Interview,  They work(ed) with Poets of the Fall

A conversation with Movie Director Miika Hakala

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This interview – or rather long conversation – is the first of a series I am working on… to celebrate people who work (or worked) with Poets of the Fall and are as talented as our favourite musicians in bringing magic to life.

This has been a long time coming, and I feel truly blessed that Miika Hakala has agreed to this interview. As all Directors, Miika is a busy bee. For those of you who do not know yet who Miika Hakala is, well let me introduce you to the gentleman. He is the one behind Poets of the Fall‘s music videos and short movies such as “Moonlight Kissed“, “Dancing on Broken Glass“, “False Kings” and “Stay Forever” to name but a few. Just like you and me, he loves Poets of the Fall‘s music 😎. And, he is very cool! 😊

About your early work

Video shoot for Crimsonic’s single Hide & Seek (©Henri Ilanen)

We will not go through everything I liked from your early work, but I’d like to focus on two videos if it is alright with you. A couple of times, I have been caught off guard, but I generally recognize what I call the “Miika light”. It feels like home somehow.

Julian Kappaleeseen ‘Huokaus’

Julian Kappaleeseen ‘Huokaus’ (2013) is a rather hopeful yet slightly nostalgic music which matches really well the bright nature that fills the video. The colours seem, however, slightly faded here and there, almost dreamlike, which in its turn matches really well the main character’s deep sadness.

[Misfit] How intentional was it to use the colours that way?

[Miika] It was intentional for sure. Use of faded colors was mostly informed by the story but also the way the song sounds like. It’s got this nice ethereal feel to it.

[Misfit] Ultimately, what inspired you the story?

[Miika] The story was something that just felt right for the lyrics and the feel of the song. I had a few discussions with the artist, and we settled on this story about longing. (Fun fact: the story scenes of the video are shot in Suomenlinna. The same place where Stay Forever was shot years later)

[Misfit] What goes round comes around, right?! 😊

Heidi Kyrön ‘Tiibetin hiekkaa’

Another video which touched me, for various reasons, Heidi Kyrön ‘Tiibetin hiekkaa’ (2013). The music does not talk to me as much as the previous one – although the song is growing on me – yet the story you are telling is compelling. A simple story of heartache filled with hope for the future. I am starting to see a pattern here.

Early in your work, you have been telling stories mostly through portraits, and close ups.

[Misfit] Why did you choose that kind of storytelling rather than a wider type of filming?

[Miika] I love acting and I love actors. When you got talented people in front of your camera all you gotta do is point the lens at them and they’ll tell you the story with their eyes, subtle facial expressions etc. Close ups can really bring those little details to life. Occasionally there’s also a practical side to it. If you’re working on a tight budget that means that most likely you have less control over the location. So, if there’s something in the background you don’t like, you can’t just ask a lawnmower to push it out of the way. The only thing you can do is to get a tighter shot and make sure audience don’t see things you don’t want them to see.

Story telling

Finland seems to be offering an incredibly special light and you take full advantage of it in the music videos you are making.

[Misfit] How does the light affect the way you tell your stories? or does it all?

[Miika] I like to use natural light as much as possible. It started with working on projects where the budget was very limited, so you had to use what you got. Nowadays we usually could light the scene with artificial light no problem, but I still choose to use as much natural light as possible. It just looks so beautiful. I’m not sure how much it affects the way I work but I usually choose natural over artificial.

[Misfit] A French singer/poet used to say that there was no point in telling happy stories. Do you feel it could apply to the stories you tell in the music videos you choose to make?

[Miika] Somewhat yes. In general, I just like to tell stories that move people whether it’s making them laugh hard or making them cry. In the best-case scenario both things happen at the same time. I also like to tell stories where there is some kind of a conflict that’s not easily resolved. No absolute good guys or bad guys. The story should leave people wondering and reflecting on how they actually feel about what that they just saw. I don’t like overly happy endings or unjustified sad endings. I love conflicted endings.

[Misfit] Aren’t you afraid of being too cryptic for your audience?

[Miika] At times, yes! Still, I hope that by making some of my stories harder eggs to crack, it will give them longevity. 😊

Miika going through a scene with Marko Saaresto at the set of My Dark Disquiet (as you probably know :D) ©Tiia Öhman

Aeronaut V

The music video for the song Discovery starts in a way that – to me anyway – screamed The Sweet Escape… Am I biased? most definitely. Anyway, I do not usually listen to that kind of music because it is not talk to me, but it got me wonder:

[Misfit] Do you have to like a song to make a music video? How do you pick the songs? or do they pick you?

[Miika] Liking the song absolutely helps but it’s not inherently required. Having said that I usually only pick projects where I like the song and/or the artist. Sometimes there are cases where I really like the artist but the particular song/video we’re working on might not be one of my personal favorites out of the stuff that that particular artist has done. But it’s fine!

[Misfit] I thought as much 😉

[Misfit] What is so fascinating about the city night lights? Are they what bring the mystery to your work?

[Miika] Director/writer Michael Mann is one of my greatest idols as a filmmaker. The way he shoots city by night (Heat, Collateral and Miami Vice, the series and the movie, for example) is just so amazing! I’ve loved that aesthetic for a long time, and I’ll try to incorporate it in my work whenever feasible. The Sweet Escape and Discovery are both songs that draw from the 80’s so going back to those pastel colors and stuff was kinda mandatory! The video for Discovery particularly was very much inspired by Miami Vice but also Blade Runner somewhat.

Larry Sandman

Miika Hakala checking a shot during Larry Sandman’s video shoot (©Tiia Öhman)

[Misfit] There is one more music video which I know is coming, however, I do not know how much of a secret it is. I’ll ask anyway, Larry Sandman upcoming video, what can you tell us about that?

[Miika]  Yeah, I’ve been working with Larry on this music video project that has gotten postponed a few times because of Covid but we finally managed to film it a couple of weeks ago. Right now, I’m in the thick of it at the editing suite piecing it together. It’s a video for one of the singles from his debut album coming later this year. I really love to work with him! He’s such a great, talented, lovely dude and a true professional. That’s about all I can tell you at this point! 😄

[Misfit] He most definitely is!

Collaboration with Poets of the Fall

Miika Hakala hanging out with his Poets cup! (photo taken for this article)

[Misfit] How much of a dream was it to work with Poets of the Fall? How did they first contact you?

[Miika] Working with Poets of the Fall is definitely a huge dream come true. It was basically all the way back in ’03, when I heard Late Goodbye for the first time, that I knew I had to work with these people in some capacity. From there it was basically doing my own stuff while keeping an eye out for what they’d do and hope for a collaboration to happen at some point. Luckily, it happened!

[Misfit] Lucky for us too!

[Miika] I actually contacted them first to talk about them writing music for something that I was working on. Of course, we also discussed the other way around, me directing/writing music videos for them. Over the years we became good friends and ultimately worked together on Moonlight Kissed video/short film.

[Misfit] Did they write for the thing you were working on?

[Miika] No, not for that particular project. We ended up using one song that was already released on an album. The project was basically a proof-of-concept type of short film made for potential investors (so only for internal use). We were trying to get funding for a feature film and made a short film to illustrate what the feature would look and feel like. That project is still in the development stage. Hopefully it’ll get made some day. And I hope the guys will write something for it or for some other film I make in the future. Time will tell! Scheduling these things is not an easy task… 😄

You wrote something interesting on your website: “the music by Poets of the Fall has been an endless source of inspiration for me as a filmmaker, as a storyteller and as human”.

[Misfit] How does the band’s music has translated into your work as a movie maker?

[Miika] It’s funny, when I heard the Late Goodbye for the first time it felt like a title song for the type of movie I always wanted to make. That’s when I knew these guys see the world in the same way as I do, and I could only hope to be able to collaborate with them at some point. I also love Remedy’s games so there’s that too!

[Misfit] I mean how do you put music into image without writing a screenplay entirely dictated by the lyrics?

[Miika] Regarding writing scripts for music videos, it all happens pretty organically. Usually, I honestly don’t have to think about the story too much. I just know what to do.

[Misfit] What is it, in Poets of the Fall’s music and lyrics, that makes you go “Yes! this is exactly how I feel, and this is how I’d like to show it”?

[Miika] When I think about Poets videos particularly, you basically nailed my process there 😄” Yes! this is exactly how I feel, and this is how I’d like to show it” And then we just go and do it! Of course, these projects are collaborations. Sometimes the band has clear ideas about what they want to do with the project. Then I’ll just add my thoughts into the mix, and we got this nice amalgamation of ideas. Sometimes they give me more of a free reign like in Moonlight Kissed and Dancing on Broken Glass. Still, it’s always very much a collaborative effort!

[Misfit] You have been involved in what, seven music videos for Poets of the Fall? to which should be added the last three recordings at the Alexander Theatre with the band’s guests Triosis+. If you had to pick just one video, which one would be your favorite? and why?

[Miika] You mean my favorite out of the ones that I’ve done or POTF videos in general? It’s so difficult to pick a favorite. I’d say it’s impossible. There are so many good memories related to all of them! But yeah, Moonlight Kissed was my first Poets video so it’ll always have a special place in my heart. I think Dancing on Broken Glass says something fundamental about human spirit and life in general so there’s that. I really love all those experiences for different reasons. If I think about the videos where I wasn’t involved, I’d have to pick Late Goodbye or Carnival of Rust. Late Goodbye has that driving through the night thing going on which I just adore as you probably know by this point 😄

The concept behind The Sweet Escape / Partir avec moi is very subtle.

[Misfit] What can you tell us about shooting both videos? 

[Miika] Well, about The Sweet Escape / Partir avec moi I can tell you that it was a fast shoot! I think the band was in the middle of a tour and scheduling for the project was not the easiest thing to do. We had fairly limited amount of time to set everything up. We had a few different concepts for the video in mind but decided to go with the one that was released (obviously 😄).

[Misfit] What is the inspiration behind the story(ies)?

[Miika] The source of inspiration for me was really the 80’s vibe of the song. I wanted to have this kinda old school film look to the video. Wet pavement and city lights were also mandatory. I wanted it to be very intimate but also grandiose at the same time! It’s centered around one person carrying an item through the night. One glimpse at this person’s timeline. All those people who pass by have their own packages to carry, their own problems, their own sources of happiness etc. So on a conceptual level it’s this one particular life in this vast city of lights (and lives) and colors and people and whatnot. To emphasize that concept and the old school film look I used the widest anamorphic lens I could find that also did some crazy distortions to the image. You can be pretty close to your subject but still get this huge field of view.

Miika and Marko Saaresto having a project meeting 😀 (I think it was for The Sweet Escape, says Miika) ©Tiia Öhman

[Misfit] Yes, but then you tell the same story without telling the same story with both videos. What idea did you play with to differentiate both videos?

[Miika] We wanted to have a little different angle on it while still retaining the same spirit in both projects as they’re essentially the same video, just in different languages. Some subtle changes in color palette came along as a way to recognize and visualize those differing lyrics. Also, we wanted to take the opportunity to tell a little larger story if you watch both of the videos back-to-back. Partir Avec Moi kinda shows you a little more of what happened that night. Gives you a little different perspective.

My two favorite music videos are without a doubt Moonlight Kissed and Stay Forever… one showing that love can transcend space and time, the other showing that life is but a fleeting thing ornate by the gems of each little experience we live. The major difference is that in Stay Forever, Poets of the Fall is playing live while the story is told through your lens.

[Misfit] When is it a good idea to have the band play in a music video? 

[Miika] You usually want to have all the people in the band included in some way. Sometimes you can have everybody do a little cameo in the story but other times it just works better that the song is ’just’ performed by the band and the story is another thing entirely. In Stay Forever the concept of the video was such that we really couldn’t have the guys running around with the kite 😄

[Misfit] What does the kite represent for you?

[Miika] For me it’s the hopes and dreams of a person. They can lift you up but also bring you down sometimes. You might pursue your dreams and goals without mercy on yourself. Something that originally was giving you energy, all of a sudden is draining you. I can only hope everyone will finally find a place of tranquility where they feel complete.

[Misfit] What kind of difference does it bring to the story telling (having the band in the video)?

[Miika] If you can include the band in the story, it gives it a more of a short film vibe than a regular music video vibe. I really like that!

So, with Stay Forever, it feels like the circle is completed…

[Misfit] is it?

[Miika] Yes it is, for me at least. I remember listening to Signs of Life back in ’05 and seeing Lift video play on TV. I thought how cool it would be to direct a video for this band that I love. With Stay Forever not only did I once again get to work with the guys but also worked on a song from that same album I listened to all those years ago. It really felt like closing a chapter in a way. In the best way possible 😊

Your music videos are just like the songs you illustrate, they do not solve it all, they do not spill the beans, they are opened to interpretation…

[Misfit] are your movies the same?

[Miika] I truly hope so! I love vague endings, conflicted endings. The audience has to decide for themselves what they think just happened and how they feel about it. It’s the same with music videos. Hopefully, the audience will find what’s meaningful to them without me pushing in a certain direction too much. I like to think that the audience is an active participant not just a passive viewer. That’s also what I like about the articles that you write about Poets videos etc. You really immerse yourself in these stories and discover what it all means to you and by doing so you probably inspire other people to look at these stories from different angles.

[Misfit] That is one of the greatest compliments I have ever received from a professional, thank you 😊

[Miika] You’re most welcome!

Movies

For obvious reasons, I have not seen your movies, but it seems that your preferred genre is crime/thrillers.

[Misfit] Why?

[Miika] I love murder mysteries that has psychological aspects to them. Interesting characters with relatable motives. I think my love for Agatha Christie’s books has something to do with this.

[Misfit] How much time do you spend developing the characters contra the actual mysteries?

[Miika] It depends on a project. Sometimes the mystery comes first and I’ll develop characters that’ll serve the story and the ideas behind the story. Sometimes characters come first and I will find out what to do with them as I continue to write the actual story for the characters. It’s a very organic process so most of the time it’s difficult to tell afterwards what happened and in which order.

[Misfit] I could talk about that stuff forever so I’ll stop here 😉

[Miika] Haha, me too! 😄

[Misfit] For what I saw, your movies are rather dark. Where do you get that from?

[Miika] No idea, really. Hopefully, they are not all dark. There should always be a glimmer of hope in every story.

[Misfit] Would it not be interesting to make a drama type of movie, exploring the psychology of the characters? You would excel at that …

[Miika] The script that I’m writing right now is a character driven drama so I’m just working on that! 👍

[Misfit] Well then, I rest my case 😊

You have a movie in post-production called Laavu… have you not?

[Misfit] Anything you can reveal about it? What is the story about? 

[Miika] Laavu is a nordic noir type of detective story set in a small town in Finland. The story begins with a brutal murder of a young high school student. Discovering the truth about the killing reveals the darker side of this seemingly peaceful little town. We also got this detective character with a limited world view that initially prevents her to solve the case. It’s not so much about the evidence. It’s more about her personal view on things that’s causing her trouble. Overcome your prejudices and you can see everything more clearly.

[Misfit] I love the sound of that. It reminds me a little of the psychological side of the Islandic series “Trapped”. Have you seen it?

[Miika] Yeah! It’s a brilliant series! Love it! I’ve seen the first two seasons, I think. Hopefully I get to see the third one at some point. They’re working on it right now if I’m not mistaken.

[Misfit] When is the release date?

[Miika] Release date is still up in the air but hopefully we’ll get this stuff sorted out soon. The film itself is almost finished.

[Misfit] A very selfish question: will there be any English subtitles?

[Miika] There should be English subtitles, I think!

[Misfit] You understand that I’ve gotta see your movie, so I really hope for English subs. 😅

Future and almost last words

“I love actors” – Stay Forever video shoot,
working with the brilliant Arja Pekurinen (©Tiia Öhman).

[Misfit] What does Miika Hakala’s future look like?

[Miika] Hopefully, I get to make at least a couple more feature films. I’m actually writing my fourth feature right now so hopefully that’ll get made in a few years’ time. I’ve been doing music videos in a row for over 10 years now. I think I’m gonna take a little break from that stuff in the not-so-distant future. It’s been a wild ride and I’ve loved every second of it but sometimes I feel like it’s time to move on to other things. But I’m not quitting tomorrow so no worries. And I can change my mind of course so no promises that I’ll be gone 😄

As long as you continue doing what you love and have fun doing it, that is all that matters. You never know what the future is made of after all.

[Misfit] Which artists would like to work with?

[Miika] Hurts would be great. I can’t specifically think of any other artist right now.

[Misfit] What kind of movie do you want to make?

[Miika] A city by night and blinding neon lights. Characters in suits blasting through the night in Ferrari! All that with complex psychological underpinnings.

[Misfit] What is it with you guys and cars? 😅 Although, I must admit it sounds cool… I hope it will happen!

[Miika] For me it’s all about that Michael Mann-esque nocturnal cityscape! 😄👍

[Misfit] Cannes Festival some day?

[Miika] I’ve actually been to the Cannes Festival in 2019 to do some early promotion for my upcoming film. Hopefully, I get to attend again next year! And of course, it would be ridiculously cool to have some film of mine being played there at some point. We just have to wait and see!

Questions for fun

[Misfit] Favorite movie(s)

[Miika] A few from the top of my head: the original Star Wars trilogy, Heat, Collateral, Before Sunrise (the whole trilogy basically), Gladiator, The Matrix

Interesting choices!

[Misfit] Favorite book(s)

[Miika] There are so many great books out there but let’s continue with the detective/crime theme and go with Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None”. I read it the first time when I was still in elementary school. I’m sure it played a huge role in my interest in detective stories and murder mysteries. Especially the ones that used whodunnit structure in the story.

[Misfit] I am more of a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle kind of gal, myself. What about Fantasy? Do you read any?

[Miika] Sure! I’ve just had way too little time to read anything in recent years. A lot to catch up to!

[Misfit] Favorite game (if you play games… does not have to be video games)

[Miika] Classic board games: Chess!

I knew it!

[Miika] I enjoy playing video games very much as long as it has good storytelling and art direction etc. Basically, the same things I’ll look for in movies or tv (streaming) series. But yeah, I think Grand Theft Auto games must be one of my favorites. Ori games are also absolutely fantastic experiences! Ori and the Blind Forest and the sequel Ori and the Will of the Wisps. Highly recommended! They’re so beautiful all around. The story, characters, visuals and the music! I really can’t say enough about the original scores of those games. It reminded me why I fell in love with film scores at a very young age. And of course, the stuff that Remedy does like Max Payne, Alan Wake etc. Brilliant storytelling!

[Misfit] I agree with you about Remedy, my only problem is that I seem to have two left hands when it comes to video games. Besides Alan Wake spooks me and so does Control. 🤣

[Miika] Yeah, they can get pretty intense 😄

[Misfit] Country you would like to visit

[Miika] I’ve never been to Australia so that might be a good one. New Zealand too.

[Misfit] Any particular reason?

[Miika] Regarding New Zealand it would be the amazing landscapes. Australia I can’t explain. Just wanna go there 😄

[Misfit] Favorite food

[Miika] Hmm, too many to choose from but let’s go with a hamburger this time around.

[Misfit] Hamburger is what you go for when asked by a French woman? Hmm 😂

[Miika] Haha 🤣 it was just one of those days I craved a burger.

[Misfit] Favorite drink

[Miika] This might be a boring answer, but I have to say water.

[Misfit] Not boring, water’s the best drink in the world 😊 Sparkling or Still?

[Miika] Still, most of the time 😊

[Misfit] Sea or mountain

[Miika] Sea

[Misfit] Engine or sails

[Miika] Sails

[Misfit] City or village

[Miika] Village

Last but not least:

[Misfit] Favorite band

[Miika] This is kinda easy: Poets of the Fall!

Feel free to add anything you want to share with our readers.

[Miika] This interview was a great pleasure! Thank you for doing what you do.

You are most welcome. Truly a treat to interview you!

Thank you so much for your time Miika!

Articles you may want to read (or read again):

Poets of the Fall – Stay Forever

Poets of the Fall – Moonlight Kissed – Clearview


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2 Comments

  • Anita Ninković

    This was so sweet! 🥰Misfit, I love your idea of doing a series of interviews with people who have worked with Poets! This interview was so interesting, funny at moments, and it is somehow cool to get a little glimpse inside the heads of people who got to work with Poets and listen to them privately. I didn’t know that Miika is also in the process of writing scripts for movies. Awesome. I’ll have to keep an eye on what happens there. You know how to lead a conversation and keep it natural and informing. 😍 It felt like listening to friends. 😊But, honestly, what an error of judgment from Miika’s side, not to film our Poets running around, each of them holding a kite! I would’ve had that video on constant repeat! 😁

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  • Jonas Ekman

    Brilliant article/review…but I expect no less since I know what you’re capable of. Also happy to read the very nice compliment you received…very well deserved!

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