Director discusses how his childhood in Lapland fed into gorgeous Christmas spot
This super sweet ad from Lidl Finland tells the tale of a newly-formed friendship between a young girl and an injured elf. It’s a beauty of a Christmas tale as we see the pair’s bond intensify over the course of Advent condensed into two glorious minutes. The spot was created by Folk Finland and directed Pete Riski through Director’s Guild Helsinki (he’s repped by Rattling Stick in all other territories).
And who better to tell such a story set on Santa’s doorstep? Pete grew up in Lapland “within walking distance” of the big man’s very own village. Intrigued to know how his childhood fed into the Lidl film, LBB’s Addison Capper caught up with Pete to pick his brains.
LBB> Before we talk about the spot, let’s get some background on you - you grew up in Lapland! So, how was it for you personally to work on this campaign?
PR> Finnish people and especially people from the northern part of Finland, are a breed of their own. We don’t talk so much, we don’t show so much of our emotion, but when we say something, we really mean it. I always think that growing up in Lapland is definitely a big part of me – I enjoy the company of people, but I never want to be the centre of attention in the room. I’ve always been the one who just absorbs. When you talk less, you really become sensitive to listening to people and almost seeing what they truly feel. That’s one side of being a director. You watch the performance and make it as honest as possible, and sometimes the subtlest way can be the most powerful way of delivering the feelings.
LBB> How do you think your childhood factored into this project?
PR> There are a lot of films and stories about this special kind of friendship. Of course one of the most famous ones is E.T. That’s one of my all time favourite films, and that’s the first film that I remember crying at in the movie theatre. That’s the first movie that I always watched again and again. It has that honest storytelling and big heart, which I’m always looking for each story.
LBB> Obviously, people from outside Lapland have a very idealistic view of life there - reindeers, Santa, beautiful snow, etc. But what was childhood like there?
PR> Basically Santa Claus’ village was in a walking distance from our house. There was a lot of snow, reindeer and all that stuff but we basically had almost all the same music, TV shows and movies as everywhere else. I really think that the popular culture is a big part of how we grow up.
One thing that always amuses English people is that the most popular comedy show in Finland during the ‘80s was The Benny Hill show. When I moved to the UK, I was a little bit disappointed that you guys were not chasing after half naked women in parks.
LBB> And what inspired you to begin directing? Did that happen while you were still there?
PR> Movies have always had a special place in my heart. They take me somewhere else and make me forget all my worries for a moment. The best movies teach us something about ourselves, and about life itself. For the last decades cinematic storytelling has taken on new forms and I think the best advertising is something that makes you think and stop for a moment in your hectic life. It can be a feature, series, short film or advertising. It does not matter what form the story is in, a story told well has the power to make you feel.
LBB> What was the initial script like for this and why was it something you wanted to get involved in?
PR> The original script had exactly the same idea, but it had a slightly different approach and involved some CGI. Right in the first meeting with the creatives we started to talk about the emotional side of the story, what this story is about and how we could make it as human as possible. It’s a story about helping each other and a relationship between two humans. Telling emotional stories with a big heart is really important for me, so that was something which drew me into this one.
LBB> The casting of the boy and girl is so important - and they’re both ace (and very cute). What was your process like for this?
PR> For me the casting is the most important step of the whole pre-production. Every decision in the casting process gives me a direction where the film is going stylistically and emotionally. Absolutely perfect casting sets the right tone for the whole film. It was especially important in this film. We wanted to stay away from overly cartoony looking ‘ad world’ kids and focus on finding a cast who had some sort of poetic warmness in them. Immediately when I saw these two kids, I knew that they were right for the story. They feel real, but at the same time they have charisma, which makes the story feel timeless.
LBB> The relationship between the boy and the girl is amazing too - and so believable. How did you go about coaxing those performances out of them?
PR> Shooting with kids is more about creating an environment for them, where they feel safe and they have a freedom of playing around. I never want to push the performance out from them, but instead let it come out more naturally. Of course talking them through the takes is one thing, which works sometimes – and if you want genuine smiles or laughter, fart jokes work almost always.
LBB> What were you trying to achieve with the overall colour palette and aesthetic of the spot?
PR> The visual style was all about capturing the emotionality of Christmas. I wanted to keep exteriors cold and use warm practical lights inside to make it feel like a loving home. Also we wanted to create a visual arc to underline how Christmas is getting closer and closer. I’m not a big fan of overly bright primary colours, I always think that with a more subtle colour palette you can underline certain elements of the story. For example I wanted that the red clothes of the boy to really stand out in the beginning and then as we go further into the story we see more red as Christmas gets closer.
LBB> I liked what you said in the press release about the best product shots being “the ones which are so naturally part of the story that you do not even understand that they are product shots”. That’s definitely the case here - was that shot written into the script you received or was it an idea of yours?
PR> I always think when the story involves a product naturally the whole process of shooting product shots gets much easier. They are not ‘product shots’ anymore, but they become something, which serves the whole concept of the story. For example, in this one we actually ended up shooting more close-ups of food than we planned in the pre-production, and of course we wanted the food to look as amazing in the end as possible. It’s the elf’s magical gift to the whole family and the better it looks, the better it serves the story.
Also for me it’s really important that when we see the product in the story, it does not stand out in any weird visual way. It’s not overly lit or focused. I think this way we lead the viewer more, without pointing out too much. Modern viewers are very sensitive and they want to throw themselves into the story and sometimes overly lit product shots may distract them.
LBB> Any parting thoughts?
PR> I always think that in any form of art, no matter if it's literature, music or films, the most important thing is that the people who create it put their heart into it. Not over analysing, testing everything and trying to think what the viewer feels at every moment. But when they create something truly from their heart in an honest way that always reflects on the end result.
That’s what I always remind myself in every project, I want to always create something that I would like to see and especially feel myself. Never making it for someone else. I believe that makes them feel quite personal. At least I hope so.