“I am a guy from Finland and everything I do stems from that”
Industry Report: Produce - Co-Produce...
Aleksi Hyvärinen • Producer, Don Films
by Marta Bałaga
Cineuropa caught up with Don Films’ Aleksi Hyvärinen, selected for EFP’s 2020 Producers on the Move, now working on the upcoming horror The Twin
EFP’s 2020 Producers on the Move participant Aleksi Hyvärinen, co-founder of Don Films, has worked on genre films like Lake Bodom [+see also:
film profile] and now The Twin, about an American couple moving to Finland with their son, popular comedy The Renovation [+see also:
film profile] or such arthouse fare like Boris Khlebnikov’s Arrhythmia [+see also:
interview: Boris Khlebnikov
film profile]. As he tells Cineuropa: “You just need to be open.”
Cineuropa: The Renovation was doing well at the local box-office until the pandemic broke out, while the Producers on the Move initiative had to move online. What are the main difficulties now, from your perspective?
Aleksi Hyvärinen: Distribution is obviously in turmoil, as traditional theatrical release is not happening and the home entertainment market in Finland was flooded with content. It got really crowded! Things are still fine as far as development is concerned, we are learning to use all these new tools, but when can we shoot? What are the rules and how do our limited resources fit into that? Something considered routine few months ago is now uncharted territory, like production insurance and completion bonds – what would happen if our lead actor would need to be quarantined or if borders were to close again, as well as sets? The risks that used to seem rather far-fetched are very much real and we are facing new challenges everywhere we look.
Especially if you are planning a bigger production like The Twin, which you also co-wrote?
We started scouting locations before Berlinale and suddenly, everything changed. So now we are basically inventing new ways of working as we go forward. Casting is another issue – we are having Skype and Zoom conferences with potential actors. With The Twin, by a stroke of luck it’s a confined story, limited to rural Finland and revolving around this one family. That makes things easier. It’s a grim thing to say when people are suffering, but for projects like that this situation might turn into an opportunity: it’s something you can actually set up and shoot. Our approach has been simple: let’s try to manage new risks the best way we can and find ways to keep everyone safe, while staying positive and headstrong. Waiting around is not an option.
The projects you have been involved in are quite diverse. When you decided to start Don Films, described as “hailing from the gritty, no-nonsense country like Finland”, did you intend it to stay this way?
It may sound a bit clichéd, but it’s always about stories. Combined with filmmakers and talent we feel are astonishing and enticing. For me, it’s not limited to genre at all – it’s about the whole package. You always try to adapt to whatever the concept needs. In Finland, with its 5.5 million inhabitants, it wouldn’t be realistic to decide to just make horror films. With Lake Bodom, we were diving into a story and genre we were excited about, trying to find something that wasn’t done at the time – it had been ten years since the previous Finnish horror. We were setting up a new company and wanted to stand out, as even when you follow your instincts and trust your projects, or work with people who astonish you with their ideas, one also has to think about what it is that we as viewers currently don’t have. Or what we want more of.
Would you say it’s no longer necessary to “specialise” in one type of films?
Admittedly, our focus at Don Films has been on a lot of genre content. But that doesn’t rule out diversity. We get excited about all kinds of stuff and would find it hard to limit ourselves to one thing. It takes up 110% of your energy to make a movie happen, which means this focus is something we are constantly thinking about. After all, you need to choose your battles and hoarding projects is not our cup of tea. But then the next thing comes along... I guess I will be exploring these questions for as long as I am doing this. As a producer, you can’t really talk about retirement. It doesn’t sound realistic!
Now that you are venturing into projects with, it seems, more international potential, did your way of collaborating change?
The thing is, I am a guy from Finland and everything I do stems from that. Trying to mimic someone else’s way would be a bad idea: this is me and I can’t pretend to be something I am not. When venturing out of your comfort zone, one should keep things close to home, as success in this business derives from the people you work with. In The Twin, there is an English-speaking couple and we have noticed how that expands distribution potential. But that doesn’t mean we want to “break out” of Finland – we can do it all from here, reach out yet stay rooted. A lot of our team and even interested buyers are now the same as in Lake Bodom. The grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence. But we are doing our best to figure out how to make people from the other side of the fence see our films as well.
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