Aleksi Puranen Talks ‘Heavy Trip’ and Finnish Film Culture

Aleksi Puranen was the writer for the recent film Heavy Trip, which is about a heavy metal band coming together to make great music. Puranen talks about the movie, Finland’s society and film views.

ATM: How did you think to connect comedy to heavy metal music?

AK: I think there are quite a few similarities between heavy metal and comedy. There are a lot of things in heavy metal that are over the top like the way they dress. Or how extreme their opinions might be or their appearance. They usually very easygoing guys.

 ATM: Why was your film Heavy Trip necessary to be written for the big screens?

AK: Right from start we intended to write Heavy Trip as a feature film for the big screen. In Finland we don’t even have such a thing as a “TV movie” anymore. We used to, but not anymore. So, it was either a feature film for the big screen or a TV series and series was never our intention. Plus, there hadn’t a feature film about a metal band, at least not in Finland, and we decided it was time to their voices be heard. And usually extreme metal is combined with horror, which again was never our intention, but rather wanted to make a comedy since quite often the guys under their extreme or harsh appearance are sweet and mellow.

ATM: Do you think it could persuade a person who has never listened to the genre to listen?

AK: I think it’s very much possible that someone who has never listened to metal would start listening after seeing Heavy Trip. The music the band plays in the film is rather extreme, but the soundtrack by Lauri Porra is much more mainstream and melodic and I’d say “easier” to listen to. I’ve heard people who have never listened to metal say that they enjoyed the music. Whether that lead them to buy loads of metal cd’s or create Spotify playlists consisting of metal, I don’t know. But, in general, I think when you see something new in a film that interests you, there’s always a chance you might give it a go in real life.

ATM: What are your favorite heavy metal bands?

I started out listening to bands like Kiss, WASP, Twisted Sister and Dio in the 80s. Then I got in to melodic metal bands like Helloween, Queensrÿche, Iron Maiden etc. These days I mostly listen to progressive metal or just heavy metal and my favorite bands are Dream Theater, who are widely considered as the prog metal masters. They’ve been around since the late 80’s and continue to produce quality albums. Then there’s a Finnish band called Sentenced who started as a death metal but leaned more towards heavy metal and hard rock later on and had a really dark and humorous side to their lyrics. They disbanded in 2005 but still remains as one of my favorite bands. Evergrey from Sweden is close to a perfect mix of combining melodies, heavy riffs and emotional, somber mood and I enjoy their music very much. Another band from Sweden I love is Seventh Wonder who are closer to the style of Dream Theater and they just released their new album and I can’t stop listening to it. Circus Maximus from Norway is another one. They also play progressive melodic metal and sometimes even lean towards hard rock and I’ve listened to their two last albums almost continuously. Iron Maiden and Halloween also remain as some of my favorite bands. On the harsher side, I also enjoy Finnish Moonsorrow who play really epic metal and were sometimes said to play “pagan metal”. Whatever their genre, I really like them. Then there’s Summoning from Austria, who started out as a black metal band an evolved into a wonderful mixture of extreme metal, darkness, fantasy, ambient sounds and soundtrack-like music and their albums from “Stronghold” on have been masterpieces.

ATM: Have you ever been in a band? If so, then what was your band name? Describe an outfit and dream concert event.

AK: I used to play at my neighbor’s garage as a kid. I played bass guitar and “growled”. This was in 1991 or 1992 and we tried to sound like Iron Maiden or Megadeth. Then we recorded a demo tape (with a c-cassette just like Impaled Rektum did in the film) of more extreme metal and called ourselves “Impurity”. This must’ve been in 1992 so I was fourteen and not very good at playing any instrument. Soon after that I quit playing and decided to focus on listening to music instead of trying to play and I’m quite happy with my decision. If I played in a band today, the music would be really heavy with a melodic touch, a combination of what Sentenced and Evergrey sound like, perhaps. I don’t think I would have any special outfit. Dark jeans and a t-shirt would do, but a dream concert would probably take place somewhere in Finnish or Norwegian Lapland at a mountain side. I have no idea how anyone could organize a concert event in such a place, but it would be epic!

ATM: How popular is the film industry aspect in Finland’s pop culture society?

AK: I think the film industry is quite a popular thing in Finland, but the thing is we’re a nation of 5 million people and not too many Finnish films travel abroad. Although, lately this has been getting better and better. But the fact that approximately 30 feature films get produced per year is since the Finnish film industry relies on state funding. Finnish Film Foundation has a limited budget and is obligated by law to support all kinds of films (art house, documentary, short film etc.), so there’s only so much money to be dealt and naturally, there are lots of filmmakers who are eager to get their share. Average budget of a Finnish feature film is approximately 1,5 to 2 million euros and the Finnish Film Foundation usually covers about half of that. Producing films without state funding would be impossible in Finland.

ATM: How do Finland society celebrate its film professionals (directors, producers, actors, etc.)?

AK: I think film professionals are quite highly valued in our society. Maybe there’s not as strong a “star cult” as maybe in Hollywood but for example, the press in Finland is very interested in how Finnish films travel abroad etc. It is, of course, a big thing every time a Finnish film succeeds in one way or another abroad. For example, when the short film “Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?” was an Oscar nominee and the feature film The Fencer was a Golden Globe nominee, those were big deals over here. Of course, we have our own annual “Oscars”, Jussit, which is an awards gala where all the awards are given, and both films and filmmakers celebrated. “Jussit” is in March so we’ll see if Heavy Trip or my feature length documentary Wheels of Freedom will receive any nominations. If they do, that’s, of course, a wonderful thing but not the reason I make films.

ATM: So, fame and fortune does not matter to you in terms of making films? Why do you even make films? What makes you not stop?

AK: Well, it’s, of course, nice to get recognition for your films but awards and fame are not the reasons for making films, for me at least. I think there are very few Finnish filmmakers who are rich. There are some but most just make a decent living. And quite a few struggles to make a living at all making films and it’s not unheard of that people stop making films because it’s hard to make a living. The pay is not as good as in big Hollywood productions because the budgets are also significantly lower. I make films out of a passion for storytelling. If there’s a story I love, then I naturally want people to hear about it. With films, you can not only entertain but also inform people, change attitudes and even change the world. I don’t think I’ve made that kind of impact or if I ever will, but as long as I just have this passion for telling stories I will keep on trying to make films. What or when my next film will, I have no idea at the moment, but it will come someday.

ATM: How do you feel you change attitudes and use film narratives to change the world? Is there any elements or topics about life that you have not observed yet your film? Describe the struggles of your first time and what was the time of it.

AK: I think there are quite a few topics yet to be covered. I first graduated with a BA in 2006 and then with an MA (in film screenwriting) in 2012 and worked in the film industry as a lighting technician, assistant director and whatnot, all the time trying to make it as a screenwriter and/or director but none of my projects went anywhere. I made several low/no-budget short films out of sheer fun and also to keep up and advance my skills as a filmmaker. Those films were easy to make in the sense that there weren’t any funding bodies or anyone else who might have had had the possibility to tell me what to do or not do, but rather I had pretty much the freedom to do whatever I wanted.

A lot of times I either didn’t get any funding for my writing or producers weren’t interested in my scripts. So, in a sense, Heavy Trip and Wheels of Freedom are really my first times. Both took quite a while to get going. I think I started with both in 2013 or 2014 and they were both eventually released this year. Both actually cover the topic of believing in yourself and not being afraid of failures or rather keep on trying even if there’s a big chance you might fail, which is fairly typical for us Finns. We tend to think that if there’s a chance I might not succeed, then why to bother at all. Especially with Wheels of Freedom – which tells the story of a disabled man trying to drive across Europe from Finland to Lisbon, Portugal with his power wheelchair – I was able to make people aware about disabled people’s rights. Not sure if I have changed any attitudes yet, though.

ATM: What are some social issues or controversies in Finland now?

AK: I think #metoo is one, which I think is rather self-explanatory. Also, right-wing political parties rising to power (or trying to) is something I think I will try cover in one way or another in my future films.

ATM: How do you cover such topics without it coming as bias?

AK: This is a good question. I think when you’re making a film you should always have a point of view, whatever the story is you’re telling. You’re always commenting on something about the world or society or pointing out something that may be wrong about society. As a filmmaker you should always have something to say and the film you’re making is the medium through which you convey your message.