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Navigating new trends in the global content business.

Yellow helps Ukraine find its voice in Finland

Finland’s Yellow Film & TV is leading a drive for international producers to do more to help their counterparts in the previously burgeoning Ukrainian industry.

Yellow’s special episode of The Song of My Life features Ukrainian celebrities

Like so many of the most transformative moments in in the TV business, Anna-Maria Meurman’s started with a flash of inspiration, a ‘crazy idea’ and the resolve to make it happen.

Meurman, executive producer at Helsinki prodco Yellow Film & TV, had her light-bulb moment during a meeting with Ukrainian contacts in Budapest this summer, when she was marketing her company’s hit entertainment brand The Song of My Life.

Her Ukrainian friends explained that their country has been unable to produce or screen any TV content of its own, other than news, since the invasion by Vladimir Putin’s forces on February 24.

Anna-Maria Meurman

“It’s a horrible situation,” says Meurman. “They mentioned that they would love to watch some kind of feel-good entertainment on television so they could forget their problems for a short time. Suddenly a spark went off in my head and I called my boss to say that I had a crazy idea.”

That brainwave was to produce a special episode of local show The Song of My Life starring Ukrainian celebrities but filmed in Finland and made entirely free of charge for Ukrainian viewers.

Yellow CEO Olli Haikka was immediately taken with the idea. “When Anna-Maria called I said that I love crazy ideas and we should go right ahead,” he says.

That was the start of a frantic behind-the-scenes scramble to bring the ambitious but logistically challenging project to fruition.

First, Meurman approached Finnish national broadcaster YLE to ask it to share the financial responsibilities needed to get the pro bono production up and running.

With that assistance assured, Yellow Film turned its attention to signing up famous Ukrainians from the worlds of music, television and sport for the one-off entertainment extravaganza.

With filming of The Song of My Life’s fourth season underway, Yellow Film had to somehow cram a last-minute extra episode into its already packed production schedule.

Olli Haikka

“There was a very short pre-production period,” explains Meurman. “That was very challenging as there was little time to prepare everything. We filmed the Ukrainian special on a day off and all Yellow Film’s production crew – singers, musicians, technical staff, everybody – offered to work for free.”

When Ukrainian channel 1+1 offered to broadcast the show, the talent was then flown to Finland from the besieged Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, as well as many other European cities where the celebrities were seeking sanctuary from the war.

The show was filmed in September at the Mediapolis Factory Hall in Tampere, south Finland, with Ukrainian refugees from the region invited to attend.

Hosted by Kateryna Osadcha, it features guests including singer Taras Topolia, TV presenter Nadia Dorofeeva, athletes Mykhailo and Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk, plus musical performances from Kola and Laud.

As part of the series’ gameplay format, guests are asked to choose a song that had special meaning to them. Understandably, some celebrities selected music that reflected their harrowing ordeals as victims of the conflict back home.

“It was very emotional,” says Meurman. “There were touching stories about the war and how families have been separated.

“Our guests are huge stars in Ukraine, so after filming, the audience members were hugging them and crying. There was sadness, of course, but the most prominent feeling was of hope.”

The Song of My Life: Ukraine is produced by Yellow Film in collaboration with YLE, Ukrainian indie Film.UA Group and 1+1 Media. The final subtitled edit will be broadcast on 1+1 in Ukraine soon and offered free of charge to all European Broadcasting Union channels.

In addition, Yellow Film is now calling on other international producers and broadcasters to lend their own formats to the Ukrainian cause.

“I hope this is just the start of something much bigger,” says Haikka. “Instead of offering words of support to Ukraine, let’s have action.

“There will be drama series and films made about the invasion of Ukraine eventually, but the entertainment sector can react with much shorter notice. We want The Song of My Life: Ukraine to be the template for other popular shows across Europe to follow suit.

“Existing successful formats could integrate Ukrainian talent to help tell bold stories in special episodes that can be filmed in another country and given to Ukraine free of charge. If we have achieved this in a country with just five million people, I’m sure it’s also possible in bigger territories for major broadcasters and their financiers.”

Yellow is also searching for a partner to get the final episodes of this year’s The Voice of Ukraine finished in similar circumstances.

Meurman points out that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has historical parallels in her own country. In 1939, just after the outbreak of the Second World War, the Soviet Union invaded Finland during the Winter War – meeting fierce resistance from Finnish forces using guerrilla tactics.

“This project was very meaningful for us because Finland and Ukraine have shared a mutual enemy,” concludes Meurman. “What happened to Finland over 80 years ago is now a reality in Ukraine, where I’m told their military has a saying: ‘Fight like a Finn.’”