FINLAND LURES HOLLYWOOD

Tourists pose with movie character impersonators in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

Movie productions bring money and work to the filming locations. Therefore many states and countries offer incentives for film productions to come and shoot their movies in their turf. So far Finland has remained passive in the matter. But  after the formation of local film commissions a few years ago, plans are being hatched on how to lure Hollywood to make movies in Finland.

Warren Beatty directed and starred in the 1981 movie Reds. Though the film was about the Russian revolution, it was largely shot in Finland.

During the cold war Finland had the dubious honor of playing the Soviet Union in several Hollywood pictures. The Kremlin Letter, Telefon, Reds and Gorky Park were all shot in and around Helsinki. It was a perfect match – Hollywood needed a location that looked like Russia. And since filming in the actual Soviet Union was impossible at the time, Finland, namely Helsinki, filled the void. With its similar architecture, all that was needed were a couple of red banners, a Lenin’s picture, plus a few Russian signs and voilà – you were in Moscow!

Helsinki’s Uspenski Cathedral was used for its Russian style in the 1970 thriller The Kremlin Letter.

This, of course, is no longer the case. Today’s filmmakers can simply go to real Moscow – or any other part of Russia for that matter. That has left Finland cold. International movie shoots rarely film anything but nature documentaries there. And why would anyone want to film there? For its natural beauty? A little doubtful in the case of a feature film – there’s a lot of equally spectacular nature to be found in the United States and Canada – for a lesser price. However, Finland does have some historic sights, such as castles, churches, other old building and European streetscapes totally lacking in North America.

Finland offers splendid nature to enhance the look of a movie. Pictured: Repovesi National Park in Eastern Finland.

Hollywood productions are being lured by various countries with tax exemptions, free shooting permits and tax-free purchases. Hollywood favors low cost and cheap labor countries, such as Bulgaria, Romania and to the lesser extend –  the Czech Republic. However, the much more expensive New Zealand has also managed to enchant Hollywood.  The Lord of the Rings movies, King Kong and the Russell Crowe blockbuster Master and Commander: At World’s End, were all shot there. This summer the Hobbit, the Emperor and the Evil Dead were filmed in New Zealand.

Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s most famous tourist attractions.

New Zealand Film Commission Director Michael Brook says that under certain conditions they reimburse film producers 15 percent of the money spent there. The island’s other attractions  include natural landscapes and opposite seasons compared to the northern hemisphere. So, summer scenes can be filmed there in January. Also, Canada’s Vancouver – a city about the size of Helsinki – has established itself as a Hollywood staple. The city can accommodate 40 big film productions simultaneously. Vancouver will pardon a third of the taxes, if the film crew  uses mostly local talent. Also 40 U.S. states offer incentives. For example, Louisiana and New York give a 30 per cent tax relief to movie productions that shoot there.

Finnish film commissioners Päivi Söderström and Teija Raninen at the Scandinavian Locations event in Los Angeles.

Finland and the other Nordic film commissions have come together under the banner “Scandinavian Locations”. Finnish film commissioners Teija Raninen and Päivi Söderström recently visited Los Angeles in this capacity with their Scandinavian colleagues to market Finnish locations to Hollywood producers. There are four regional film commissions in Finland. Oddly enough, Helsinki does not have one. So any inquiries from Hollywood or other international film producers are directed to the local production companies or the city tourism office.

Consul general of Finland, Kirsti Westphalen and film commissioner Päivi Söderström at the Scandinavian Locations event at Hotel Figueroa, downtown LA.

The Finnish film commissioners advertised Finland in Hollywood as a naturally beautiful country with many industry professionals ready to be hired and eager background actors willing to work for a meal. Other advantages of shooting  in Finland include flexibility and security.

Turku Castle was seen in the 1967 Ken Russell spy thriller Billion Dollar Brain, starring Michael Caine.

Finland cannot boast about low prices or incentives, though. A free three day search for shooting locations hardly counts as a tempting incentive. Finnish film officials have not even considered tax relief. Instead, the film commissioners have proposed a quirky solution: The producers could apply part of  the money back that they used in Finland. The reimbursement would be subject to a scoring system. Criteria would include artistic content, local employment, whether the movie has a Finnish co-producer and whether Finland will retain any intellectual property rights. A jury would then assess each production separately.

Päivi Söderström – a film commissioner from Finland travels once a year to Hollywood to tell film producers about the benefits of shooting in Finland.

Such a system, however, would be highly complicated and impractical to a film producer trying to make his budget. How is he or she to know the outcome of that assessment in advance and be able to accurately calculate the real costs of shooting  in Finland? A simple tax credit would be far better. It could include some conditions – such as having to use a certain number of local talent and crew, just like in Canada.

The 2011 action movie Hanna featured breathtaking Finnish winter sceneries. the movie was partially shot in Kuusamo, North Eastern Finland.

It makes a lot of financial sense to try to get movie productions to come and shoot in Finland. Economic benefits can be sizable – especially in rural areas struggling with recession. Motion Picture Association of America – a lobbying arm for the movie industry – recently published a study on the financial impact of movie shoots. According to the study, film productions and state incentives are a boost to the local film professionals and other industries, such as hotels, restaurants and caterers. Producers go to the cheapest possible locations that meet their artistic and other needs. For example, the TV series Body of Proof moved production from Rhode Island to Los Angeles, because the show got better tax benefits in LA. And this despite the fact that the story is set in Philadelphia!

Costume designer Susanna Puisto works on the set of Body of Proof at Disney Studios in Burbank .The show recently relocated to Los Angeles because of more favorable tax benefits.

In late winter of 2010, an American action movie Hanna shot for five days in Kuusamo. The production left a million dollars to the area suffering from high unemployment. Other economic opportunities film productions provide include product placement, geocaching and film tourism.

The 1965 musical the Sound of Music was shot on location in Austria.

The Sound of Music premiered back in 1965. The musical was shot in the beautiful Austrian locations. Even today, the film still draws tourists to Austria. Therefore, it is important for Finnish officials and politicians to come together and come up with a comprehensive scheme that includes heavy tax advantages to lure Hollywood movies to shoot in Finland. Movie shoots bring money, work, fame and visibility to the shooting locations. They boost tourism and interest in the country and benefit the local economy.

Lake Pielinen in the Koli National Park, Eastern Finland