Santa Aint So Jolly. Director Jalmari Helander Talks RARE EXPORTS

Todd Brown, Founder and Editor
Christmas themed horror is going through a major resurgence these days and the man leading the charge is Finland's Jalmari Helander. Long before the arrival of Treevenge, Helander - a commercial and music video director - had directed a pair of short films about the 'real' Santa Clauses living in the far north and the men who traffic illegally in them. Titled Rare Exports the films were huge online hits. So when the time came for Helander to step into the feature world ... well, you can guess what he's doing.  The feature version of Rare Exports promises to tap into an 80's style kid friendly horror-fantasy vibe.  Like The Monster Squad, only with more snow and with Santa being the monster. Helander was good enough to answer a few of our questions about the project.

TB:  Rare Exports is something that has been with you for a long time. Can you describe the origins of the project and what has made it so appealing to you for so long?

JH: In 2003 I was working in commercial production company and they wanted to make some kind of Christmas related film as a present to the clients. I started to create an idea. I called my brother Juuso and few days later he had an interesting idea. Guys who hunted Santa. We started to build the script from that and I presented the script to my producers. They liked it. But there was something like 3000 euros to make that happen... But after few favors and millions of phone calls we could start the production. We had two days to shoot. We shot one and a half.

We gave the DVD´s to the clients and we also released it in the web. It took like two weeks when we realized that it became a hit.

But the idea of Santa has been in my head many years before that. I felt that people need to know what the original Santa is like.

TB: How difficult did you find the process of adapting the short films into a feature? What kind of challenges were there?

JH: Just to adapt the short film idea and to make it a feature could be a serious mistake. I realized that I finally have the time to tell the whole concept of the real Christmas that I have been thinking about a lot. And of course I wanted to keep the same characters and feel like in the short films.

TB: I know some Nordic countries (Iceland for sure) have VERY different legends around Santa than what we're accustomed to here in North America. Is that true for Finland? Did you grow up hearing about a scary Santa or is this something you discovered later?

JH: I have to confess that the legend of Santa in the feature is a little bit scarier than the stories I heard as a child. But the reason for all this is the original Finnish Santa. He was not a nice, fat and jolly Coca Cola Santa but a scary creature who came on Christmas Eve and demanded presents for himself. That was the original story. And it made me think why this story has been turned to something totally else. It´s weird. There has to be some kind of conspiracy behind this... Something bad has happened and they are trying to make us all forget what was the real Santa about.

TB: Kids fantasy is a genre I love and have been sad to watch slip away but this really seems to capture that late 1980s spirit. What were the key films you looked at when trying to find the right tone for this?

JH: Its hard to say exactly. There´s a bit an mix of  E.T, Signs, Fargo and Pan´s Labyrinth but nothing like those at all.

TB: What would you say the balance is between horror, fantasy and comedy in the film? What audience did you make it for?

JH: The answer of the mix is in my previous answer. It,s not a horror film that´s for sure, but it´s not for little children neither. I hope it is funny but in dark kind of way. And it´s really hard to say what audience. I think for people like me. When I go to movies I like to see something nice and exiting. Something that I can´t see in my every day life. I want to be entertained.

TB: The film is so different from anything else to have ever come out of the region ... did you have trouble pitching the concept to investors and the industry?

JH: Actually no. I had some starting problems with the script but when the idea was ready I was lucky to see, that everything went quite smoothly. Short films helped and they seem to like the script.

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