A lot of take-offs and a few belly flops
Katarina Nyman is the director of film distribution of Nordisk Film.
When Nordisk bought Solar in 2007, it bought a company producing strong commercial hit movies, with historical results in the box office. Our trust in their producers’ instincts and their knowledge of their own audiences was unwavering – altough it was slightly challenged by one of our first mutual launches “Dark Floors”. The Lordi movie came out in early 2008 and drew a stunningly disappointing audience of 20 000 spectators in theatrical release, despite the flashy marketing campaign. Although that result didn’t raise any smiles, the launching was done with the sympathetic Solar style we later have become so very familiar with; the things they believe in are done in a big and passionate way, always concentrating on the enjoyment of the audience.
One of our first mutual productions was “The Home of Dark Butterfies”, directed by Dome Karukoski, as his second feature film. The film drew an audience over 115 000 in 2008; a great number for a quality period drama. When Dome made his comeback to Solar six years later, movie history was made. The film was of course “The Grump” and it is celebrating now, in Solar’s festive year, its steady climb towards the landmark of half a million. That also means that Solar has nailed the top three most successful domestic features in the last 25 years.
As the evening went on, some of the patrons started wrestling.
When Bronson joined the Solar family in 2009, a bunch of young and energetic moviemakers came to the picture. Markus advised his younger colleagues Jesse Fryckman and Oskari Huttu that you can only call yourself a producer, when your own production has crossed the 200 000 spectator mark. March 2010 saw the premiere of the first Bronson production “Reindeerspotting”, which caused a lot of public debate with its age limit issues. The total audience was 65 000 – a record for a domestic documentary at the time. After the launch Jesse stated that you can’t call yourself a documentary movie producer before you have a documentary with over 60 000 spectators on your CV. That is one record Markus doesn’t have. Yet.
During these seven years we have distributed 26 Solar productions, including several very challenging and bold ventures, by Finnish standards. As it is customary in the movie business, some of these productions have found their wings beautifully, some have belly-landed. And some haven’t even made it to the runway. The latter category includes of course “Mannerheim”; it was a great disappointment to everyone involved when the project crashed, after all the massive efforts. Not only from the point of view of the producer, the financiers and the distributor – the movie theaters, especially in the rural areas, would’ve badly needed a big, national hit movie in those days. The ill-fated project was trying to find its wings many times; all our production plans of those years had the optimistic title “Mannerheim” included.
One of our success stories is the series of Vares films. As an undertaking, it is also unique by Finnish standards. Six movies were shot in the summer of 2010 and originally, only two were planned to be theatrically released. But there was a certain shortage of domestic premieres in 2011-2012 – so we answered the call from the field and ended up distributing all six films in movie theaters. Three times Vares per year. All films attracted a fair audience, the risk was worth it. When we launched the ninth entry in the Vares series in the early 2015, it took the total audience figure over one million mark. Typical Solar; exceptional, big, entertaining.
The heart of Solar is most of all the people who work there. Also in the head office of Nordisk, everyone knows “those crazy Finns”. Solar is often personified to Markus, who is one of those people who stick to your mind since the first time you meet him. When out in town, painting it red, Markus is a “very entertaining and very, VERY generous…”, to quote my Scandinavian colleagues. That is a combination that has sometimes surprised a few Danes, who are not familiar with the Finnish drinking habits.
I wonder if any of them knew that it was all authentic?
Everyone in Nordisk is strongly unanimous about the fact that Solar is a partner of very high entertainment values, both on screen and off screen. A good example of this is a customer event, held by Nordisk and Solar in December 2008. We screened “Hellsinki”, by Aleksi Mäkelä, to theater owners; after that we had a lavish buffet dinner in a corner bar in the same part of town the movie is all about. The guests included Tom Sjöberg, who is portrayed in the movie; an original character and resident of the area. Sami Hedberg, a stand-up comedian, was entertaining the guests. He was not yet the star he is now – his price for the gig was 800 €. You can imagine what it’s like to try to do stand-up, only to be interrupted all the time by the local characters, with their own jokes and comments. Sami Hedberg has later admitted that it was the most challenging gig of the early part of his career. As the evening went on, some of the patrons started wrestling. Luckily we had Jukka Jokinen, a multiple Finnish Championship title holder in karate, in charge of the security…
Our sales manager Petri Viljanen remembers how our guests were overwhelming with their thanks for a long time, praising us for the “amusing entertainment numbers”. I wonder if any of them knew that it was all authentic?
Hellsinki premiered in January 2009 and became the most watched domestic movie of that year.
Despite the challenging stand-up show, Nordisk and Solar didn’t burn all their bridges with Sami Hedberg. As I write this, “Reunion” is about to premiere. It is a remake of a Danish blockbuster, starring the very same Sami Hedberg, along with Aku Hirvinemi and Jaajo Linnonmaa. If Sami will ever perform stand-up to our customers again – that remains to be seen…