On the limit

Mika Karttunen, Solar Films 1995-2013


Markus Selin was leaning to the bar, tipping a few Pernods with coke. I was on the worse side of the counter; it was a quiet afternoon and we had time to shoot the breeze. The year was cirka 1993. I had just sold my restaurant and told Masi that it would be interesting to make movies. Markus didn’t say anything – but in a few months I found myself working for him. First in Harlin & Selin Productions; we made “Sunset Riders” and “Gladiators”. After that I was fiddling around in a few restaurants Markus was involved in.

Mika Karttunen

And then; Solar Films. The CEO at the time was strictly against hiring me. “We don’t need any bartenders around here”. But Markus stuck to his guns. It’s possible he’s regretted his decision later; I don’t know.

In the early years we made all imaginable kinds of programs – and everyone did everything. I have seen with my very own eyes Markus carrying boxes of potato chips for catering (much appreciated, Pade). And the story goes that once upon a time in Paris, Markus has held the boom, fulfilling the duties of the sound man…

Sometimes our ship sailed much more with luck than skill. I got to know the important lingo very fast (from the legendary light-and-grip-old-timer “Kaamanen”). The key words were “dud” and “deadbeat” – and I had to do my utmost, in order not to appear like a dud in the eyes of my older and more experienced colleagues. The phrase “at the limit” comes from the very same source. I don’t think we’ve been that far – yet.

We were serious – but not dead serious. The practical jokes department became almost a daily routine, both at the giving and receiving ends. The victims of the classical face paint learned a thing or two. Maybe. And very soon, no one left their cell phones on the table when they excused themselves for a second in our regular hangouts.

Many stories will have to stay untold; partly because this is an all-audiences publication, partly because that one of the characters in the stories (usually me) is always portrayed in a humiliating manner. To put it lightly.

There is an old and clichéd saying “I wouldn’t have it any other way”. Well, it’s not exactly like that. There are days I’d like to forget – but not that many.

The film crew of The Midwife

I’d rather remember all the great personalities I’ve met during the years. The places I’ve seen, that would’ve remained unseen if I hadn’t been doing what I’ve been doing. And several magical moments, usually from the shoots abroad. Not because shooting in a foreign country is somehow cooler. But mostly because shooting in an unfamiliar environment, surrounded and crippled by a language barrier, makes everything harder and more challenging.

I have played in many different roles.

Once I took six cases of Gin Long Drink to Malta. To the suspicious customs officials I told that they are “soft drink samples”. I don’t know if they bought my BS story – but they allowed me to the island and we drank the whole six cases. Once I took ten natural size body dummies to Georgia, after serious negotiations with the custom inspectors, with no common language…

Frozen Land in Moscow: Mika Karttunen, Teemu Tommila and Pentti Vuorisalo

In Thailand the ferry carrying all our filming equipment got stuck to a coral reef on the first shooting day. On the last day, the transport boats didn’t get even close to the location, thanks to the rising tide. The only way to the get the hell out of Dodge was to swim a few hundred meters…

Once in Argentina; we were shooting at a local Air Force Base. In the middle of the shooting day the commander of the base summoned me to his room. My heart was racing as I entered his office, to face the stern, stone-faced officer. “What’s wrong, sir?”, a long silence – and the colonel put out his enormous paw. He had noticed my “Thanks For The Veterans” t-shirt and wanted to shake my hand. He informed me that the Winter War is still a standard topic in their Military College tactics lectures…

In Spain our local line producer rushed to our set, accompanied by a few members of the local law enforcement, and locked our camera into a hotel room for three days. His authentic outburst “Give me my three million pesetas!” later embraced the chest of the crew t-shirts…

The Subtenant: Mika Karttunen, Jouni Mutanen and Jari Mutikainen

In Tanzania, we faced the challenge of getting the principal actors and wild animals into the same shot. We convinced our local guide / animal wrangler to give it a try; according to him, the only safe(ish) way to get close to the animals was to move in a “tight bunch” – so we would be mistaken for a giant animal. I bet it was a sidesplitting sight when we marched across the savannah, whispering to each other, literally in a very gay fashion.

In St. Petersburg we were location scouting for a movie that still hasn’t seen the light of day. We saw a handsome stallion on Nevski Prospekt; a photographer was taking pictures of tourists on horseback. One incognito member of our jolly crew mounted the stallion and before the photographer had time to react, the lonely rider was nowhere to be seen, galloping along the main street of St. Petersburg, against the traffic. We were left behind – and had to do some serious explaining…

We also shot St. Petersburg once in Finland. The production was called “The Jackal” and the amount of red tape was endless. One negotiation took almost six hours: a Thai restaurant adjacent to our location was inside our frame and we needed a permission from the owner before we could shoot. The Irish location manager spoke English to me, I translated to Finnish, to the daughter of the restaurateur and she spoke Thai to her father. The elderly gentleman contemplated for a minute and replied – then the same chain of translations took place in reverse order. Etc. By the way, during the same production we accidentally placed our generator next to the air conditioning shaft of the biggest department store in Porvoo. The exhaust fumes didn’t exactly increase their Christmas sales. I still pass Porvoo as fast as I can…

The Subtenant: Mika Karttunen

There is an endless list of unforgettable incidents. We often go down the memory lane, back to Kauhava, where we shot “The Tough Ones”. An icy-cold summer and the colorful local cowboys made sure that it’s hard to forget our stay in the wild west.”Muodollisesti Pätevä” was a wonderful comedy TV series: more than once we had to put the director and the video village out in the snow. The director just couldn’t help himself cracking up during the takes. During “Trabant Express” one of our lead actors went MIA. The only way to find him was to contact the local radio station; “If someone sees XX, please call this number…”

“Iiro Seppänen Extreme” – a real dream job for me and my severe case of acrophobia. In Bahama we were shooting underwater, until a 10-foot hammer shark took a sudden and intense interest in our scuba camera gear. And in Tampa we lost all our footage, that we had spent three troublesome weeks capturing. The night when we were looking for those tapes, was a(nother) sleepless night…

Once upon a time, somewhere in Lapland. Pitch dark, temperature minus 30. The crane was stuck, the camera was frozen, our sets were built on a location where we had no permission to be.

The Model School, Milano

My blood pressure must’ve been running a bit high – and that (and the lack of sleep) was obviously visible on my face. An old-school lighting technician was marching past me, waist deep in snow, hauling a thick cable and chewing his self-rolled cigarette.

“Take it easy, dude. These things, they always come from TV.”

What more could I have had to say to that?