Snowmobiles are plowing through the darkness in the wilderness of Näätämö. The temperature is 30 below zero degrees centigrade, and the untouched snow is blowing under the skids. The snowmobiles are packed with camera equipment and a weekend’s worth of food for three.
In the middle of the freezing forest awaits a cabin with no electricity. The yard of the cabin is about to become the setting for a big favor to the tourism industry of Finland.
– The Northern Lights activity was a full ten that night, recollects director Miikka Niemi.
The Northern Lights video shot for VisitFinland in the winter of 2011 by the Rovaniemi-based Flatlight Films received a million viewers across the world in a short period of time and started a new era of Northern Lights tourism in Lapland. The Norwegians even accused Finland of stealing the Northern Lights as the video spread. In short, the three young men hit a true jackpot on their trip to the cabin.
From VHS to 360 videos
Founded by Miikka Niemi and currently called Flatlight Creative House, the Lapland-based company recently celebrated its tenth birthday. During its existence, the one-man business has grown into a creative house of ten employees, generating a million-euro turnover from Rovaniemi. The story began with skateboarding in the early 2000s, as Niemi rolled behind his friends with a VHS camera on his shoulder. When snowboarding came into the picture, moving from Simpele to Lapland to study the audiovisual industry seemed like the right choice.
– That was one of the things that inspired me to move to Rovaniemi. Many people think that I still shoot nothing but slope videos, says Niemi with a laugh.
Today, the company’s repertoire is considerably more versatile. The productions have been expanded from commercials to documentary films and from videos to virtual reality. The Arctic know-how of this Northern production company is a major asset, and Flatlight recently organised a commercial video shoot for Ralph Lauren, among other clients. In the Christmas season, the company created a physical landmark in the Arctic Circle for the launch campaign of the major Chinese travel agency Alipay. In 2017, Flatlight’s own Finland 100 project 100 Moods from Finland will take viewers on a virtual trip through a hundred Finnish landscapes shot with 360 technology. The company will also carry out a worldwide tour where viewers can ‘teleport’ themselves to locations such as the top of a fell by stepping into a space filled with video projections.
Lapland as a backyard
The fact that the company comes from Lapland is important to Niemi. He says that being from Lapland is both an identity and an attitude. It means fulfilling your promises and doing everything the best you can. Especially when viewed from an international perspective, the northern location is very beneficial.
– Our backyard is Lapland with all four seasons, and that’s what separates us from the rest. If we’re in, say, Cannes, the fact a company like ours comes from Rovaniemi and not Helsinki generates more interest.
Running the company from Lapland works from a business point of view as well, as not everything requires physical presence. Flatlight Creative House collaborates constantly with companies from Helsinki. For example, the company recently produced a new kind of a nature series called Metsien Kätkemä (Concealed by Forests) for Yle, the Finnish Broadcasting Company. The series received impressive ratings of half a million viewers per episode in a country of five million people. Despite the company’s extensive networks, Niemi considers Lapland to be Flatlight’s key area of operation. He mentions the Rovaniemi-based companies Lappset and snowmobile manufacturer BRP as examples of long-term collaboration partners. Furthermore, tourism to Lapland is currently on the rise, which keeps the production company busy.
– Operators in both the creative industry and tourism are actively developing their operations. Being in Lapland has far greater potential than I could have imagined.
Thinking big and working together
Managing Director Niemi still shows the same kind of curiosity and enthusiasm in his work as he did a decade ago. Developing something new and stepping outside of your comfort zone is inspiring. Niemi strives to think about the company’s possibilities on an international scale, while keeping his focus close. He wishes that other companies from Lapland would also see the big picture more clearly.
Too many people think on too local a scale. They think their worst competitor is on the other side of the street. That perspective is too narrow. You can look at things internationally and think about what a competing business could give you, that you could make something even bigger happen together, says Niemi in conclusion.