Welhofilmi turns 25 years

I am trying to write screenplay pages, but since none seem to be coming out of me, I might as well update the blog.

This spring I turned 30. I had been looking forward to it for quite a while. It was, at times, tiresome to be the “young gun” director in town. As late as last year I got comments on how I “have lots of time” and how I’m “so young” on projects that were delayed or cancelled. So now I’m 30, and happy about it (and will probably hear entirely new excuses for projects not progressing).

My filmmaking career on the other hand turns 25. It’s a bit crazy, yes. So if you’ll indulge me, I’ll give you: A History of Welhofilmi, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Make As Many Films As Possible!

What is Welhofilmi? It is the company through which I do my work as a director, writer and editor, and also a small rental house that rents and sub-rents to bigger rental houses a Red Epic-X camera package. But that’s been true for only six years now. The history of the name goes quite a bit further.

The summerhouse frequented by my mother’s side of family is situated by a lake called Velhon vesi (Warlock’s Water). This has led to the summerhouse being called just Velho, instead of “the summerhouse” or anything else. It’s where I spent quite a bit of my childhood summers, and it’s where we started filmmaking. In 1989 my father, myself, my brother and my uncle Janne (back then a teenager, currently more known for being a musician and the lead singer of Phoenix Effect) wrote and filmed in two days an adventure short film called The Treasure of Robinson Crusoe (did I mention the bookshelves of the summerhouse were filled with adventure books from my mother’s youth?). Back home we edited the film from camera tapes to VHS, and held a premiere. The end titles were, for the first time, concluded with the words “A Welhofilmi Production”.

The name stuck for quite a few years, and as me and my brother got older, we were permitted to use the camera equipment without supervision and started to do our own little films (usually lo-fi versions of films we had seen, Star Wars etc.). Still, we used Welhofilmi as the “company name”, even though our father was rarely involved.

In junior high school I attended a video course and from like-minded people interested in filmmaking, I founded a group called Alppilan yläasteen elokuvataiteen erityisryhmä (“The Alppila Junior High School’s Special Team of Film Art” – yes, I know). We went by the abbreviation AYEE, and made short films for two years. After junior high school, all of us going to different schools, the name needed to be changed. So we changed it to Welhofilmi. This is where serious filmmaking started on my part.

The Welhofilmi group made films from 2000 to 2006, when I was accepted to study film directing in University of Art and Design. The ten films we made in those years were shown at festivals and in our schools, but most importantly, they were a film school in their own right. Every film taught us something new. Every film made us better. We borrowed and rented equipment, recruited actors from amateur theaters, we had call sheets, budgets and did surround sound mixes, visual effects and color grades.

So in 2006 I started film school and Welhofilmi was put on hiatus. I had enough work in school and becoming an assistant to Aku Louhimies. I learned a lot, working with him, including the fact that a director can be only as good as he or she has power over the final result of the film. I knew I wanted to have as much power over the result of my films as I could possibly have, so I started thinking about ways to achieve that.

One way was to own equipment. If I had my own cameras I could always shoot something, and never have to ask permission to do it. Also, it seemed to me, back in 2007, that the Finnish film industry was going about digitalization totally wrong. We were going to make films on our laptops in 4K quality in a matter of a few years, I thought, and people are still investing in HDCAM cameras and huge post-production machines specialized in just one thing! It seemed crazy to me. The production of my first school short, In Between, was the final straw. We shot 16mm film, transferred it in a soviet-age transfer unit to Digibeta  and DVCAM tapes, then ingested the DVCAM tapes to Avids and edited the offline, then assembled the online edit from the Digibeta, and color corrected it to another Digibeta tape. I could not understand how it was possible that this was what we were taught how to do, when it seemed obvious that this technology would be done with in a matter of years, maybe months.

The Red camera was the online sensation at that time. Vaporware, people called it, when Red couldn’t deliver the first cameras in the spring of 2007. I asked about it from one camera equipment specialist in Finland. The answer was absolute: it will never be a professional tool, it will never be used for feature films, and surely it won’t be seen in the lineups of professional rental houses. I disagreed.

So in the fall of 2007 Welhofilmi was reborn as a company. It was, at that time, a measure of necessity; we were going to invest in the Red One camera, and needed a company that would own it and rent it out. We received our camera the last day of March, 2008. It was rented out the rest of the spring. Everybody wanted to shoot with the Red, and there were only three or four cameras in Finland. I didn’t really see the camera for the next months, but the money coming in was nice – after all, even though Red One was substantially cheaper than HDCAM cameras or other professional digital “filmmaking” tools, it was an investment of several tens of thousands of euros for the whole equipment needed to use it efficiently.

We were trying to get funding for a novella film called Enemies Within that spring, but failed. I was deemed “not experienced enough”. We licked our wounds for a couple of weeks, but then came an idea; if I now have the necessary equipment, and we have a cast and crew of young people who would rather do something and not get paid (immediately) than not do something and not get paid (at all), why do we need funding? So Enemies Within became an “indie” production (produced by Welhofilmi, the production company of the novella film First Floor Productions, and Aku Louhimies), and we shot it that August with the much-appreciated help of rental houses, that provided us with lenses, lights and vehicles for a minimal cost. In October we showed the rought cut to financiers, and it was swiftly bought to television, and received a nice grant from the Finnish Film Foundation for finishing costs. I draw a direct line from those events to the fact that I was able to make my feature debut just two years later, at 26 years old.

I realized that without Welhofilmi and without owning the essential equipment, this would have never happened. And since then my doctrine of filmmaking has been to always do what I feel is necessary, and ask permission later. Welhofilmi has evolved since 2008, we have optioned material for development, broadened and updated our rental equipment and, just this year, became a customer company for the Finnish Film Foundation, so we can apply for development and production support. Will we be a full-fledged production company one day? I hope so. Currently we have produced mostly music videos and other small projects ourselves, and worked as contractors in anything bigger. Welhofilmi turns 25 years with a colorful history, but it is the next 25 years that I find inspiring and interesting. What will we do? Where will the company go?

I don’t know. But meanwhile enjoy a showreel of the stuff we’ve been involved with (if it resembles my director’s showreels, there’s a good reason for that). It only includes movies from the last 14 years, as the ones made previous to that are situated on tapes that no players any longer support. But perhaps that is better.

Post scriptum: I would like to write an entire post of it’s own on our adventures with the Red cameras. So look out for it.



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