For our inaugural Spotlight we turn our beams on Jaakko Itäho, perhaps the most progressive and certainly the most sought-after filmer within the snow-flickery. At the ripe age of 26 this Helsinki local has landed a dream job with Mack Dawg Productions, set up a production agency and is now working on music videos, a move which may be a sign of things to come.
Words: Danny Burrows
Photo: Sami Tuoriniemi
We hear you were snowboarding before filming. At what level were you riding?
Actually I’m a snowboarder again! I just started riding at my home resort after 3 to 4 years’ break. I started in 91 and have been living that scene ever since. At some point filming took over. Whether snowboarding, skateboarding or just partying, I couldn’t let anybody else use the camera. I don’t really know what my riding level was those days. You need to ask someone else.
Did snowboarding and skate start your film career?
Snowboarding started it. I never really got into skate, but my buddies had a mini ramp so I shot a bit of skating too. We just had some old VHS camera everywhere we went and we kept shooting stuff without knowing what to do with the footage. Then one year some local cable TV company had a snowboard video contest and I decided to make a movie using all the footage we had. That’s how the whole thing started!
Did you study film or are your skills in fact acquired knowledge?
After high school I ended up studying graphics and web design without realizing that I actually spent all my time and money on filming. It took 3 years before my dad told me I should try to get into a film school. I was never into watching movies so I guess that’s why I didn’t realise I could actually study it. Then I tried and got in first try. It was supposed to be super hard, so I was so stoked! I wasn’t really snowboarding or shooting it anymore then. Anyway, after the first year I figured I had way more knowledge than the other students because of my experience in snowboard movies. So I got bored at school and made another snowboard movie and ended up quitting after that.
Is film school where your use of dollies and cable cams came from?
No, I learned nothing at school! I dreamt about building my own cable cam for a long time, but after seeing it used in mountain bike movies I had to do it. Cables and dollies are not a new invention: they’ve been around for ages. I wanted to build my own a bit different, custom-made for quick rail missions or not-that-perfect conditions as big budget films have – that’s how it is when you shoot snowboarding! Why did I want to shoot snowboarding with all that gear? I just felt like I wanted try to do something else film-wise. I couldn’t compete with ‘bigger’ moviemakers and big-name riders. Not here in Finland, where we only had rails and a bunch of sick unknown riders.
Was Elekrep the first movie you made money from?
Yes, except I had to work on some other projects to make it happen. We didn’t have any money during the season but I got some of my money back after the winter. And after the movie was done, we made a little profit too.
And Mack Dawg took you on straight after the film was online. What was your first reaction?
They actually contacted me a few days after the teaser was online. I was a bit wasted at some bar, so I just congratulated myself and got another beer. The morning after I kind of realised that this was something I’d been dreaming of, but never thought it would be possible.
How has life changed for you since being taken on by MDP?
It changed everything: quit school, started earning money, been everywhere, learned so much about filming, learned English, fucked up relationships, thought about the future way more, and me and my buddy started a production company in Finland as a backup. If there’s no MDP some day, you know…
You might be accused of being an innovator in snowboard filming. Would you say this was true?
Yes, I think it’s true. I’m not saying it’s the best thing out there, though. Snowboarding doesn’t necessarily need fancy filming to look good, but that’s my style.
This year there was real progress in snowboard videos both big and small. What do you think is the next step?
RED cameras, team movies, smaller crews, bigger budgets. Or maybe smaller budgets, back to basics, less sponsor pressure, things like that. I don’t really think it can change too much any more, but people will get better at doing different styles of movies.
Or is everyone just getting way too serious? Filming for filming’s sake, no longer for the kids?
I don’t really think everyone is! There are people who want to keep it simple and I totally understand that. For me and MDP it was just how we wanted to do it (Picture This). I don’t know if I’ll keep doing it like that anymore. We’ll see.
In your opinion are there any standout sections or techniques in films from this season?
I haven’t seen Mtn Lab 1,5 yet but I like Wikberg’s movies and he usually has some standout sections. Pirates had some cool stuff… hmm… can’t really remember any highlights now. I’ve been having kind of an off season of late, working on other things.
You are now directing music videos. Is this a direction you would like to pursue, more directing than operating the camera?
I think I have a good basic knowledge from filming and editing. So directing would become the main thing if I get really serious some day. I could do more but that’s how it works in the ’real’ film industry. The best part about being a snowboard movie-maker is that you can do it by yourself! Maybe I just want to keep myself busy doing different things and see what happens.
Can you tell us about the next film rig that you are building?
It’s a big thing for MDP! 20th year of making movies! Probably the sickest crew ever too! Hopefully we get a better season than we had last year.