Monday, 26 December 2011

26 TechTalk (Eki´s new blog)

First off.  Eki taught me everything I know about tech stuff . When we first started working together I didn´t have a clue. Now I can take a decent shot and use the interview equipment. But this is kid´s stuff compared to his new blog: HALSUGRIP It´s way, way over my head. Still, I can see that it´s a gold mine of information.

Halsugrip motion control head parts
When He sees a problem he manufactures a solution. And then gives clear instructions so the reader can do it too. The illustrations and easy-to-read text make the process look like fun. He makes you want to send for the parts, dig out your tools and go to work creating useful objects. And he´s good at answering questions if you get in trouble.

Eki and I have worked together for about 18 years. Mostly, he has had the patience of Job. I don´t know how many times he´s had to say, “It´s rendering” when I sit there looking bored. He has also been very patient explaining the editing process to me. And a lot of other stuff as well. Now he´s sharing his technical skills and inventive solutions on a worldwide basis. We couldn´t have a better teacher.

Lesson 30: when you need it and don´t have it, make it

Next week: 27 The Interview

Monday, 19 December 2011

25 Flips Flops & Failures


FLIPS: projects not completed

“10,000 Years of Finnish History” was one of our few flips. We thought, it was  a catchy title and that we could tell a compelling story. A hip, hot (and photogenic) history professor came on board. We made a plan, wrote a synopsis but somehow the project never caught fire and we dropped it. Then at a wrap party we came up with an alternate one minute version based on the country´s high alcohol use: a man (dressed in appropriate costume) with a bottle of Finlandia vodka goes from the present day back 10.000 years. The next day when we sobered up, we decided to shelve it. At least for awhile.

FLOPS: projects completed but not a complete success

“Back in the USA” was the first of what we call our homemades – projects I shoot and Eki edits (and straightens out my shots). Before I left Finland he taught me how to use the audio equipment. It was heavy as hell and I had to cart it all over the place. But when it came time to do the interviews I was spooked by all the little lights and buttons. “Back in the US” turned out to be a very well-done home movie. You can bet that when I came back to Helsinki I listened and learned.

FAILURES: projects completed that fizzle

Little Margie productions has been lucky, most of our projects have been commissioned, have got support funding from various foundations and have been well received.  “marihuanaland” was an exeption – it was financed by us and has still not been placed. But it was something Eki and I believed in. And even if it sat on the shelf forever we would always think it was a big success.

Lesson 29: sail right through flips, flops & failures - they´re part of the game

Next week: 26 TechTalk (Eki´s new blog)

Monday, 12 December 2011

24 Out to Lunch

Photo by Eki Halkka
In Colorado, checking out a couple of new projects for development. Staying on the Western slope of the Rocky mountains in the high desert. Surrounded by gorgeous John Ford scenery (he made movies on location two hours South of here in Moab, Utah), with fabulous sunny weather and miles and miles of unspoiled empty space, the area still manages to be a mecca for fastfood. Since we´re on the road a lot, we´ve eaten in almost every FF joint. The following is a rundown of a few.

McDonalds: after eating McDo´s cheeseburgers in Finland and in France, sad to report that the American version (at least in this part of Colorado) doesn´t compare. The bun is like a sweet sponge – it squashes down to a flat pancake before you´ve finished. And the filling tastes generic – in other words tasteless. Since the initial disappointment have given it a pass.

Denny's: a chain, but newly opened in this area. Serves food 24 hours a day, everyday (except for major holidays). At the beginning there were long waits - the out-to-lunch crowd pouncing on a new choice. Dennys has a huge breakfast menu (with senior portions). And healthy bland choices like grilled chicken salad with apple and cranberry. But a couple of times we fell for the traditional turkey dinner (served during the holiday season). The first time we ordered it, it looked like the photo in the menu. But the second time it looked like an accident - with glue-like gravy covering the body. After a few more visits the bland food began to taste like a school canteen.

Wendy's: poor Wendy´s – it´s right next store to the new and popular Dennys. The day we were there it was empty, although their parking lot was full with the overflow from their busy neighbor. The staff and manager were trying to put on a brave front, but no people means no business. Happy to report that they make good chili.

TacoBell: we´re hooked. And almost always order the same thing: two crispy tacos with extra salsa. It´s cheap, cheap - two can eat for about 7 dollars.  And it´s clean. It´s fast. The food is simple, satisfying and tastes good.

Chipotle: according to an article in the Wall Street Journal weekend magazine this chain is the Rolls Royce of fastfood. Everything is organically grown and locally sourced (whenever possible). It´s Tex-Mex at its best. You pick and choose from a variety of options. And the stuff doesn´t stand around for hours getting stale – they make small batches several times during the day. More than twice as expensive as TacoBell, the restaurants are designed to look like the Wild West meets Scandinavia.

Palisade Wine Country Inn: we needed a break from FF and decided to treat ourselves. PWCI is a proper restaurant – small, cozy and inviting. And it´s only a couple of minutes by car from my sister´s vineyard. We ordered the dish of the day – salmon with a caper butter sauce. Jesse Wilson, the young chef served us himself. It was delicious. We asked him where he learned to cook. He said his dad taught him. We thought: what a good thing to pass down to your kid.

Lesson 28: when you´re on the road take some fruit

Next week: 25 Flips, Flops & Failures

Monday, 5 December 2011

23 StarStruck

Frank & Alvar (2005)
My big weakness is celebrities. I want to film them because they´re famous for a reason. The star-chetect Frank Gehry and I had a history together (although Frank didn´t have a clue). Before I moved to Finland I lived in Venice Beach right down the boardwalk from his Life Guard Station house. It was such a witty take on a mundane everyday object that I fell in love. When we built a house on an island near Helsinki, I called it Frank Gehry Far North.

So when I heard he was coming to Helsinki I thought we just have to get him on film. After multiple phone calls to his PR person in LA the answer was a big NO.  Frank did not want to be interviewed. But one day I was talking to Juhani Pallasmaa, a Finnish architect. He said he was having lunch with Frank at Alvar Aalto´s house. I said, “That has to be filmed.” I used Juhani´s name (with his permission) and the deal was made. I´ve told this story before, but it´s worth repeating:  when I ran into tell the team that we were going to get to film him they both said, “Who the f*** is Frank Gehry:”

Esa-Pekka Salonen was my next target. At the time he was conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. When we interviewed him for “Frank & Alvar” I pounced.  I told him that we wanted to concentrate on his work as a composer. He vaguely accepted. Then the hard work began. Countless phone calls and emails trying to arrange meetings for shoots and interviews. A whole list of demands from his people followed. At one point I was ready to give the development financing back to the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE). Our commissioning editor wanted to know why we had got involved in the project in the first place. I said, because I was hopelessly star struck but that this doc had cured me.

That was until we got to Oakland, California to shoot “marihuanaland”. There I chased down everybody who had anything to do with the cannabis business. Richard Lee, founder of Oaksterdam University said, emphatically, that he did not want to be interviewed. I told him we didn´t want him to talk about the school, but about what the school had done for Oakland. We got him. Steve DeAngelo was another tough nut to crack, but we got him too. His PR person made the appointment and added that we had better bone up because Steve didn´t appreciate stupid questions. He turned out to be very nice and gave a good interview. The Discovery Channel found him too. They´re currently running a reality series filmed at Harborside Medical Dispensary: Weed Wars. Check it out.

Lesson 27: To get an interview know your subject and find a fresh perspective.

Next week: 23 Out to Lunch