Racing across the snow during a Shell Helix Ultra commercial
Photo by: Shell

Arctic Locations Perfect for Shell Helix Ultra Commercial

Shell Helix Ultra chose Arctic locations, and we delivered the largest commercial shoot yet, proving Lapland’s filmmaking efficiency, flexibility and competence.

It isn’t rocket science—the abundance of snow and all the extreme exotica of the Arctic winter are obvious attractions of Finnish Lapland for all kinds of film productions. But pristine white landscapes are not enough in themselves. Experience, specialists and reliable competence, and a functioning basic infrastructure are also key elements in the rising status of Arctic Finland as a filming location.

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All of these and more came into play when the Helsinki-based production company Grillifilms was approached by the UK producers of a commercial video for Shell Helix Ultra, a synthetic motor oil product designed to function in extreme temperatures.

— It’s all about trust and dependability, says Hanna Tuovio, who heads the Grillifilms team that took on the Shell commission. The experience and expertise of the production company made possible both the company’s and Finnish Lapland’s biggest and most demanding shoot to date, and all without a hitch.

— In this kind of assignment we draw up a budget, we scout for locations, we make a schedule for each of the intended shooting days, we hire the actors and talent, and we supervise the whole running of the shoot. Special filming rigs were needed, and we had to hire a helicopter for some scenes.

It was also necessary to deal with any local land ownership issues, although it is relatively easy in Finland to get the necessary permits and paperwork approved

— The budget that we made for Rogue Films was an open document, so they could monitor costs, and discussions took place the whole time between the client and ourselves. All this requires a high level of trust, says Hanna.

A sense of wilderness

The Shell shoot, following a storyboard created by the client, took place in a remote part of Finnish Lapland about 40 minutes east of Santa’s hometown. The narrative of the resulting film needed to convey the sense of wilderness, speed, and a feeling of extreme cold. The surface of a frozen lake was chosen as the location, on the edge of which a base camp was established. Grillifilms assembled a 70-strong crew, most of whose members were from Finland, in addition to catering, transport and accommodation facilities.

As a location, Lapland has earned a reputation for accessibility by virtue of its well-developed and reliable infrastructure, in addition to the kind of efficiency for which Finland is renowned. Linguistic skills are another asset when English is the main working language of most international productions.

Not even Finns have worked out a way to fine-tune the whims of the weather, but their ability to adapt to its variations is another local asset.

— The weather can change suddenly. The commercial needed to demonstrate that Helix Ultra could perform in temperatures of minus 30 Celsius and below. We were still able to deliver the required conditions to the satisfaction of the client, says Hanna.

Grillifilms took the opportunity to film a separate commercial for a new Audi car, immediately following the Shell shoot.

— It was the last moment to shoot on the ice. It can be 80 centimeters thick on the lakes, but in the spring the water comes up onto the surface and the surface buckles, then refreezes, making it difficult to achieve the required snow-spray effect without some post-production.

Clearing ice roads on frozen lakes is an old Finnish tradition, so it wasn’t an obstacle to create 2 km track on which it would be possible to drive two cars, safely and in parallel, at speeds of up to 160 kilometers per hour—and to prepare the drivers for these conditions.

— The Shell project was the biggest and most challenging for which Grillifilms has been approached to date, says Hanna.

It’s also the best example of how an experienced production company, assisted by local production talent and the Finnish Lapland Film Commission, has been able to promote itself. Producers often choose Finnish Lapland for the snow, but they get much more than extreme winter weather!

Behind the scenes on the production of the Shell Helix Ultra commercial filmed in Finnish Lapland
Photo by: Hanna Tuovio
Production crew from Shell Helix Ultra commercial filmed in Finnish Lapland
Shell Dop Bernd Wondollek, director Mark Jenkinson, producer Tom Farley, assistant director Mika Karttunen, requisitioner Heli Suono, set designer Markus Packalén, SPFX Raine Toikkanen, grip Tommi Tikanoja
Photo by: Hanna Tuovio