Movie Star Emma Thompson Speaks Up Why Film Production in Finland Should Be Supported

Filmmakers come for the snow, stay for the professionalism

Filming in Finland: Snow and cinematographic landscapes

The Finnish landscape is typically the one that draws filmmakers to Finland. Sometimes it’s simply the snow, which has become less predictable in many other parts of the world, because of climate change. I like following Film in Finland on LinkedIn, they feature unique filming locations in Finland. It would be easy to say that the landscape alone is a reason to film in Finland.
Levi Kumputunturi. Credit Visit Levi.
Levi Kumputunturi. Credit Visit Levi.
Dame Emma Thompson was in Finland this winter filming a film called The Fisherwoman. The Fisherwoman is about a widow who, while trapped in a blizzard, interrupts the kidnapping of a teenager.  The film takes place in Minnesota but they opted to film the exterior shots in Finland, for Minnesota’s lack of snow.  Emma Thompson was so impressed by the Finnish film crew and professionalism, that she wrote a heartfelt letter to Finland, published in the local newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, yesterday.
Emma Thompson enjoying winter in Finland. Photo: Greg Wise
The flattering words about filming in Finland, and the professionalism of the local film crew took over the local and global news, and even the president of Finland, Alexander Stubb, called her yesterday to thank her for the kind words, for trusting Finns, and he welcomed her to come back to Finland anytime. A surprising gushing love letter for the Finnish film industry by an award-winning movie star like Emma Thompson comes at the right time.
“I would give anything to get the chance to work here again and therefore thank everyone who is working so hard to keep the AV incentive alive and kicking. I would encourage colleagues in my industry with all my heart to locate productions here – if you need dramatic landscape, it is here, if you need brave-hearted, highly sensitive and indomitable crew people, they are here, if you need comfort and a homely life, it is here. I will always be grateful for my time in Finland – I write this on my last day which I am lucky enough to be spending with friends who have a smoke sauna and an ice-hole. A final blessing from the country that I have learned to love so much and which I will miss with every fibre of my being.” Emma Thompson

Finnish Film industry in the global limelight

The film industry in Finland has had its moments in the limelight. Finnish movies are seen at the world’s most important film festivals and the export revenue of movies and Finnish TV productions has had a nice growth spur. In 2023 three domestic films made it to the cinemas worldwide: Jalmari Helander’s Sisu, Taneli Mustonen’s The Twin, and Aki Kaurismäki’s Fallen Leaves. Fallen Leaves gained and won multiple film awards last year, and was even nominated for Golden Globes, and shortlisted as top 15 foreign films for Academy Awards. Three movies making it in the international cinemas might not sound for that many, but for Finland, that’s huge.  

Film production in Finland

Foreign production in Finland has had exciting moments as well. Personally, I am the most excited about the production of The Summer Book movie, an adaptation of Tove Jansson’s book with the same name.  The Summer Book stars Glenn Close as the lead actress, and it’s produced by Case Study Films, the production company owned by director Charlie McDowell, Alex Orlovsky and Lily Collins. The Summer Book was filmed in the Turku Archipelago last year, in the scenery of where I grew up. I am a huge fan of Finnish author, artist and feminist icon Tove Jansson, the creator of Moomins, and it is exciting to see her other work produced on this scale and not only the Moomins. There isn’t a release date for the movie yet. This is also one of the rare foreign productions in which the story is also based in Finland. The American sci-fi thriller Dual (2022) was filmed in the western central city of Tampere, pretending to be Seattle. Dual is a Riley Stearns’ sci-fi film starring Karen Gillan and Aaron Paul. The Dual was filmed during Covid in 2020, and it posed additional challenges to filming – and Finns were praised for their problem-solving ability during the unprecedented times.
 “For us, choosing which country to base our production in is an over-all calculus, not just about the financial bottom line. Yes, the Finnish tax incentives are competitive: Finland offers incentives on the national level, and most of Finland’s larger cities – in our case, Tampere – also offer additional regional incentives. When you step back and look at the entire offering – not just the financial side of it – there are a lot of factors in Finland’s favor that most countries just don’t have. The fact that Finland has skilled crews, very safe working conditions, that the country over-all is very safe, and that the day-to-day quality of life is at a really high level – it’s all very attractive. Aram Tertzakian, co-founder of XYZ films in an interview with Film in Finland.
The Constellation series commissioned by Apple TV+ was filmed in Finland last year. Constellation, starring  Noomi Rapace, is a sci-fi thriller series about a Swedish astronaut returning to chaos from space. The scenes that are based in Sweden are filmed in Inari, Finland. The series is rumored to be one of the most expensive TV series ever filmed in Europe, and the largest TV series ever produced in Finland. Just the production budget used in Inari was tens of times more than the typical budget size of one Finnish movie.   This, of course, was major news in Finland when the filming took place. But later on, many local service providers claimed that Turbine Studios, the production company, hadn’t paid up all their bills, racking up a whopping 1 million euros (around 1,088,675 US dollars). As a result, loads of local businesses and service providers were left struggling financially. The film productions are important for the Finnish film industry for providing local film crews for large international productions, but they are also important boost for other local businesses. The film productions use local services like hotels, restaurants, transportation, guide services, equipment rentals, and more, underlining the importance of film productions for the Finnish economy. The Constellation production was enjoying production incentives from the Finnish government (but they can’t be cashed out before the invoices have been paid).

Finnish government production incentives

The Finnish government offers production incentives for the film industry, but even that was under scrutiny last year, and the Finnish film industry had to fight to keep government incentives in place. There is so much potential in Finland, but the local budgets are small, the competition is cut-throat, and when financial troubles like what happened with Constellation production happen, they pose serious risks for the entire industry. Business Finland says that the film production incentive is a maximum of 25% cash rebate for production costs. The incentive aims to boost global interest in Finland as a filming destination and to support the internationalization of Finnish companies. The budget for 2024 is 12 million euros. Eligible costs include pre- and post-production costs incurred in Finland,  a maximum of 80% of the total production budget. The incentive is available for Finnish or foreign production companies for feature films, documentary films, serial fiction, and even animation productions. The incentive can be used for purchases of goods and services, and the rental of equipment and facilities for production purposes from companies liable to pay tax in Finland. In the big film production industry numbers, it’s nothing. But it has the potential of bringing film production of €48M to Finland that otherwise might not come here. Also, compared to many other filming locations in the world, Finland isn’t as expensive as it used to be. The inflation of prices in Finland has not gone up as fast as in many other locations, like the USA.

The Finnish film industry needs all compassing support

There is also a talented independent film scene in Finland that brings more diverse filmmakers that I believe would deserve the limelight. However, entry into the Finnish film industry can be a challenging one, and many recommend free labor or low-paying internships as a way to get started. Finland can be a great location to come and film when film industry unions are striking in other countries, but not many question how much free work the creatives are required to do when building their careers. Last year, our daughter Isabella Presnal applied to study documentary film in Finland, but was left out, because they only took two students in. She chose to produce an independent documentary film about helicopter pilots with a commercial angle to keep creating films despite the lack of professional opportunities for young filmmakers within the film industry in Finland. Her documentary short was produced together with No-Office Films, an independent film production company with the capacity and desire to do more movies, but mainly produces commercial work.     I wish to see more incentives, grants, and possibilities for collaboration for young independent filmmakers and small independent production companies, instead of only choosing the selected few. There are also international filmmakers and creatives in Finland, that already have international connections and expertise, but often are overlooked. The Finnish film industry will have more global potential when the industry is democratized and less siloed.

Thank you, Emma Thompson

To sum it up, it’s so important that we support the Finnish film industry. Watching Finnish films, and supporting productions made in Finland. And to get a gushing love letter to the production teams here from a professional like Emma Thompson, can’t be measured in euros. Here are some highlights of the letter, read it at Helsingin Sanomat.
I arrived in Koli, Finland on the 29 th of January, to prepare for a film called The Fisherwoman. I had no idea how lucky I was but upon arrival in Koli, greeted by the piney, snow-laden sentinels that guard that magical hillside, I started to sense what a huge privilege and adventure this was to become.”  Emma Thompson
I especially love how she highlights the people on the production team.
What supported me at all times was the extraordinary nature of the environment and the people. From the moment I landed, I was met with kindness and warmth, with deep hospitality and humour by people who made my stay in Koli feel more and more like home. The Finns on our crew seemed to me to be peculiarly well suited to film work. They were calm. They were confident. They worked incredibly hard and without complaint, no matter how insane the hours or the weather. All the Finns on our crew were admirable in different ways – our transport crew were amazing – driving on roads that ranged from deeply snowy to terrifyingly icy, to sludge-covered, even to muddy when the thaw went on for more than a day. They cared for us, they kept us safe, and they showed us where the best bars were, which was perhaps the most essential thing of all.” Emma Thompson
And she ends the letter saying that “shooting in Finland is more than the sum of its parts, its parts being ineffable, and its people being constitutionally remarkably suited to the demands of film. Filming is wildly unpredictable, messy, complex and frustrating. Finns make light of this. If the weather is wrong, they focus on what can we do and never on what we are prevented from doing. Their attitude – at least in my experience, is born of a resolution and a resilience that I can only guess must come with the territory.” She did sum up Finnish sisu, grit, pretty well.   Featured photo: Koli, Finland, by Hendrik Morkel

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