The award-winning Finnish filmmaker, Joonas Makkonen made his short Bunny the Killer Thing back in 2010 – and it turned out to be perfect material for a feature film. In this report from the Berlinale 2015 issue of World of Shorts, the director tells about the process that lead from short to long.
words by Joonas Makkonen
It was the summer holiday 2010 when I was filming the short film Bunny the Killer Thing in Finland’s Lapland with my fellow film student friends. Bunny the Killer Thing was written and directed by me, and made with an extremely small budget, involving a small cast & crew. It was mostly filmed by daylight (and using the midnight sun’s light).The Bunny film was an uncomfortable 17-minute horror-comedy/splatter/exploitation film about a creature which is half human, half rabbit, haunting anything which resembles female genitals in any way. Oh, and it has a big penis. Bunny’s “WTF concept” found its audience, and the film became a small cult film all over the internet and especially in Finland. For us filmmakers, it felt like there was a lot of potential to make a feature film from this silly idea.
After the completion of the short film, it started to become obvious to me that one day, I would come back to Bunny again, but this time as a feature film. I knew, however, that I would need much more resources than I had with the short film. Bunny the short film was made with an extremely low budget and in five filming days. It was easy to see that you can’t really make a feature film in that way. For a feature there would be at least 30 filming days, which means I would need a bigger budget, about 50 people involved and more resources and time. In the autumn of 2012 I met the Finnish independent film producer Miika J. Norvanto, with whom I instantly found a common ground as a filmmaker and as a human being. We saw the same potential in the Bunny concept. We both thought that this could be the next big Finnish cult classic. No-one had made anything like this in Finland. I feel that Finland is still quite a conservative filmmaking country, but the audience is omnivore and open-minded. Hopefully, Bunny will open more doors for other filmmakers, like for example the so-called Finnish genre filmmakers.
When we made the short film, it was a pressure-free experience, something we made just for fun and because we wanted to create a different, strong and crazy genre film. We had no real plans for distribution. But it was obvious that we can’t make a feature film without thinking more far ahead than just the script writing process. From the first moment, our goal was to have the film distributed outside of Finland. The producer worked as a dramaturg in my screenwriting process. When we started to develop the storyline for the feature, he did some research with foreign distributors. He found out what would be good elements to use in the film, to make its distribution easier. To make the film more tempting for potential distributors, we decided to make the film mainly in English, and shoot it in the winter time with snow on the ground. Finland’s winter and the English language were working actually pretty well with the Bunny concept. The short film was happening in the summertime, and its story followed four Finnish youngsters and their last moments in Bunny’s forest. In the feature, the main plot included a group of Finnish and British young adults partying in a cabin located in the distant woods of Finland. All of this was happening in the middle of the snow-covered winter, of course. The party got a big twist when the Bunny creature attacked the group.
After the first script versions of Bunny feature, I noticed that the biggest problem with the story was that the film would not work by only focusing on Bunny the Killer Thing itself. The short film might have worked as a one-joke-film, but with the feature I could not count on showing a pussy-thirsty giant rabbit-human-creature only, doing its own thing. So I started to wonder what would be the theme with the whole film. Bunny was a horny sexual creature, and that inspired me to write the human characters as well to represent several different features of the sexuality of humans. It felt a very natural way to go on with the story. So, eventually, the film became fully loaded with sexuality, and it raises the film’s exploitation-entertainment value but it also numbs you. And I felt that it’s a way to highlight my theme. In the storyline there are moments when you need to consider whether Bunny really is the most evil character of the film after all.
The screenwriting process with the feature was a much longer journey compared to the short film’s writing process. I wrote 11 versions of the feature’s screenplay, when with the short film I did about five versions. With the short film’s script, the changes between the versions were quite small. But with the feature, the first three versions were like a different film compared to number 4 which was the first version that actually started to look like the actual film we eventually made. I wanted to write the first versions of the script without a very specific treatment, so that I could find the best structure by writing. This is not the way film schools teach to scriptwriters, but for me it was a conscious decision to start writing my first professional feature film. After the first three versions, I found the storyline which I thought would be most suitable for the feature version of the Bunny concept. I ended up making a light parody of the “youngsters party in a cabin, and then something bad happens” structure well known from horror films. I thought that this structure has a great amount of genre conventions to use for a crazy horror-comedy film.
When making a feature film, we also needed to be sure that the completed film would be technically so good that the technical quality of it would not bring any problems for its distribution. So, while the short film was made with three lamps and one reflector, the feature had two vans full of lighting and grip equipment. The director of photography of the feature was Tero Saikkonen. He was also one of the two DOPs of the short film. During the years between the two Bunny films, he also acquired new skills and experience as a DOP, and with bigger lighting equipment he had the possibility to make the film look great on a big screen. The situation with the sound changed a lot too; the short’s original sound was recorded with one microphone, but for the feature, we had 7 microphones in use.
Before starting to shoot the feature, we also needed to take notice of the current digital cinema distribution standard format, the DCP (Digital Cinema Package). Because of the DCP and its specs, we decided to make the feature film’s master format as 2K resolution with 24 frames per second. To get these specs with a great quality, we decided to use a Red One as our main camera. The short film was shot with a Panasonic GH2 as a main camera, with the master format being 720p resolution and as 25 fps.
One other big difference between the process of the short Bunny and the feature Bunny was the time used in the project. The whole production of the short film lasted a year, because we weren’t in a hurry, and we made it very slowly while doing other things too. The feature Bunny’s production has lasted about three years and it’s not finished yet. The filming of the feature lasted 33 filming days, and the short film was filmed over 5 days. We filmed a lot more footage every day with the feature than we filmed in the total filming time of the short film. Also, the feature’s material is of course more professional and of better quality than the short film’s footage. The filming of the feature was rough, but unbelievable at the same time. I knew I made a big commitment when I decided to direct a feature film, and I was waiting to get the possibility to take that next step in my director’s career. Now, being in the middle of the post-production of the Bunny the Killer Thing feature film, I feel great. I am waiting to get the film completed and to show it to the whole world.
For the previous short films of Joonas Makkonen, visit his channel on Daazo!