|www.helsinginsanomat.fi/english||print | close window|
"I'm just a director of music videos, after all"
By Jouni K. Kemppainen
Another dead-loss phone call. That's number three.
Hi, this is Antti Jokinen. If you would like to leave your...
And however much one leaves nice messages on the machine after the beep, there is not a peep from the director himself.
Hmph. I might have guessed it would pan out like this. The guy's gone to the States and the piss has gone to his head. Snotty, and arrogant with it. I mean, even on the answering machine it's all in English.
Hollywood does that to you - it is undeniably the capital city of the poseurs and the arrogant. And when you get a name in hype circles and get to hang out with these megastar types, things back home in the little pine-and-lakes republic lose their fascination.
And Antti Jokinen has landed up in the company of some pretty major stars. He has directed music videos for the likes of Will Smith, Eminem, Missy Elliott, Celine Dion. No real wonder, then, if the lanky boy from Nurmijärvi has got a bit puffed up and all.
And in Finland, well according to the tabloids about the only thing he does back here is go out partying in the Helsinki watering-holes-du-jour with your moviemaker-names and other middle-aged slimeballs. Oh, and he's got himself this celeb fiancée here, Sara La Fountain.
I wonder if he's already started talking like Andy McCoy, and if he can even speak the lingo any...
The phone rings. The caller is Antti Jokinen.
"Hi. Look, I'm dreadfully sorry that it's been so difficult to get through. Thing is, I just don't know how to use this phone. I haven't sussed how you pick up the messages so you can listen to them. I really am sorry about this."
Jokinen explains that he has nothing against the idea of doing a story for the paper. At least not if he doesn't have to pose for photos with his fiancée and if the idea is to write about making music videos.
"It comes as a surprise to many that it's real work, you know."
A meeting is arranged without difficulty, the very next day. And there will be a chance to follow the making of a video, too, just as soon as a suitable project happens along. For instance there are plans afoot for a Rolling Stones shoot...
Ah-ha. Thought so. The guy is late. I reckon right now he is probably...
Piip-piip-piip. It's an SMS message. From Antti Jokinen. Sorry. I'll be a bit late.
A quarter of an hour later, a tall man strides in. He explains in a friendly tone that he had to take his son somewhere in the car, and the traffic was backed up. It is September, and Jokinen says he is spending some time in Finland, because his son has just started school. At moments like this it is good to have a father around.
Jokinen sits down and sighs contentedly as he runs his eyes over the Kosmos menu. "Aahh. Proper food. Sara is always taking me to these places were the portion is two twigs neatly crossed on the plate. I can't stand the stuff!" he says, and orders up a Wiener schnitzel and mashed potatoes.
Hmmm. A decent enough choice, for a West Coast buffoon.
Right from the start, Jokinen sets out what is worrying him about this whole article enterprise. "Don't please go giving the sort of picture that the music video business would be somehow fancier than it is. The end product gets glorified, but the making of it is a very everyday thing."
He wants to make it quite clear that music videos are just a part of pop culture, and that is what he makes in three-minute bites for the music channels. Most of the videos sink rapidly into the fast-flowing and fast-forgotten stream of programming, where most of the material is pretty dire.
"Yes, of course, I hope I could make the sort of videos that would stand out from the mainstream", he says. "But there's really no point in my trying to pass myself off as some kind of innovative visionary type. If they want a traditional video and the price is right, then I'll do it. I don't regard myself as any yoga guru or anything."
And Jokinen's modesty just goes on giving.
"It would be nice to kid myself that I would be in the sort of position where I could change the field of popular culture. But unfortunately what I have to give is not enough for that on any real scale. I'm just a director of music videos, after all."
Come again? Just? Just a music video director? It's only five whole years since Jokinen got a shot at his dream and was able to make his first music video in the States. And now he says he's just a music video director.
"I can remember well when I saw my first video on the screen in the States. It was pretty crap. Your standard dance video, but at the time it felt good. Who-hoo! In America! They're showing my video! Like, a video *I* made!"
This epiphany happened in the SoHo Grand Hotel on West Broadway, where Jokinen usually stays when he is in New York City. The artist in question was Toya, a singer who doesn't really get on the radar in Europe, but who is popular in the U.S. The most dramatic thing about the video was the opening credit text down below: "Director: Antti J.".
Jokinen estimates that there are something like 30,000 music video directors in Hollywood. All the same, around 60 of them make around 70 per cent of all the videos shown on MTV. And Jokinen has clawed his way up to be one of those 60.
For example, the most expensive music video made in 2005 was Missy Elliott's Teary Eyed. "Director: Antti J."
"If I had started to rationalise my chances in this business five years back, I'd have run out of oxygen real quick. There's me heading off from Helsinki to the States and I've got this showreel with me, and there is not a single face in there that anyone is going to recognise!" Jokinen explains things energetically, passionately. His pace is such that some of the words just fly past.
So, if it was like that, how on earth did he succeed?
Back in upper secondary school, a good few years earlier, he was more or less the same as all the other long-haired boys from Nurmijärvi: he listened to that brand of heavy metal forever associated with the Finnish boondocks, and he hung out in the café of a Nurmijärvi gas station.
To be totally accurate, there was one slight difference. His father was the well-known YLE sports journalist and commentator Juha Jokinen, whose voice at least was familiar from countless whispered Wimbledon broadcasts.
Another small difference was that Jokinen Jr. played basketball for the Finnish 1st Division side Hyvinkään Tahko. This talent was later to have quite some significance in the realisation of his dreams.
"It was the sort of dream that I couldn't really tell the others about. I mean, if I'd said to the guys in Nurmijärvi that ‘You know, one of these days, f'*ck it, I'm going to be living in the States and making music videos for MTV, you'll see', then right there and then I'd have got a knuckle sandwich. ‘Funny ha-ha, Jokinen. Yeah, right. Now go back to your little seat by the jukebox and the fruit machine, Antti'."
Jokinen did go to America, first as a student at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC, where he got a basketball scholarship. He had to get a scholarship, because there was no way otherwise he would have been able to meet the colossal tuition and other fees. Jokinen was the first person in the university's history to have studied arts subjects on a sports scholarship.
The studying was easy. A large section of the other undergraduates were rich brats whose parents had parked them in college largely by way of arranging daycare for them. All the same, the film school was a good place for Jokinen, even if on the first studio visit he was handed a brush and told to clean the place up.
His studies lasted three and a half years. Jokinen directed a short called Handful of Sand, based on the poems of Doors vocalist and rock icon Jim Morrison. It won a student prize at the North Carolina Film Festival. People from MTV in New York saw it, and they took an interest in the director.
And so the 24-year-old Jokinen moved to New York in 1992 and started to work for MTV as an assistant producer. The swinging music channel turned out to be a hard, hard place.
There was a lot of work and it paid a pittance. Barely enough to stay alive on. MTV takes young people onto its roster, sucks them dry in a couple of years - and spits them out again.
Well. That sounds fair.
"No, no, it was fair really, since everyone knew the rules. Even if they are exploiting you, it doesn't take much to ask yourself if there is anything in it for you when your CV reads that you've worked for MTV."
Jokinen was involved in the making of two programme slots, Wake on the Wild Side! and MTV Rocks.
When he'd been working there for eight months, he got back to Finland for a summer vacation. In the previous two and a half years he had visited Finland only once. His sense of homesickness was terrible and everything back here felt and tasted good.
Jokinen reached a decision. He rang the offices in New York and announced: "I quit".
But the TV crowd in Finland were not exactly jumping through hoops at the arrival of this young man who had done film school in the States and had worked for MTV. The response was brusque: Oh yes? But what have you done in Finland, then?
If Finnish television did not welcome him with open arms, the basketball fraternity did.
"The real motor over the last few minutes was 25-year-old Antti Jokinen, making his first appearance in a Finnish Championship game. The 196-cm Jokinen was on court for nearly 23 minutes and scored 15 points and took several rebounds at both ends...", wrote Helsingin Sanomat on its sports pages on 27th September, 1993.
Antti Jokinen more or less earned a living playing for Tapiolan Honka in the premier Finnish League, but he also did work for the daily sports digest on YLE's TV1, and he even directed a couple of documentaries and TV series. One of these was quite successful, a series called Tähtilampun alla, written by Kata Kärkkäinen and produced by Solar Films, a company that Jokinen himself had set up with Markus Selin and Taina Saikkonen.
One of the documentaries was about bio-terrorism. This also helped him to move forward. The famous Swedish music video director Jonas Åkerlund saw the piece and invited Jokinen to come and work for his company, making videos.
At this point Jokinen breaks off from his flow and looks worried: "Err... I don't know if any of this stuff is at all interesting."
Yes, sure it is, but maybe it would be a good idea to stop for a bit and look at one of the videos.
Antti Jokinen fires up his notebook PC and brings up the 2004 video to Word Up! by the California alternative metal band Korn.
This is one of Jokinen's successes. It was also not particularly easy. "This project packed in quite a lot of the difficulties of the music video business", he explains, and clicks the video into action.
The picture is of a sun-bleached desert and a town that looks like it might be in Mexico. The first sounds are of metallic percussion feedback, and then a guitar and bass line thuds in, just as a small dog appears, loping towards the retreating camera...
The beginnings of this venture were less than smooth. Korn were one of the biggest rock acts around, worldwide.
They were shortly to set off on a world tour and had a compilation album coming out. The record company wanted a video with which the band - which had acquired the "too old" label - could get themselves back on the MTV playlists.
Jokinen listened to the song over and over in his car, dozens of times, as he always does. He looked at photos of the musicians, and he came up with an idea: if the music as such fits the channel, but the band has image problems, then don't show the band.
There is, however, an obvious snag to this idea.
It is rather difficult to go and tell a bunch of rock stars that ‘we're going to make this video without showing you old wrinklies at all'.
Jokinen opened a bottle of wine and stared some more at the pictures of the band-members. In some bizarre manner, the vocalist's features reminded him of a chihuahua. Whoa. What if we were to have the dogs coming into town to party?
Jokinen then drank some more wine and figured out that the trick would be to use digital imaging and plant the musicians' faces onto the dogs.
And the location would have to be as raw and rugged as the band itself. In other words, it would have to be Tijuana.
Jokinen drank three bottles of wine as he drafted a screenplay for the piece. The idea seemed a tremendous one. First thing next morning he mailed off the script and storyboard, but already by mid-afternoon he was having serious second thoughts. Huh? Dogs with human faces - what a shitty idea THAT was!
The band, however, thought the treatment was fantastic.
Preparations got under way. The first thing was to cast the dogs. It was necessary to find a suitable dog to represent each of the five band-members, and the choices had to be approved by the artists themselves. Some had to be changed, when some of the musicians were of the opinion that the suggested hound was not fitted to portray them onscreen.
In three weeks, the dogs had been trained, the sets built, and head-braces acquired for the stars. It had to be possible to shoot their faces from different angles in such a way that they remained completely motionless.
Two days before shooting was scheduled to begin, Jokinen got a call from his agent. MTV had taken a closer look at the manuscript and announced that the video would not be shown on the channel because it was in breach of their sexism rules. MTV is forbidden to show bodies without heads in its videos. It would be hard not to break this rule on this occasion.
Then, just as he was digesting this one, Jokinen got another call to say that the band had had an argument during their world tour. The word was that they would not be coming to Tijuana.
Jokinen drank a few shots of tequila, spent a restless night, and decided to stick with his dog idea but to go through the shoot in such a way that the band-members themselves would not be required.
In the morning he called together the production crew. He told 40 people that the plans were being scrapped and remade from the ground up.
In the end, everything nevertheless went remarkably well. The video winds up with the human-faced dogs partying in a striptease bar. The original intention was to shoot the scene at 8 a.m. in the morning, but when the crew arrived, the bar was not empty. There were 400 people inside and the joint was jumping.
It was quite impossible to get the people out, so the scene was filmed in such a way that the dogs and the actors appeared in among the party animals.
A couple of weeks after shooting was completed, Antti Jokinen flew to Chicago with his head-brace contraption to immobilise the musicians' faces for the trick video inserts.
All's well that ends well: MTV agreed to take the video into its programming and then the channel did both Korn and Antti Jokinen a huge favour.
At the beginning of the [PG-rated] video was a warning that it contained sex and alcohol use.
"It was the best advert you could ever come up with!"
This article continues. Please click on the link below.
JOUNI K. KEMPPAINEN / Helsingin Sanomat