15th ÉCU Film Festival | 2020 
"I wanted a single shot of Ethan going around fighting all these people from room to room because using different cuts felt repetitive for this film specifically."
Sakari Lerkkanen
 Sealight 
European Music Video
sakarilerkkanen.com
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A man confronts his fear of Death on a journey to the other side. Death which is represented by a woman.

Hi Sakari thank you for talking to TNC, how are you handling the lockdown?

Thank you for the opportunity. 

I am currently with my family in Finland developing few scripts, over-viewing the post-production of my latest piece, e-meeting industry people and surrounded by the peace of the nature. I've kept myself busy with work. Apart from the obvious challenges, I try to keep my mind positive, look forward to the possibilities and the opportunities the situation might bring.

As a filmmaker is this experience providing you with some creative motivations? 

I've really put my time into writing and development. I think we need new ideas, it is the best time to share thoughts together and simultaneously invest into future projects. 

Your music video Sealight has been selected for the 2020 ÉCU Film Festival in Paris, what has it meant to you to be part of this unique film festival for independent filmmakers?

I'm super proud and happy about it. It is such a honour. I've admired ÉCU quite some time. Their selection of films are always intriguing. So in a way, it is a dream come true. 

I was actually planning to visit the festival, because France and Paris itself hold an important meaning to me. In fact, after my years in Paris, I decided to become director. However due the unfortunate circumstance it won't be possible at this time.

Can you tell me a little bit about Sealight, what was the inspiration behind this music video? 

I've been always drawn to existential thoughts and thoughts revolving around death. I tend to spend a lot of time thinking. Alone. And wondering of those things. Where my previous projects has touched existentialism more vaguely, here I really wanted to take step further and tap into the topic more directly. 

During the time of creation and writing, I was also inspired by artists who had a bold daring voice. Artists from various fields. So there was this inner urge in me to create something new, fresh and forceful. Meanwhile the band was interested to explore erotism, which equally influenced the script. Together these ideas created the core premise. 

The idea was to show a simple emotional journey of a man confronting Death. Each one of us is brought to this world by a woman, which why it makes sense that our departure is with the woman as well. That thought is interesting and gave an idea to represent Death as a woman. Other influences were old greek mythologies, stories of Sirens and Black Orpheus, works of Hieronymus Bosch and Caravaggio to name few.

How important is collaboration when working on a music video like this?

Collaboration is crucial to any great project. In Sealight we had very small crew compare to my recent other projects. But everyone was super talented, excited and experienced professionals. Everyone involved, including the client, contributed to story development, shoot and the creation of the piece itself, gave their hearts and minds, everything to the project. So I was very lucky regarding. 

I always try to hand pick and tailor team of experts of their own field to answer the needs of each individual project. Every script is different and therefore has different needs. And more I've worked, easier it has become to recognise specific professional talent and specific set of skills, when choosing the right crew.

During our first production meeting we made a list of people who would fit to this particular story. Which DP:s had a specific aesthetic taste, expertise, work-flow and experience we were after, which colourists, gaffers, editors and so on. That way the production, myself and the client knew what to seek, which was a real time saver. 

What was the most challenging of filming of Sealight?

Nudity. I've never directed nude scenes before, so it took some time to figure out the right approach. The challenge was simultaneously exciting. To do something new - and a little scary.

Firstly, according the casting, I questioned: who would be the right talent? We went through wide range of professionals from performers, dancers, models to actors. During the audition process, we started to lean more and more towards skilful on-screen acting talent. And once the right talent became more clear, I developed the script accordingly – to better fit them.

At the same time the location, the insurance, the legal aspects and everything around had to be planned considering nudity. That took many conversations with production, digging into details and preparing it properly. Ultimately it was all about getting everyone in the same wave-length. 

Then of course, directing nudity itself was something completely new to me. So I read a lot about it - really a lot. How it should be done professionally, how other's has done it, what are the tricks and tips, what are the common mistakes on set. I even reached out professionals who had done it before. 

During the shoot I spoke and practiced every step with actors – almost mechanically. Approached it a little more like a strict dance choreography. Made sure that everyone felt safe and clear what we were trying to achieve. It worked out pretty well.

Looking back do you think there is anything you would have done differently?

There is always something, isn't it? I think in every project I've created, I've learned something new and noticed my own mistakes. 
 

In this one, I feel we really pushed quite many things to maximum considering the resources. With a little more time, of course many things would've become bigger, visual vocabulary more rich, we'd have explored more set pieces, characters, story and so on... It would've become slightly different project with a different kind of storytelling. 

But the final outcome was really planned as it is, with the restrictions on mind. And I'm happy how it turned out. There were uncertainty during the pre-production, but everyone just kept pushing the project forward.

How important is collaboration when working on a music video like this?

Collaboration is crucial to any great project. In Sealight we had very small crew compare to my recent other projects. But everyone was super talented, excited and experienced professionals. Everyone involved, including the client, contributed to story development, shoot and the creation of the piece itself, gave their hearts and minds, everything to the project. So I was very lucky regarding. 

I always try to hand pick and tailor team of experts of their own field to answer the needs of each individual project. Every script is different and therefore has different needs. And more I've worked, easier it has become to recognise specific professional talent and specific set of skills, when choosing the right crew.

During our first production meeting we made a list of people who would fit to this particular story. Which DP:s had a specific aesthetic taste, expertise, work-flow and experience we were after, which colourists, gaffers, editors and so on. That way the production, myself and the client knew what to seek, which was a real time saver. 

"That's something that can be totally unique and give new perspectives."

How much has your background as a commercial director helped you move into music videos?
 

In my experience, the advertising industry is quite separated from the music industry. Of course the experience in craft has helped: working for the client, collaborations with other's, presenting ideas, developing your own voice and skills and so on...

Frankly, I feel my short films has contributed way more. I got hired for my first music video, because of my short films. The artist and the management were big fans of my films. They asked me to do one for them, which I couldn't believe at first. I remember saying to them: but that's a music video. They answered: we don't mind, we just want your film. So I did them one. That changed my view: what music video can be. It felt exciting.

What I personally love in music videos, is the close collaboration with the artist who is committed. That's something that can be totally unique and give new perspectives. To hear and develop approaches with another artist. That's how my first music videos were done. And that's how Sealight was done. 

How much has your style and approach changed since you started out?

Regarding style, I always had quite strong storytelling voice. Across the years it has just become stronger and more defined. Of course the productions, the collaborations and the general quality of work has grown bigger, but something deep inside never really changes. Although, it does evolve.

Regarding approach, there's certainly been different kind of phases during my career. Even I started more mainstream, there was in the beginning also super art house – experimental era in my growth including a lot of improvisation. That later transferred into something between the two. Then I started to explore various genres. It is all about development. Along the road, this has helped me to create my own distinctive ways to approach each individual project.

Nowadays, I tend to research a lot, gather knowledge, plan everything as detailed as possible, speak and spar ideas with everyone, follow schedules - sharp - and also analyse situations, ideas, in order to find the right path. Simultaneously, I like to leave a little space for experimenting, gut-feeling and moments of creativity. 

Do you have any tips or advice to offer filmmakers about to make their first music video?

There's many approaches to do a music videos. Some do it to express themselves, other's to tell a story and some just to pay the bills to name few. Sometimes it can be combination of many things together.

Career wise, I'd say it can help a lot to realise your aim early on - envision what kind of music videos you would prefer to do – and then pursue it. Have a sort of goal. That has helped me a lot. That has brought me a lot of like-minded collaborations since early days.

Of course you can't choose how people will take your work and coincidences occur. So in that regard, along the way you might need to adapt a little. Ultimately, each one of us has to take our own steps, build our own ladder, there's no road map or rule book to it. But having an aim can help it.

What are you currently working on?

Right now, there is one commercial on its way to release and another – quite special project – work in progress. But let's talk about them more, once they're more relevant. Other-wise I might get over-excited about them too early on. I tend to do that a lot.
 

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Sealight?

I hope it will speak to people. Create a strong emotional response. I've received a lot of different kind of feedback from it, many different kind of interpretation, thoughts and opinions. Some negative. Other's positive. Even great one's. In general, it seems to divide minds and provoke quite strong reactions. I've actually enjoyed whole range of it. I'm happy that it brings new angles to life and make's other's think. I hope it continues to do so.

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