[Photo: Anssi Jokiranta.]
This 23 year old from Rovaniemi, Finland is one of the guys pulling the strings for the Scrapbook Project – an ambitious documentary focussed on showing the reality of snowboarding for Finnish riders – that will be covermounted with Onboard’s December 08 issue. We caught up with Miikka for the lowdown on the project.
Onboard: First things first. What is the film’s proper title? Because I get confused whether it’s the Scrapbook Project, or the Northern Scrapbook.
Miikka Niemi: Yeah, I understand that there’s many names, but the whole project is ‘The Scrapbook Project’ and basically we don’t have one film, we have actually two films and other short movies or documentaries in it so it’s like a whole project. But the main movie, the documentary, is ‘Northern Scrapbook’ and that’s the one we market, so that’s the reason of the confusion.
OB: Maybe I’m just easily confused…
MN: Yeah, but I’m sure that you’re not the only one.
OB: Good to clear it up then. So, rewinding a bit. You’ve made a few movies before. Which ones were those? Which was your first film?
MN: Actually the first one, maybe 5 years ago I guess, was Flatlight, and that’s the name I have been using to this day for my own company, Flatlight Films, and then there was pretty shitty ones looking back now [laughs]: Want More and Yeah Dude. And then I made Goodtimes and it was a lot bigger than the others
OB: And how did the stepping up come about? Were the first few like bro movies?
MN: Well the first ones were just from friends to friends basically, but Goodtimes I made with one other filmer and we had it on Onboard, distributed around Europe and the world to the tune of about 90,000 copies so that was a huge change, and a lot more pressure [laughs] and everything with it.
OB: You were riding as well before. So how did you get into the filming side of things?
MN: Well, basically it happened kind of accidentally. I have a certain vision about the way I want certain tricks to look and when I saw somebody else filming my tricks from like the wrong angle, or something wrong, or I couldn’t trust the filmer, I always stopped riding at that spot and went to film. I always wanted to film, but I always wanted to ride too, so it was complicated, but eventually it turned out that I was a full-time filmer.
OB: I guess you must have had to make a call at some point: ride or film. When did that happen?
MN: Yeah, it was like “choose one”. It was actually at the time of Goodtimes. Like at the beginning of that year I still tried to do something, get some tricks, but then it was too much hassle and I didn’t. I would have wanted to ride, but it’s just in my head and imagination that I couldn’t do it because I saw them in the wrong angle. It sounds crazy but it was like so annoying and I want everything to be precise.
OB: So do you get more joy out of filming something how you see it, from a good angle, getting it down and bagged, or from riding these days? If you can take the backpack off…
MN: Well, it’s quite funny because I haven’t had the chance to ride that much, but in the summer I was in Falls Creek filming a promo video for Kissmark Snowboards and then we had been filming for the day and then we changed the spot and they shot photos at the new spot first so I had the chance to take a few laps. All the riders were like “Oh, it’s so shitty here, so icy, everything is in such bad shape” and everything, and I enjoyed it sooo much. It was like the funnest rides ever, on an icy slope just turning and then jump corners and just jibbing around, it was so fun, and I was riding alone. So it’s like for sure I get joy from riding too, but basically my work is filming nowadays and that’s the work I want to do for the rest of my life, so of course I get joy from it. But it’s different things, but you have to do your work. You are not going to make a movie if you just ride for yourself.
OB: You obviously had a clear vision, even back in the days from what you were just saying, but how did you learn to film? Was it like trial and error, or did you get pointers from some other guys? How did you develop your filming technique?
MN: When I was starting snowboarding I was really into snowboard movies. I kept watching them all the time, a lot, but at that time I didn’t think about the filming that much but you learn when you see something so I got something from there for sure. At first when I started filming I was filming with my parents’ shitty VCR camera and like.. yeah, I think it’s trial and error but I’ve had a video camera in my hand for 6-7 years now so maybe I have learned something. You can learn something every time you have a camera in your hand, and that’s one of the best things in film-making because I don’t want to be doing the same stuff and getting the same angle every time I go there. Every time I shoot I try to think differently, I try to think what people have done and do something differently or get something unique done. That’s not that easy nowadays because almost everything is done, but you can surprise yourself sometimes.
OB: For sure. So, you did Goodtimes, which was not last season but the one before…
MN: Yeah, 2006.
OB: And it was pretty sick, but now you’re doing the Scrapbook Project. Can you explain your concept for the whole thing, your editorial direction or whatever you want to call it.
MN: Well, to start with I want to explain the whole thing and how it happened because there were some Finnish people who had an idea about a documentary about riders from Lapland, in northern Finland, and on the other hand Antti Autti said to me that he would really like to do a movie with only Finnish riders and I was kind of over it with doing movies after Goodtimes because I had to deal with so much pressure and so much things that I was worked out a little bit. But then I was thinking and had the idea in my head for a couple of weeks and I kept developing it, and then we decided to go for it. There’s Northern Light Pictures that has been doing snowboard movies in Finland since 2000 or something, but not for the 3 past years, but we got a couple of guys from there to join with the project. Then we decided to contact Henri Salokangas from HDP films, and HDP has been producing films like Elekrep and Solid Powder, so Henri knew what he was doing and it made it easier for me to have such a big project.
As for the movie … well, the whole concept has been changing but now the final concept is that there’s always been ‘snowboard documentaries’. People say that they’re documentaries but they, like, have a few words at some point and maybe an interview, but basically they’re just snowboarding movies with a bunch of talking. For this documentary, Northern Scrapbook, we wanted to take the normal documentary [style]. Like take the concept from there and do it more like a real documentary. We want to show people the behind the scenes of snowboard movie-making, how the riders also do mistakes and how everything can go wrong because in normal movies the riders are almost like super stars, they can land every trick perfectly, they don’t show anything like where they do something wrong or they maybe have a slams section but, for example, if somebody misses a flight… we might show that. Or if some filmer fucks up a shot, we can show that but you can’t see that in normal movies. Our red line is basically ‘a season in Lapland’ starting from early winter, November, and going to late spring but on the way we go on a bunch of trips around the world to get a bit of contrast to the Finnish stuff. We decided that it’s better to go to more exotic and unique places than to go to, like, Tahoe or basic resorts in the Alps. Of course, we’re doing some stuff in the Alps but it doesn’t matter because as I said before we have two different movies, one is more riding driven and the other is the documentary.
OB: So one will be more kind of conventional action whereas the other will be the documentary with a bit of action mixed in but with behind the scenes, lifestyle, trials and tribulations and so on?
MN: Yeah. And with the documentary we’re trying to make it more interesting for a wider audience than normal snowboard movies because snowboard movies are always from snowboarders to snowboarders but now we would like to show the life of snowboarders to people who might not even be interested in it but they might find something interesting and they might understand better the people who snowboard. That’s a lot to try to offer, but it’s doable.
On location in Morrocco. Photo: Jukka Heikkilä
OB: There’s a whole bunch of riders who are damn good. Who’s in the crew now? And how did you go about picking them, or did they kind of pick themselves?
MN: We basically started picking them. We had some riders already there. Eventually we got a crew that we’re 100% sure of, and that everybody can surprise us so many times, as we have seen this year already. We have some of the best snowboarders in the world; Antti Autti, Risto Mattila, Markku Koski and Naku, and then we have some really unknown but so sick and talented riders like Tero Poikajärvi, Matti Kinnunen… you can check the full rider list on the Scrapbook website. There’s some really young and really good riders. They would deserve so much better sponsors but there’s too many Finns there. One guy really worth mentioning is Matti Kinnunen who’s doing tricks never seen before, he’s been doing switch double backside rodeos in powder… not landing it yet but you’ll see it in the movie I guess. So sick stuff that it blew me away. The good thing is that when some rider isn’t feeling it, some other rider is killing it hard. I could mention so many riders but I think they’re all good.
OB: Still, it sounds like there’s a fair old crew of riders. How do you manage to coordinate it all? Hey, how many people do you have filming?
MN: 5 or 6. The problem now is with the cameras because we’re filming only in HD. We wanted everyone to have the same camera so we have the same quality. If you have a worse camera it really pops out and it’s not good. On February 6 I’m going to Japan with one crew, then one crew is going to Russia and one crew is filming in Finland so there’s lots happening all the time, but it’s manageable. We try to be fair play for everybody, have the same chances to go filming. I think we have succeeded. Sometimes we’ve maybe had a few riders too much but it works out, actually. About the riders, I think there’s nobody to drop out. I think they fit so well together that stick with it and do what you have to do.
OB: So when did you start the filming for this?
MN: The first time we started filming might have been in September already, but not snowboarding. We had a season kick off with traditional Finnish things that you are going to see in the movie! Half naked men and sauna… We also filmed something that at this point it’s hard to say if it’s going to make it into the movie, but we’ll see. Then we went to the indoor halfpipe in Finland, so we went there in fall and actually Antti Autti hurt his collarbone there. But that place is funny because there’s like nobody riding that place these days because they think it’s too icy and everything, but we had fun there. We did some stuff that nobody could think of doing there before. A fun start before doing actual riding. In northern Finland we got snow pretty early this year so we had a chance to do some rails and wallrides and urban stuff, which was good.
OB: And then you got some early season powder, by the looks of the footage you were showing me.
MN: Yeah, November and December in Leogang and Kaprun area. It was so good. We were there for maybe two weeks. We had two snowfalls in that time and between those snowfalls it was really warm, we were so over it at that time [laughs] but then it snowed so much that we could hit the same jumps again. It was so great and we were really productive there. Every trip we’ve done we’ve gotten so much footage and I think it’s all about the motivation of the riders and of the filmers, because if somebody’s not feeling it it’s going to be bad for the whole crew. But that’s not a problem for us. I think the motivation and hard work is almost the best thing in our crew, and that we are all friends together with no hassle with each other, that’s really really important.
OB: So we’re in February now. We saw you in Laax, you got some stuff there, then you went to St Moritz…
MN: Actually there’s a funny story from St Moritz. Teo Konttinen who was filming there with us and we tried to build this huge gap jump, like almost as big as Chad’s Gap. It was so ridiculous [laughs]…
OB: Who spotted that? Like who was like ‘right, I’m going to build that jump there’?
MN: Well they first wanted to build it just like over the landing, but then there was a bigger place to build a kicker so we decided to go for it. But the problem was no matter what we tried we couldn’t get the speed for it. Naku took all the speed he could but he couldn’t make it. Teo Konttinen tried a front edge frontside 7; he did 630 into the wall. Thump. He hurt his neck a little bit and then we had a helicopter coming to pick him up and take him to hospital but fortunately he was OK, it was just a small whiplash. After that we went to Morocco, Africa.
OB: I think that kind of stuff will be really interesting for the documentary side of things.
MN: Yeah, and that was the purpose.
OB: So, you got a bunch of riding stuff done, but you must have also got a bunch of travel/lifestyle stuff. Was it pretty mellow there?
MN: It depends on which side you look at it. How you adapt to the situation. But it’s really different compared to Finland or Europe because of the cultural differences and the low income of the people. We were living in really shitty hotels there with only those toilets with a hole in the ground, and in the place it was shower and toilet at the same time! In the floor, all the water from the shower went to the floor but there wasn’t a place for the water to go, so it stayed there and in the last days of the trip there were some worms [laughs] on the floor. So it was pretty exotic. Everybody there was pretty interested in us, about snowboarding and about filming there and because the riders are so much better than they have ever seen…
OB: Had they heard of the riders?
MN: Er, no.
OB: There wasn’t much of a snowboard scene there?
MN: No, I think there were more skiers than snowboarders.
OB: So a few days shooting around Austria and then you’re off to Japan?
MN: Yeah. Going to Japan with Antti and Risto and some other Flow guys. It’s going to be fun again. The guys have been there before and I think it’s going to be sick, even if the weather sucks I think we’re going to do it well anyways. Antti’s so motivated that he can wake up early and be the last person leaving the slope, and then go partying and do the same thing next day. He’s so good at it that some riders are like joking about it because he’s so motivated.
OB: So where else have you got on your schedule to film when you get back from Japan?
MN: I’ll go to Finland for a week to see my girlfriend and maybe some filming there too, and then beginning of March it’s the GAP Session in Garmisch and Antti and Risto have been invited there. Only 12 riders are invited so it’s going to be sick.
OB: Will it be the same deal as the previous session? 1 day of contest but everyone’s there for a week, broing down, going shredding…
MN: Yeah, I think it’s going to be really sick.
OB: And for the angle of your film too, no?
MN: Yeah. I think the whole competition is about developing the whole of snowboarding and I think our whole crew has been trying to do the same thing for the whole season. After that we’re going to hook up with Pat Vermeulen to shoot some Swiss powder in some sick places.
OB: And then you’ll wrap it all up up north in Finland?
MN: Yeah. We have some sessions in Finland and then we also have some in northern Sweden and Norway. We have a heli session in Tamuk in northern Norway, which should be good. Then of course we have crazy park stuff in Lapland. We have already planned a lot of things in different resorts and I bet it’s worth seeing, if the riders are still with no injuries there and on it it’s going to be really sick. Every rider can do so amazing tricks.
OB: Is your documentary going to show how come there are so many good Finnish snowboarders? Are you going to show them being grown in a vat of good juice, or something?
MN: We have been thinking about the many things we want to show to people in the documentary and on the list of things we had that one, but it’s hard to film something and show it. I think it’s more like you see the whole thing, and you see the motivation of the riders and you see the fun they have together… I think that’s going to show it overall.
Morroccan editing suite. Photo: Jukka Heikkilä.
OB: How is the film going to be distributed? Apart from on Onboard, which we’re super stoked about.
MN: Of course I continued my cooperation with Onboard as I had it with Goodtimes, but this time we wanted to go even bigger… So we contacted Snowboarder in USA – the biggest market is in US – and now we are going to do it with them too.
OB: Were they into a Finnish documentary from the get go?
MN: Well, I explained the whole thing and they were stoked. Then I kept mailing them and finally we were good to go. We’re also trying to get distribution in Japan. Risto’s win in X-trail is helping, but still some work to do on it. Then we also try to get the movie in Onboard Russia too, and Slammer in Finland of course.
OB: That’s some pretty hefty distribution you’ll have going on there.
MN: Yeah, well we are trying to do something special. Hopefully people will like it.
OB: You mentioned feeling the pressure when you’d done your earlier films. But now that you’ve got a bigger crew and whatever, does that make it easier to deal with?
MN: I think it’s even more pressure and stress but somehow I feel that I’m more like ready for that. I can take more stress, that’s a really good thing.
OB: How do you feel snowboard movies stand today? Do you still watch them all like when you were a kid?
MN: I really like watching them. Basically I watch them as a rider but, on the other hand, I watch them as a filmer. There’s a lot of movies coming up every year, however there’s a lot movies that aren’t that good, but some stand really out from the crowd, riding-wise, filming-wise or whatever.
OB: I was going to say that back in the day, it seemed snowboard films were a lot harder to pull together. Today, with the relatively affordable camera and video editing software there are more people making films than ever before. I think there were like over 100 teasers on snowboard-mag.com
MN: Yeah, I know the situation and well it’s been the same for past 2-3 years.
OB: So, with all this do you think it’s good for the kids as there’s heaps of stuff and styles of filming to choose from, or is it not so good as they have to search through a bunch of stuff to find something good?
MN: Well, everything has two sides. Including this one.
OB: Don’t sit on the fence now, Miikka. hehe
MN: I think it’s important to have different kinds of movies out there. So people can find what they like. I think it’s a good thing and people have to start from somewhere. You can’t be a pro after your first film.
OB: For sure. What do you think about the possibilities offered up by the internet nowadays for getting films seen by kids?
MN: Myself, I really like old-fashioned DVD that you can hold in your hand. Of course the internet offers you distribution that you can never get from DVD distribution. With old fashioned I meant that all that illegal downloading of the movies are doing so much bad for the production companies.
OB: Is it ever something you considered for Scrapbook? Not the illegal thing, but the distribution thing…
MN: Well, we go only for DVD distribution. I like it that way. Of course we offer a lot of stuff through our website – extras and everything.
OB: I think it means more to actually have something that’s ‘real’.
MN: Yeah, especially for me that real DVD is important, and with internet the quality is often shitty…
OB: Have it on your shelf… not buried on the hard drive somewhere.
MN: And DVD lasts longer. You might delete that video file or hard disks gets broken or something.
OB: Hear you man. Music is an incredibly important part of snowboard movies I think. Do you know what tunes you will use already or will that come together in the editing room?
MN: We have people at the moment searching for the music. It’s one of the most important things in the movie so we want to do it well. However with our enormous distribution it’s impossible to use big named artists. So the only way is to go for royalty free music.
OB: Did you give them any kind of brief? Like NO TECHNO or something?
MN: Well, I have been saying what kind of stuff we think. And they have seen snowboard movies themselves so they know what has been played out and what’s not.
OB: I could go on forever and ask you bunch more stuff but think we got plenty for the time being. So, to finish up, what 5 snowboard films have made the biggest impression on you – either as a rider or a filmer?
MN: Wow. This is a hard one
OB: Oh yes.
MN: Well, I can try…
– All three Robot Food movies – well those movies changed the way snowboard movies are made these days. They had a solid lineup of riders with amazing filmmakers. Pierre is my favourite.
– Picture This – about the new look, new style of filming, compact package, no fillers.
– Vivid – when it arrived it was so amazing, heli stuff, Romain’s crazy part.
– Elekrep – Jaakko’s movie before going to MDP, movie with only Finnish riders, really solid.
– Decade – It was one of the first snowboard videos I got 10 years ago. It was the most progressive video of that time and changed the way people did snowboard movies.
– Project 6 – I have still this movie somewhere as a VHS copies-copies-copy. Great riding by Jamie Lynn, Terje and all the big names at that time.
There you go, I did my best
OB: Not a bad top 5, Miikka. Even if it was 6. Sorry, I know it’s a tough one.
MN: No worries mate.
OB: Cool. Well, I was thinking it could also be interesting to do a catch up later in the season. Maybe when you done all the main filming.
MN: That would be great.
OB: Wicked. Thanks for your time dude and enjoy the Japowder.
Niemi giving it the follow-cam stalk on Joel Lahti. Photo: Teemu Lahti.