Touted as the first Finnish comedy ever to premiere at SXSW, Heavy Trip is the story of a group of best friends who are members of a band named Impaled Rektum, possibly the most obscure heavy metal group in Finland.
They’ve been perfecting their style in the basement for the past 12 years, but their ultimate dream is to escape their confines of their tiny village and land a real gig. When they stumble upon an original sound, they throw caution to the wind and hit the road to play the hottest metal music festival in Norway.
This delightfully offbeat comedy provides amusing jabs at familiar metal clichés as well as a cast of characters you can root for.
Kai Nordberg and Kaarle Aho, the film’s producers and partners in the production company, Making Movies Oy, sat down with me on Saturday, Mar. 10 at SXSW to discuss the development of the film and the challenges of making the most expensive Finnish comedy ever produced.
What was the inspiration for Heavy Trip?
Kai Nordberg: It was the inspiration of the directors (Jukka Vidgren and Juuso Laatio), who came up with the idea for the film. We grew up in the ‘70s, the golden era of heavy rock coming up in Europe. So these two guys came up with a script that had all the rock clichés, but still treated it with respect. It was something we found inspiring. And it’s great music!
Are any of the characters based on fact?
KN: Yes! The directors!
Kaarle Aho: Especially the [character] with the long hair (Turo) was loosely based on one of the directors. He was from a small village and he used to play heavy metal music. The real inspiration for him was having grown up in a small place where having long hair and listening to heavy metal music was a weird thing to do. It made him an outsider.
The way the characters in the film are ostracized, too. How popular is metal in Scandinavia?
KN: I wouldn’t say all of Scandinavia. It’s Finland and Norway. It’s not popular in Sweden or Denmark. But it’s still huge, especially in the countryside, outside the biggest cities. It’s hard to say why, but it’s a fact that Finland has the most metal bands per capita in the world. And Norway is number two.
KA: It must be something to do with the weather — or the aggressiveness of the music!
And it’s the villages where it’s popular.
KA: Yes, the villages. Hipsters live in the big cities.
How does it feel to have the first Finnish comedy premiere at SXSW?
KN: It’s a huge honor and a huge achievement. We’ve been in business for 25 years, and…
KA: It’s also the first comedy for our company.
How do you think Americans will receive the film?
KN: I think it will go down very well. Much of the comedy is unintentional. It’s based on the characters. We don’t laugh at the characters — we laugh with them.
And I recognized the metal tropes. They’re universal.
How were the actors cast?
KN: Basically, the directors had some ideas of who could be whom, and their main idea was not to take the most obvious guys — the famous ones — and bring in new faces.
KA: Did they all know how to play instruments beforehand?
KN: No, not at all. In the band, there are four characters and they each represent a genre. One is sub-heavy metal, one is thrash, one is death, one is shampoo metal. I was just at our domestic premiere, speaking with the costume designer. She said it was a very careful process to find costumes for every guy, for him to present a certain type of music within the genre.
There are some interesting special effects in the film. How were those handled?
KN: They were all done in Belgium, one of the co-producing countries of film.
KA: It was the last missing piece of the puzzle. We needed a co-producer to take care of the special effects.
KN: In terms of content, what special effects do you mean?
The characters jumping into the sea, the explosions; the huge concert venue.
KN: Basically, all of Norway, the mountains and the fjords, it’s all built up. Most of it was shot in Helsinki. But it all comes down to the content. How can we put together a huge concert where they could perform? At some stage, we realized it was too complicated to do it outside.
KA: We wanted to go to a real festival and do it outside…
KN: We contacted festivals in Finland and Norway, but they have their own agendas. They can’t just let us put an extra gig in the middle of their festival. So we said, “Okay. Let’s have the concert in a cave, a huge cave.” We started looking for that kind of location to see if it was possible, but it was not. There are a lot of shipyards in Helsinki, so finally we used a big shipyard building.
The effects do the job, and they do it well. They give the film a polish.
KN: That’s true.
What was the most challenging thing about making Heavy Trip?
KN: It wasn’t easy, I tell ya. It was such a great project. Still, at the end of the day, I would say it was the comedy side of it. Comedy is the most difficult genre in all arts. You can move the storyline, you can build up the characters, but is it going to be funny? This is the question. Is it going to work? Is this joke going to go over with the audience at all?
KA: Our domestic premiere in Finland was this past Tuesday. It was the first time we saw the film with a real audience. Still, ten minutes before the film, we didn’t know if people were going to laugh. And you know, it’s very embarrassing to make a film where no one’s laughing.
KN: Luckily, they did laugh. They seemed to enjoy themselves.