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Joseph Proimakis [Film Festival 12.03.10] movie news interview horror

We set our Greek correspondent Joseph Proimakis up with an interview with director Jalmari Helander to get the full scoop on his evil santa flick, Rare Exports (review). They talk sequels, Helander's next film he calls "Home Alone meets Rambo" (??!!) and, of course the infamous Santa Clause.

So spike your eggnog, sit back and read all about how the Santa myth has been changed forever.

So I take it you do believe in Santa?

Yeah, I just believe in a different kind of Santa than everyone else, but I hope that everyone else will believe in the Finnish Santa Claus very soon.

A version of Santa closer to the European legend in general, right?

I think it’s quite different in every European country. In Finland we have this very scary character with the long horns and he’s the kind of guy who used to scare children during Christmas. If they didn’t behave then he’d come around the house and spank them, or something like that. It’s like the total opposite of the American version of Santa Claus, and I was trying to honor the traditions.

Well, in every version, the fact is that Santa is there to make sure children behave.

Yes, that’s the idea.

Tell me a little bit about the film’s history, the YouTube shorts etc.

Well the first short film was made in 2003, it cost something like $4,000 and it became quite a hit on the internet, so we made the second part in 2005, but I had this bigger idea of Rare Exports and was trying to make maybe a third short film. But people would say to me that we should make a feature film about this, so I started to figure out a script. It took me something like 4 years to do it and I’m glad I did it now, but it’s been like 7 years now that I’ve spent thinking about Santa Claus.

That’s even longer than most kids think about him.

Yeah, that’s true, and I’m a grown man.

So how does one come-up with such a concept?

Well, the basic idea of hunting Santas and catching them and training them, was my little brother’s idea, and we based the first short film on that. The feature film’s idea is more based on Finnish folklore about this evil Santa, and it sprung to me that Americans try to find this evil Santa, because they believe in a different kind of Santa. So they come over to pick on Finnish history and they have no idea what they’ve come across.

Was it a tough sell, or did the shorts’ success make it easier.

Well, we got the money quite easily I think. And when the script was ready, we started shooting in less than a year. We got all the money easily because people liked the idea a lot, so I was happy that we were able to set it up so fast.

It’s not that viewer-friendly a story; did you face any restrictions from financers about it?

No, it was actually very clear with the producer that this is the kind of story that needs to be told just the way I had decided to tell it. Of course, there were some money issues and things like that, meaning that I would have prefered to have done some things differently if I had had more shooting days, but appart from that, it was a smooth production and everyone understood that the idea had to be executed just the way I had imagined it.

The feature is quite a deviation from the shorts though.

Yeah, at first it wasn’t like that. But when I was writing the script, expanding on the story of the two shorts, I had this huge problem, which was that I had so much backstory to tell during the movie. It was so frustrating to be trying to write the script and think that “OK, so now we need all this information to come up somehow”. It took me a while to understand that it would be a lot easier to make the story be about that backstory, so I figured I’d better go that way.

Didn’t you fear that the shorts’ fans might feel betrayed, or that you’d be taking a risk by not expanding on an already popular property?

I didn’t think about that so much, I thought it more reasonable to do something that’s totally new, than try and stretch an idea that was meant to be a short story to begin with, so that you can make a feature film out of it. That, I think, would have been more disappointing, than trying to make a whole new story, that can have a sort of link to the short stories. And I hope that the fans of the short films will agree.

So I take it you already have the story about the sequel already in place?

Yeah, I have this idea about this huge catastrophe, about what’s gonna happen when all the Santas are spread all over the world. But that’s gonna be a very expensive movie to make, and I’m not sure that’s ever gonna happen. Currently I’m writing a totally different film, but you never know, let’s just wait and see what happens in the future.

So what was it like going to SITGES and winning director and picture awards?

Well, the audience was great. Even better than the audience at a surprise screening we had here in Finland. I think the Spanish people really really liked it a lot, the feeling was much higher than the Finnish audience, but I think that’s also because of the difference in cultures. Finnish people, well, they aren’t known to be very happy anyway, you know? But what was really fun is that, I secretly went to the second screening at SITGES, because I wanted to know if their first reaction was out of kindness for my being there, but the people seemed to really enjoy it the second time around as well.

You mention the Finnish people, how did you implement the country’s culture in the film, other than basing it on the country’s folkore?

I think there’s a lot of Finland in the movie. Men from the North are very much like my characters in the film. They’re hard workers, very rough… There’s a lot of me in the main character, Pietari. He’s very different from all the rest, and everyone thinks of him as a very childish dreamer, which is sort of the story of my life, trying to convince everyone that I want to be a movie director when I was 15 years old, when everyone else my age, was playing ice-hockey, or fixing cars. So there’s a lot of my feelings in there.

Was language a barrier for you, to make the film cross the Finish border?

Of course it’s been a difficult sell, because no one understand what the hell everyone’s speaking in the film. But in fact, this film has managed to screen in more countries than any other Finnish film so far. So I’m really happy about that, because I guess it has to be a super good film, to manage to break the Finnish borders, being in a language so obscure to the rest of the world.

Are there things lost in translation?

Yeah, lots of things are missing. The way people say some things in the film, is not translatable. I actually saw the film in a number of other countries first, before seeing the film in Finland, and it was really nice to see that everything I thought was funny about the film, actually worked in foreign audiences as well. Of course all the main ideas and themes work in all different countries, but still there‘s stuff that you just can’t relate through subtitles.

So would you be interested in doing an American remake?

Well, there’s actually been a lot of discussion regarding a remake now and we’re waiting to see what happens. I did at some point have this idea, that maybe I could do it myself, but I’ve realized that it’s quite a scary idea. I mean, it would be terrible to go on and do it, and at the end realize that I’d perhaps killed the spirit or the soul of the original film myself. That would be very very scary I think.

Perhaps it would help to get the budget for you sequel though.

Yeah, perhaps, but for now, my next movie is going to be a totally English-language film and maybe that will help as well. For the time being, I’m trying to avoid going to Hollywood just to make some stupid sequel of some film, instead of trying to set up a movie of my own again.

So what is it that you’re working on then?

It’s going to be a quite different action movie. An action movie with a love story and a warm heart, something like Home Alone meets Rambo. It’s going to star an English-speaking cast, but I’m hoping to bring back some familiar faces as well.

So we might catch a glimpse of Santa again?

Yeah, sure!

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Kris Kringle (12 years ago) Reply

I saw this at a preview screening the other night. Its a really entertaining movie that should take its own place in the christmas cannon.

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