Cut adrift

Cut adrift

By Michael Pickard
January 12, 2024

In production

In Finnish thriller Isolated, an island community is cut off from the mainland in mysterious circumstances. Oskari Huttu, head of drama at Lucy Loves Drama, reveals how the production team overcame numerous logistical challenges to film the show.

With a population of around just 40 people, the island of Utö lies in the Baltic Sea as part of the southernmost archipelago of Finland. But the people who call the small island home found their number more than double when the cast and crew of Finnish series Isolated landed on their shores.

Many locals also found themselves appearing in front of the camera as extras in the thrilling drama, which imagines what happens when the community is mysteriously and suddenly cut off without explanation. Finland’s capital, Helsinki, is a five-hour ferry and three-hour car journey away.

The drama opens on what might be a typical day on Utö, with islanders eagerly awaiting a delivery from the mainland. But as the ferry disappears back over the horizon, they are startled by the sound of an explosion. Minutes later, the island’s electricity and water supplies fail, along with its radios and telephones, leaving them all alone. When the only sailboat on the island is sent to find help – and also disappears – the islanders are overcome with fear as they face up to their predicament.

Meanwhile, unbeknown to the islanders, the Finnish navy has surrounded Utö in its own efforts to find out what is going on. As producer Oskari Huttu explains, that answer may be found in the supernatural as much as the scientific world.

Isolated takes place on the real Finnish island of Utö, where the series was filmed

“People on the island gradually start to think and believe in a supernatural explanation, which is rooted in local mythology. This area in some circles is called the Baltic Triangle, because it has a history of unexplained shipwrecks and some weird magnetic stuff going on,” he tells DQ. “But the navy is looking for submarines or any other kind of concrete proof of some superpower doing an operation or some weird things in the area.”

However the story plays out – viewers in Finland can see the series on broadcaster Nelonen’s Ruutu platform from January 18 – the series premise is a classic ‘What if?’ story that emerged when the show’s screenwriters were actually on Utö and imagined what might happen if they were cut off for real.

“The island of Utö is a unique place with unique landscapes and surroundings and atmosphere. They started to think about this concept there, and that really showed in the first concepts and drafts,” explains Huttu. “Originally, the writers started to develop this with a producer, a friend of our company, so we knew about this project. Then when he decided to leave the industry, we continued with the writers, who had a concept already underway.”

Setting the story on an isolated island, part of the challenge facing the writers – Lassi Vierikko and Petja Lähde – was to keep the characters active, with only a handful of people available to service the story and no way of leaving.

“But then the navy is like a counterpart to them, which also represents the viewer in the sense that they are looking at the island from the outside and trying to figure out what is going on there,” Huttu observes. “Of course, story-wise, one thing that was a bit of a challenge was to find the right tonality in the genre, because in Finland we have had all the classics, from The X-Files to Lost.

In the show, the island’s tiny population are cut off from the mainland

“But we don’t have a history [of these shows] in Finnish domestic drama, in the Finnish language, so it was a challenge to tell a story that feels real and credible and that works for our domestic audience. At the end of the day, we found the right tonality in this kind of really realistic thriller. The supernatural element is there, but it doesn’t come from big CGI effects. It’s something that happens inside the heads of the people and comes from the nature that surrounds them. Luckily, the broadcaster understood from the first pitch what we were looking for and was really supportive.”

Filming the series on Utö proved every bit as challenging as the prospect of filming on an extremely remote island would appear to be – so much so that difficulties emerged before the cast and crew even arrived. Elena Leeve, Pihla Viitala, Ville Virtanen, Turkka Mastomäki, Joonas Saartamo, Kati Outinen and Max Ovaska star in the series, which is directed by Teppo Airaksinen, Johannes Salonen and Rane Tiukkanen.

“Utö is a great place but it’s a logistical hell,” Huttu says. “We planned everything to have the absolute minimum crew, but that is more people than live on the island year-round. So to accommodate people, we booked the whole hotel and we had to rent all the houses and cottages.

“Then it was, ‘OK, how do we get people and the gear to the island?’ It’s a ferry that takes a few cars and a handful of people, so we packed all the art department gear, lights and cameras into six vans and we booked two of those ferries. A few days before we were supposed to go, the captain called and said the wind was very strong so they could take people but not cars. So we made a plan B if we had to get the equipment from six vans to three vans, and then the worst-case scenario was, ‘What is the absolute minimum gear that we need, where even the actors are carrying something, so that we can start filming?”

Thankfully, the night before their departure, the team were informed that they could go ahead as planned, and they arrived on Utö in time to start shooting and with a full assortment of equipment.

Many of the local residents in the drama believe supernatural forces are at play

During production on the show – produced by Lucy Loves Drama and distributed by OneGate Media – the weather would sometimes be “horrible and cold, but super beautiful,” the producer notes. “When we were there, everybody went into this weird bubble. All the actors felt like they were on this magical yoga retreat and everybody was just super calm and happy during the show, which was nice. It was a rough shoot, but it was really nice, with a really nice atmosphere and feeling inside the film crew. And of course, we got to know the local people too.”

Many of the locals later became extras, with only the main cast making the trip to Utö.

“What was on the island, we used,” Huttu adds. “Everybody on the crew was who was not doing something was also at some point acting as an extra. I was also there playing quite a few roles in different wigs and different outfits because, as a producer, I don’t have a hands-on duty on the set, so on many occasions I was the one walking in the background.”

With a series – titled Utö locally – that is set to break genre boundaries, Huttu says he joked with the writers that they were going to do something that hadn’t been done before in Finland. “And when we brought in the directors and the cast, we had the possibility of doing something really ambitious,” he adds. “This has been something that everybody who has been involved with has been saying, ‘OK, now this is something that nobody in Finland has done before.’ I’m really happy and proud of the outcome.”

He also praises the production team’s ability to solve problems in a creative way, as is the norm in the television business.

“When they are able to think and work together creatively, anything can be solved,” Huttu says. “On this project, we turned production and budget challenges into benefits and added value because we created this artistic way of shooting that took the challenges of not being able to bring all the crew and equipment to the location into the visual style. We ended up using 110% of all the production value this incredible surrounding gave us.”

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