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BLACK NIGHTS 2018 Industry

Ulla Simonen • Producer of Heartbeast

"We can all relate to friendships turning into something completely different from what they were initially"


- We chatted to producer Ulla Simonen, of Finnish outfit MADE, to find out more about Heartbeast, the winner of the Eurimages Co-production Development Award in Tallinn

Ulla Simonen  • Producer of Heartbeast
l-r: Producer Sébastian Aubert, of Adastra; director Aino Suni; and producer Ulla Simonen, of MADE (© Industry@Tallinn/Baltic Event/Erlend Staub)

Ulla Simonen, of Finnish production company MADE, speaks to us about the new project Heartbeast (working title: A Girl’s Room), which emerged victorious at the Baltic Event co-production market in Tallinn, taking home the Eurimages Co-production Development Award, worth €20,000 (see the news). Simonen, the CEO of MADE, is acting as an executive producer on the film, with Ilona Tolmunen as the main Finnish producer. It is being directed by Aino Suni.

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Cineuropa: Heartbeast can be viewed as a coming-of-age film, a thriller or a psychological drama… What aspect is dominant, and what drew you into this project? 
Ulla Simonen:
For MADE, this is first and foremost an Aino Suni film. Ilona Tolmunen, a producer at MADE, and Aino Suni have worked together since film school, and they began developing the feature together after making a short film called Turnaround. The most important aspect of this feature has been to make a film about a young girl’s life. We think that the development into a psychological thriller, as we call it, is an interesting one, and we believe we have found the right form for the movie.

As the main character, Elina, is moving to France in the film, it’s only fitting that the movie is being co-produced with French company Adastra. Can you tell us more about that?
This has been a very organic form of co-operation. Aino and Ilona did a short film called Wolf Carver together while still in film school, and Adastra picked it up from Clermont-Ferrand as a sales agent. They also represented Turnaround, and that was when the development of Heartbeast began. Adastra was there from the beginning – Sébastian Aubert as a producer has been an elementary part of the development, and he took the film to EAVE as his project. For us, this also means a completely new way of looking at things; we want Aino to make an international debut feature, instead of making something for the home market first.

After winning in Tallinn, what are your next steps with Heartbeast? When and where can we hope to see the film?
Development is continuing apace; Aino moved to southern France last week to live for the next three months in a boarding school with girls of the right age in order to get the dialogue right, and to workshop with them on the script. We see this as a 2020 production, hopefully to be released in late 2020/early 2021. 

Given that Heartbeast is a youth-orientated rap movie, do you plan to do some target-specific activities to reach the audience?
The main character needs to be someone who can rap; we will carry out a campaign to cast the lead, and that will be focused primarily on rapping. Aino has good connections with the Finnish young female rap scene, and in France, we have also already secured rap-related contacts that we can’t yet make public, but which will also help us to target the film and to promote it. Concerts and online content involving rapping will be happening both while making the film and once it is released. 

How do you see Heartbeast yourself? Is it mainly meant for entertainment purposes, or does it carry a more specific message that somehow resonates with something particular in the world today?
This is a film about friendship between girls, which can turn into a very toxic relationship. The movie is obviously meant to speak to the same age group as its leads, but I think we can all relate to those moments when friendships turn into something completely different from what they were initially. It also speaks of the time of social media. We are not trying to preach or to educate; the audience will be reaching their own conclusions. As we are making a psychological thriller, it should also be suspenseful enough to keep the audience on edge.

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