All work should be done the old Solar way (except brain surgery)

Venla Mäkelä worked for Solar Films as property master, location manager and screenwriter 1997-2003. Nowadays she’s a freelancer. Mäkelä resides in Los Angeles with her husband, son and three dogs.


My pal Johanna Hasu and I were interviewed in Solar, in the very early days of the company. I’m not quite sure, when – maybe it was the spring of ’97? We had a short list of potential employers and chose Solar, thinking they’ll need employees cause it’s a new company. And they did.

Venla Mäkelä

The office was in Lauttasaari, on the top floor of a car maintenance company. The way to get there was to climb a narrow, lethal spiral staircase. If you had something heavy to carry or needed an elevator or had to go to the wardrobe store room in the basement, you had to pass the neighbor companies. There were at least the Leningrad Cowboys and a food company, with a warehouse always full of whosesale-sized boxes of nachos. One didn’t quite know where one company ended and the next one began.

Taina Saikkonen and Markus Selin were there to welcome us. Pinka Hämäläinen was behind the reception desk (hi, Pinks!). There was a thick cloud of smoke in the air – this was way before the you’re-not-allowed-to-smoke-in-the-office-laws.

(A few months later Taina law-abidingly ordered the office smokeless and put her own cigarette in a fancy holder. Taina was ahead of her time and was planning a reality show about the plastic surgery of her friend. This was years before the American plastic surgery series or thousands of reality TV concepts.)

Markus was on his way to a dentist, he was holding his cheek. The reason behind this interview was because I had an idea for a TV series (Muodollisesti Pätevä). We were not even dreaming about the idea leading to something. Later, Taina had to show me what an official screenplay format looks like (thanks, Taina).

We were hired as location managers / property masters and one of my jobs was to write scripts – write about whatever jumped to my mind. Johanna was even considered to be a hostess – we had shot a short demo, upon Taina’s request (Johanna would’ve been a great speaker) – but we had a leap week between the jobs and took a last-minute-flight to Greece, mailing the demo tape from the airport. It arrived at Solar several weeks later and Johanna had already started on the production side (of Taina’s lifestyle program Miss Groove, as far as I can remember). It’s a mystery that no one ever asked after the tape, or if Johanna was interested to be a hostess. Well, not really – because in those early days everything was very chaotic (in a nice way). Most of the office routines were handled by Taina and Pinka – I think – and all the rest were just fiddling around in a vague sort of way, gliding from one production to another. Markus and Antti were abroad most of the time.

Everything was happening awfully fast. Juha Rosma from TV2 bought “Muodollisesti Pätevä” (thanks, Juha) and Aleksi was hired to direct (yippee!). I was writing the screenplays at the same time when I was the property master of “Trabant Express”, a comedy series conceived by Hissu. And Rampe Toivonen was producing “The Headline Poster of The Day”, to Channel Four. In the episodes certain juicy rumors were sometimes dramatized and acted out. Johanna was at least once a rape victim (sorry, Josu and hah!) and I think I was the secret love of Ilkka Kanerva (if my memory serves me right – Rampe?). All those things were done just like that, on the side of our other duties – and now that we’re all “adults”, it feels awesome. All work – except brain surgery – should be done that way, with an insane hassle. I remember being afraid of Mattiesko Hytönen – but when I got to know him, he was just adorable.

Twenty years ago we had to get the master tape from Finnkino (in Vantaa) or from some other distributor, take it to a transfer (in Katajanokka), to get the clip out.

Taina bought a Jack Russell terrier and Antti’s golden labrador retriever, Tomi, was also hanging around in the office. Antti was furious when we were playing ball inside – so we soon learned to spy from Pinka’s door monitor when and if Antti was coming in. Ha-ha! The beaches of Lauttasaari were made for walking the dog – and no one gave a damn, if you went out in the middle of the day – if you just got your job done.

Antti was directing “Miss Finland” beauty contests (or were they “The Maiden of Finland”?), at least a few times. And music videos. And the Jussi Gala, at least once. Miira Lähteenmäki (or was it the production designer Tiina Paavilainen?) and I were working behind the stage. After the show was over, we sat down for a second on the restaurant side, on empty seats. The waitress rushed to us, grinning her teeth; “This is Samuli Edelmann’s place”. Samuli wasn’t even there that year. Juha Veijonen got mad and shouted to the waitress: “Bring these girls some food, God damn it!”.

One of our productions was “Bonnie and Clyde”, a movie magazine program for Channel Four. The program was edited on the top floor of the (brand new) Hartwall Arena. I was sitting there with the editor Mikko Pesonen, watching how the ice rink was turned to a field of sand and grass for riding events – and then, back into ice. Nowadays you can just e-mail a videoclip. Twenty years ago we had to get the master tape from Finnkino (in Vantaa) or from some other distributor, take it to a transfer (in Katajanokka), to get the clip out. I was doing all this driving in a God-awful-old-bomb, an orange-colored Volvo – or in a massive white van, which seemed to float around like a hovercraft, almost like a ghost.

They were very strange years. I remember how the good-humored singer, (the late) Riki Sorsa was changing his trousers in the office, in broad daylight. The reason was unknown. That was all in a days work.