Posing in front of the camera is not a natural thing for an animal who is more at home in nature. With time and patience, however, a reindeer might turn into a movie star.
Walking along the corridors of a hospital and greeting a little patient in his bed is not a typical thing to do for a reindeer, a half-domesticated herd animal which usually lives freely in the forest. It is, however, something that can be done if you know what you are doing.
And Miia Merkku of Arctic Reindeer does. She comes from a reindeer herding family and is following the footsteps of her father who started training reindeer for tourism and filming purposes back in the 1990s.
In the hospital case, she asked everyone in the crew of 60 to leave except for the director. The scene took only three takes to shoot.
— The most important thing is to get the reindeer to relax. In the wild, it is very sensitive to its surroundings and naturally tries to escape if it feels threatened, Miia explains.
Confidence is another key word when dealing with reindeer. A reindeer is a gregarious animal, and every animal has to find its own place in the herd. As a half-domesticated animal, the reindeer becomes familiar with its owner’s touch.
— It knows if it’s me or a stranger behind the reins.
Reindeer are fast learners and easily remember all the details along the route.
— It just doesn’t want to train for one thing for too long.
Every reindeer is different and has its own character. One might be happy standing still for two hours but is not keen on running around, while another is more active and constantly wants to be on the move. Miia knows which animal is suitable for each purpose.
— We start to train the reindeer at a very early age, so that they get used to being touched and being on the leash, she says.
Filming at Arctic Reindeer
In the high season, Miia’s company Arctic Reindeer, established in 2006, hosts several film crews every week.
— They give us nice challenges, and we try our best to meet them.
The small stature of a reindeer often surprises people. They often expect an animal of the size of an elk and think you can ride on it.
— Our reindeer are much smaller than the Siberian ones, and traditionally we do not ride on them. The biggest and strongest reindeer can carry people, but again, the farm must train them for the task.
One of the most challenging requests is to have several reindeer, two side-by-side, pulling one sleigh, as you might have seen in a cartoon.
— In Lapland, there is traditionally no more than one reindeer pulling a sleigh, and they always go one after another. It is, of course, possible to train them, but it takes time and additional budget, Miia explains.
Miia emphasizes the fact that whatever is done when filming reindeer, the wellbeing of the animal comes first. A tight timetable is a killer.
— You never know how it goes. Pushing just makes the animal more stressed.
The wilder the idea, the more time is needed. Miia advises filmmakers to contact her as early as possible, so they can discuss all details well in advance.
— We usually find a creative solution for every wish, she laughs.