis club which had belonged to Eugen Schauman, who had assassinated Bobrikov. History comes close.

Of the films I also edited a television series in eight parts, with added scenes. 

The audience was very involved. This story makes us understand how incredibly close we still are those things. My grandfather was of the same age as Akseli. My father fought in the wars pitkän kaavan mukaan = the long and hard way.

The most important thing here is the viewpoint of the little man, the loser. The fidelity to Linna's text. 

My basic values include tolerance of difference, opposition to xenophobia.

I may have made films about stars, heroes, and big men. But there are no big men. They are all little men. We have all been born babies. Everybody has a story to tell.

The Year 85 is my thirteenth movie. If a film is good you forget about the technical aspects. Emotions are never wrong. My films are declarations agains cynicism. Never underestimate emotions. Emotions are the only thing that is true. Films are a time machine to convey emotions.

My fourteenth film is now being conceived. I am returning to family films with a Risto Räppääjä / Ricky Rapper film.

Q & A

Q: You favourite film?
A: Limelight by Charles Chaplin. The dark and the light stripes.
Of the Finnish films, Kahdeksan surmanluotia / Eight Deadly Shots by Mikko Niskanen. The way to do. You ask: is this a documentary? I recognize the sense of place, the milieu.

Q: Which one of the films of your own would be your calling card?
A: Pohjantähti - Sibelius - Kulkuri ja Joutsen - Kalteva torni.
Ummikolle = for an outsider I would say: Kalteva torni.
But what you're at always seems dearest.
For five years I was at Pohjantähti.
You need that spark to be able to follow through such a process.
At the premiere the most tender part is already behind me, and my thoughts are in the next one.
It is always the one you are doing.

Q: The reception abroad?
A: People laugh in different moments.
In Sibelius the audience laughed when Sibelius always kept getting daughters. It was not planned to be funny.
In Kalteva torni German audiences discovered interesting things about avohoito = non-institutional care, outpatient care, questions about being abandoned. But the emotions are the same, and the sense of rhythm. 
For us, the music in our films is familiar, but it is not familiar to the foreigners.
Whenever a film reaches and touches it feels good.
The images tell something, and so does the music.

Q: How has it felt to proceed from an entertainment artist to a top film director?
A: A theatrical feature film was always my dream, but it is always improbable to actually to be able to pull it off.
Contemporary movies are now easier to make since the technology has gotten cheaper.
My work has been my passion. I never cut corners in anything.
The original works have been my film school.
Cinema is a difficult profession.
We lack expert critics.
They do know how to sum up the storyline.
But few understand to analyze editing, music, and sound design.
Let's compare a film to a performance of a symphony orchestra.
I would look forward to a critic who would perform his criticism like a music critic.
I am not sensitive, myself.
I have done my thing, and I have not burnt bridges.
I have my familiar team.
A film is a director's art.
There is a giant crew, and somebody has to direct.
When a shot is in the can, I say "thank you", and I have five seconds to say what to do next.
As a producer I rely on fair play, and the gang is happy to join me the next time.
Catering is important: there are several meals, and the food is good.
The actors complain: "Do I need to eat four courses?"

Q: Are there Finnish soulmates?
A: I envy those who can, and my opinion keeps changing.
Edvin Laine
Pekka Parikka - Talvisota
Risto Jarva - Mies joka ei osannut sanoa ei (Jäniksen vuosi I failed to like)
Aki Kaurismäki - cannot be ignored
There is a lot of good new talent.

Q: Is there are story you would want to make but don't have the funds to do?
A: Yes, there is, a dark and grim story, about the summer of 1944.
About Soviet terrorists, so-called partisans, who killed women and children.
Veikko Erkkilä has written a couple of books about this.
The events in Savukoski and Seitajärvi.
Twenty women and children were raped, and the culprits were celebrated as partisans.
There was a lot of terror.
One little girl survived in a stack of corpses, she is still alive.
War crimes were never brought to trial.
These things still happen all the time.

Q: The documentary interview of Vexi Salmi in Rentun ruusu?
A: First I was reluctant to do it. It's all my fault. Some liked it, some didn't. It will grow in value in the future.

Q: You entered the film world pystymetsästä = out of nowhere. Was there a oppi-isä, konkari = a father figure, an old-timer to teach you?
A: There was no single person. There were many. Pertti Mutanen, the cinematographer. In my first film Harri Räty was the cinematographer. I was greatly helped by the veterans of Mikko Niskanen, Jyrki Luukka, Jorma K. Lehtonen, Seppo Anttila. 
In many films I have the same pros, and we have established our team's way of doing things.
Every film I make like it were my last.
Always it is a miracle for me. It is a matter of piety. I value all help available.
Including the distributor: Jussi Mäkelä, and in the beginning his cousin Jukka Mäkelä. Pekka Lehesmaa, too, has helped from the start.
The post-production, the sound mixing.
I want to have the best musicians and studios.
I need to hire people who are better than myself.

Q: Do you still write songs?
A: Every now and then. There is quite a bit of demand.
But I'm lazy, and if I wouldn't have to, I'd remain on the sofa.
I should write a few kunnon ralli = good tunes every year.
The satisfaction from a song is as good as from a movie.

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