An interview with Joonas Makkonen, director of The Escort, the winner of Daazo.com’s Impossible Film Contest

When did you first know that you wanted to be a filmmaker?

My sister said that when I was really young, about 4-6 years old, I wanted to be a stuntman! Then, later, I wanted to become an actor. And in 2001, in the times of my middle school/upper comprehensive school, I made my first amateur films with a handycam. This was when directing became my main interest in filmmaking.

Where did you study? What films did you make before The Escort?

I studied at Kemi-Tornio University of Applied Sciences, and at the “Art and Media” school. I graduated from the school in December 2011.

I have tried to be very active with short films. I have made my films as an independent filmmaker and with a very low budget, so it is really up to me and my friends how many films we make in a year. I think that making a lot of films is a great way to learn screenwriting and directing. And it is great fun too! So before The Escort, I made the short films “A Small Awakening”, “What I Want”, “My Demon”, “The Miracle of Jouko Mikkola”, “Out-of-Towner”, “I Had a Girlfriend” and “Bunny the Killer Thing”.

Your film The Escort won the first prize at Daazo’s Impossible film contest. It is a brilliant film with strong (and creepy!) characters, powerful atmosphere, amazing photography and a surprising twist. Tell me about how you came up with the idea for this film! Can you tell us any interesting stories about the developing/filming of The Escort?

Thank you for your words.

I think the most interesting story behind the whole film is that it was actually made within 48 hours! The whole project was made from the original idea to the completed film in two days, for the short film competition “Uneton48 2011”. It is a Finnish 48-hour competition, which is the biggest film competition in Finland. The Escort was chosen to the Top 10 (as a finalist), and the film also got nominations for “Best Sound” and “Best Actress” (Eeva Kurkinen-Heikkilä).

So the idea was born inside our crew when we heard that the competition organizers announced that we need to make a short film which includes;
– a moment where one of the characters have a ‘explosion of feelings’
– a shot of a mirror (any kind of mirror)
– a character named “Aino” or “Arttu”
and for our team, as a draw we got “Road Movie” for our genre.
So, from these basic ideas, the story started to grow!

What are you going to shoot with the prize you won at the Impossible Film Contest, the GoPro camera? Have you got any plans for other films? Any features or shorts? Can you tell me a few words about what short film as a genre means to you?

So far, we have made a commercial video for a company with the GoPro. It has also been used as an extra camera in a short film we have made since getting it! It sure is a great “effect camera”! Time will show if we can find a use for it as a “short film camera” as well.

I have lots of ideas for short films. I am also planning my first feature film. I am actively taking part in 48-hour-, 24-hour- and 72-hour short film races, like the Uneton48 contest I mentioned before, because they are a great way to learn, and a great way to keep yourself busy. Because when you sign in to those competitions, it means that during the competition’s time, you have to make a film, no excuses!

I think short film as a genre is a great way to learn screenwriting and filmmaking. It is also a “safe” way to test out ideas. I have got great ideas from my short films to feature screenplays. So short film is a very enjoyable format, and very inspiring as well.

Who is the actor you would love to work with most? Do you have any role-model directors?

The question about the actor is very interesting. I haven’t thought about that a lot yet. But now when I think about it, I’d love to work with Nicolas Cage! He is my favourite actor from the times of action films like “The Rock” and “Con Air”. I was a child when those films came out, and the films really made a great effect on me. Also, the real action legends like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jean-Claude Van Damme are names with whom I think it would be cool to work with, too! For some reason I feel that these action guys would be the ones with whom I would really want to work with the most. Even though I enjoy making all kinds of films, and I haven’t really made any action films! Though I am sure I would find a good use of these actor legends in other types of films as well.

I have tried to find my own style of telling stories. But I have some directors whose work I really like and I think I they have made some effect on my directing/writing style. These directors are David Fincher, M. Night Shyamalan, Alfonso Cuarón, Sam Raimi and Sam Mendes.

Do you watch other filmmakers’ short films? What inspires you?

I think I don’t watch enough short films by other filmmakers. Nowadays I watch too few feature films as well. Some years ago I found more time to watch films. And in those times I really watched a lot of films!

For me, the inspiration is life itself. I find useful little things in everyday life. My dogs have inspired many stories. So has my neighbourhood. Also funny moments and sad moments are something what you can turn on fiction.

What kind of trends do you notice when working on your own scripts?

Trends in my own scripts? Hmm, let me think. I guess I have had a trend using very long shots. Also lately in my films, the title of the film has come at the end of the film, not at the beginning of the film. Also, mixing some surreal elements with more regular storylines has been a significant trend in my stories.

How do you see yourself in 10 years’ time? What are your dreams and what do you think the reality will be?

My dream is to write and direct feature films for a living. The reality will probably be the same as it is today; I do any media work to get my bills paid. Most of my film projects I make as an independent filmmaker with an extremely low budget. But I like my situation today as well, because I have found great people and friends with whom I can make short films.

text: Zsuzsanna Deák